Mixed Feelings

Years ago I was involved in a church in Annapolis, MD- and let’s just say I didn’t leave on the best of terms. I covered it briefly in this post . I have thought long and hard about everything that happened back then, and I’ve had plenty of time to analyze exactly what went wrong.

When I got involved in the early days, I immediately began to run around with a big “S” on my chest. I allowed myself to become the champion, the hero, the bailout boy. I was arrogant enough to think that I could “fix” everything that was wrong with the place. In the short-term, we actually succeeded in turning some surface things around and sustaining the place for a while, and I’ll admit- it wasn’t all bad. We got the chance to do some pretty cool things, and I personally had the opportunity to go some amazing places, meet some really awesome people, and for a while it really was quite a ride.

However, as these things go- it turns out that the “hero” is a classic (almost cliche’) ACOA term. It’s not even all that complex or complicated. I was merely playing the role of the good son- and trust me, I was pretty good at the role. The trouble is, that a relationship born out of dysfunction can only sustain for so long. Sooner or later, the addict comes to resent the hero, and the hero comes to resent the addict. I can’t describe what happened any better than that. Not to say that anyone was a drug addict, or any other addict in the classical sense- but there are other things like grasping at some sense of success that can create addictive behaviors. I thought we were friends, I thought we had some shared commonality, and it turns out that despite the friendship- the thing that held us together the most was the shared dysfunction.  We didn’t know that’s what it was at the time- for a while we were inseparable and we had a sense of destiny, of purpose- and most of all we were convinced we were right.

One key lesson I have learned is that “ministry” or “mission” or vision/purpose/destiny etc. is no excuse to neglect your private life, to ignore your spouse, to forget about the importance of your children. There is no part of God’s will that includes making those close to you resent the ministry or any part of it. There is no such thing as a family that plays second to the ministry, and there is no such thing as a balance between life and ministry. If you don’t learn to integrate your family, your spouse, and your friends into your mission- then you probably have your mission screwed up. i can’t tell you how hard this lesson has been for me to learn.

Anyway, there’s no way to gloss over the story. I could tell you that there was a big “behind the scenes” blowup at our national denominational meeting, I could tell you that I started out thinking I was following the scriptural way to bring accountability, I could tell you that in my official position as elder under the bylaws I was actually legally entitled to call any other elder to accountability, and I could tell you that I was shocked to find that despite the friendship, and despite all the years of private conversations about co-eldership, that my “co-elder” would pull the “lead pastor” card and simply have me ousted from the denomination.

I reacted very strongly to the whole thing- I got mad at God, I wound up divorced, and I partied quite a bit for a while. Although at the time, I myself would sometimes feel that it was a surprising reaction from a Christian- in retrospect I think that all the partying and anger was probably a healthy response to the unprecedented things that rapidly happened in my life at the time. I tried to go to church a few times, but for a long time, I just didn’t want to hear what anyone had to say. I’m not making excuses- I clearly could have handled things differently, and I know I did some things I shouldn’t have done. My only regret is the lives I impacted, the people for whom I was spiritually responsible and the example (or lack thereof) I left at the time.

After a while, the fog began to settle, and I eventually came to terms with my own inadequacies. Since those years, I’ve managed to build a life of my own, and I honestly don’t spend very much time thinking about it now. I’ve lived quite a life since then, I’ve had some fun, some good times, and some not-so-good times. I’ve even made new mistakes, and have had ordinary “life-related” problems on my own.  I’ve wrestled with my own demons, worked through my own co-dependent tendencies and I’ve struggled with my own problems.  I have learned to stretch, to forgive, to live, and to love more than I ever thought I would have been capable. I have a good life, a good church, and a good job. I have been blessed with a wonderful wife and a wonderful family. At this point in my life, I look at my experiences as what has made me what I am today.

