FAITH Season 4, Episode 1 "A Cowboy's Guide for Life & Leadership" audio podcast by award-winning western author Stephen Bly. 25 trail tips for the road as leader of your church, camp, or conference, or disciple follower of Jesus. Sponsored by BlyBooks.com Legacy Series. "A Western Trail Guide For Life & Leadership, Part 1" blog post article found here: https://www.blybooks.com/2023/06/trail-guide-part-1/
and "Happy Trail Tips for Leaders, Part 2" here: https://www.blybooks.com/2023/06/happy-trail-tips-part-2/ and "Cowboy Leadership Tips, Part 3 here: https://www.blybooks.com/2023/06/leadership-tips-part-3/
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COWBOY’S GUIDE FOR LIFE & MINISTRY
Recorded at Cannon Beach Conference Center
If it’s true we’re on a trail, we need a guide to be reminded where we’re headed. We’re headed for a destination. When we get there, we want to be pleased with our travel along the way. That is, such as depicted by the famous James Earle Fraser’s western sculpture, End of the Trail, where the pony’s head’s down and the tail’s tucked between its legs, with the Indian’s slumped head, and his spear pointed to the ground.
That’s special to me and to Janet because the original End of the Trail statue for years stood in the Tulare County Mooney Grove Park in Visalia, California, near where we grew up. We many times used to picnic there and play around that statue.
Our End of the Trail
But at the end of our trail is something different. This Scripture verse has always been meaningful to me and challenges me. What is at the end of the trail for you and me? Not just heaven but the words from the Lord as well.
Hebrews 11:16, “Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God.”
That’s the greatest epitaph for anybody’s life: at the end of your trail, at the end of my trail, to know that God is not ashamed to be called their God. I want to live my life in such a way that could be true of me. So, that’s where we’re headed.
We’re headed for that glorious Promised Land, the end of the trail. We want to get there in such a way that God is not ashamed.
Today’s Trail Tips
And along the way there are some trail tips that will help. What I’m going to give you is enough staff devotions for about twenty or thirty weeks. These are fun, easy to remember, and I’ll show you how to apply them. They’ll help us be the kind of people God wants us to be.
Trail Tip #l: Always Drink Upstream from the Herd
That sounds obvious out on the trail. To me, that means we need to get to the Word of God before everyone else messes it all up. We need to be at the forefront of study, ahead of the trend in theology.
We need to dig into that Word when it’s fresh, when it’s pure, and running clear and be refreshed. In your camping conference ministry, you need to understand the Word before all those conferees do.
Trail Tip #2: There Never Was a Hoss Who Couldn’t Be Rode and There Never Was a Man Who Couldn’t Be Throwed
You and I need to take an honest look at ourselves. The challenges before us can be surmounted. God doesn’t put any trial in our way that we can’t handle. On the other hand, there has never been a temptation that you might not fall for. We can all be throwed.
We also need to take an honest look at what Jesus and we can accomplish, what me and Jesus can do. We can do a lot. But we need to keep in mind that I can stumble, I can fall, and I can be throwed.
Trail Tip #3: Never Ask a Man the Size of His Spread
The Old West rules still remain in the west. You don’t ask, “Well, now, how many acres do you ranch?”
I have a feeling that when you come to a place like this and you’re sitting down with people from other camps and conferences, if you don’t know them or their facilities yet, you’re trying to size up just where they’re at. What kind of spread do they have?
I don’t know how you measure that at camps and conferences—the amount of rooms or acres or yearly number of conferees or your budget? But I have a feeling there’s a lot of sizing up.
But in the Old West, it didn’t make any difference at all. It’s not a matter if you’re bigger than, richer than, wiser than. We’re responsible for what we have.
Trail Tip #4: After Weeks of Beans and Taters, Even a Change to Taters and Beans is Good
Do something different. Break the routine. Beans and taters—that does sound like some camp cooking. I’ve been to many of your campgrounds to speak and on Friday nights you always have the same menu.
But I’m not talking just about food. There’s lots of things we could switch around for a little different variety. How often do you change the furniture in your office? Switch it around so you don’t have to look at the same wall for the last seventeen years. A change in the routine can do wonders for the outlook.
Trail Tip #5: Never Saw a Branch Supporting You, Unless You’re Being Hung
Sounds obvious. However, in a lot of church ministries, as well as camps and conferences, we receive good support from different groups of people, such as financial, volunteer workers, etc. Then we get some great ideas of something new, something we could change. However, in doing this, we’d lose the support. We need to be sure we don’t cut off that branch.
But like I said, unless you’re being hung from it. When I talk to pastors, I really push on this one because a lot of pastors seem to be sawing off their support. For instance, they come into a church and immediately do battle with the Women’s Association. That’s sawing off a limb that’s supporting you.
