2017 Central Leadership Forum

2017 CLF Trip to Gettysburg-DC

This past week, I had the opportunity to lead 25 rising ninth graders on an eight-day leadership trip to Gettysburg and Washington, D.C. These students represent 13 different schools and 15 different churches here in St. Louis.

The amazing journey was a culmination of the Central Leadership Forum (CLF), which began in February with 12 two-hour weekly sessions on what it means to be an image-bearer of God in how we view ourselves, others, and the world around us.

I would love to share with your our journey to Gettysburg and DC in a diary format. I pray that you will be encouraged as I was by what the LORD did in the lives of these young people.

Day 1 (Saturday)


We spent 18 hours on the bus ride from St. Louis to Gettysburg, PA. It was a great time for the students to bond and get to know one another!

Day 2 (Sunday)


We started the day with a worship service at Middle Creek Lodge (located 10 minutes from Gettysburg).  We enjoyed a time of singing, individual (private) prayers of confession, and Scripture study. We read from Acts 20:17-38, as we looked at Paul’s leadership and his charge to the leaders in the church of Ephesus.  We observed how leadership discussions should always include the importance of character (v.19), courage (v.20), conviction (v.21), crucible (v.22-23), course (v.24), and a charge (v.25-28).  For application, we watched two scenes from the film 42, and had some great discussions on the ways Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey, and Pee Wee Reese emulated the above traits.

Gettysburg Visitors Center

We began our tour of Gettysburg by spending time at the Visitors Center. http://www.gettysburgfoundation.org/10.  We watched A New Birth of Freedom (a film narrated by Morgan Freeman) before experiencing the Cyclorama, the nation’s largest oil painting. The students were amazed not only by the battlefield stories but by the painting itself. We then heard from a park ranger who spoke on what it was like to be a Civil War soldier from the coal mine areas of Pennsylvania and the challenges soldiers faced in this time period.  We finished up at the Civil War Museum—walking through the history of the Civil War—as we prepared for our time on the battlefields tomorrow.

Back at the Lodge

After dinner, we gathered for our first group session on the importance of leading with a biblical worldview.  We then watched Part 1 of the film Gettysburg to prepare for our Monday morning and afternoon tours. We focused on the leadership of four individuals—Generals James Longstreet and Robert E. Lee for the Confederate army and Colonels Joshua Chamberlain and John Buford for the Union Army.

Day 3 (Monday)

IMG_0623 1.16.06 PM

The Battlefields of Gettysburg

We had another full morning and afternoon exploring Gettysburg.  Today was our “outside” day—and while there was light rain from 9-2pm, it did not take away from exploring the battlefields representing Day 1, 2, and 3 (July 1-3, 1863) of the Battle of Gettysburg.  We envisioned what it was like to be a soldier in the exact surroundings, as we examined the strategies that helped the Union defeat the Confederates.  We especially spent time on Little Round Top, exploring the courage and amazing leadership of Col. Joshua Chamberlain, and walking the “Long Mile” of Pickett’s Charge.

Back at the Lodge

Similar to last night, after dinner we had another Group Session where we continued exploring how leadership often calls for courage in the face of adversity.  Tonight we studied Joshua’s commission by God (Joshua 1) and the challenges and encouragement the LORD gave him to lead His people into the Promised Land.  We applied this to the courage of Col. Joshua Chamberlain, as well as a scene from The Blind Side showing the courage, character, and faith of Michael Oher and the Tuohy family.  The students were active participants in the discussion — as we compared these challenges to ones they will face in high school and the importance of having a firm foundation in Christ.

We ended our evening by watching Part 2 of the film Gettysburg.  After a break, we enjoyed watching Remember the Titans—a powerful true story of the integration of T.C. Williams High School and the bonding of their Titan football team at Gettysburg College/Gettysburg Cemetery where we will be tomorrow.

