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Encouraging men to live boldly

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United Methodist Men chief executive Greg Arnold has a passion to help men overcome isolation and anxiety to live a bold life of faith.

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This episode aired live on August 2, 2022, with a recording posted on August 5, 2022.



Crystal Caviness, host: Hi, my name is Crystal Caviness. Welcome to “Get Your Spirit in Shape,” the podcast for members of The United Methodist Church. We're here today with Greg Arnold. Greg, welcome to “Get Your Spirit in Shape.” 

Greg Arnold:       Nice to be here. Thank you.

Crystal Caviness:  We're so excited that you're here. We get a chance to meet you for the first time, but it's also kind of historical because this is our first ever live podcast as part of a day-long podcast-a-thon. So thanks for being a part of that adventure with us.

Greg Arnold:       I apppreciate the invite for sure.

Crystal Caviness: So we want to talk to you about your new, relatively new, role as chief executive of, United Methodist Men. And before we kind of get into the specifics of that, can you talk a little bit about yourself and maybe the path that led you to United Methodist Men?

Greg Arnold:       Absolutely. I’m a lifelong Christian. I always like to say that I was practically born under a pew <laugh>, and raised in the church. I came up through the church and came through  scouting  in a Methodist church in Northeastern, Alabama. And that was a significant part of my journey to, to moving me through, into adulthood, learn some amazing things. And then of course went to school and then from there into the work field and career, and then that career left me somewhat unfulfilled to some degree. I felt like there was a larger calling for me and that calling settled into men's ministry. And I, I didn't really know what that was until the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which, made landfall along the coastal Mississippi area. And it was there that I through serving and through reaching out and working with the church and the different parts of what was going on in that particular area that I found that God was calling me into men's ministry because I saw so much need among the families.

And especially for those that were looking for help and for outreach and seeing a lot of disparities that were there, that call kept developing over time. And eventually ended up in a happenstance phone call to the General Commission by my pastor. And he said, you know, you've got this stirring in you about men's ministry. You should give them a call and see what what's going on. And this was maybe 12 years ago. So I made the phone call and made my trip to Nashville and just started a conversation. They were between general secretaries at the time. So I was working with the director of men's ministry and he and I had this long conversation, which led into a request to be a staff member or a volunteer staff member. And it was there in that formative time that I really started understanding who God was calling me to be and what specifically he was calling me to do in terms of ministry with men and youth and families.

So drawing on the scouting experience from youth, drawing on some of these, you know, disasters and catastrophes, you know, that brings out all kinds of things in a person and understanding what that call was. I learned how to start applying that toward ministry. And so over the course of about 10 years of volunteer work with the agency, I got to see a lot of the connection. You know, I traveled across the entire country, speaking at events and working with guys and, and that is really what stirred me even deeper into what is it that men are looking for? What are they missing and what can we provide? So that's kind of where we got to this place.

Crystal Caviness: As you're telling that story,  I mean, you're from Mississippi. Yes? So you and people you cared about were impacted by Katrina in a big way. Did you see that there were places just kind of organically for ministry as you were going through that disaster response? Was that part of that journey?

Greg Arnold:       Oh, absolutely. Because there was a discerning period for me. Who is God calling me to be? What is it? I couldn't find it. And I kept asking pastor after pastor and they kept trying to pull it out of me. And of course the standard answer is keep pushing on doors and the ones that close, you know, you know, the whole thing. And then the ones that open, move through those. that was all well and good. But I wanted somebody to tell me what my call was.

Crystal Caviness: <laugh> Well, and that's not really the deal, how that works, is it?

Greg Arnold:       No, it doesn't work that way. So God and I spent a lot of time together and really discerning that. And coming out of that, you know, especially compressed times, you know, when you're in a time of hardship, you see things differently. And because our home was not as badly affected as everyone else's, I went straight into serving and being someone who was affected serving those who were affected is a little bit different than coming in from the outside and serving. So I was able to see friends and neighbors  hurting in a different way.  And what I saw, mostly at least what seemed to be missing more than most was this connection, this tether to a spiritual guidance, you know, for some of these families that were in my own neighborhood. So we can travel around the world and try to make, you know, converts, but what are we doing in our own neighborhoods?

