Category Archives: missional monks
Like most people, my adolescent years were marked by occasional philosophical conflicts with my parents. However, I grew up on a ranch, so some of the contentious issues might seem foreign to others.
For instance, it used to bug me that while tromping around the woods, my Dad insisted I keep using my single-shot .22 rather than his semi-automatic version. As is often the case, it took a few years to realize his motive wasn’t to crush my dreams and steal my joy. He was teaching me that claiming the responsibility of shooting a rifle means learning how to shoot it responsibly. That means shooting straight, with full awareness of surroundings and the potential implications of every squeeze of the trigger.
When you shoot you want to hit a target – obviously. If you want to hit a target, you can either shoot straight or you can shoot fast and often.
Shooting straight is hard. It takes effort, patience, and dedication. It requires you to develop accuracy, learn to control your breathing, pay attention to your surroundings, and choose your shot carefully. My single-shot was made for this approach.
On the other hand, shooting fast is easy and appealing. Instead of skill, practice, or patience, it only requires bullets. Without all that tedious concern with accuracy, you simply shoot enough times that you eventually hit the target…and a lot of other things as well. Dad had strong opinions about “fast shooters.” He viewed their careless mindset and reckless behavior as a danger to everyone.
During the last week of April 2013, the Florida legislature passed a bill meant to increase efficiency in the process of death row executions by setting time limits and decreasing options for appeals. Citing the cost of keeping inmates on death row for decades and the extended lack of closure for the families of victims, Republican lawmakers were able to get this bill through the House and Senate with overwhelming support.
In the minds of some, should Governor Rick Scott sign the “Timely Justice Act” into law this month, Florida will hit several targets. They’ll hit the target of reducing the high cost associated with lengthy stays on death row. They’ll hit the target of bringing “swift justice” to the state’s worst criminals. They’ll hit the target of bringing closure to the families of the victims.
However, there is a major problem. This bill and it’s proponents are rejecting hard work and accuracy, instead embracing the careless mindset of “shoot fast and shoot often.” Their lack of concern for accuracy is going to increase the number of targets hit, but it will also increase the number of wrong and unintended targets hit. And that is unacceptable.
The bill is not about “Timely Justice,” it is about swift execution, regardless of innocence or guilt.
The death penalty currently represents the ultimate and final form of justice applied to perpetrators of extreme violence and evil in 32 states. Full disclosure, I abhor the death penalty. I don’t find it to be a convincing definition of justice, but rather the final sign that justice and reconciliation have eluded us.
But my feelings about the death penalty don’t matter at this point. The issue on the table, which is going to be decided in the next couple weeks, is this bill to execute people more quickly in the state of Florida. Even by the current definition of justice, the Timely Justice Act is a direct affront to justice.
If we claim to be a just society, and executing perpetrators is our form of justice, then we are obligated to do the hard work and refuse the temptation to be fast shooters. Accuracy is nonnegotiable for justice, particularly where executions are concerned. And this bill decreases accuracy.
It must not be signed into law.
What is so dangerous about this bill in Florida?
Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, Florida has executed 76 people.1 During the same time period a whopping 24 people, the most in the nation, have been exonerated after sentencing. This one state represents 17% of the nation’s 142 cases of death row exonerations.2 And that figure doesn’t take into account those whose death sentences were reduced or commuted.
This is a state that has one erroneous death sentence exonerated for every three people executed. The people of Florida should be enraged that their lawmakers would try to speed up a process that they can’t perform accurately at a slower pace.
You don’t need to be opposed to the death penalty to oppose this bill. The only reason you should support this bill is if you have no problem executing innocent people. It’s easy to get caught up thinking about the one’s who get away with murder – or take advantage of the system. Proponents of this bill will definitely play up the need to be “tough on crime.” But we need to remember:
- With this bill, the system is still broken, it’s just faster. That means there is less time to correct mistakes, with too little being done to avoid making the mistakes in the first place. While the bill attempts to address issues of incompetent representation – particularly in court appointed attorneys – it doesn’t say much about how they are going to pay these people. Interesting…this is normally the complaint we hear the Republicans leveling at Democrats.
