Mark Hancock began his career founding a successful advertising agency, and then after becoming a Christian, served as a pastor, homeless ministry director and international ministry event director. He had two sons involved in Boy Scouts of America, but when BSA made a major shift away from its biblical roots toward gender inclusivity, Mark unexpected found himself at the center of a movement to start an alternative faith-based program. He is now CEO of Trail Life USA, which addressed for key challenges that boys are facing in today’s culture – boys are unguided, ungrounded, unappreciated, and uninspired. In this interview, Mark will share stories of lives transformed by Trail Life USA.
he needs a male centric environment that celebrates who it is that he is. He needs to be surrounded by other men who share your values and you know, you can tell your son something all day and then they come home and say, oh mr so and so said this, and you’re like, I’ve been telling you that for you. So here you are in this environment where there are men who are supporting the values that you have, and so that’s great for your sons. Welcome to the focus on the family broadcast, helping families thrive. Jim We’ve talked before about why parents need to be so intentional about raising kids with the end in mind, it’s all about the launch, that’s for sure. You know, when they’re hitting 18 and finishing school, they’re adults and that’s the goal and in everyday business of life, we tend to forget that, you know, we’re just trapped in the things we got to do and we forget about concentrating on how we’re gonna launch our young men, particularly, we’ve covered young ladies yesterday and uh we just want to really concentrate on this. You know, we get involved with their homework and all the other things that’s all good, but how do we shape character and sometimes we forget the most important task or we save it for last, I’d say we got to put it right up there in the front of what we’re doing and we’re gonna cover that moms and dads today, so you’re gonna want to lean into this and sit alongside and listen our last episode, as I said, introduced the american Heritage Girls and national Scouting program for girls, an alternative to Girl scouts and given kind of the woke direction that they’ve gone. They’ve really kind of disconnected from their beginnings and training young women how to be good christian women, right? And what to live for and what their identity is locked in today. We’re gonna cover the boy’s side of this and I’m excited to do that. Mark Hancock is with us. He’s the ceo of Trail Life. Usa there are church based, christ centered boy focused mentoring and discipleship organization. They’ve had a lot of significant growth since their founding in 2014. Mark, welcome to the broadcast. Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here. Yeah. And tell me. Okay, so why did you do this? Oh wow. You know, in in 2013 it appeared that the boy scouts were beginning to choose a direction that we need a lot of churches and parents just couldn’t couldn’t follow. So about 300 volunteers across the country began to talk and connect through different social media forms and things to talk about. What are we gonna do about this? I mean, boys need a character leadership and adventure organization that that helps them. They’re, they’re maturing. Yeah. What was happening in the Boy Scouts that caught those people’s attention, Those parents, those dads. What was the alarm? Well, the first flag that went up was they, they decided to open the organization to open and avowed homosexual boys. Now, of course there’s homosexual boys, our entire culture that wouldn’t raise a flag. But the challenges that that would cause for Troop master’s or scoutmasters and churches who are being recalled inspired by the national organization to agree with something that wasn’t consistent with their faith was going to cause, you know, a lot of trouble. In fact, churches would would cause trouble for churches because it actually puts a threat on their five oh one C three standing if they agree with an organization that has different biblical values and there are different values than they do. So we knew something was going to be done. So these volunteers gathered across the country and began to talk about the idea of an organization that would kind of take the place of an organization that over 100 years have given us astronauts and generals and pray residents and, and uh, civic leaders, you know, but they were apparently losing their way and the secret sauce that they had masculinity in a biblical model. They were abandoning that. You know, we talked yesterday, as we mentioned to patty about heritage Girls and she made that connection and they started Heritage Girls in the nineties. You’re sitting there in 2013 2014 Boy Scouts are doing similar, disconcerting things. You decide to start trail life and your son was an Eagle Scout at the time. And that had to be hard. I mean, I mean that’s really the mountain top of the Boy Scout experience right becoming the Eagle Scout. I’ve signed a lot of letters to Eagle Scouts. We have done that here at focus acknowledging their great achievement. How did your son feel? And what did he say to you about the transition? Well, it is, it is quite an achievement. We point to that states they produce, have a tremendous legacy in that over the years, but I do need to crush you. I did not start the organization. We have all these volunteers that came together. We don’t, we don’t point to a founder of Volunteers across the country. But you’re sitting at the table. I was there. But by my son, you know, actually when he left the Boy Scouts, they sent him an email and they said, you know, you haven’t rejoined and here you are an Eagle Scout. Can you tell us why you haven’t rejoined? And he said, Dad, should I respond to that? And I said some pray about it. What would you want to say? And he gave us a simple three word