20 Under 40: Matthew Ruffner
Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church
Education: Presbyterian College
It was on a train in Munich his senior year of college that the now Rev. Matthew Ruffner realized he had no idea, metaphorically, where he was going. “We got off the train, went hiking in the Bavarian Alps, and I thought to myself, ‘Have I been on a train my whole life with no idea where I’m going?’” Reflecting on a time when his life where he did know, the moments that came up were when he was discussing – or debating – theology and politics. That moment led to him taking a year off after college to live in a tiny Honduras town for three months where he worked on a dairy farm in the morning and helped build desks for the elementary school and taught English at night. When he returned to the states, Matthew enrolled in seminary. About four years ago, the Zick Preaching Scholar was named senior pastor at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church where he leads a staff of 33 and a congregation of 2,700 – and knows exactly where he is going in life, “shaping the trajectory of our great city through the life and ministry of” his church.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: Being a leader is trying to decide whether to overreact or underreact. Underreacting is the right answer 90 percent of the time.
Q: What is your favorite place to eat, and what do you order?
A: Meso Maya and Herradura salmon.
Did you know?
I learned the value of hard work and education” through my first job where “I hauled hay in South Carolina for $6 an hour.
Q: Where do you see yourself and/or your career 10 years from now?
A: I hope to still be shaping the trajectory of our great city through the life and ministry of Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church.
Q: What was your “lightbulb moment” that lead you to your career?
A: I was on a train in Munich my senior year of college. The lady came on the loudspeaker, and I realized that I had no clue what she was saying. I also realized that if I looked on a map I would not have been able to tell you where I was going. We got off the train, went hiking in the Bavarian Alps, and I thought to myself – have I been on a train my whole life with no idea where I’m going? This question kept coming up – if I don’t know where I am going when are moments in my life when I did? The moments that came up were when I was having discussions and debates about theology and politics – those are the moments where I felt alive and invested. So I took a year off after college and lived in a tiny town in Honduras for three months in a cinder block room and I worked on a dairy farm in the morning and helped build desks at an elementary school and taught English at night. I then came back to the States and went to seminary.
Q: Which leadership skills were the most challenging for you to develop and why?
A: Delegation! Part of leadership is not listening to your ego – it’s trusting your sense of leadership, but also trusting that something greater is going to happen when you bring something to the table.
Q: What do you love about the Park Cities or Preston Hollow community and why?
A: I love the people of this part of Dallas. We value work but we also value life and family. I love the neighborhood feel of Preston Hollow.
Q: What is your favorite local store?
A: Interabang Bookstore
Q: If there was ONE thing that you could change or improve in the community, what would it be?
A: World class education for ALL people in our neighborhood (Preston Hollow).
Q: If you could buy a book (or rent a movie) for your neighbor, what would it be and why?
A: “Tattoos on the Heart” – Fr. Gregory Boyle. It’s the most powerful book I’ve ever read. Anything by Pat Conroy or Prince of Tides – it has my favorite opening line in all of literature. Anything by Brene Brown.
Q: If we looked at your social media accounts, what would we learn about you?
A: I love what I do and I love my family. I want to keep my social media a place of positivity.
Q: If you could, what advice would you have for your teenage self and why?
A: Failure is the greatest teacher that you’ll ever have. Be wiling to risk failure.
Q: What, to date, has been your most impressive or rewarding accomplishment in both your professional and personal life?
A: Being named Senior Pastor at PHPC at age 31 has been life-changing for me and my family. It’s been a great gift.
Personally – my family. We’ve been married 11 years and have two wonderful children.