- Removing/reducing the hope for appeal doesn’t just block the guilty who are taking advantage. It also blocks the falsely convicted scrambling to save their lives.
- Don’t Worry: Wealthy people (innocent or guilty) will still get off the hook. Its only the poor, the one’s who are at the mercy of court appointed representation, who really need to worry…But at least now we don’t have to listen to them complain for so long, right?
This bill is not concerned with accuracy, it is concerned with a particular outcome, namely, executing somebody…whether they committed the crime or not. As Sen. Robert Bradley, R-Orange Park has made clear, “This isn’t about innocence or guilt, it’s about timely justice.” Other than the ironic misuse of the word “justice,” I couldn’t have said it better…but he was supposedly supporting the bill with that statement.
Sen. Bradley’s statement is startlingly (if unintentionally) honest, incredibly disturbing, and wholly inaccurate. In the minds of those who choose to shoot fast instead of straight, accuracy and outcome may be separate issues. But that just confirms my Dad’s beliefs that fast shooters operate from a mindset of carelessness.
Justice which can somehow be separated from innocence or guilt is a new definition of justice altogether; neither the one that many of us long for, nor the one we currently have. This bill is pursuing a facade of justice, a hollow victory based on someone repaying blood for blood, and that person’s guilt or innocence in the matter is not the primary concern.
“But,” you may say, “they have already been found guilty!”
Yes, they have been found guilty in a state with a documented history of unfairness and inaccuracy in their death penalty system. In a 2006 analysis of Florida’s death penalty laws, procedures and practices, an American Bar Association (ABA) report states, “the State of Florida fails to comply or is only in partial compliance with many of these recommendations and that many of these shortcomings are substantial. More specifically, the Team is convinced that there is a need to improve the fairness and accuracy in the death penalty system… The Florida Death Penalty Assessment Team has identified a number of areas in which Florida’s death penalty system falls short in the effort to afford every capital defendant fair and accurate procedures.”3
Florida is also the only remaining state in which a simple majority vote of the jury is sufficient to sentence someone to death. Five members of a jury can remain unconvinced without stopping the sentence. That detail becomes even more disconcerting when we consider that the previously mentioned report from the ABA found that “many Florida capital jurors do not understand their role and responsibilities when deciding whether to impose a death sentence.”4 Among other signs of confusion, “36 percent of interviewed Florida capital jurors incorrectly believed that they were required to sentence the defendant to death if they found the defendant’s conduct to be “heinous, vile, or depraved”¬¬ beyond a reasonable doubt”5 (emphasis mine).
And yet, even in cases where the jury doesn’t recommend the death penalty, the practice of judicial override (used 166 times between 1972 and 1999) in Florida may mean the death sentence is given anyway. The 2006 ABA report cites a study showing that “trial judges take into account the potential ‘repercussions of an unpopular decision in a capital case,’ which encourages judges in judicial override states to override jury recommendations of life, ‘especially so in the run up to judicial elections.”6
There are reasons that we have an appeal process in our courts. We’re not talking about staying after school for detention, or passing the 30-day window for returning your item to the store. We’re talking about the life and death of a human being. That warrants some caution before taking irreversible action. This is part of the price we pay in order to continue claiming to be a nation grounded in things like truth, justice and the sanctity of life.
This bill threatens to void those claims.
Among the 24 cases in Florida, the average time from sentencing to exoneration has been 7.5 years (national average is 9.8 years).7 If this bill becomes law, without the immediate provision of new evidence, executions will happen in a matter of months.
Even if we stretch that out to one year, only 2 of the Florida 24 would come close to that window. Two. As in, just two people more than zero.
