Howdy. I'm Matt Todd. My wife and I have four kids and a dog,. I'm passionate about orphan care. I'm a die-hard fan of the Evansville Aces, the Indiana Hoosiers, and Star Wars. I'm trying to live life by the Todd family motto: "It behooves us to live!"

Thank you, Phil Gerhart. I’ll see you over the next ridge.

Mr. Gerhart and Crew on top of Tooth of TIme 1994I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the influence of Mr. Gerhart.* As my Scoutmaster, he invested his time and energy into young men like me. He showed us how to be servant leaders. If you look at the numbers, they speak for themselves. During his tenure as Scoutmaster of two different troops (Troop 412 and Troop 322), he saw 87 different young men achieve the rank of Eagle Scout (my brother and I are just two of those 87).  When you consider that only a small percentage of Scouts ever reach this rank, it is clear that he influenced several hundred young men over the years.

He saw something in me that many did not. For a variety of reasons, I did not reach my academic potential in middle school and high school. So I was not considered a good candidate for many leadership positions or leadership-related scholarships.**  But Mr. Gerhart saw something in me. He took me under his wing and showed me the true nature of a servant leader. Here are few examples of when he challenged me to grow as a leader and celebrated my successes…

“Matt, Jarod, remember this when you’re working here.”

Philmont Crew, 1990

During my first trek at Philmont Scout Ranch, we were met on the trail by one of our Troop’s graduates. He was on staff at Philmont that year, and we thought that was pretty cool. We’d spent a few days on the trail and we had grown tired of the re-hydrated dehydrated trail food that served as breakfast and dinner. All of a sudden, a watermelon appeared, courtesy of our friend the Phil-staffer.

Now, I’m not much of a watermelon fan, but this was the best tasting watermelon I’d ever had. It was like it had been picked from Heaven’s garden itself. It was a perfect setting. We were hot, sweaty, and dirty. And we were sprawled out in a small meadow in the middle of the Sangre de Christo Mountains in New Mexico, sharing slices of watermelon.

It really doesn’t get much better than that, friends.

Out of the bue, Mr. Gerhart looks my way and instructs me and my friend Jarod: “Don’t forget this when you’re working here.”

I was but a lowly underclassman in high school at the time. The thought of even attempting to get a job at Philmont was the furthest from my mind. But Mr. Gerhart planted a seed. And that was the first time I ever thought about spending a summer out at Philmont. At that point, it was nothing more than a pie in the sky pipe dream. But he planted the seed.

Fast forward…

Years later when I was working at Beaubien Camp at Philmont in 1995, I made a concerted effort to get my hands on a watermelon. My home crew, including my Dad and Mr. Gerhart, was due to arrive at my camp in a few days. I was almost frantic. I had to have a watermelon.

Alas, it was not meant to be. There was no watermelon available from the camp commissary. So I did the next best thing I could think of: I baked a chocolate cake for them. And I completed the challenge that I had accepted in that meadow several years prior.

As a mentor, you challenge. You inspire. And you might even plant seeds of a dream that won’t come true for several years. You keep the big picture in mind and play the long game.

He grew leaders

In our Scouting experience, Mr. Gerhart helped create an atmosphere where young leaders could celebrate their successes and learn from their failures in a safe environment. He equipped us with the tools necessary to become strong servant leaders. Then he challenged us by expecting us to follow-through.

Here’s what I mean…

Our Scouting calendar basically followed the school calendar. It began in September and ended in July/August, with Summer Camp and the subsequent Court of Honor serving as a transition time from one set of leaders to the next. Sometime during this transition (I don’t remember when – probably in June), the new leadership team, consisting of the Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Leadership Corps (older Scouts who were mentors without official leadership titles) would gather together to plan out the next year’s monthly themes and campouts.

Mr. Gerhart would set some parameters, like some non negotiable event dates. Then he would leave the room. The Senior Patrol Leader, as the youth leader of the Troop, was left to run the brainstorming session and the actual planning. An hour or so later, Mr. Gerhart would come back into the room, fully expecting a cogent plan for the rest of the Scouting year.

He could do this because he had equipped us. He empowered us. And he released us to do exactly what was expected. That’s what leaders do. They don’t manage. And they certainly don’t micromanage. They lead. Sometimes, that means they get out of the way.

And that requires trust.

Don’t get me wrong. There were times when I did some pretty boneheaded things. Like my “ax-ident.” But Mr. Gerhart expected me to learn from my experiences. And that helped us trust each other even more.

Mr. Gerhart showed me he trusted my leadership abilities during a time of crisis. It was during the Summer Camp when I served as Senior Patrol Leader. It was my last hurrah in that position, as the Senior Patrol Leader passes the baton in a peaceful transfer of power to the upcoming Senior Patrol Leader during the final moments of Camp.

Before that happened, we had to deal with a crisis.

A young Scout had mistreated an animal in front of the rest of the patrol. It was cruel and uncalled for and a clear violation of Scout rules – including the parts of the Scout Law that say a Scout is kind and a Scout is reverent.

In my Scouting experience, no one had ever done anything like this before. We were in uncharted territory. But Mr. Gerhart had faith in us. He told me to gather up the Leadership Corps and come up with a proper punishment. And he would help us carry out whatever punishment we deemed fit.

It was much like the planning meetings we had, except this had a much more heavy feel to it. Mr. Gerhart showed us that he trusted us by leaving in the cabin to brainstorm, deliberate, and come up with a plan. It was kind of like a final exam. And our teacher had prepared us in ways we couldn’t have imagined.