response to the Boy Scouts, He said you weren’t brave. And I thought, yeah, wow! Is right because your father had two sons and you realize that that a young man who has put so much energy into this program and earning that very respectable achievement at the time was willing to walk away. But it said to me as a dad, mark you better be brave because your son really values that. And so that of course feeds into, you know, the difficult decision that we had to leave that organization, but actually be able to have the conversation with sensing this is what we do. We we do hard things because of their right. And so it it was, it was a great, it was a great lesson for me as a dad. And of course it was a great demonstration to see my son’s faith in action. And I think, you know, one of the things john we want to accomplish is alerting people to the opportunity of trail Life USA and what they provide. And You know, part of it is you’re growing, you, you’ve been at it now uh, you know, a number of years and you have a lot of how many young men are active in the program on 40,000 members in all 50 states, all 50 states. And so it’s active and we do want to introduce people because it is biblically based. It is Christian in its value structure and that’s one of the reasons we want to stand with you and make sure that everybody knows about it. But in that context, let me let you describe what trail life USa does and what you’re hoping to achieve in the lives of these boys and young men. Yeah, well we’re christ centered boy focused character leadership and adventure organization from boys from kindergarten through 12th grade and were active in all 50 states and we are using a male centric environment which is important for boys. I know male centric environment, we say crazy things like boys and girls are different. We actually believe, I’d say duh, but you know, I’m not a scientist but but we recognize that that the needs of boys and girls are different and that boys need an organization that’s focused on their strength, that’s built for who it is that they are. As a boy. You know, boys are under some so much attack. You know, it’s like boyhood is some sort of social disease that needs to be eradicated or all of them. So there’s generations of the discounting of men that’s beginning to show and our boys, it’s like they’re the canaries in the coal mine and they’ve stopped singing, you know, because the culture, the way that it is handled boys just really you know now three times more likely to be in special education twice is like A. D. H. D. They have fallen behind girls in every single academic category. The fastest rising statistic and suicide rates is boys from 10 to 14 years of age. Boys are in trouble and they need somebody that organization for a over 100 years that stood for boys just decided to leave that path. And now it’s not a boy center of organization anymore. So trail have stepped into the gap since we are the champion for boys. We believe in boys. We think that we think they’re amazing creations creating the image of God and they need to be recognized for their, I love it being a father of two boys. But, and we have some of the young men right here in the studio with us john and we’re going to get to some of your comments or questions. So be thinking about that. Um, let me ask you, you have a story about a trail life troupe member or troop actually that leapt into action. I love these, these success stories, but there was a forest fire and they jumped in. Now we’re their moms and dads aware that they had done this. Probably not at the time. I’m sure, I’m sure they heard the story afterwards, but they were out camping and, and they noticed a red glow and uh, miles and miles from anyone who could do something about it. But the boys and the adults jumped into action and put this this fire out that would have spread for possibly hundreds of acres because it would’ve been so long before before somebody stepped in. So our boys focused on, focused on that. We understand the outdoors. We have, uh, we have our, our worldview essentials and one of those talks about creation and and respecting, uh, you know, the place that we live and so they have, they have a love for the outdoors. So they jumped into action and made sure that fire didn’t spread. I think it’s great. I wish I would have been, there would be the kind of adventure I would love. Let’s go do something. Um, explain why you believe male role models and mentoring from men is essential. And even that is so loaded today because of, you know, because of people that abused kids. Let’s just say it. So speak to the mentoring idea and then how you safeguard it. Sure. Well, you know that toxic masculinity is a pretty broad brush that’s just been painted and all all men in the in the next generation. So, so we’re restoring the biblical masculinity of men who can be trusted, Uh, to to mentor and and and and help boys along. You know, one out of four households for boys doesn’t have a father in their before. Yeah, that’s shocking. And 78% of teachers are female. So for the most part, boys have as a model a female. Those single moms are doing a herculean task in that household. But that boy in that household doesn’t have somebody who looks like him who’s who’s leading and then he goes to school again. So girls have these wonderful role models and boys are just lacking these role models. So we’re restoring those role models and our leaders and they’re all background checks. Child safety, Youth protection train their personal references from the church representative. Um, they they passed the test and there’s this wonderful brother of men across our country now. 15,000 men serving serving boys, uh, through trail of USa. And they have this beautiful brotherhood where they’re holding each other accountable. You remember in the eighties we have this accountability movement and you had to sit across the table with a guy and drink a cup of coffee and share your