Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Wake Up, Mr. Frodo!

Written by: on March 13, 2023

Our family is a “Lord of the Rings” family. Some families are more “Harry Potter.” No judgement from me, except that you are wrong, and we are right. There, I said it. Cancel me.

When all the kids, and by “kids” I mean grown young adults, are home, and by “home” I mean the place Denise and I occupy contently as “empty nesters,” there is sure to be an ensuing Lord of the Rings marathon. Yes, extended editions. Yes, on DVD.

As I read Simon Walker’s “Leading Out of Who You Are” I could not help but think about the mythological world of J.R.R. Tolkien. The books various diagrams and map-like illustrations smacked of Middle Earth, replete with “The High Peaks of Leadership,” “The Cliffs of Derailment,” “The Standing Stones of Moral Authority,” and “The Fallen Stones of Personal Pain.”

All that was missing was “The Shire of Shaping Ego,” and “The Undefended Leaders of Rivendell.”

I have to wonder if Walker, European as he is, also had Middle Earth, and the journey of Frodo Baggins in mind.


“When someone is willing and able to give away what they possess, they find that it is given back to them transformed into something greater.” He calls this journey an “act of consecration” in which the leader becomes aware of her/his “vocation” (Walker, 157).

This sounds an awful lot like Frodo’s treacherous trek to Mordor to destroy the Ring. Bilbo Baggins said to Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Borrowing from the words of Simon Walker, Frodo’s journey was fraught with “isolation, loneliness and intolerable strain. He cannot share any of the issues he is struggling with inside, because no one will allow him to” (Walker, 16). Except, perhaps, Samwise Gamgee.

Everyone needs a Samwise.

Many would think of Frodo as the singular leader in Tolkien’s story, but I would insist that we include Samwise. Walker says, “I am defining a leader as one who takes responsibility for people other than himself. They care about the welfare of the other person or people. They carry other people’s feelings; they are what is called ’empathically open’ people” (Walker, 17). In Samwise we see a high degree of trust, and a secured ego. He is an undefended leader.


Dr. David Rock in “Your Brain at Work” says “Understanding a new idea involves creating maps…that represent new, incoming information, and connecting these maps to existing maps in the rest of the brain” (Rock, 34). In this case, Walker’s pen drawing map of “Undefended Leadership” connected in my mind to Tolkien’s map of Middle Earth, which in turn is connecting to a map that I am currently drawing for my unfolding NPO regarding diminishing joy and courage in lead pastoral ministry.

Walker asserts, “the leader finds herself pursuing the lonely path…of being isolated, being a voice crying in the wilderness, traveling alone, ahead of the crowd, on the margins, in a distant land, feeling a sense of belonging but also a sense of alienation” (Walker, 17). He would attribute these feelings to idealization (the action of regarding or representing something as perfect or better than in reality), idealism (forming or pursuing ideals), and unmet emotional needs. Of the three, it’s the later that most resonates with me as a senior leader. Just last night (as of this writing, which by the way, is at 3:35 am), I asked my wife two questions that I will vulnerably share out of a growing trust for you as my peers:

  1. What do we need to do differently to stay emotionally healthy?
  2. How long can we do this (senior pastoral ministry), before it kills us?

She is my primary Samwise Gamgee. Thankfully, she’s better looking too. Much better.

I don’t have the answers to these two questions yet, thus the passion for my NPO. But what I do have is a deep appreciation for the journey and those that are on pilgrimage with me; past, present and future.  Like that of Walker (and, yes, Frodo too), my “route to growth lies [in] finding meaning in it and recognizing that it has not been a solitary journey but one on which we have been accompanied, known, loved and understood. It is then we can begin to find meaning and healing in the story we have told, and the freedom to face the future. It is then that as leaders we find the freedom to ‘lead out of who we are'” (Walker, 148).

Wake up, Mr. Frodo!

About the Author


John Fehlen

John Fehlen is currently the Lead Pastor of West Salem Foursquare Church. Prior to that he served at churches in Washington and California. A graduate of Life Pacific University in San Dimas, CA in Pastoral Ministry, and Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, CA with a Masters in Leadership and Spirituality. He and his wife Denise have four grown children and four grandchildren. John is the author of “Intentional Impressions," a book for fathers and their sons, "Don't Give Up: Encouragement for Weary Souls in Challenging Times," a book for pastoral leaders, and "The Way I See You," a children's book. You can connect with John on Instagram (@johnfehlen) as well as on his blog (johnfehlen.com).

8 responses to “Wake Up, Mr. Frodo!”

  1. mm Tim Clark says:

    I’m curious, John, with your NPO regarding “diminishing joy and courage in lead pastoral ministry” did you have any thoughts about how the 3 “defenses” talked about in this book (1. power, 2. control, or 3. backstage/front-stage life) play into the problem of joy/courage? In other words, do you feel that any or all of those 3 areas might contribute to the problem or maybe could be an outcome of the problem, or both?