When we reached an agreement, we shared our conclusion with Mr. Gerhart. He agreed with our decision. And in what was probably the second-most difficult leadership moments of my life up to that point (the first was when I was called out on a mountainside in New Mexico), Mr. Gerhart sat behind me in support as I issued our team’s decision to the Young Scout.

Our decision was bold, but fair. I think it included a loss of rank and maybe a certain amount of probation. It was a devastating punishment, but it could have been worse. I think we showed a measured amount of grace. We could have kicked him out. But we didn’t. Because we knew how transformative the Scouting experience could be as part of our Troop. That, of course, is another testament to Mr. Gerhart’s guidance and leadership.

We could issue such a bold, fair, and graceful punishment because we knew Mr. Gerhart had our back. He trusted us. And we trusted him.

A servant leader has to trust AND be trusted. Mr. Gerhart did both.

Pointing the spotlight.

Mr. Gerhart lived out his faith every day that I saw him. He encouraged us to study creation as we were on our monthly campouts. Because he knew that as we studied creation, we would see the hand of the Creator at work. He encouraged us to take our faith seriously and live it with boldness. And he showed us that faith and scholarship are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they work together hand in hand.

He saw Scouting as an arm of our sponsoring church, reaching out to new families and encouraging young men in their faith. He took this role seriously. And I guess it was pretty effective. I mean, it got me and my brother to become active members of that church.

In addition to introducing me to Cullen Avenue Christian Church, Mr. Gerhart has another prominent place in my faith story. Shortly after mom and I had a discussion about how it was time for me to finally take ownership of my faith through the act of baptism, she set up a time for me to talk with Todd, my Youth Minister. Mr. Gerhart asked if he could sit in on our conversation.

I still have a few mental “snapshots” of this meeting. I don’t remember most of the words that were said. But I do remember knowing from that meeting that Mr. Gerhart took his faith very seriously and he was happy to know that I wanted to take my faith seriously, too.

The Apostle Paul instructed the believers in the church at Corinth to “Follow my example, as I follow the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:1). That was Mr. Gerhart. He urged us to follow him as he pointed to Jesus. That’s what servant leaders do. They don’t point the spotlight on themselves.

They point it beyond themselves.

“It’s just over the next ridge.”

When hiking at Philmont, Mr. Gerhart and his friend, Mr. Dawes, would have a saying to encourage each other. The rigorous terrain was a struggle for them, but they insisted on pushing on. They would encourage each other by saying that our destination was “Just over the next ridge.”

Of course, the end of the day’s hike usually wasn’t “over the next ridge.” It was usually five or six ridges away. But this was a good way to break up the hike into manageable legs. And since good leaders know that words matter matter and that you don’t climb a mountain in just one step, this was a fitting saying for them to share.

During long drives while my kids were younger, I found myself saying similar things. “Let’s get past this curve.” Or, “Let’s wait five minutes and see.” And, of course, “It’s just over the next ridge.” It helped break the monotony of some long trips. And it certainly helped me keep my sanity.

That’s not a bad way to approach life. Yes, we live in the present. And it’s healthy to have goals. But in order to achieve those goals, we have to break things up into manageable pieces. Each mini goal that leads to the big goal is a ridge that we must conquer.

This is one of the many leadership lessons I learned from Mr. Gerhart. It is not uncommon that find myself using many of the lessons that he lived out. He was a great leader, teacher, and friend. I will miss him. Dearly. In fact, I already do.

“Happy trails, Mr. Gerhart. Thank you for the impact you made on my life and the lives of countless others. We’ll see you over the next ridge.”

 

Endnotes

* Phil Gerhart was a highly-respected professor of engineering at the University of Evansville. Because of his PhD, it was altogether fitting that we call him Dr. Gerhart. In Scouts, he had us call him Mr. Gerhart. I don’t know why he did that, but that’s what we called him. That’s what I will always call him. I saw him at the end of 2016 when he and his wife came to the Viewing before my Grandma’s funeral. I suppose I could have gotten away with calling him “Phil.” But I didn’t. He always was and always will be Mr. Gerhart to me.

** By the time I was a Junior in high school, I had leadership roles in Band. I know my band director had something to do with that. But I credit the preparation for those leadership opportunities to Mr. Gerhart. He certainly paved the way.

A few Septembers to remember

septembers-to-remember

September is a strange month for me. I’ve already talked about how September 11 is a mixture of laughter and sorrow in our house, thanks to our new family traditions. And, of course, there’s the anniversary of bringing Mihret home from Ethiopia. But there’s also a series of days in September that lead me to some self-reflection, contemplation, prayer, and even a little bit of dreaming. These anniversaries aren’t necessarily things I celebrate. They turned my world and my family’s world upside down. But I think they’re worth discussing,

September 1999

I did not attend Milligan with the intent of going into Youth Ministry. I don’t know what I really thought I was going to do with my Ministry degree, but youth ministry really wasn’t in my plan. Thanks to the recommendation of one of my professors, a church search committee approached me. Would I consider moving to Kentucky to take over the ministry programming from preschool thru college-aged students?

i’d recently graduated. I was a newlywed. And this position kind of fell into my lap. OK, it didn’t exactly fall into my lap. It wasn’t handed to me. I had to go through the interviews. We had to go through the process. But it was clear that doors were opening. So, although it was never part of my grand plan, I became a Youth Minister and moved our tiny little family of two to central Kentucky in early 1999.