heart. That’s hard for us as guys, you know. But you put two men hiking on a trail next to each other or the boys all bed down and the guy, the dads are around the fires and say, listen, I saw the way that you spoke to your son today. How did you get a relationship like that with him? How can I build? And so that’s where these men are connecting their mentoring each other and they’re building each other. One of the best kept secrets is that we’re also a ministry to men because the men in our program have this tremendous brotherhood where they’re where they’re sharpening each other ironing, sharpening. You have an example of, I think it’s a troop in texas where that group really identifies the fatherless boys concentrates on bringing fatherless boys into that troop and then mentoring them. Speak to that specificity. We have a real heart for that. And then we, we love the fathers and sons participating together. It’s a great way for dads to connect with her sons. But we also have a heart for these, all these boys without dads and I was speaking in texas at an event in trail life event and a man pulled me aside and said, you see that boy over there? And I said, yeah, he says I connected him with that man over there because he doesn’t have a father. And I said, wow, that’s really nice. And he said, see that boy over there. I said, yeah, I connected him with that man over there because he doesn’t have a father. And he just went on and I stopped and said, who are you? He said when I was nine years old, my father passed away and I ended up in a, in a youth boys organization surrounded by men who helped mentor me And I told myself at that time that I would do that when I got older and make sure that boys had a dad or a dad like and I honestly believe that any legitimate call to manhood must include a call to either be a father to natural sons or to be a dad like to these boys. So many boys without a good solid christian role model. And I think any legitimate call has to include paying attention to those boys who don’t have that. This is focused on the family with jim daly. I’m john fuller and our guest today is Mark Hancock and we’d love for you to find out more and maybe to get your son involved. If you can please do get your son involved in trail life. Usa well link over to their website and all the details in the show notes and then our number is 800 the letter A and the word family. 802 326459. Another concern you talk about is the character development. And again, this is the one that baffles me in this area. People that oppose what you’re doing. I don’t even understand, you know, you’re trying to raise and help these young men become men of character. Right honest looking to do good deeds, which I applaud all of you for. It’s the right thing to do. And then you have critics saying, yeah, but it’s all rooted in that christian thing. I don’t get that. What are they afraid of? Yeah. It is, it is kind of shocking. But fortunately we have enough parents to understand even non believers are choosing to put their boys into trail life because they recognize that it’s, it’s an environment that they understand good traditional values and they want to see their boys in a program like that. So in our program, all of our adult leaders agreed to a statement of faith in the state values that does things like talks about human sexuality and and who men and women are and what marriages but boys be kidding. Boys of any faith or no faith at all are welcome to Georgia because we love the fact that they’re around men who are doing that. We’re building character in a way that it’s hard to find anywhere else in the culture. Used to be able to look at it, look up, there were people to look up to and now, you know, the sports stars and things like that. But even then, so many of their lives or suspect their personal lives and so so are the boys and trailer are surrounded by godly men who are holding each other accountable to the standards, the ones that they agreed to when they joined and in this male centric environment, when boys get to see that’s what I want to be when I grow up because they may not have that example in the household and that’s how we build characters through that example. You can’t build Godly boys without Godly men. And so so we, we love that the idea that male centric environment because that’s where the boys learn how to, You had a story about, I think I’m sure you changed the name but they a troupe member named timmy who I think from one of the Carolinas, I don’t wanna get too specific because poor timmy is gonna be the poster guy here, but he was a bit unruly maybe uh, you know, uncontrolled energy, which a lot of us boys tend to have, what happened with timmy. Yeah, he was dropped off at a troop. Uh, my parents would be involved in this program and I don’t know if they were just looking for a night out or what the and the and the leaders, they did struggle with him because he, he was, he was challenging behaviorally, but they hung in there with him because that’s what we do, We do hard things. And 11 night the troop master got a call from Timmy’s mom and she said, you know, timmy is praying at home and he said, okay, you know what’s the problem here? She said, you don’t understand, we don’t pray in our household, but we would like to, can my husband and I attend your troop and learn how to pray. And a few weeks later that entire family was baptized in that church. Isn’t that beautiful? That’s exactly what some are gonna say. What, what, how can you have people praying? I mean, but that is wonderful. And I would assume that that family is a tighter, stronger, better family than they were before. And now they’re attending the, that’s terrific. Um, let’s speak to the boy energy issue because I mean, that’s part of it. I think, um, you know, I wasn’t trained in education, but when you look out how boys have to go to school, they have to sit still and you know, they get a little bit of recess, but then you’re