Trail Tip #6: Generally Speaking, Fancy Titles and Night Shirts are a Waste of Time
People are important, as well as God’s design and gifts. It doesn’t matter if you have a title or not, degrees after your name or you don’t. It doesn’t matter if you get an office with your name on the door or not. Or whether you have a reserved parking place. Other things are more important and those aren’t worth much.
Every person has something to contribute. Everyone is an expert in something. One thing I’ve learned as a writer is to listen because everybody is a teacher. They can teach me something about areas I know nothing about.
Trail Tip #7: If You’re Riding Ahead of the Herd, Look Back Every Now and Then
Make sure they’re still there. Are they following you? Is the staff behind your leadership? Are the conferees with you? Are people coming? Or are you having so much excitement off on your own, you don’t know whether they’re back there or not.
Trail Tip #8: Even a Kick in the Caboose is a Step Forward
Accepting failure is a step forward. There are sometimes when it feels like a kick in the caboose. But it gets us moving in the direction God wants us to go. And that’s progress.
Chances are, if He had to kick us in the caboose, it’s because we wouldn’t step forward any other way. It’s the only way to get us moving. But we’re heading in the right direction.
Trail Tip #9: The Only Way to Drive Cattle Fast is Slow
In the Old West when they headed up from south Texas to go to the railheads in Kansas, they moved those great herds twenty years or so after the Civil War they did that sort of thing. And sometimes in the pictures and movies, I like to watch how they move the cattle north. The first thing I notice is that they use the white-faced cattle and not the longhorns because they couldn’t find enough longhorns. That seems a little strange.
The other thing I notice is they run the same cows by. They’ll have a camera angle here and over there and it’s the same ones. I guess they assume all cows look the same. And I suppose they do to some people. But the other thing I notice is they just trot the cattle right along.
Can you imagine if you trotted 4,000 head of cattle from south Texas to Kansas at that rate? I mean to tell you, you wouldn’t even have beef nuggets by the time they got to the Red River. When they moved those herds, they grazed them north. They certainly didn’t run them. They worked them a little bit and they ate grass all day long, so they’d be happy at the end of the day.
If you moved them slow, you’d get them there quick. If they moved them fast, they wouldn’t get there at all.
Sometimes there’s ministries and programs we’re involved in, the way to get to the destination quickest is to move slowly.
Trail Tip #10: A Person Who Agrees with Everything You Say Is Either a Fool or Getting Ready To Skin You
You need to have people around you who have other ideas, who have something else to say, who challenge your position. That’s okay. That means they’re independently thinking about it on their own.
Trail Tip #11: There’s a Lot More to Riding a Horse Than Sitting in a Saddle and Letting Your Feet Hang Down
You can get into a ministry, a position, a job, and figure you’re there. You can just coast through it. Day after day you perform to the minimum standard.
That’s like sitting in the saddle with your feet down and calling yourself horseback. But there’s lots more to riding than that. And a lot more to your job than mere surviving a routine.
Trail Tip #12: Don’t Get Mad at Somebody Who Knows More Than You
It ain’t his fault. Besides, I have a feeling you are people who learn a lot from others. The people who have a hard time learning from others don’t come to conferences because they know it all. But you’re here.
There are always people who know more than we do. In fact, I would say, everyone in this room knows more than you or I do about something. Just get them on the right topic. For instance, some of you are experts on working with Fimo Clay. I know nothing about it. You could teach me a lot about that craft.
The sooner you realize that you’re surrounded with people who know something more than you do. To get better at your job, listen to them.
Trail Tip #13: A Good Horse is Never a Bad Color
As far as I’m concerned, a good horse is never a bad breed either. It doesn’t matter.
But I know you might like horses with chrome on them. Or you prefer Paint horses or Appaloosas or Palominos, whatever your color preference. But a good horse is a good horse, whether it’s papered or not or anything else.
The same is true with a ministry or reaching out in relationships with others. A good worker is a good co-worker, whatever the background, social status, or physical looks. There’s nothing else as important.
Trail Tip #14: Oil All the Wheels on Your Wagon
Don’t pay attention to only the squeaking one. They had to put a lot of axle grease on those wagons coming across the prairie. That was usually one of the young boys’ jobs with the bucket of grease. Every hour or so they had to slap grease on the wheels under the wagon.
But you didn’t just slather the one making the noise. That just meant that they all needed some. That was the sort of alarm that revealed they all required lubricating. Maybe that’s true for any leader or head of staff. When only one is squeaking, they might mean that all of them need attention.
Trail Tip #15: The Time to Dance is When the Music’s Playing
There are certain times to do certain things to get them done. We spend a lot of time in our lives looking back with regrets saying, “I should have done that back there. That’s when we should have gone into that new ministry. We should have taken a bold new step of faith. That’s when we should have built that new building. That’s when we should have had a different kind of program.”
I have a little saying that I wrote for myself years ago. My own personal motto: “I’ve got to do the things in life I would regret not doing.” I don’t want to end my life with a bunch of “I should have done’s.”
