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A Note from the General: Our Chapter, Our God-lead Story

Many of you involved in NCS Winston-Salem have asked about how we got our start. It’s such a great story that showcases how God works in our lives that I thought I’d share it with our entire membership this month.

How a failed run for Congress opened a door

Did you know I once ran for U.S. Congress in the Fifth District? Back in 2004, I had hopes of serving our nation as a congressperson. During the campaign, I met Phil Ziesemer. While discussing a campaign issue, I decided to share an idea I had percolating about gathering a group of men together to discuss Kingdom matters. My approach was to have the 12 or so men take turns submitting researched “white papers” for discussion. (Phil actually said “White paper? How about we study the bible instead?”). As usual, God had other - and much better - plans!

As fate would have it, I lost the election. But when that door closed, another one opened. My business partner and former campaign supporter, Scott Casto, called me not long afterward to tell me about a gathering of men heading to something called the New Canaan Society Retreat. Being in Chicago, Scott said he and a number of guys from his area were going and invited me to join them. I, in turn, asked my former campaign treasurer, Leonard Robinett to join. Of course, I Googled NCS and recognized a couple of the scheduled conference speakers. And my intrigue grew.

The impact of that first retreat

As I started working on how to get to the retreat (I had recently purchased a Cirrus plane and was eager to fly), the group heading to the Boston retreat grew larger. Our first Winston-Salem contingent of retreat attendees included Bob Roach, Alan Wright, Bill Simmons, Leonard Robinett and myself.

On the first afternoon of the retreat as I sat waiting for the program to start, God started working on me. The message I received was that he wanted me to start an NCS chapter in Winston-Salem. As the retreat unfolded, I understood why. The NCS atmosphere was vibrant and filled with the Holy Spirit. Men were laughing and having a wonderful time just connecting each day. There was unmistakable energy in the room. I attended a meeting on how to start a chapter while at the retreat and returned to Winston Salem with the intention to do so.

How God started our chapter…and sent us founding partners

Of course, I came home energized and ready to get started. However, I’m sure you know what it’s like when you return from the bubble of a retreat back to real life: work, family, friends….other begin to occupy your time. A couple of weeks later, I still hadn’t taken any action and was starting to let this idea fade away (hard to believe, I know!). Then, my daily reading in My Utmost for His Highest reminded me that when the Holy Spirit leads on something, we are supposed to act immediately and burn our bridges. It was the jolt I needed!

I prayed for God to give me the names of men for the potential launch of the chapter. First, Phil Ziesemer, Leonard Robinett, Bob Roach and Alan Wright came to mind. Then Chris Perry, Scott Gerding, Rich Keshian, Chuck Patton, Joe Budd, Randy Casstevens, Abner Wright and Courtney Mauzy came to mind. And a few others were invited, but these were the core founders of NCS Winston-Salem.

Our attempt to hi-tech our way into God’s plan

I let my Wall Street mentality take over and prepared a PowerPoint “pitch book”, making the case for the “value add” of an NCS chapter. I invited the men God had put in my mind to my house for steak, fine wine and discussion. We agreed to move forward and gather next at the home of Chris Perry.

Part of the discussion was a plan to live stream the NCS speakers in New Canaan over the internet each Friday. Chris got a new flat screen tv, tested the technology and got us ready to go with our first meeting at his home. As we gathered, we realized that God, in his grace and sovereignty, had other plans. The technology didn’t work.

So as a “plan B”, we asked Phil Ziesemer to lead us in a devotional passage from scripture. He shared his story of how God was at work in his life. (Note: we’ve continued on the theme of men sharing their personal stories, which has remained the hallmark of our meetings ever since.) It ended up being a good time of discussion, and we decided to meet in another couple of weeks.

Over the course of the summer, we met as a group every couple of weeks, gathering around a nice outdoor table on Chris’ patio. The men took turns sharing their stories. Thus the idea of simply inviting men to share their stories about God being active in their lives with other men – rather than my original concept - was shaped. We sensed the power of the Holy Spirit in a man’s testimony.

We find a “Prayermeister” – but what about meeting space?

I knew that the NCS model of appropriate humor and wit was a great compliment to the transparency of a testimony. The Lord directed me to Chris because of his wit and New Jersey roots. He would become the perfect guy to lead a devotional, which would combine wit and truth. At some point, I gave Chris the moniker of “Prayermeister”, and it has stuck to this day.

“It’s not work; it’s not school; it’s not church, and it’s not Bible Study.
And if you don’t have fun, don’t come back.”

Chris coined this phrase to describe NCS….and it’s been the mantra for over 10 years. I often welcome the men each Friday with the phrase we attribute to the “Prayermeister”.

As fall of 2005 approached, the group began wondering where to meet once we fully launched our NCS chapter. I had been praying for God to show us a suitable venue: a convenient location with easy parking but not in a church. My wife, Jane, ended up suggesting the perfect solution - River Birch Lodge. Scott Gerding, a member of our founding group, had built a new restaurant with a Northwestern, lodge theme that had a large open room and an giant antler chandelier.

It was a great idea! However, instead of asking Scott directly to use his restaurant, I prayed and asked God to prompt Scott if that was to be our meeting place. Within a week, Scott offered the restaurant for our use. God is indeed good.

Getting God’s vision for us off the ground