Day 4 (Tuesday)


We had a meaningful day, which I hope the students will remember for a long, long time. We began with debriefing Remember the Titans. After a devotional on the Apostle Peter and his courage and leadership, we viewed Part 3 of Gettysburg.  I was so encouraged by their reaction to this film, especially how their were moved by the sacrifice that was made in this battle.  As an aside, Director Ron Maxwell does a great job developing the characters of the film so you care when they die.  He does not bombard you with blood and gore—which makes it not only more watchable, but moving.  Furthermore, these movie scenes were filmed on the exact ground we walked yesterday.

Gettysburg National Cemetery

We then visited Gettysburg National Cemetery and read numerous tombstones of those who gave their lives. We were also impacted by the markers that showed other veterans who have died over the years up to the Vietnam War.   We had a great reflection time this evening and a number of students shared how they were inspired/impressed by our time there.  We also gave the students the opportunity to recite a line from the Gettysburg Address on the exact site where President Lincoln did over 154 years ago.

Bob Woodson


We drove an hour and 30 minutes to Washington, DC.  After visiting the Washington Monument and the World War II Memorial, we visited the Woodson Center.  Founder and President Bob Woodson (pictured above) met with our students for over an hour! (http://woodsoncenter.org)  Mr. Woodson is a man of great faith in Christ. He exudes humility even though he has advised various U.S. Presidents and currently advises Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. Your kids were so blessed by their dialogue with Mr. Woodson and did a great job engaging him and asking thoughtful questions!  He is doing amazing work in some of the most difficult schools and communities across the country that many view as hopeless.

We wrapped up our day at a wonderful Italian restaurant in the DC area, and then debriefed about our time at the Gettysburg National Cemetery and with Bob Woodson.

Day 5 (Wednesday)


Capitol Hill

Our morning began at Starbucks(!) in Union Station. We then went to the Russell Senate Office Building to participate in “Missouri Mornings” with Senator Roy Blunt. In addition to meeting the senator, we spoke at length with several of his interns.  One of the interns took us underground to the Capitol Visitor’s Center, where we learned the fascinating history of its construction over the years—from the early 1800s to the present.

We then met with U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black (pictured above). He was a highlight for many of the students, for he was engaging, funny, deep, and relevant. Dr. Black shared part of his testimony with us and encouraged us to grow in wisdom, go the extra mile, and honor God by not “defiling our bodies.” He is a man of great wisdom and very motivational.

Afterwards, we made our way to Congressman Lacy Clay’s office who represents several areas of the St. Louis region. He was warm and candid, and we were grateful for his hospitality. As an aside, he let one of our students sit in his desk chair and was excited to learn he knew another one of our student’s grandfather!

For lunch, we went through the hallways and elevators of the Rayburn Building all the way down to a cafeteria used primarily by House of Representatives staff. We were the only student group in a sea of employees, and we all felt really official.

After a visit to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court—where we talked about the history of major cases decided at the court—we headed to the Heritage Foundation, a DC think tank that works to promote traditional values. Two amazing speakers—Heritage’s Jennifer Marshall and Focus on the Family’s Tim Goeglein (another student favorite!) spoke with our students.  Jennifer challenged the students on the importance of engaging the culture on important social issues of the day from a biblical perspective. Tim, the chief lobbyist for Focus on the Family, wonderfully engaged our students on how to live as a Christian in today’s tough political climate and the importance of godly character—which we demonstrated from stories of Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency.

In the evening, we processed all of today’s conversations with the leaders we met back at the 4H Center and noticed a number of themes—the importance of character, trusting God through trials (two speakers have referenced the biblical story of Joseph in depth over the past 24 hours!), and seeking to honor God with our gifts and talents.

Day 6 (Thursday)



We began our day at the Newseum. It is such an amazing venue!  We spent time at the 9/11 exhibit, the Berlin Wall exhibit, the Broadcast Journalism Arena, the Civil Rights area, and much much more.  We concluded our educational time with a private seminar class about “How to Identify Fake News.”

Cal Thomas (http://calthomas.com/)

Our first speaker of the day was a good friend, Cal Thomas—a syndicated columnist who appears in hundreds of newspapers, Fox News, and other media outlets regularly.  Cal was an engaging, humorous, and insightful, speaker.  When asked what makes a good journalist, he emphasized the importance of reading good writers, knowing history, pursuing wisdom through reading the Scriptures, and getting advice from older people.