It was clear from the beginning that I didn’t know what I was doing. Really. I can say that with almost two decades of analysis. I was ill-equipped. I can’t blame my alma mater for that. I just didn’t pay much attention to anything anyone said about youth ministry during my ministry-related classes because I was convinced I wasn’t going into youth ministry after college.

I was wrong. And it showed.

Christy tried to help me as much as she could. The staff tried to help me as much as they could. But in the end, there were too many unsaid, unmet, and unrealistic expectations. I had them. So did the Board. And so in early September, 1999, the Elders and I agreed that we should part ways.

This hurt in a lot of ways. This might be one of my biggest regrets. In retrospect, I believe things could have changed. Everything could have improved. And if I could go back and change things, I probably would. I was already emotionally exhausted just a few months into this ministry. So I left. And it hurt.

But I learned a lot from it. I was more confident than ever in my calling into some type of full time pastoral work. So I started addressing some organizational and administrative issues. I also talked to other youth ministers, attended some conferences, and had a better vision of what I thought a dynamic, impacting youth ministry would look like. And so I approached my next ministry position with a fresh outlook and renewed vigor.

September 2002

After everyone survived the Y2K non-disaster, I joined the ministry staff of a church in the Indianapolis area. With a great group of adult volunteers, some strong student leaders, and a passion to impact Indy, we made a difference. We went on a mission trip to serve a ministry reaching the Navajo nation. We began a student-led Sunday night worship service that was pretty fabulous. We hosted Christian concerts. We attended CIY’s summer conferences and Believe conferences. We had a written purpose and Vision. An abandoned firehouse was transformed into a student outreach center. Teens were getting baptized. Lives were being changed. I was turning down job opportunities at other churches. Things were clicking on all cylinders.

Then the wheels fell off.

Administrative issues kept rearing their ugly heads. Instead of addressing them head-on, I just pretended they didn’t exist. I wasn’t spending enough time with some of our students. Some parents were upset. That got other people upset. Including my immediate supervisor.

Bada-bing, Bada-boom…

I left the Student Ministry position in September, 2002. I felt betrayed, alone, and uncertain what to do next.

The Interim

I found myself questioning God quite a bit during this time. While I told my youth ministry kids, “Don’t give up on the church,” I have to admit that I was close to doing that myself. We tried attending churches nearby. We were always met by former members from my former employer. “What are you doing here?” they would ask, oblivious of the events that had recently transpired. It was a completely innocent question, but it cut like a knife.

Every. single. Sunday.

We eventually found a church in Fishers. It was a small church plant with big dreams. It was a place where we could get plugged in, but we could also start the healing process. It was like a soothing balm for our hurting souls.

Christy and I had two very young kids by this point. I did whatever I could to provide for them. I worked in warehouses. I managed a pizza joint. I was a substitute teacher. We moved in with my father in law for what was supposed to be just a month or two. Maybe three. It eventually turned into two years. I still attended conferences. I got some counseling. I learned some organizational tools that still help me today.

We knew this was just a season. But I’m not going to lie. It was hard. I had interview after interview. Christy and I wound up visiting all kinds of churches all over the place: from Iowa to Florida.

Nothing.

To make a long story short, we returned to Upper East Tennessee. I enrolled in seminary to solidify whatever cracks may have surfaced in my ministry foundation.

September 2011

After Christy earned her M.Ed degree at ETSU and I had completed three years of seminary, we started to sense that our season in Tennessee’s fair eastern mountains was coming to a close. In the Summer before what was going to be my final year in seminary, we loaded up a moving van, hugged some dear friends, and waved goodbye to Johnson City. I had accepted a preaching position in a small church south of Muncie, Indiana. It was a homecoming, of sorts. And because of a series of events that included some wide open doors and some doors that had been slammed shut, I was confident we were where God had led us. I think it’s safe to say, though, that I never really felt at home there.

Some great things happened during that ministry. There were some pretty high highlights. I baptized Aiden and Alyson there. But I’m not going to lie. It was a rocky time. Whenever I’d get together with other pastors from the area, someone would always wind up saying, “I can’t believe you’ve stuck around with them this long.” And this was without telling them anything that had been going on.

I’m not gong to lie. I questioned God. A lot. Why would God lead me somewhere like this? There were days when it felt like I couldn’t do anything to ever satisfy some people in the congregation. I felt like a punching bag sometimes.

But when you look at people like Jeremiah, Elijah, and even Moses, it’s important to remember that “calling” does not always equal “fun times.” Sometimes God asks us to do things we don’t really want to do. And since I was still sure that God had led us to East Central Indiana, I needed to stop complaining and keep doing my best to reach our community. But I quietly looked around for other opportunities.

I stuck around with them for four years before they decided they’d had enough of me. It was pretty apparent early on that I wasn’t going to retire there. I was never going to be seen as a “local.” I saw first hand how the stereotypes about small churches might be more true than we want to admit. And there was plenty of talk about people and their problems instead of talking to them. And very little was actually decided upon by those in leadership. People just kind of did what they wanted to do and claimed the leadership had agreed to it. And that worked because nobody really knew what they really did or didn’t agree to do.

It is no secret that I was not surprised when they fired me. But it still hurt. A lot. The sense of betrayal cut deep. I could go into details, but I won’t. Let’s just say that it took a long time for those wounds to heal. It honestly took a good teeth-kicking.

Moving on

Things have certainly changed over the years since we were pushed out of Eacst Central Indiana. Our family has grown. I’ve picked up marketing/PR skills and experience. I know who I am. And I know Whose I am. That’s where I find my satisfaction and worth. I don’t need a title or position to have meaning.  Although I do preach in some area churches on occasion, I’ve moved on.