And that's kind of what, what impacted me the most is I've got friends and neighbors here that I've not talked to. And I met them for the first time over a pile of rubble. And, I felt somewhat, I don't know, I felt bad about that, but it also was encouraging at the same time that there's so much opportunity out there. And so many people who it doesn't take a catastrophe or a disaster or a family emergency to, to invite us in, to start having those conversations. And that's what really changed the arc of what ministry looked like for me. So, it was a journey to say the least, it had a pretty significant shift for me to get there.

Crystal Caviness: So you raise your hand and say, yes, I will volunteer for United Methodist Men. I'll travel. I'll create resources. Tell me what that looked like. It wasn't just an every now and then thing. It looked pretty full time, didn’t it?  

Greg Arnold:       It was quite intensive. And I had a full time job at the same time, and that job required a lot of travel as well. So finding time and the gaps to do that work was difficult. I had an employer that was very open to the idea that I could take a weekend here or a couple of days there to make that happen. But then the most interesting thing is when I connected, I was still in my late thirties. So when you're a 30-something-year-old guy walking through the United Methodist Men ecosystem, you're an anomaly. Or I was an anomaly.

Crystal Caviness:  Because…

Greg Arnold:       Because I was so young. Okay. And the average age of the constituency then was much older. I'm not going to put a number on it because that’s not fair to my friends. But to say that I'm in the room and you see a fresh young eager guy who is just eaten up with men's ministry and wanted to do it so badly that it was almost consuming, you know, that I couldn't get to as many places as I wanted to get to because they all wanted this, this fresh energy. And, and I thought, wow, are we, are we missing such an opportunity here? And why are there so few of me in the room and so many of, of them, and where's the disconnect? And that's what I spent really the next seven or eight years in trying to discover why the disparity and ages and why the disconnect and what I discovered mostly about that is that the mindset, the heart, the spirit didn't change, just the stage of life changed and how one generation relates to another.

Greg Arnold:       So that's what I really brought in coming in as with the agency. This time let's look at it generationally. Let's look at what does it mean to serve baby boomers? What does it mean to serve Gen X? What does it mean to serve millennials? And what does it mean to serve Gen Z and each has their own unique needs and there's some crossover, not a lot. So it it's going to require a lot of work to meet everyone where they are. So it's not to say that we're discounting anyone that has gray hair because I'm there <laugh>, it's basically saying that your needs are different than, than their needs and they may cross and they may not. So let's figure out how we reach across and make it work for all of our church. So

Crystal Caviness: That sounds awfully ambitious.

Greg Arnold:       Quite ambitious. <laugh>

Crystal Caviness: <laugh> And I definitely, want to talk to you about some of those innovations and initiatives because they're already out there and in the works, but I want to back up just a minute. When you found that place, what was that shift? How did that feel to you? You’d been searching for this call, what's my call. And then you find it.

Greg Arnold:       I kind of get chill bumps when I think about it, because there's a very defining moment when that happened and I can put myself in the place and the time. I was fairly stressed in my career. Things were going well, but it wasn't as fulfilling as, as I'd hoped, it would be. So all of the ambition, all of the drive had taken me to a place of, and I stepped out of that career to pursue ministry full time, but I did that on my terms. What I learned through that short year and a half experience was that I'm not real good at it myself. And, and I didn't do it as well as I thought I could do it. And finally, at a point where I relinquished control, I was sitting by the fire pit on my back porch. It was a, a cool October evening in south Mississippi, which is nice and refreshing. And I just said, God, I am no good at this by myself. I have certain skills and abilities. And if you can use those and provide for the needs for my family, I will give you the man for as long as it takes. And that was the covenant that he and I made together around that fire pit. And, and I've been reminded of that a few times over the last seven or eight years of God, just tapping me on the shoulder saying, “You remember our little agreement? You're getting off track so step back in your lane and, and let's move forward.” And really stepping into the commission was that tap on the shoulder of I've allowed the success and the businesses to flourish. You have what, I've promised you, now it's time for you to step in and do your part. And that's what kind of led me here. So it was a very defining moment for me, spiritually, was I had to just absolutely let go.

Crystal Caviness:  That surrender. Yeah.