If this bill had been in place since 1976, how many of these twenty-four exonerated people would have been executed? We can’t know for sure, but the odds for twenty-two of them are pretty bad and the odds for the other two aren’t great. At least two people who received commuted sentences (as opposed to the full exoneration of the 24) after new evidence came to light would have fallen well outside that 1-year lifespan.8
No other state in the nation has more local data to comprise an informed notion of how long it can take to fully investigate and sort these matters out. If we are going to snuff out the life of a person, we cannot afford to leave any lingering doubt as to whether it is the right person. Again, in a just society, accuracy is nonnegotiable.
But Florida representatives are apparently comfortable with not knowing. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who sponsored the bill in the House, glibly stated, “Only God can judge, but we sure can set up the meeting.” This statement artfully combines a misapplication of Scripture, poor use of logic and an apparent belief in the incompetence of the judicial system. If only God can judge, then why have courts at all? Why make laws?
About a month after the “kill ‘em all, let God sort it out” comment, Rep. Gaetz summoned the power of the twittersphere to deflect his callous lack of concern. Here is the full text of his May 30 modified tweet (MT: which is reposting a version or a section of someone else’s tweet, usually with a comment or response):
Any of them mention the victims or their families? MT:”@TroyKinsey: A death penalty critic’s blasting @mattgaetz’ timely justice act.”9
It’s interesting to note the selective nature of this MT. Here’s the part of @TroyKinsey’s tweet that doesn’t make the modified cut: “Noting 8 inmates were exonerated after more than a decade on death row.”
The righteous condescension of Gaetz’ modified retweet is rivaled only by its accidental irony. This tweet was in response to a critic mentioning 8 people exonerated after MORE THAN A DECADE on death row. Are those the victims and families to whom he referred?
I’m not a lawmaker, I’m a minister. I know a lot about grief. And unfortunately, I also know about people using emotional ploys to kill conversation. There are certain things you can say that make it very difficult for the other person to argue. Appealing to the emotional trauma of families who have had loved ones snatched away from them by a murderer is one of those hard-to-reply-to arguments.
I don’t mean in anyway to sound insensitive to the grief of the victims’ families, but the fact that their grief is even being brought up in a conversation about falsely convicted people suggests exploitation of their grief to push another agenda.
Rep Gaetz doesn’t seem to appreciate how inaccuracy in the death penalty system creates victims – though my suspicion is that he simply will not admit it publicly.
Speeding up an inaccurate process will lead to fewer exonerations10 and less time on death row, thus simultaneously lowering the cost to the state and lowering public awareness of inaccurate sentences.
But the victims are created whether the government acknowledges them or not. I understand grief and I have a great deal of painful experience grieving with those who grieve. I have seen tremendous grief and longing for justice – as well as insatiable thirst for revenge. I’ve sat and visited with inmates – some who were behind bars because of their own stupid, broken decisions, as well as those behind bars because the justice system is just as broken.
I’ve also wept with the families torn apart by tragedy, violence and evil – which is true of the families of both victims and perpetrators. All are in tremendous pain. All long for justice. And the people of God are sent to stand with those who cry for justice and lend their own voices to the chorus.
For those who have ears to hear, the cry for justice is the most piercing cry of all. And those who hear that cry are compelled to see justice done. This is as it should be.
But this bill isn’t offering justice. It’s offering retribution. Worse yet, it’s offering retribution with only moderate concern for guilt. The Timely Justice Act should more appropriately be called The Scapegoat Act.
No, the issue at stake in this bill isn’t justice at all. The justice-flavored additives are masking a concoction of “tough on crime” resume building, bottom-line finances, and deflecting attention from the real problems in Florida’s justice system.
Why have so many people been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death? That seems like an important question to answer and resolve before attempting to increase the rate of executions.11
The system is broken; no one is denying that reality. The fast shooter mindset may want to deal with a broken system by executing people before every possible doubt has been removed, but that will never be construed as justice by a just society.