National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)

It was a huge answer to prayer that we were able to get tickets to this incredibly moving museum (pictured above)!  A big thank you goes out to Kendral Smith and her cousin Eric who helped us get the final 10 tickets we needed!  Words don’t express the powerful story and history that is captured here—a number of students (boys and girls) were in tears.  We had a very moving debriefing tonight about our time there with the students before they heard from our final speaker, Dede Winkfield, who made what they experienced at the NMAAHC very real and personal.

Dede Winkfield

After dinner, we met with Dede, a teacher at the National Presbyterian School in DC. who worked with me for 6 years at Fourth Presbyterian School.  Dede’s family was very close to Dr. Martin Luther King’s family, for her mom was Dr. King’s assistant and oversaw his press relations. Dede spoke for over an hour about growing up during the Civil Rights Movement and her personal memories of Uncle Martin and Aunt Coretta. Her time with our students was invaluable, and we are so grateful for her honesty and vulnerability.



Day 7 (Friday)


Capitol Hill

We began our day with Congressman Robert Aderholt from Alabama. He is a personal friend of mine, and he cared so well for us—especially considering we were a group from Missouri and not Alabama (Roll Tide!)  Robert took us down to the House floor (!) and allowed us to sit in the seats typically occupied by congressmen while voting or listening to the State of the Union Address. It was amazing! A member of Mr. Aderholt’s staff (from the University of Alabama—Roll Tide!) led us on a tour of the Rotunda, Statuary Hall and some other parts of the Capitol afterward.

Image-bearer of God Tour

After breakfast at the Capitol Hill Starbucks, we traveled to the National Archives where we witnessed the original Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.  We also learned that they have discontinued the security system to protect these invaluable documents (as featured in the movie National Treasure—sorry Nicholas Cage!) and have gone to a new secret system!  This began our image-bearer and civil rights progress tour, as we went from the Declaration (‘’all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”) to the Lincoln Memorial (where we stood in the footsteps of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech”) to Dr. King’s Memorial.

We then left for lunch at the Corner Bakery (a block from the White House) and then proceeded to the White House grounds.  Their was high security around the White House, so we weren’t able to get as close as normal.  Nevertheless, we got a good view of the Rose Garden.  Our last stop of the day was the National Gallery, the art museum which is part of the Smithsonian network.  My friend and former colleague Susan Scola (a former docent at the Gallery) gave us a Race & History Tour—concluding with the Shaw Memorial, which memorializes the 54th Massachusetts (the all-black regiment featured in the movie Glory!)  We were all encouraged by Susan’s wonderful tour and how engaged and interested the students were.  On the way out, Susan showed us the only Leonardo da Vinci painting outside of Europe!

We finished the evening by dining at Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace (Flay is a Food Network icon). Back at the 4H conference center, we debriefed the week together, and everyone shared 1) their favorite place visited at Gettysburg and DC and 2) their favorite person to meet this past week.  It was a wonderful time to learn what impacted each student the most.  Along these lines, you must know what an answer to prayer it was for us to get 30 tickets for the National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Our tour there profoundly impacted our students in so many ways (moving even our young men to tears) and was the DC place most mentioned by our 25 CLF students.

Day 8 (Saturday)

We boarded the bus and made the long journey home to St. Louis a fully bonded group.

What a blessing to see our students come together so well!  I pray that the CLF Class of 2017 will long remember the deep faith, courage, and leadership they witnessed—both past and present—on this journey. My prayer is that God will continue to use the moments and revelations from this trip—reinforcing St. Paul’s challenge to the church of Galatia, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” For as they apply this truth as image-bearers of God, they will be equipped to engage their generation for Jesus Christ.


Perseverance Despite Adversity

I want to take this opportunity to share with you excerpts from my May 2017 graduation charge to our sixth graders at Central Christian School.

Class of 2017… As I reflected on our three 2017 graduate speakers’ essays (A Passion for God, A Love of Truth, and A Zeal to Serve), I couldn’t help but notice how they all had a familiar theme—perseverance, despite adversity—one of the overarching themes of your 5th grade year.

