Like a Son by Rick Olson

You don’t raise heroes, you raise sons. And if you treat them like sons, they’ll turn out to be  heroes,  even if it’s just in your own eyes.”   Walter M. Schirra, Sr.

 In 1975, I was just out of college looking for a ministry job. I applied at First Assembly Church in Rockford, Illinois.  The Reverend Ernie Moen was pastor.  My first day on the job was a Saturday evening.  There were people camped out all over the church property and there were kids in activities everywhere. I soon realized it was the annual church campout weekend. The Reverend Ernie Moen was a master of bringing people together, which was evident through the mixture of fellowship, worship and fun. With all the activity going on, Ernie invited me into his office for a brief interview.

 In his office, he cast for me a vision of what it would be like if I worked there—at the time the church was 2000 members strong.  Ernie was a big thinker and he was offering me the opportunity to be the youth minister with approximately five students involved in the youth program—but he obviously wanted to see it grow.  He set out two simple rules, number one, ‘keep it biblical,’ and number two, ‘cover his back.’  Very simple instructions; follow the Bible and no surprises.  Other than those two rules, Ernie said that if I wanted to take the kids around the world, I should go for it.  That was Ernie’s way: simple rules with a big vision.

 With Ernie’s help and support, we started with the foundation of those five kids and after five years, we exploded to 250. The great thing about Ernie was he never hogged the praise and he was always more than willing to share the glory. His public praise was one of his best strengths and he used that praise as a great motivator.

 His other strength was his ability to tap into your creativity. He was always working at expanding your thinking.  I had never dreamed I would be given the responsibility or freedom that he gave me.  However, he was a master at casting a vision of how he wanted the organization to grow.  He truly wanted to bring the message of Jesus to everyone in the community.  He was no micromanager, he did not stand over your shoulder, he was true to his word, keep it biblical and keep him informed.

 With his help, support and trust we took a group of kids around the world, a journey I will never forget. However, the most important journey he led me on, was the ability to find the leader in myself.  He encouraged me to expand my thinking in so many areas.

 After five years, I resigned to move on to another position at another church; I received the biggest surprise of all. He read a poem from the pulpit to the entire congregation. He had three marvelous daughters, but no son, so his poem was titled “If I had a son.” He went on to say that if he had a son he would want him to be just like me! Here I was leaving a job and he made me feel like I was leaving home.

 That day I was on cloud nine to have him share that poem with the entire congregation. It was a “wow” moment in my life. Ernie’s real power was his ability to always make me feel like a million bucks; and to help me believe I could do more than I thought was possible. Because of him, my belief in myself was greatly expanded. After working with Ernie I was no longer a kid right out of college, I was a young man, with huge possibilities.

 For that new vision of myself, I will always be grateful.


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