back at a desk. It doesn’t really suit us boys because we tend to learn on the move. I remember jean and I having a debate about how to do devotions with the boys and she wanted us to see Sit down at seven and we start then and we do 10 minutes of singing and I was going to work. You know let’s go outside, let’s roll in the grass. Let’s talk about who created the trees in the mountains and you need you boys need to be moving not all the time but some of the time and speak to that difference in how you reference it, how the culture is trying to in many ways trying to feminize boys to learn to behave too. Act like girls. Yeah we’ll face it our our classrooms are designed for the way the girls learn sit still be quiet. Pay attention and that’s just murder for boys and and and you know scientists tell us Harvard Harvard Professor recently that that boys have to move in order to learn so that fidgeting that they’re doing in their seats. That were punishing them for and declaring the A. D. H. D. They actually intuitively you know they’ve got to move in order to learn. So we recognize that the trail if I tell leaders all the time. If your boys walk into your troop meeting and it looks like a classroom or sunday school classroom you’ve already lost them. You know to get the chairs out of the room, throw some legos on the floor because that’s how boys learn, they learn, they can be doing some activity and they’re learning on a different channel. Look at their video games, look at the sports programs on the news programs that we watch. You’re not just learning on one channel, you’ve got things coming across the bottom of the screen, you’ve got the score here. How many yards do we learn from these multiple channels? These boys were born into that world and then we sit them in a classroom and they have to listen to one person. That’s, that’s that’s hard for them to do. So we have to, we have to recognize that boys and girls are different than boys learned on multiple channels at the same time and they need that type of distraction. My wife and I home schooled our two boys and so that was part of our learning experiences that, you know, the first thing we did and we decided home school, we went and we bought a couple little student desks. We bought them at a sale that the school board was having on the used furniture. And I don’t think they ever sat in those chairs. You know, they schooled on the floor, you know, hanging from a chandelier or whatever, but they both ended up being, you know, full scholarships for college. So it worked. But we do need to approach the way we teach boys. In fact you with your original experience in Boy Scouts, when your son’s again was right in the middle of becoming an Eagle Scout when you started another option in that regard. What what happened when the Boy Scouts introduced girls into the Boy scouts, which again to me, I always was puzzled why I mean again, why can’t boys have a place where boys can go? But they decided to allow girls into the Boy Scouts? And what did you see and observe in that regard? Yeah, I can tell you something that broke my heart when they made that decision to allow girls in the Boy scouts. Uh, it’s just, it broke my heart. But then one of the first quotes I read, they were interviewing a scoutmaster and they said, how do you like having girls in your troop? He said we love having girls in our troop because there’s so much better behaved and smarter. And I thought, you know, he’s right, he may be right. You know, because developmentally boys like a little bit behind girls. But to think, oh my gosh, there’s another place boys can’t go without being, their name is on the, on the organization and they can’t go there without, why can’t you sit still like Susie does. I mean here’s another place they go and they’re being discounted and and and dismissed as not being good enough. They start out school behind and now there’s more girls enrolling in college, getting my bachelor’s degrees master’s degrees doctoral degrees than boys because we have this generation now long thing of discounting and teaching them in a way that that that doesn’t really fit for them. And so there’s there’s a lot of work Mark, we’re gonna turn to the young men in here and ask them to give us some input a moment here, but make the pitch, I mean, okay, if I had two boys that were between the ages of five and 18, why should I do this? Yeah, well there’s a great reason to one is do it for your son. You know, he needs a male centric environment that celebrates who it is, that he is, he needs to be surrounded by other men who share your values and you know, you can tell your son something all day and then you know this happens all the time, they come home and say, oh mr. So and so said this and you’re like, I’ve been telling you that for you. So here you are in this environment where there are men who are supporting the values that you have and so that’s great for your sons. But even if you don’t have a son in the program, it’s a great place to go to pour into the next generation to be able to just, we have a lot of men in our program, don’t have sons in the organization, but they know how important it is to disciple mentor this next generation and it’s done in this this incredibly fun environment, you don’t have to be a great camp, you want to be a great outdoorsman come and there’s guys there who will help you through the whole thing, but it’s, it’s just a great opportunity to grow closer to your son, I heard it said that this is the first generation being raised by google, you know where boys can now ask their phone, you know, where do babies come from, you know, so we’re restoring men as being the mentors and as the guy who knows more because google cannot start a fire with wet leaves, you know, but I know a lot of men in our movement who can, so boys get to be an environment again where they’re learning, looking up to a male mentor and it’s restoring that relationship that of course