Thank you. That's a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing that with us.

I've read that you said you have this "burning call" to encourage men in their faith walks. I hope that this isn't too personal to ask, but does that burning call come from you having a time where you maybe didn't get what you needed or does it, or was it the other that you absolutely got what you needed in your faith walk and you want to offer that to other people?

Greg Arnold:       Great question. Great question. I think it comes from not getting what I needed, because once I finally found it, I wanted everyone else to find it too.  And what I discovered is that I'm not unique. I'm just like everyone else. And if I'm not getting what I need, maybe some others aren't getting what they need as well. And then if I can be a conduit and just present what God is showing me to others, then perhaps they'll have that same moment that I was able to have. And once that joy is there and that contentment and that completeness is there, if you have to share it, you know, that's the only way to replenish it is to give it away. So, yeah, that was a wonderful question. That it's certainly because it wasn't there. Not to say that the leaders and the mentors weren't giving me what I needed, but it seemed, it just didn't seem real. It felt a little staged, you know, especially my entire faith journey had some wonderful people speaking into it, learned a lot, had a lot of mental knowledge, but not enough heart knowledge. And, and that was the big shift for me was kind of moving it down into this area.

Crystal Caviness: So now you are in your role as the general secretary, as we call it in The United Methodist Church, of United Methodist Men. You have this kind of this charge, if you will, to go out and provide that support to provide those opportunities for men, not just in The United Methodist Church, but definitely in The United Methodist Church. That feels really big. <laugh>

Greg Arnold:       It's a little overwhelming.

Crystal Caviness: What are, tell me about some of the, I know you've, there are some, I want to talk about Adventure Men. Oh, sure. I discovered that. And there a couple of apps that you created, so there are definitely already some tools out there and I want to hear about your plans.

Greg Arnold:       You know, the horizon is pretty bright. It's pretty broad stepping into this role. Who the United Methodist Men have been for the past 26, 27 years as a formed agency of the church has been important. And it's served a very useful purpose for some wonderful, wonderful people. That time is kind of fading in terms of how we've done that connection in the past. It's not to say that we're doing away with it. We're just nurturing it. We're setting it aside. We're loving it even harder than we've loved it before, but all the while reaching out for new horizons and new destinations. And the first thing that, that seemed to be so evident for me walking into this seat was that we're not here just for the clubs. We're not here for the program. We're here for every person who is a United Methodist worldwide.

Greg Arnold:       And as it relates to our agency, it's every male and youth. So we have a, we don't have a program or we don't have a cause, we have a gender that we are working to serve. And by estimations, that's about 4 million souls that we're responsible to serve. And how are we doing with that? And then how can we do that? It’s going to take all of us together, certainly to do that. And it's not just here in the U.S., it's worldwide that we have to cast that vision and provide those resources and tools to, to get into their lives so that they can have those moments.

Crystal Caviness: Let's talk about a few of those. Sure. Let's talk about, well, you, there are several. Yeah. You want to talk about the apps? We can talk about the studies.

Greg Arnold:       Well, the, the favorite of mine is the LiveBold app that came out of a creation of working through what was my call to ministry and how to reach men. And the interesting part of that story is I was in Disney World with my family and we went to this restaurant and I'm not promoting anyone particular restaurant. We just happen to be at this restaurant called T-Rex. And if you've ever been there, it is a, it's an assault on the senses. You walk in and there's dinosaurs, there's plant life. There's this, all of this just Disney-sized scenery. So we walk in and the lights change color, and this show begins. This meteor shower comes flying across the ceiling. And as far as projected meteors and the dinosaurs come alive, the plants start shaking the whole place, just converts into this primordial soup.

<laugh>  It is just happening in front of us. And I turned and looked and this other family had walked in and the, the mother and father and the two children were sitting at a table across from us. And my daughter were just going nuts over it. And we were having a big time. Well, as the show finally calmed down, and then another 15 minutes that started back up again, this family across from us, the parents just stayed glued to their phone. They just kept looking at the phone and the kids were just making laps around the table. It was nuts. I mean, they were just going crazy. And the show is going on in the building and here they are glued to this little screen in their hand. And I thought, huh, that is very interesting. What is so magnetic about that little thing in their hand that can override this assault on the senses.