If you hear the music playing, it’s time to dance. Plan and get involved in that program, that ministry, whatever it is God has for you to do. Don’t wait or postpone.
Janet and I teach at a lot of writers’ conferences. Everyone in America is writing a book. So many come up and say, “You know, I’m going to write a book someday.” And I think, no they aren’t. Not that they couldn’t, but if they keep putting it off, they’ll never do it.
Trail Tip #16: There’s No Need to Buckle on the Chaps and Spurs Just to Drive In the Milk Cows
You see, that’s overkill. If you’ve got two old milk cows, all you have to do is stand in the back of the barn and whistle a couple times. They’ll come trotting right in. You don’t need to cowboy up. You don’t need to saddle a horse or put on chaps or get out the rope or anything else.
Sometimes in relationships, we overreact. We act as though we have a whole herd to drive in and it’s really just a simple job one-on-one, just as we are.
Trail Tip #17: Sheep Don’t Associate with Wolves . . . and for a Very Good Reason
Some situations are spiritually dangerous, and we should flat avoid them. Sometimes we have an inflated idea of our own strength. We march out into all sorts of situations. Some of them we should try to dodge ahead of time. Some are obvious, just like sheep associating with wolves.
Trail Tip #18: Take Ranch Country for What It Is, Not What It Ought to Be
Take your ministry, camp, or conference center for what it is, not what it ought to be. In ranching it’s really easy to drive around and wish you had someone else’s ranch. They got more water. They have got a better meadow or better drainage or more acres. And they’re closer to town or away from town. Whatever it is, you can find something that’s better. The only way you make your ranch any good is to say, “This is mine and this is what I have.”
I grew up on a ranch and we did lots of farming. We farmed in central California in what we called ‘hardpan.’ About six or eight inches under the ground, there’s nothing but a sort of petrified dirt, solid rock. And it was about a foot thick. The only way to get through it was to often use dynamite. We’d plant trees by digging a small hole first to blow it up bigger with a stick of dynamite.
I used to look at those who owned property with thick alluvial soil in the delta with topsoil about 150 foot deep. I wondered what that would be like to work with. But that’s not what I had. And you and I need to accept what we’ve got.
Trail Tip #19: Don’t Hang Your Hat On Someone Else’s Peg
Take credit for your own actions but no one else’s Be quick to give credit to others.
Trail Tip #20: Any Blind Hog Can Find an Acorn
My father would often tell me this when I seemed to do something right. Don’t be overly impressed with your own success. Sometimes we just stumble into success. When people say, “How did you ever do that?” We should reply, “I don’t know. It just happened and I’m enjoying it.” I have to say something similar when someone mentions all the books I’ve written. It just happened and not only through skill of my own.
Trail Tip #21: Tossing Your Rope Before Building A Loop Don’t Catch the Calf
Trail Tip #22: Never Approach a Bull from the Front, a Horse from the Rear, or a Fool from Any Direction
There are some people to avoid.
Trail Tip #23: Just ‘Cause a Man Ain’t Yet Had a Chance to Steal Don’t Mean He’s Honest
Don’t wait for the big temptation to see if you handle it. Build strength of character.
Trail Tip #24: Before a Stable Can Get Clean Someone Has to Get Dirty
Roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Trail Tip #25: You Cain’t Never Tell Which Way a Pickle Will Squirt
I really like that. You just never know what the Lord’s going to do next. He’s in charge. You can’t predict what He’s going to do. Accept and enjoy the Lord’s surprises.
We’re all on a trail and need some tips along the way. When people write to me about my books, I send them a note and often sign my letters with my little cowboy hat and add, “On the trail.” I like that phrase. That’s where we are. We’ve left something behind we haven’t gotten to where we’re going yet.
Along the way, we want to live biblical lives and sometimes we can find a word or phrase or even an idea from the Old West that helps keep us on the trail. May these trail tips help guide your destination too.
“Father, we’re excited when you called us out of that land way back. At the beginning of our journey, we were caught in the land of darkness. We were trapped in a place where we were separated from You. Through Your work with Jesus on the Cross, You set us free. You transferred us. You put us on a trail. And we’re thankful You rescued us. We’re looking forward to that end destination. We love singing those songs about heaven. We love thinking about the Lord’s return. And we love thinking about a place as home, that will be our home. But, Lord, we aren’t there yet. All of us are on the trail someplace in between. And Father, I like the trail, too. You have made it enjoyable because of those walking along beside us, and the challenges You give us each day, and the tips You give to meet those challenges. You’ve made it enjoyable because You’re right here with us, leading us along a path. We have struggles and we have trials and temptations, and sometimes the hill is steep, but we enjoy the trail. We pray not only that we’ll reach the destination, but we’ll do it well as we hike along. Thank You, Father, for I pray in Jesus Name, Amen.”