builds strong, so good, well let’s ask the guys how they’re doing, so let’s do that now, so I’m Matthew, um, I do know that, so in trail life we do a lot of campouts and so we’ve, we’re actually gonna have one and if I think it’s like two weeks now, two or three weeks where we’re gonna have all the older boys and we’re gonna be going out with the woodland trails, were the older boys gonna be mentoring the younger boys, this is my favorite story to tell because it shows like kind of the community get and so basically we’re hiking and my backpack was too big, it’s too heavy. I was, I was little, I was, I was a shrimp and, but we’re walking down and I was falling behind and they all the guys stopped and they unloaded my backpack. They took all my stuff out and they put it in everybody else’s backpack. So in trail, if you get this community where we support each other, we don’t like, we still have our boy leaders. So Shane’s the highest leader. You can be in the troop for the boys. Um, and then I’ve been a patrol leader multiple times. So we have our smaller groups of patrols, eight and 10 boys, but it really just helps us support two younger boys and I love the opportunity also allows the adults and the older boys support to us. Yeah, let me ask you this. I mean it’s always fun. I mean when I can remember being your age, you probably don’t believe me, but I can. But you know, there’s also the natural kind of mischievous nous of what we do. Those boys right? Where they put the frog in the guy’s knapsack or whatever. I mean that stuff I’m sure is still happening too. And but it’s good. That’s what the adventure is all about. Right? Those are the memories that you remember the good stuff. The mentoring and then also some of the games that go on and that’s normal. Yeah, I know that we have people go around rattling tents at night. We’ve had those guys before. So my name is scott. Um, and just a word of encouragement. I love that. You know, we have the opportunity have other men kind of pour into our boys that know and love jesus. So that’s huge for our family. I’ve got three boys in the audience here. Um, so thank you for that. I did have one question. You mentioned, you know, one in four boys are living in homeless or not homeless fatherless families. And I think it’s generally acknowledged that fatherlessness right now is a huge epidemic, um, with, with our boys and kind of how they’re growing up. Is there anything within trail life where you’re focusing on fatherless homes or single moms or are is there gonna be anything I guess in the roadmap, um, for trail, I have to focus on those boys and how we plug them into adult mentors? That is a good question. Well, as you know, every trip is different because you’re chartered by church and you have the flavor of that church. So some of those sort of iterations of the program come out of the vision for the church. What does the church want? Who they want to reach in that community? But we do have a lot of resources. We reach out to single moms a lot, um, to let him know. Here’s an organization. We had a single mom just cried out to God. She said her husband passed away when he, when her son was two years old and she started crying out to God. Now he’s 15 years old. He’s in a trail of us a true and he’s surrounded by Godly men. And the woman came to me, she said, you know, I need to thank you because my my husband would want me to thank you. So, so there are there are those men. So I would encourage you go for it. You know, there’s nothing to stop you from from having that culture in your troop that says, listen, we need to pay attention to these boys. Like I said earlier. And if you hear me say these things all the time, you know, if if we’re not taking care of those boys were challenged by scripture James 127, we’re supposed to be paying attention to these boys. So take that on yourself to say for me and my troop, we’re gonna look out for these boys are gonna make sure they’re taken care of. But you’ll you’ll have nothing but support from us. But I don’t know that we, that’s that’s something we would impress upon troops to do. Go for it. And you’re also mentioning the church kind of the church relationship there. I mean there’s pastors listening and and I would encourage them for a church to get engaged with you. They would just contact you directly. Right? Yeah. A remarkable thing. We’re not just an organization that meets in the basement of the church. We are an active outreach of that local church. And so churches are seeing growth because you can invite a boy to sunday school for forever. But if you invite me to go backpacking or white water rafting or something like that, that boy goes, that unchurched boy joins the troupe, then that unchurched family joins the church and we see churches growing Because of their commitment. That’s great. So churches can get involved. How many churches do you have involved? We just passed 900 yesterday. Yeah, that would be great. What a good idea for churches to help those boys that don’t have dads in the home ministry. Thank you mark. This has been exceptional and I hope people are catching this John the idea. We just really want to expose people to trail life as we did with American heritage girls yesterday. And in doing so we just want you to get involved, spread the word. Talk to your pastor, get churches involved. Certainly get your own son or daughter and your grandson or granddaughter involved. You know, that’s the purpose. So Mark, thank you so much for being with us and we’ll make all the links to our website and john how do folks get in touch with us? They can find out more about trail life usa by clicking the link in the show notes or just give us a call. Our number is 800 the letter A and the Word Family. 802 326459. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team. Thanks for joining us today For focus on the family. I’m john fuller, inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in christ.