So then the next day we're walking through Disney and I started taking note of all of the people staring at their phones, and you've got this amazing experience. It's surrounding people that it's still not enough to pull them away. So I went home and the, and the very next thing was, well, I have a little blog that I'm writing and it has some moderate traction. I need to be in an app. I need to have this message that if that phone and what's in there is so attractive, then our message needs to be there. So I, I built the app and pulled it together and started writing devotionals and doing different things that were like centric to a man's life, an isolated person's life. And what would it look like? And I made a, kind of a, a joke with my pastor at the time.

I said, you know, you get 'em once a week, but I, I get 'em <laugh>, you know, 24 hours a day minus one day, I get 'em 23 hours <laugh> and we kind of chuckled about it. But since then the app has just continued to take off. It’s spread across 160 countries. There's been about 120,000 downloads and the engagements every month, there's about 1.2 to 1.5 million engagements a month on the app. And what's interesting about that resource is that it's never been promoted. It's never been advertised. They've just been placed on the store. And the, the people that are finding those apps are looking through it, finding for themselves that they're not alone. And that there are others who are wanting to experience this, this Christ. And, but how do they do it that isn't, it's not a sermon. It's not a study.

It's not a program, it's just relationship. So how do we connect and be in relationship through a device? So step one was to get their attention and step two is to keep their attention and, and the best attention keeper that I know is truth. So it's just a steady barrage every day of devotions of truth. And the people that are coming on asking for prayer, it's, unsanitized, it's unfiltered, it's raw, it's very street level ministry. So some people will go on and be offended by what they read, but you know, that it's, it's not clean. You know, the things that these folks are dealing with is pretty messy. So it's, it's being in the mess before it gets worse.

Crystal Caviness: And this, LiveBold app was pre-pandemic. Yes? So then when pandemic came and we really were all truly isolated, very, very,

Greg Arnold:       I saw a little bit of a spike. Okay. I was wondering if it would get even more so, but what I had discovered through the app was the three things that men tend to struggle with the most. They struggle with isolation, they struggle with fear or anxiety, and they struggle with something that I would cause selfishness is that they don't want to share their problems, their burdens, their worries, their concerns with others. They're very selfish with where they are spiritually. So how do you crack that open and be a part of that the pandemic brought in even more isolation, but interestingly enough, because we were all isolated, I think they were finding each other versus being in the world in a busy world. Oh, you know, it's, you can be alone in a crowd. Sure. Very quickly. Yeah. So I, I think if anything else it did slow it down a little bit. And I, I saw that there was some traction still there, but yeah. Uh, the needs didn't change. They just amplified.

Crystal Caviness: Right. There are already resources, such as Adventure Men that I've already alluded to a couple times. I loved that it looked just, well, it looks fascinating to me because you used this, um, this hiking analogy. Right. And this climbing analogy, I wondered if you were a hiker or a climber.

Greg Arnold:       As a matter of fact, my wife and I were just in the Carolinas,  last week hiking. Yes, I'm drawn to the mountains. Aren’t we all it seems to be. Yeah. But the analogy really came from a, a stumbling into, uh, some Alpinists and their excursions up Everest. And I was struck by how much preparation and how much work that it took to prepare, to make a climb, to reach the summit. Then I started thinking about the summits of fate, the summit of life and how, how much preparation you need to make to get into that rare air. And what would it take to set out on that adventure? You don't do it alone. You climb in teams, you have what you need, you get your resources ready, but you still understand there's risk involved. So I felt like that was the perfect metaphor, you know, for being outdoors and getting your guys together and going up that hill together, whatever hill that might be.

So the figurative hills that we're talking about, or the hills of isolation, the hills that, you know, the hills of anxiety, the hills of worry, or whatever, they may be in your life. And there's others that are struggling in the same way. They need someone to help guide them. They need a pathway up. And that was kind of the framework that we set down for small group resource material. So that's the Adventure Man app really is something we're trying to produce to help guys to answer the question, “what book do we want to do next?” Just grab the app and go through it together. You know, you’re going to keep your phone with you. You may leave the book in the truck, but your phone's going to be on your hip. So it's just another more, I guess, leveraged way to make it more accessible and to help guys understand that it's, it's, it's a journey that's together. Yeah. And it can be done, you know, through a small group resource that has baked in Wesleyan roots. You know, they're built on the disciplines of discipleship. And if I can help the guys walk through each of those disciplines on a daily basis together, then we all get closer to our goal.