I’ve moved on.

Do I question my calling? Nope. I believe God used me in each of those ministry situations. I also firmly believe that He is using me right here where I am now. And that isn’t in the pulpit.

Every once in a while, someone will ask me if I plan on returning to the pulpit full-time. I say that I’m not against it. But it will require a giant neon sign floating in the sky that refers to me by name with a very specific set of instructions.

And I’m only half joking.

After seeing the dark underbelly of, for lack of a better word, church “politics,” you might wonder what I think about church in general. I think it could be argued that I’m even more dedicated tot he ministry of the church throughout the world, I’m spite of my not-so-positive experiences. In reality, all of us are messed up. And when messed up people get together, they’re likely to make messed up decisions and mess up some things along the way. That’s the beauty of the mission of God. He uses messed up people with messed up lives to accomplish His plan.

Don’t believe me?

There are countless examples in the Bible. If you need for me to, I can spell them out for you. If I was still preaching regularly, it would make a great sermon series. Maybe I’ll just write a book instead.

Hey, that’s not a bad idea. I don’t think I need a neon sign for that one.

Thoughts about leadership

Leadership Quotes

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“Getting by”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that political season is in full swing as we are hurtling towards November’s General Election at breakneck speed. The two parties’ national conventions are behind us and I although I only listened to a few speeches during those two weeks, the fear-mongering was in full display. And now we’re about to be bombarded with even more negative ads after negative ads, accusing politician’s opponents of doing everything from willfully watching corporations send good-paying jobs overseas to secretly kicking puppies and taking candy from sweet, innocent children.

I fully expect a whole lot of arguments about why I should vote against candidates and not very many arguments about why I should vote for their opponents. Such is the nature of contemporary politics, unfortunately. But, hey, it works. Or so they say, anyway. I disagree. Shouting down your opponent isn’t winning. It’s bullying. Turning your opponent into a straw man caricature you can easily convince 51% of the people to vote against doesn’t give you a mandate. It’s just getting by.

Just “getting by” is not acceptable. It isn’t acceptable for my kids when they do their homework. It’s not acceptable at most jobs, either. So why is just “getting by” acceptable when it comes to our elected leaders?

Servanthood and leadership

As I was contemplating making a run at the governorship, I thought a lot about leadership and what I believe a public leader should be like. I thought back to one of my favorite classes from my seminary days. It gave me a lot of leadership concept to chew on. That was ten years ago. I’m still chewing on them.

I even went back to my notes from Dr. Wasem’s class. As I perused those notes, it strengthened my belief that true leadership isn’t displayed by those who shout the loudest or generate the most fear. Leadership is about servanthood. That’s the heartbeat of a leader. With that in mind, I wonder what our local, state and Federal governments would look like if leaders truly approached their positions as service opportunities – chances to get their hands dirty – instead of stepping stools and ways to grab more power. That’s what Hans Finzel says in
The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make
:

A servant leader must be willing to get ‘down and dirty’ with his [or her] troops in the implementation of his [or her] objectives.

Don’t get me wrong. I know some people who approach their leadership positions with true servants’ hearts. They are heroes. I wish politicians would emulate them more.

I also found a few quotes about leadership while I was reading. I think they’re worth sharing here:

Changes

Change is inevitable; not to change is a sure sign of imminent extinction. Hans Finzel

This is true in almost every area of life. Look at a teenager. Holy cow, things are changing every single day, and sometimes multiple times a day. There’s also regular change in Church life, family life, society in general, world affairs, government, politics…you get the point?

Things change. It happens. So we look to leaders – servants who have gotten their hands dirty with us, who lead from the trenches – to help us navigate change. That’s how we move beyond merely surviving to thriving. And that’s what I want to do.

Change is inevitable. So why not make the most of it? Why not use it to expect our leaders to stop shooting for “just getting by” into the realm of dynamic, challenging, and inspirational leadership. That’s what our country needs.

Changing laws and changing hearts

And then there’s this quote. I like it. A lot. I’ve tried saying something similar. I even did it in one of the first posts I ever wrote. Mr. Greenleaf was just more succinct and eloquent.

we in the United States are more naive than most about what can be done with law, especially with the labyrinth of laws with which business is surrounded. It comes out better if one persuades rather than compels. Robert K. Greenleaf

I could easily write several posts that disagree with this quote. I could also write just as many posts supporting it. With that being said, I’d like for this quote to remind us that we cannot put all of our eggs in one basket if we want real, lasting change. And since change is going to happen anyway (see above), let’s pursue lasting change that makes a difference.

A change in leadership

Meaningful change can happen, folks. It can even happen in the midst of our national parties doing nothing but puffing themselves up while tearing their opponents down. We need real leadership. Servant leadership. And I imagine this happens from the ground up. It doesn’t require a top-level position. It does require dirty hands. And a servant’s heart.

I’m tired of putting people into power who are simply aiming to “get by,” aiming for the common denominator that gets them just enough votes to slip them into power. Aren’t you? Let’s do something about it.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab a towel. Let’s get started. Let’s navigate change together and make the world a better place. Together. If we do that, maybe our politicians will follow our lead. If not, maybe we need some new leadership.

Who’s with me?

Contemplating a run for governor of Indiana

Vote for Matt Todd for governor of Indiana?

Well, it’s official. Donald Trump has announced his running-mate. Indiana governor, Mike Pence, isn’t running for re-election anymore. He hopes to become our next Vice President. So it’s guaranteed that Hoosiers are going to choose a new governor this November. But who’s going to replace him?

