Dr. Ben Merkle is the second president of New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho. He holds a plethora of degrees and has a wealth of experience in academia. He has also served as a minister at Christ Church in Moscow. As Ben puts it, “I preach on Sundays and I’m president the rest of the week.”
In 2019 Ben was invited to be the keynote speaker for a homeschool network having its graduation ceremony on a Bahamian cruise. But the cruise was at the same time as Pinnacle Forum’s national conference. Ben declined the cruise in favor of the conference. “I’m so glad I did,” he recalls. “My wife didn’t even mind. I really enjoyed the time with other Partners and would definitely pick their fellowship over many other options.”
Ben met Guy Rodgers in Phoenix three years ago and was introduced to Pinnacle Forum. The chance to network with other leaders was a strong draw. “I went from being a teacher and pastor to being a college president practically overnight with almost no preparation,” Ben explains. “Even though we’re a small school, the transition required a step up in leadership mindset and habits. It also brought a necessary distancing from the people who used to be my colleagues. I was now their boss, which meant there were certain friendships that I couldn’t maintain in the same way as before.”
Ben knew fellow college president, Len Munsil, before learning Len is also a Pinnacle Forum Partner. “Len and I have a real camaraderie. What he’s doing at Arizona Christian University inspires me. And to find out that he’s in Pinnacle Forum and that we can see each other at Forum events is encouraging.”
Of specific importance to Ben is access to leaders like Len. “Through Pinnacle Forum I can talk with other men in leadership positions. I can tell them about the things going on and hear about the issues they’re facing. They have become an important support network for me.”
The input goes both ways as Ben speaks into the lives of his fellow Partners. “Because ours is an online group, there’s a regional diversity that’s a lot of fun. We have men in New Jersey, Colorado, California, Washington, and Idaho. I travel a lot and I make a point to connect with them when I’m in their areas. When I hear someone is struggling with something, I shoot them an email with a few thoughts or a link to a sermon.”
The shockwaves of the worldwide pandemic have even reached Moscow, Idaho, population 26,000. “A few months ago I was getting frustrated with the “stay at home” and “safe in place” orders,” Ben says. “I saw a growing culture of canceling things. I had to cancel some activities like classes and our prospective student weekends, but I also started noticing that people were using the coronavirus as an excuse to turn everything off. And I was trying to convince my team this is a strategic moment to step up our game rather than to step back. We have to move ahead and be innovative.
As I was sharing this with my Forum group, one of the men who does leadership coaching offered to do a free session with my staff. He came and spent time with my team as a gift to the college. It was very helpful. And I’ve had other men in the group help in other ways. For example, this past year I’ve dealt with some thorny issues at the school. I’m in a small little town and a small church community. These people are my friends. We worship together at church. I see them at the grocery store and yet I’m having to work through some serious garbage. Where do I go to talk about that? I can’t do it here.
“Thankfully I have a group of brothers who understand these things because they are also in leadership. They know the unique challenges and problems leaders have to sort through. They understand the difficulty of maintaining Christian charity while also making some hard personnel decisions. Being able to talk to them and get their input and encouragement helps keep me sane and faithful at the same time.”
As an educator, Ben feels, “the Church has not thought critically about the realm of education. I’m glad Pinnacle Forum sees education as one of the seven mountains of culture. I was familiar with the seven mountains before. They captured my imagination because the mission of our school is to graduate leaders who shape culture for Christ. A far more robust conversation is needed in this arena and it’s encouraging that Pinnacle Forum sees this as something they can facilitate.”
For more information on New Saint Andrews College, visit, https://www.nsa.edu