Crystal Caviness: What, as people are using this, as men are using this, what kind of feedback are you getting?

Greg Arnold:       All positive. No one is telling me that this is, you know, a waste of time. They’re  enjoying the ease of it. They're enjoying the access, the availability with the Live Bold app. It's in a hip pocket and it's available, whether you're on a commute or you're waiting line or you're at a restaurant or wherever you may be, it's there. The Adventure Men app is still gaining some traction. We’re hoping to push that more in the coming months as a resource for our guys who are wanting to get together, but not sure what to do next. That's the perfect resource for that.

Crystal Caviness: So, you mentioned these challenges that men, that you've kind of seen three challenges that men face globally.

Greg Arnold:       Yeah. It is global.

Crystal Caviness: What does the potential impact look like that United Methodist Men can have by addressing those challenges?

Greg Arnold:       I don't have any science or data to back this up. It's just what's in my heart. When I turn on the television and see things that happen. See lone young men creating heinous acts against their community. My first question is, “Where were we? And can we not be there in the mess before it gets messy and globally?” That's where we have to be. How can we activate our faith in such a way that we are pushing into the communities, being in these places, as God loving Christ, following disciple, making people that we can be in these lives before it turns into something tragic? And I'm not using the news media or tragic events to try to propel anything or to make a case or to sensationalize it as much as I'm saying, it's the same way for the friend that you think, you know, but you don't know, who's struggling inside their home with some unknown.

And how can we be in that life before it becomes messy? So I think for us, if we do our work well, and we do it correctly, and we really focus on discipleship and growing that discipleship mindset and get away from focusing so much on program is like the outflow of what disciples do. Programs don't make disciples. So if we can get in and do the hard work first, then imagine all of the things that we can do and the influence that we can have in families, in workplaces, in schools, in neighborhoods communities, it has to be the same feeling the disciples felt when they first got the news of the risen Christ. It's like, if everybody knew this…

Crystal Caviness:  Right, yeah.

Greg Arnold:   Everything would be awesome. And it's just that burning desire to let everybody in on it.  And to know that it's not a hard thing, it's an easy thing. It's a loving, amazing, wonderful thing. So the vision of can one agency accomplish that? Yeah, we can. I mean, we have a pretty big footprint. So you give me 4 million men around the world who are engaged in their families and communities and the life of their churches. What do you want to do? Yeah. I'm just saying, what do you want to do it? And it's just that it's so easy, but it's so incredibly hard at the same time, because the, you know, it's just the typical message of Christ. You know, my burden is easy. You know, the teaching is light. It's not going to be a hard thing, but sometimes we overcomplicate it

Crystal Caviness: To use your metaphor, it’s living in that rare air.

Greg Arnold:       Yes, yes, absolutely. It hard to stay there. I mean, because we're all human, but if we do it well, as I fall back, someone else steps up.

Crystal Caviness: And in a place of community. Yeah. Doing it as a community. Yes. Not one person.

Greg Arnold:       Yes. And that is the number one message. If I got it out is that men's ministry, any ministry it's Christianity is not a solo sport. It's a team effort. You know, it's in the beginning we created in our image, even the, the Trinity, the triune is all and where two or more are gathered. It's more than just me. And that's the, the message that I'm trying to get out through the apps, through the ministry programs and through the different things that we're doing through the agency is if you're trying to do this on your own, the deck is stacked against you. But if you're doing it together, then you exponential ability to move it beyond where you are. And, and that, I see that. So often in a church, you find one organizer, who's got this burning call. I was one, and I found two guys who love me enough to support me. You know, they didn't understand what I was doing, but they supported me. And then from there, we were able to, to relaunch and rebirth men's ministry in our church. And it wasn't a program as much as it was, let's all get together and just talk about life and

Crystal Caviness: Just live life together.

Greg Arnold:       Yeah. Do it together. Yeah. Yeah. Share our burdens. And it's, it's a process.