As I was praying about this topic and the importance of faith in Jesus during difficult times, I remembered a story that I learned during my time in Washington, D.C.

This May marked the anniversary of one of the greatest communication breakthroughs in world history—a feat achieved through perseverance despite adversity by putting trust in Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. I hope the story of this individual blesses and inspires you as much as it did me.

Take Sam.

As a young Christian, Sam entered Yale University at the age of 15.  Although he studied electricity and chemistry under two of the top scientists of the day, Sam surprised his parents after graduation by choosing his true passion—painting.

His father, a well-known pastor and “Father of American Geography,” supported his son’s vision to study in London.  While learning from a renowned painter, Sam nevertheless epitomized a starving artist—bringing in little income and barely making ends meet.

Sam returned to America eager to apply his maturing talent.  During this time, he met and married his wife, with whom he would father three children.  But his search for commissioned work up and down the East Coast greatly reduced the time he would spend with his family.

Sadly, the death of Sam’s young wife occurred while he labored miles away on a portrait in Washington, D.C.  In what would later be a sad ironic twist, he would not arrive until after her burial because of the time it took to communicate the news.

“Oh, is it possible? Is it possible? Shall I never see my dear wife again?” Sam wrote, “But I cannot trust myself to write on the subject. I need your prayers, and those of Christian friends, to God for support. I fear I shall sink under it.”

Although painting a number of respected pieces, the next 12 years saw Sam struggle with finances and discouragement.  He attained an art professorship at New York University and soon sought the commissioning of one of the planned historic paintings in the U.S. Capitol’s Rotunda.

Experiencing rejection yet again, Sam collapsed into despair. “The blow I received from Congress … has almost destroyed my enthusiasm for my art…. I have not painted a picture since that decision…. When so unexpectedly I was repelled, I staggered under the blow…and [it] would goad me to death were it not for its aspect in the light of God’s overruling providence. Then all is right.”

Sam decided to return to his science skills and gave his full attention to the development of a device that could communicate over long distances.  Petitioning Congress to test the invention, his funding request was ignored—causing him to seek a patent and financial support in Europe.

To his surprise five years later, both Houses of Congress approved his large grant request.  And on May 24, 1844, Sam tested his invention before some of the most powerful leaders of the day.

The invention?  The telegraph.

Using a verse from the Bible–Numbers 23:23—suggested by a friend’s daughter, Sam, or I should say, Samuel Morse delivered the message “What hath God wrought!” using what became known as Morse Code over the first electric telegraph line from the U.S. Supreme Court Chamber in Washington, D.C. to Baltimore.

To Morse, these words were an exact expression of how the telegraph had come into being.

As he would later write to his brother Sidney: “You will see by the [news]papers how great success has attended the first efforts of the Telegraph… ‘What hath God wrought!’  It is His work, and He alone could have carried me thus far through all my trials and enabled me to triumph over the obstacles, physical and moral, which opposed me.”

Reviewing the impact of Morse’s creation in recent years, The Economist Digital Editor Tom Standage dubbed it The Victorian Internet: “It allowed people to communicate almost instantly across great distances, in effect shrinking the world faster and further than ever before.  A worldwide network whose cables spanned continents and oceans, it revolutionized business practice…and inundated its users with a deluge of information…Does all this sound familiar?”

With Morse’s invention came the growth and transformation of the Associated Press, the New York Stock Exchange, and many other communication breakthroughs in the United States and around the globe too great to list here.

Thus, after decades of trial, Morse became a worldwide celebrity—receiving honor after honor over the next 25 years—culminating in 1871, when a bronze statue of Morse was dedicated in Central Park.  That evening at the Academy of Music, many luminaries witnessed the following message sent to Washington, D.C., using Morse’s original telegraph: “Greeting and thanks to the telegraphic fraternity throughout the land. Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good-will to men.”

As The New York Times reported, “Morse, with trembling fingers, touched his key and signed his name to the above dispatch—the entire audience rose…with cheer after cheer.”

He would die a year later, embodying the words of St. Peter, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

A charge worth considering again today.