John Gregg?

Representative Todd Rokita?

Representative Susan Brooks?

Lieutenant Governor Eric Holcomb?

me?

Like many Hoosiers, I held my nose when I entered the voting booth during primary season. I’m not sure if there were any candidates I was happy to support. I found myself voting against candidates instead of for candidates in many of the races. And those who ran for their nomination unopposed? I didn’t vote for anyone who didn’t have someone running against them. This state is full of too many great people to leave the decision-making to just a handful of people. This state has extremely smart people who can think outside the box and get things done. There’s a lot of common sense in Indiana. Why do we leave government in the hands of just a few people, many of whom are beholden to special interests instead of the concerns of Jack and Diane in Everytown, Indiana?

So I left my polling place feeling kind of disgusted. I fully believe in the potential of American democracy. It’s a beautiful thing. But we’ve let much of our government fall into the hands of an oligarchy that’s bought and supported by Big-Fill-In-The-Blank (Oil, Pharma, Hollywood, Climate, you name it, there’s a Big label for it). And that’s not OK.

Maybe it’s my fault.

So after I voted, I started to wonder if maybe I was partially to blame? Well, not just me, but all of us who might be considered Jack or Diane Hoosier. Maybe we’re to blame because we’ve abdicated our responsibility. There’s a good portion of citizens in Indiana who would be great civil servants. But, for whatever reason, none of us have. And so we’re left holding the bag with less-than-exciting choices to lead our State and Federal governments.

Republicans and Democrats always seem to be duking it out. Can't we all just get along for once?

Is now the time?

So now there’s this tiny window of opportunity that presents itself. With Governor Pence leaving the governor’s race, the Republican nomination is now up for grabs. What if a non-establishment candidate, someone who isn’t bogged down by the insane politics we’ve experienced recently and can possibly bring some common sense and unity back to the State of Indiana threw his or her hat in the ring? I love our state. The longer I’m here, the more I love the people I can call my neighbors. And I want to see Indiana great again. So maybe I should listen to myself and take my own advice. I’ve told other people that if they don’t like the choices they see in the voting booth, then they should do something about it. Maybe that means they should run.

But maybe I should listen to myself. Maybe instead of telling everyone else they should do something about the choices by running for public office, maybe should practice what I’m preaching.

Should I run for governor of Indiana?

Remember when Pat Buchanan left the Republican Party and ran for President as a member of the Reform Party? I do. OK, I really don’t remember much about his campaign or what he stood for, but I do remember that he presented himself as  political outsider as he left the GOP.

And he had a catchy slogan: “Go Pat Go.”

As I’m contemplating this run for governor of the State of Indiana, I’ve settled on two slogans to help me with my decision. I’d really like your help in deciding whether to make this run.

If you think I should throw caution to the wind and toss my hat into the ring and run for Governor of Indiana in 2016, tweet something with the hashtag #GoMattGo. I know. It’s such a witty play off of Mr. Buchanan’s slogan.

If you think I should not attempt to become the Republican candidate, then tweet something with the hashtag #NoMattNo. I know. I’m so creative. Right?

Or you can leave your opinion in the comments section of this post. But please be respectful. No name calling in regards to other candidates. This post will be highly moderated and there will be a zero-tolerance policy.

Time is running out. I think the Indiana Republican Party has to make a decision very, very soon. I don’t have time to form an exploratory committee or anything like that. I don’t have a platform established. And I definitely don’t have the money to mount a campaign. This would have to be a major grassroots effort to convince the bigwigs in charge of the Indiana GOP to choose me over some well-established candidates.

With all of that considered, I plan on announcing a decision by Wednesday afternoon.

I know you’ll be on the edge of your seat in anticipation of this announcement. I know I will be.

 

A former pastor’s plea: Encourage your pastor.

Recently, I found myself looking through some archived emails of mine. I was searching for an old piece of information. I don’t remember what I needed, exactly. But I remember that I needed the information for some type of job application.

Mr Popular

During my quest, I stumbled upon some conversations that happened during the years I was pastoring that small church in East Central Indiana. While I believe I have completely moved on from that experience, having let go of whatever bitterness I had harbored (remember when God kicked me in the teeth?), I’m not gonna lie. Reading some of those emails hurt my heart.

Not one of the emails I had read was positive. My inbox was full of messages that pointed out what I wasn’t doing right. They focused on the negative. Not one of the 8-10 emails that I skimmed had a positive comment. That still hurts my heart.

It hurts my heart because I know I’m not the only pastor to have received emails like this. It hurt my heart because I know that many pastors have received emails like that this week. Maybe even today. And at the same time, they haven’t received any words of encouragement. I know it’s easier to point out areas improvement instead of talking about what was done well, but a constant barrage of negativity, continually hearing things like…

“You didn’t do _________.”
or
“You forgot to pray for _________.”
or
“Why haven’t you brought more young families to our church?”
or
“We’re not growing. What are you going to do about it?”
or
“Why haven’t you visited _________ yet? She’s had a hangnail on her pinky for a week!”  – OK. I’m only half joking about this last one. You’d be amazed at how some people get worked up about the silliest of things, though.

A constant barrage of negative attitudes, criticisms, and complaints with no reprieve can wear you out. Pastoring can be a lonely profession. Being a recipient of such discouraging messages over and over again only makes things even more isolating.

It’s no wonder so many people walk away from the pastorate.