Crystal Caviness:  Yeah. So if, um, if someone someone's listening today, a, a man's listening and wants to get involved in, in the, um, in the disciples making and, and what you're saying resonates with him, what kind of first steps might he take?

Greg Arnold:       Well, obviously it's find someone that you can walk with and be accountable to what it is that's stirring in your heart. It it's well enough to, to grab a book or grab an app or grab something and think you can do it on your own. Uh, that's really the first step to not getting there. But if you grab someone up and say, Hey, let's do this together. Then you have accountability to one another that you're gonna carry this through. And then you've got support for each other, for whatever it might look like in your community. For some it's, it's a small group of three or four for some, it is a massive men's ministry that covers hundreds and hundreds of members inside of a church. Uh, there are others who come together in cluster groups, you know, who are a few guys in this church, a few guys in that church who come together and serve at the local areas and they form groups within themselves. So supporting that mechanism is the most important thing that we can do is to help guys understand you're not alone and you can't do it alone. And you shouldn't try. You know, the, the one thing that evil wants to do is to separate us from the pack. And that's when we are our most vulnerable. So we have to stay connected at least to somebody that's gonna watch our back. Yeah. Keep us accountable.

Crystal Caviness:              Yeah. Um, when you were talking about that, it was just thinking, you know, that, that, that feeling of aloneness and loneliness of how that's, so, um, that is such a dangerous space to be in mm-hmm <affirmative> and everything you're saying is about coming together.

Greg Arnold:       Yes, yes. Especially, if, if you scroll through the prayer wall on a live bold app, you can see the prayer request that are coming from guys who are trying to do it alone. And the things they're struggling with, you think that you're the only one there's, there's another three or 4 million that are struggling with the same thing. It, it's not so special. So just move on from that, confess it be, be an accountability with each other. And then through that, you realize that, okay, you know, it's, I'm not perfect. Don't have to be, but together we can strive and get there. So yeah, it does take, it takes a community effort to get there for sure.

Crystal Caviness: Well, as we end up today, Greg, there's a question that we ask all of our guests on “Get Your Spirit in Shape” and that's, “how do you keep your own spirit in shape?”

Greg Arnold:       So for me,  my passion obviously <laugh> is men's ministry and, and working in that place every night, I write a new devotional for the app. And then in that devotional, it's time for me to spend a few minutes in God's word and all the way through to picking the photo that goes with that verse that that really visually represents what, what the verse is trying to say. And a couple of short sentences on, on what that is. And then some follow up scripture that might dive it a little deeper and maybe a next step. And then I go to bed. Then the next morning I get up and I do that devotion. And it's interesting what a night's rest will do between writing it and then reading it. And it's hard to explain it. It's almost as if I'm reading someone else's work, because every morning as I sit down with my little notepad and I'll write down what are, what is my reaction? What are my thoughts to, to what's here in front of me, what's God talking to me about today. And then I'll write that down as my focus for the day and, and move through the day. Just with one thought. I don't try to do a lot, just one thought. And sometimes it corresponds with ministry. Sometimes it corresponds with the business of ministry. Sometimes it's just a great thought, you know, something to hang on to, as you move through today and run into people, you know, on the street.

Crystal Caviness: I love that you spend the time, which also probably has some -  I don't know -  probably edifies you in some way to be researching and praying over that, and you design it for the tens and hundreds of thousands of people. And then you get up the next morning and you're a part of that community as well. Yeah. Yeah. That's, that's very cool.

Greg Arnold:       Yeah. It's revealed a few things to me more than once where I've woken up the next morning and I've sat down with it and thought, oh, <laugh> yeah, I'm stepping on my own toes.

Crystal Caviness: I needed those words. <laugh>. Oops. Yeah. That's great. Well, Greg, thank you so much for being with us. We are live today, but this podcast will also air in our regular, every other week schedule. So it will be coming out across wherever podcasts are published. And then we will have a transcript at where you can go and find this episode as well as other episodes. On that page, we'll reference the different apps that you mentioned, how to get in touch with United Methodist Men and  you other pertinent information you'd like for us to share there. So, thanks, again. And we thank you for being with us today too. Have a great day.


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