I’ve recently heard that the church has fallen on hard times. My first reaction was to pounce- to go on the attack and finally try to bring accountability into the situation. For some reason, I momentarily got fired up and I wanted to run over there and start smacking people around with my giant 2 lb Bible. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see true repentance, true, honest, and humble abasement? Wouldn’t it be cool to hear the words “I was wrong” or “I’m sorry?” Wouldn’t it be great to finally have some resolution?

However, the more I think about it, the more I don’t think it would do any good. We’ve been around that mountain before. We’ve cried those tears, made those changes, and sooner or later the bailout is what actually enables the behavior. It’s not my problem, and it’s not my job- and I definitely don’t need to try to step up and try to be the hero again.

I have spoken with other people who have left over the years, and I’ve read books about the subject. I have heard people use words like “cult” and “controlling” and “manipulative” but despite all the things I’ve heard, and all of the things that I went through, I don’t go as far as cult. I don’t think they ever went that far. I don’t anyone in the leadership is a monster, or that anyone is demon-possessed. I don’t think it is anything that insidious.  I mean, at the end of the day, I’m not as good at semiotics as I would like to think I am-but I don’t think that there is anything that terribly elusive or pernicious about the whole thing. I have worked for quite a few secular bosses since that time, and if these people were doing these things in the secular world, employees would simply call these people an a**hole. I don’t know if I would go that far, but “cult leader” isn’t fair either. I think it’s all simpler than that. I used to sit there and think- “maybe if we help get over this hurdle, we can settle into some sense of normalcy” or “let’s just have this one more fundraiser to pay the last event off, and then we can settle in, just this one more office buildout and we can be settled for a while…”

However, this was never the case. The ever-elusive success  never comes. There’s no book deal. There are no more international ministry tours. There’s no more denominations to jump.  The thing is, that this is a critical moment. The deal is almost closed. If no bailout comes, if no one runs to the rescue, and no “hero” comes to the forefront, then the thing just finally dies- the way I should have let it die in 1994. The only thing is, you can’t force people to see that they’ve been deceived. How do you know when you’re deceived? You don’t. I would imagine that if I rocked up, threw out my laundry list of accusations, and tried to bring accountability- we’d simply go ’round the mountain one more time, tears would be shed, hugs would be shared and everyone would breathe the big sigh of relief of another tragedy avoided-  but ultimately, nothing would change. The truth is, that there isn’t anything I can do on my own to fix it. I would probably just make a bad situation worse at this point.

At this point it’s critical for me to say that I don’t hate anyone. I don’t wish anyone ill- but I do place the needs of the congregation over that of those in leadership. I don’t personally think that the church and the leadership can be held together at this point. I believe that both can be healed- but that it needs to be done separately. The leadership needs to either step down, or be removed and reconciled to the faith through sabbatical and counseling- and the church needs a fresh leader who can love them and walk them out of the the roles they have played for so long. The ultimate truth is that God is greater than all of this, and that he can heal the whole situation- but it is clear that the leadership needs to be separated from the congregation at this point in order for any real atonement to take place.

If the leadership does not chose to step down willingly, the other resolution to this would be that the people who find themselves caught in this situation decide to do something about it themselves. There are other good churches in Annapolis. Everyone involved could simply chose next Sunday to wake up in the morning and go to some other church. They don’t have to continue to participate. They are fully-grown adults, and despite the deception, at the end of the day they ultimately have the power to chose to stay and continue to enable destructive behavior, or leave of their own volition.



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Virginia Master HVAC

In my last post, I mentioned that I expected to be getting a date to sit for the Virginia Master HVAC License Exam. I had not heard anything for a few weeks, so I emailed a very nice lady down in Richmond who told me that they still hadn’t received my letter of recommendation from the state of Maryland.

I called and spoke with another very nice lady in the Maryland DLLR office who told me that she would personally send the letter herself- and that the letter should arrive in 3-7 business days.

A few more weeks went by and I was starting to wonder, and to my surprise the Virginia license showed up in the mail! I guess they took it into account that I have already carried the Virginia license in the past, so they simply provided the license!

I also mentioned in my last post that DC was next- stay tuned!