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      At first blush (because it hadn’t occurred to me until you mentioned it), I would say that “backstage/frontstage” are certainly contributors to “diminishing joy in lead pastoral ministry.” One of the outcomes from our stakeholders gathering was there is something to be reckoned with in regards to “undue expectations” placed upon senior leadership, such that would cause one to keep up a persona in public that is not being supported in private. Thanks for the question on that Tim. There is certainly room to explore that further for my NPO.

  2. mm Russell Chun says:

    I personally am a Lord of the Rings fan. So many cool pieces both in the book and in the films.
    One of my favorite lines. “I can’t carry the ring Mr. Frodo, but I can carry you!”
    My family agrees that Samwise Gamgee is the real hero. Frodo does his part, but in the end Samwise takes over the Shire as Mayor. (In the books anyway).
    Like all heroes he is shaped by the storyline experience and represents “us” in a matter of speaking. The regular guy.
    To one of your questions. How long?
    Hmmm…In my personal experience how long is determined by God. He will keep you where you are needed or calls you away to something else (which could be focusing on family).
    As an example, in Hungary and Slovakia (www.goodsportsinternational.org) – our programs have been in Europe for close to 27 years in Bratislava, Slovakia and 22 years in Debrecen, Hungary. One of the undercurrents that we ride is our search for “GoodSports Junior.” We are confronted and confident that our “shelf life” is limited and that we need to groom our successors (preferably local nationals).
    The process has been not without its fits and starts, but both American missionaries (myself and Tom Johnson) have learned to “Let go, Let God.”
    To end on another Lord of the Rings quote.
    “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
    “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      For starters Russell, you never cease to amazing me in regards to all that you have going and are involved with. Every time I read one of your posts or comments, I wonder if you have lived multiple lives, with so many experiences and connections globally.

      Secondly, there is a real key in something you mentioned regarding successors. A well differentiated leader will be one that gives intention focus to the raising up of others. Perhaps those that do not do that with intentionality will find themselves further reckoning with power, control and frontstage/backstage issues.

      • mm Russell Chun says:

        Hi John, the nice thing about the military is the fact that you move jobs every 3 years (sometimes 6 years). But I always moved on. So going from hero to zero every 3 years forced me to let go and move on. It became a habit.

        Still, as an inspector general in the Army we were warned that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Speaking with the voice of the Commanding General can be heady stuff AND addicting. That is why we are only allowed to be his spokes person for 3 years.

        As a side note: My longest tour of duty was as a missionary in Hungary for 10 years. Even then, I could feel the back aches and lower energy levels so, investing in the hunt for a replacement was an important task.

        Thanks for your comments…Shalom…Russ

  3. Jennifer Vernam says:

    Well, since you opened the whole LOTR box, I have to respond to your 3am quandaries with another quote from Sam:

    “It’s like the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad has happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. I know now folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something. That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”

    Anything applicable there? It sure takes me back to the themes we discussed in “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.”

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      The interplay between this reading and that of Hero with a thousand faces was not lost on me either, Jennifer. The “stage” motif was evident in both.

      What is deeply applicable in your LOTR quote is in regards to my NPO – what I’m finding (and verified by stakeholders) is the connection between joy in pastoral leadership with that of suffering (ie: darkness and danger). They seem to be intrinsically connected such that true, lastly joy cannot be bifurcated from suffering. They are bedfellows. Now, I don’t LOVE that – but it is surfacing in my research, as well as a central aspect to many of the great stories we have come to love such as LOTR. Thanks Jennifer!

  4. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    So I love both LOTR and Harry Potter. Both have the Hero’s Journey in it. In fact, I listened a while to a podcast called “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.” It drew sacred life lessons from the book, and I’m sure one exists for LOTR. I see the connection in your story, in Walker’s words of undefended leadership, and LOTR in that in the end, it’s the cost of Leadership that we find in the end. You are wondering about how long can you keep up the Ministry of leading the Church..out in front, in the margins, etc and not have it kill you. In LOTR, the cost of Frodo’s journey changed him so much he could no longer stay where he was. I am wrestling right now with what is next for me on this vocational journey and have found there is a difference between leaving burnt and spent and leaving because you have been released. In my experience this is a thin line in discerning vocational leadership. I am not sure that I have a question for you this week, but I want to reflect back to you your own questions you asked your “sam-wise” as you asked your own great question! (I wonder how much having the Samwise Gamgee in our partnership helps with diminishingJoy and courage in Lead Pastoral Ministry. I am drawn to the scene where Frodo tries to leave the fellowship and he’s out on his boat (I only saw the movies) but Samwise finds him and Frodo yells: “Go Back Sam, I’m going alone” and Samwise yells back “of course you are, and I’m coming with you!” Perhaps this is the difference in Undefended Leadership, we have someone on the journey with us, reflecting us back to ourselves and holding us accountable!!

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