I know this isn’t the goal of most people who complain and gripe and criticize. But it happens. And this isn’t healthy. There’s already a spiritual battle taking place around our church leaders. Let’s try to minimize casualties due to friendly fire, shall we? So let’s do something about it. Let’s all work on being an encouragement to our pastors and anyone else in church leadership positions.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up - 1 Thessalonians 5:11

This month is Pastor Appreciation Month. It’s a good time to start fixing this heartbreaking trend. But please don’t stop when the calendar switches to November.

Here are some ways you can encourage your pastor all year long:

1.) Send a note.

You have no idea how much impact a simple note or card can have. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. All it really needs to say is “You’re doing a good job,” or something like “I appreciate you because _______” or even a simple “Thank you.” These simple gestures don’t take very much time but they are powerful.

I used to keep a “Feel Good” folder tucked away in my files. Whenever I was having a really tough day, I would pull that out and look through a couple of the notes and cards I’d received over the years. These items are always a beacon of light whenever times are tough and it feels like the darkness is creeping in.

2.) Watch what you say.

There are times you have to be critical. I get that. I understand that. Criticism isn’t a bad thing. It’s important. It helps people grow and improve. We have to help each other get better. It’s part of how iron sharpens iron.

BUT…

Don’t let the only things that come out of your mouth be negative. Consider following this rule: for every criticism/complaint/negative comment you make, say three positive things. It might sound silly, but it’s a simple reminder to keep our eyes on the positive.

And even when you need to say something critical, make sure you’re still speaking life. We are called to be life-givers. Not soul-suckers.

Speak life. In all you do and say, speak life.

3.) Help protect your pastor’s family.

Pastoring is tough. It can be even tougher on a pastor’s family. Family Life has some pretty good suggestions about how you can encourage your pastor by helping to protect your pastor’s family.

4.) Bring a guest.

You want to make your pastor’s day? Maybe even your pastor’s month? Invite a guest to participate in a worship service with you. You don’t have to make a big deal about it. You don’t even have to introduce your guest to the pastor. If you’re part of the majority of churches in America, your pastor is probably begging you to bring a friend some Sunday. Imagine what an encouragement it would be if your pastor found out that you did what you were asked to do!

Avoiding friendly fire.

When I was ordained 15 years ago, I remember being told by a few people during the service that I was now a “marked man.” In other words, we are in the midst of a spiritual war and choosing to step into a role as a church leader means that you’ve decided to allow a giant target to be placed upon you. Satan wants to see the Church destroyed. A great way to do that is by destroying her leaders.

I firmly believe that a spiritual war is waging all around us. As we are fighting in this war, however, let’s make sure that the target that’s on our leaders doesn’t get moved to their backs. Let’s avoid wounding our pastors with friendly fire.

I’m open to suggestions!

What are you going to do to encourage your pastor this week? These four ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. I’d love to hear your suggestions. We’re all on the same side. Let’s work together to encourage and lift up our church leaders in ways they’ve never experienced before! When we do that, we’ll have a tiny part in changing the world.

I admit that I haven’t been as good at being an encouragement to my church leaders and pastors as I should be. So while I’m waiting for your awesome suggestions, I’m going to go sit down and write some notes to some members of our church staff.

I hope you’ll join me.

7 Leadership Lessons from Climbing Mountains

7 Leadership Lessons from Climbing Mountains

The pictures have been flooding my facebook timeline and my instagram feed all week. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just search for #Philmont in one of your favorite social media platforms.

The staff at Philmont Scout Ranch is ready. They are about to be invaded once again by Scouts from around the world. Lives will change as these young men and women ascend the Summit of Scouting. Philmont does that to people. It teaches you about life. It teaches you about friendship. It stretches you in ways you cannot possibly imagine. And it makes you a better leader.

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of my final trek at Philmont Scout Ranch. Over the course of five different adventures as a Camper or an Adviser, I hiked well over 400 miles. Each year, I climbed at least two different mountains. I saw the sun rise from atop a 11,100 foot peak. I’ve eaten more Squeeze Cheese for lunch than most people could even imagine. I have looked down on the world from the top of places like Baldy Mountain, Comanche Mountain, Mount Phillips, Uracca Mesa, Wilson Mesa, Deer Lake Mesa, Schaefer’s Peak, Bear Mountain, Big Red, and the Tooth of Time. Later, I also added Trail Peak to my list of conquered mountains.

While I’ve never climbed Mt. Everest or Mt. McKinley, I’ve been around a mountain or two. Some of these journeys felt next to impossible. Others were relatively easy. Looking back on my mountain climbing experiences, there are some key leadership lessons that I learned while climbing these mountains.

1. No one gets left behind.

Hiking at Philmont is hard. It’s physically demanding. It wears some people out quicker than others. But the strain eventually catches up to everyone. This is even moreso when you’re hiking up a mountain together as a crew.

As a crew.

That’s key. You hike together. No one gets too far ahead and no one gets too far behind. I know. It’s tempting to just let the fastest and strongest just forge the path ahead, leaving everyone else in their dust. But that’s not teamwork. There is strength in numbers, so it is advantageous to keep your team close together.

Climbing Baldy Mountain at Philmont Scout Ranch

At Philmont, that meant there were times where the slower hikers would be put up front. They would set the pace. Not only did this keep everyone closer together, but it gave the stronger hikers a chance to encourage those who were struggling.