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HVAC Licenses Continue

Okay, so I’m back to work at a company where I have worked previously, and things are going pretty well. The company pays license fees for employees- so I’m using the opportunity to get caught up on all my trade licenses.

I have a valid and current Maryland Master HVAC license, and the Commonwealth of Virginia is kind enough to reciprocate their comparable HVAC license- as long as I fill out the application, pay the fees and take the test.

I put the whole packet together, sent the forms in and got a very nice email from a person in Richmond that said I need to attach an official letter from the state board that my license is in good standing, so I filled out a form on the Maryland DLLR page, and apparently they will provide this form and the Virginia office should have it in about a week.

That means, if everything goes well- I’ll be getting a date set within a couple weeks to take the Virginia master HVAC exam. Since multiple states use the same testing company, this will be the 4th time I have taken this particular test. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep my good record going so far.

Up next- getting it done in DC.

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Trade School

A couple years ago, I posted this article when I started teaching as an adjunct instructor at a local trade school. I was either tired or in a hurry when I posted it, because it was riddled with bad grammar and spelling, and it was very brief!

Anyway, I started teaching again at a different school, and this time I have a part-time position rather than simply teaching as an adjunct. I know what this means on paper- but practically, I really don’t see much of a difference how I function here vs. the other place. I like teaching here better because it is closer to home, and I’m only doing two nights a week as opposed to four nights a week like I was doing at the other school.

I still find myself stretched each night I teach and face new questions, and I find that I have to go flipping throught the reference material from time-to-time to come up with the answers to some of the questions I’m asked. This is a small class, so I find that I can go farther with these guys than I’ve been able to do in the past.

These guys are in a one year program that is supposed to prepare them for an entry-level position in the HVAC field. Each semester they focus on some portion of the industry; heating, cooling, hydronics, refrigeration, etc… This semester my class is learning about evacuation, recovery, and charging of refrigeration systems, so this semester has not only covered the fine art of adding and removing refrigerant – but also what that means in terms of compliance with EPA and federal regulations concerning the trade. It was a lot for them to take in, but they’ve done really well staying with the curriculum.

As the class draws to a close and we prepare for the final exam next week, It is pretty cool to see how these guys have developed over the course of the class. When I first met them, they were pensive about touching some of the tools, hesitant to touch the equipment, and now they carry tools for me to the truck, and they are pretty well working independently with very little supervision. This is where the real payoff is- realizing that they are capable of performing basic tasks like; running a vacuum pump, evacuating a system, and charging a system with very little involvement from me at this point.

One thing that continues to shock me as I teach these classes, is the blank looks I get when I mention basic middle-school chemistry and physics. I didn’t really do well in middle and high school, so I know that it is to struggle with certain conceps- but I don’t see this as a failing of my students, but as a failing of whatever educational system they came from. They’ve never seen the stovetop crushed coke can, they’ve never played with baking soda and vinegar, they’ve never put dry ice in a soda bottle,  poured in hot water, and screwed the cap on real quickly to see what happens.  

It’s a little frustrating when I take an HVAC concept, and try to relate it to a real-world phenomenon, and they have never heard of my real-world example.  I’ve had to pull-up youtube videos on more than one occasion to show examples of things that I have come to take for granted.

I have struggled to balance between book time, and hands-on time but overall I think we did a pretty good job this semester reading, reviewing and discussing a chapter, and then in the following class doing the hands-on practical application of what we just read and discussed.  The fruit shows in moments like tonight when I have the class broken into two groups- one is installing a new refrigeration system, and the other is charging our mini walk-in box, and both teams are doing so with very little interruption or supervision from me.

Overall, I am proud of these guys, and I hope they all go on to become successful HVAC techs in the future, but I also hope that they remember some of the fun things we did in this class, and think of me the way I still remember my trade school teacher from 20 years ago.

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HVAC BI, ROI and SEO for the CEO

So, you’ve dumped a million dollars into creating, building, or buying an HVAC company, you’ve got nice trucks, trained mechanics, knowledgeable salespeople, and a talented management team- and now you realize you’ve got a big problem. The phone’s not ringing. In the “old days” it was relatively easy to get local customers for HVAC service. The formula was simple (albeit expensive.) You take out a full-page ad in the Yellow Pages, Name your company anything you want as long as it starts with an “A” and get an 800#.

We all know that the internet changed all that. The trouble is- the internet was supposed to make it cheaper and easier to communicate with your customer. Remember, you spent all that money a couple years ago for that company to convince you to take the pictures of your annual deer-hunting trip off the front page of your site. You needed to improve your online image and the phone was supposed to start ringing! What happened? Why aren’t customers calling? I’ve been noodling this for a while, and I decided to do a little research into what makes HVAC companies successful in advertising.

1. Use Constant Contact Right now you have a treasure chest sitting in your office that will bring you revenue and new business opportunities. It’s right there, on the hard drive of one of your machines, or on your server if you IT person is tech savvy… What is it?  It’s your existing customer list. Constant contact can help you create an email marketing campaign that will keep your name in front of your existing customers. Why is this a good thing? Aside from the opportunities that you have with selling your existing customers new products and services- you also have the opportunity for referrals. Remember those? We’ll talk more about that later. P.S. if you haven’t been collecting customer email addresses, SHAME ON YOU!!!

2. Use Social Media. Round Peg offers four good reasons why and how you should be using Facebook- but it applies to all social media. social media isn’t the end. You don’t start a Twitter feed and immediately start seeing results. Social Media is a means to engage your customer. It is an opportunity to allow them to talk back to you. When you use Social Media you aren’t just advertising, you are engaging in a conversation. In this conversation you can teach, you can learn, you can sit back and listen and you can network. Remember that word? NETWORK!! and networking results in referrals…

Another important point about social media, and online marketing is that you need to create metrics to measure the effectiveness of your online efforts. Companies like lijit can help you get a handle on understanding where your customers are coming from and what they are looking for. Google Analytics is another very powerful tool to help you measure the effectiveness of your online strategy. Google- I’m sure you’ve heard of them. BI is the art of business intelligence. If you have to create a spreadsheet and start asking your customers “how did you hear about us” when they call- it’s a start.

3. Use traditional marketing effectively. Wait a minute, stop the bus! Did you say use traditional marketing???  Yes- but I qualified it by saying that you need to use it effectively. There is marketing research out there to show that some direct mail campaigns still work. You need to get your name in front of people. Create a logo and a name that people can remember- and then put it in every place the customer will let you. Put stickers on their equipment, give them fridge magnets, notepads, calendars and pens. You don’t need your customer to think about your company every day- you only need them to think about it when something breaks, or when it’s time to renew or purchase a service agreement. Plus- if a customer has your phone number on their fridge- they are more likely to tell one of their friends about it, and make a referral.

“Yeah” you say. “I get it” you’re thinking to yourself. johntindale is saying all this to emphasize the importance of customer referrals. Think about it- it makes sense. If someone comes to you though Angie’s List, what is it? It’s a referral. The customer went to Angie’s List because they were looking for a third-party recommendation for a reputable HVAC contractor. If they went thru yahoo local, or servicemagic they are basing their decision to call you because they are counting on these services to hold you accountable and that the referral gives them some assurance that you will handle the business transaction responsibly, effectively, and ethically. Don’t sleep on Bing or Google Maps either. People are getting smart about finding local companies by looking up “furnace” on the map app on their phone. That’s a “whole nother” article.

If the internet has done anything, it has given your customer the opportunity to not only be an expert about the goods and services you sell, but to be an expert about you and your company  and rave about you, or talk smack. With a few clicks, and a few search strings- like “yourcompany sucks” Your customer can find out quite a bit about you, and you must decide whether you are going to proactively manage your online (and offline) image, brand identity and persona or if you are going to sit back and “wait for the economy to turn around.”


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