It just makes sense. If you’re going to be a team, you have to do things to encourage teamwork. Sometimes that means putting other people ahead of you. Some criticize this and call it leading from behind. I call it servant leadership. And since I witnessed first-hand how this helped keep a team together, I firmly believe it’s a key to building teamwork. Allow others to set the pace sometimes. And no one will be left behind.

#2. Listening to others can save your life.

In a great example of horrible decision-making, I made a choice that negatively impacted my health during my second trip to Philmont. I failed to pack a jacket of any kind. The only thing I had was a sweatshirt. I did have a poncho, but the warmest thing I brought for myself was a gray sweatshirt.

“It’ll be OK,” I thought. I didn’t really need my jacket last year.

And for most of the trek, I didn’t need it. I did just fine with the sweatshirt. I knew I should’ve brought a jacket. Friends had reminded me that I needed a jacket. I just didn’t listen to them.

Along one side of Baldy Mountain is an abandoned mine. It’s the Aztec Mine at French Henry Camp. The day before our journey up Baldy, we made a stop at the camp and toured the mine. It was a cool, misty day and touring the mine was a welcome reprieve from carrying our packs uphill all day. As we lined up our packs and prepared for the tour, I took off my sweatshirt and tied it to the back of my pack. My pack cover was on, so I figured my sweatshirt would remain dry.

I was wrong.

When we finished the mine tour, we refilled our water bottles and grabbed our packs in preparation for the final leg of our journey to our camp for the evening, I discovered that my sweatshirt was pretty wet. I don’t remember if it had rained while we were in the mine or if the mist was heavier than I’d thought, but the sweatshirt was not anywhere near dry. It might not have been soaked, but it was more than just a little damp.

I didn’t really think anything of it, really. Stuff dries pretty quickly when you’re in the mountains of New Mexico. Unless, of course, you’re walking through a cloud. Then? Not so much.

We made it to our destination and set up camp in relatively quick time. With the down-time that we had, we decided to play a quick game of Spades. Or maybe it was Hearts. I can’t remember, but I’m sure it was one of those two games because we always played one of those games during our down-time.

My sweatshirt was still damp. But it was getting a little bit chilly, so I put it on. The game continued and we worked hard at one-upping each other with our taunts as we played our cards. Ultimately, I said something pretty snarky and my friend, Jeff, shouted…
"Shut up Blue Lips!"

“Blue lips?” Really? What kind of insult is that, I thought. Then it hit me. Maybe my lips really were blue.

He was laughing, proud of the insult he’d just hurled at me. “OK. Seriously. Are my lips really blue?” I asked.

“Well, yeah. They’re turning a nice shade of blue.”

In preparation for the trek, we went through all kinds of First Aid training. And one of the things they stressed was the signs of hypothermia. You had to get hypothermia under control because if you didn’t, things could get really bad. Blue lips, of course, is a sign that I could’ve been battling a case of hypothermia. And there was no way they were taking me off the trail for that. So I did everything I could to get warm in my sleeping bag. I only came out that evening for a bowl of hot food. I think it was spaghetti. And then I went back to bed.

Jeff didn’t realize I was showing the signs of hypothermia with my blue lips, but there’s still a lesson here. You might not be able to see what’s wrong with you, but outsiders can. Especially your friends. Don’t be so arrogant to think that you have all the answers and that you have it all figured out.

Real leadership involves listening to others – even if they tell you something you don’t want to hear. Don’t surround yourself with “yes men.” Make sure you have people in your life who will call you out for having blue lips. And listen to them. It just might save your life.

#3. Sometimes the view from the top ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Me and my Dad on top of Mt. Baldy.

The next day after being called Blue Lips, we hiked to the top of Mt. Baldy. We were still in the middle of the cloud. The view was…less than stunning. In fact, it was pretty horrible. The vision we had of climbing Baldy and seeing miles and miles in every direction? Yeah. That didn’t happen.

Sometimes reaching the goal we’ve set doesn’t really achieve the results we think it’s going to achieve. So we need to evaluate and re-evaluate and celebrate the wins and learn whatever lessons we can from the experience. The view from Baldy was awful. And climbing up the mountain in the middle of a cloud was awful. I was cold. And I think my thumb was frozen in a thumbs-up position.

But I climbed a 12,441 foot mountain. And I did it with my dad.

The view might not have been worth celebrating, but the experience surely was.

#4. Sometimes, however, the view is breathtaking.
The view from Mt. Baldy

A few years later, we were able to return to Mt. Baldy. It was breathtaking.

Need I say more?

#5. Morale matters.

I got called out while leading a crew once. And it was probably one of the pivotal moments in my life. All of us were pretty miserable at this point. Over the past two days, we had hiked something like 20 miles and were in desperate need of a break. The day’s hike was short, but we needed to get over a mountain ridge in the process. My friend, Jarod, and I were Crew Leaders that year. We were hanging out in the middle of the pack, singing songs and joking around, trying to make the best of the situation.

Suddenly, Jack, Jarod’s dad, pulled the two of us aside and encouraged the rest of the crew to go on. We’d catch up with them shortly. It was a bit of a break in protocol, but I’m glad he did this in private.

Because he ripped into us.

As leaders, we needed to know that everyone in our crew was miserable. They were exhausted. Some were struggling to make it up the ridge. Others were dealing with some serious injuries. Thinking back, we were a pretty miserable sight. But Jarod and I just kept on hiking and joking around and seemed pretty oblivious to everyone’s situation. And Jack let us know that how we were acting as leaders of this crew was completely unacceptable.

“Shut up and lead”

That’s how he finished the lecture. And I got it. That moment is burned into my memory like very few others. In fact, we hiked that same ridge a couple of years later and I stopped to reflect on that moment. Yeah, I felt pretty horrible that Jack had torn into us like that. But it permanently shifted my understanding of leadership.

If you’re a leader and things are going tough, you can’t remain aloof. You can’t just pretend that everything is OK. I think that’s what Jarod and I were trying to do. You have to get in the trenches and be part of the people you are leading. As a leader, they’re following your example. They need to know that you care. Because they’re looking to you for a morale boost. Morale definitely matters.

#6. Words have meaning.

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There was one time where we had to carry our own water up a mountain. I was given the task of strapping one of those 5 (or was it 10? It felt like 500) gallon water bladders to the back of my pack. It was one of the worst experiences I had while climbing a mountain. Yes. Even worse than my first Baldy experience (but not by much).

As we were hiking, people kept trying to encourage me. They kept telling me that it was only half-full.

I wanted to punch them in the throat.

In a nice little twist, half-full reminded me that there was a lot of water in that bag that was strapped to the back of my backpack. It was pretty easy for me to focus on the bag being “full,” even though it was only halfway full. In this case, it was much more optimistic to say that the bag was half-empty.

I know. It’s weird. But it worked. It definitely helped. Because what we say matters. Words have meaning. And leaders’ words are magnified tenfold.

So watch what you say. People are listening. Probably more than you realize.

#7. Climbing a mountain doesn’t happen in one step.

It’s true. Climbing a mountain is a journey. It helps when you break the journey up into smaller, more attainable steps.

Because Baldy is so steep and so rocky, we had a special system in place. Most of the time, it’s most beneficial to keep going when you feel like stopping. You don’t want to kill your momentum while climbing mountains. So you usually push on.

Not so with Baldy. We broke the climb up into smaller, more attainable climbs. And when we’d get to that smaller goal within the larger goal, we’d celebrate with a swig of water and a lemonhead or a cherry drop. We didn’t stop for very long before pressing on.

We had the larger goal, I guess you could call it our vision, in focus. And we broke it up into smaller, more attainable goals. Each goal was challenging, but they were still doable. And then we’d celebrate each little victory. On the outside, it might’ve looked silly. But we conquered that mountain because we worked at a team. And together, we were able to achieve far greater things than we could have if we were all working alone. Successful leaders showed us how to get to the mountaintop as a team.

One goal at a time.

One step at a time.

What do you think?

I overheard this statement in a conversation today:

“A good leader inspires you to believe in the leader. A great leader inspires you to believe in yourself.”

It made me think. Is that really the mark of a great leader? What do you think?

No – this isn’t a rhetorical question.

Oh the irony

Go to former President Clinton’s defense of his use of pardons on his last day in office.  Go down to end of the 7th paragraph.  Recognize the name of the last person listed as a ‘distinguished’ Republican attorney?  He’s all over the news right now.  Ironic, don’t you think?

You know I don’t talk politics on here very often.  I’m getting pretty tired of the rhetoric and we need a little bit more consistency here.  If you didn’t have a problem with Clinton’s controversial pardons, including 140 on his last day in office, then you should have no problem with Bush doing the same thing here.  On the flip side, if you had a problem with what Clinton did, then you should have a problem with Bush’s actions, too.

I’m tired of the politics.  I’m tired of people feigning outrage simply because it’s politically expedient.  I’d just like a little consistency in our leadership.  Is that so wrong?

Don’t get me wrong.  I have no illusions of a bygone era where political opponents reached across the aisle on a regular basis.  This political mudslinging is at least as old as American politics itself – and I’m sure it’s older than that.  People who say there has never been such hate and venom spewed at the present Bush presidency have a rather short view of history.  I’d love to give a history lesson here, but it would take too long right now.  Let’s just say that this sort of grandstanding, name-calling, and hate-mongering (on both sides) comes from a long-standing tradition.

But I’m sick of it.

I’d imagine many others are sick of it too.  That’s why we can’t get people to go vote.  It just gets old.

Where are our real leaders?

Leadership Lessons from a Game Show

I didn’t want to be, but I got sucked in. I thought the premise of the show was goofy – that Fox was grasping at straws, trying to make the most of the reality TV game show craze. I watched one episode of Hell’s Kitchen halfway through the season and the show sucked me in – similar to the way RockStar: INXS did to me last summer (I enjoy the performances on RockStar: Supernova more, but I think I liked the first season better). I began looking forward to each Monday night’s episode.

Last night was the finale. Of the two, I’m glad that Heather won. She showed a much stronger leadership quality than Virginia did. Last night, Virginia became the poster girl for how not to motivate your team. For the final challenge, the two competitors had to run a kitchen staffed by former contestants. When Virginia gathered her team for a pep talk, she told them she picked them because everyone else thought they were weak and she wanted to see what show that she could make them better.

Say what?

It makes complete sense to tell your team, “Everyone thinks you’re losers. I do too. Let’s go, team!”

That’s a great way to rally your troops, isn’t it? I can see someone saying, “Everyone thinks you can’t do it. I picked you because I think you can. Let’s work together and show everyone else they were wrong. Go team!”

In the end, it was obvious that Virginia hadn’t properly motivated her team. I’m sure there’s some kind of lesson for me here as I continue to prepare for church leadership…

Learning Together

“Our congregations (should) look at us (leaders in the church) as fellow learners, as well as teachers.”
~Dr. Ramsaran

I’m scouring my notes for stuff to remember for tomorrow’s test. I’m sure I’ll have some more quotes by the end of the day.