I’m sorry Representative Gaetz, decreasing the accuracy of justice under the guise of concern for victims is misleading, at best, when your state’s inaccuracy is already leading the nation in creating victims. The stakes are too high, we cannot afford to get this wrong. We cannot lower the accuracy of this process even more and still pretend to be a just society.
Governor Rick Scott, I implore you, in the name of justice, please veto the Scapegoat Act.
Bret Wells, D.Min.
For more information on the death penalty in the United States, visit the Death Penalty Information Center website. You can also read the 400+ page ABA report on Florida’s death penalty system, or read this report written by Christopher Slobogin, chair of the Florida assessment team and Milton Underwood chair in Law, Vanderbilt University Law School. You can also visit the Florida Department of Corrections website to see more statistics about executions in the state.
Dr. Bret Wells is the Director of Operations for the Missional Wisdom Foundation, where he oversees and is a member of the teaching faculty for the Academy for Missional Wisdom. He is also the minister of The Gathering in Burleson, TX.
He holds a Doctor of Ministry from Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology as well as an MA in Christian Ministry and a BS in Psychology and Christian Ministry from Abilene Christian University. Bret is also certified as a Christian Coach through Mission Alive and CoachNet.
1 Florida Department of Corrections website. http://www.dc.state.fl.us/oth/deathrow/execlist.html, Accessed June 3, 2013.
2 Qualifications for inclusion in this list of exonerations on Death Penalty Information Center website. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/innocence-list-those-freed-death-row. Accessed June 3, 2013:
“Defendants must have been convicted, sentenced to death and subsequently either-
- Been acquitted of all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row, or
- Had all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row dismissed by the prosecution, or
- Been granted a complete pardon based on evidence of innocence.”
3 Florida Death Penalty Assessment Team, American Bar Association, “Evaluating Fairness and Accuracy in State Death Penalty Systems: The Florida Death Penalty Assessment Report,” September 2006. http://www.prisonpolicy.org/scans/aba/fldpreport.pdf, Accessed June 4, 2013, iii.
4 Ibid, vi.
6 Ibid, vii.
7 Death Penalty Information Center, website, “Innocence: List of Those Freed From Death Row,” http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/innocence-list-those-freed-death-row. Accessed June 3, 2013.
8 Sonia Jacobs, convicted in 1976, released in 1992. Joseph Spaziano, convicted in 1976, still in Florida prison for other crimes. Information provided on Death Penalty Information Center website, “Additional Innocence Information,” under “A. Partial Innocence – Conviction Reduced” http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/additional-innocence-information#Released. Accessed June 3, 2013.
9 Matt Gaetz twitter account, https://twitter.com/mattgaetz. Accessed June 3, 2013.
10 Closing doors on the appeal process could not only lead to more posthumous exonerations, it could also mean that innocence is never formally recognized. As the Death Penalty Information Center states, “There is no way to tell how many of the over 1,000 people executed since 1976 may also have been innocent. Courts do not generally entertain claims of innocence when the defendant is dead. Defense attorneys move on to other cases where clients’ lives can still be saved.” http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/executed-possibly-innocent. Accessed June 3, 2013.
11 The 400+ page Florida Death Penalty Assessment Report certainly sheds some light on how this happened at least prior to 2006. In addition to the juror confusion and simple majority vote issues already stated, the report also focused on inadequate compensation for conflict trial counsel in death penalty cases, lack of qualified and properly monitored Capital Collateral Registry Counsel, inadequate compensation for Capital Collateral Registry Attorneys, the practice of judicial override, lack of transparency in the clemency process, racial disparities in Florida’s capital sentencing, and geographic disparities in Florida’s capital sentencing. http://www.prisonpolicy.org/scans/aba/fldpreport.pdf . Accessed June 3, 2013, iv-viii.
Exploring the Collision Between the Missional and the Monastic.
Engaging the Mission of God…Right Where We Are.
These are a couple of the taglines that Missional Monks has used over the last 3 years to communicate what we’re addressing with this website, the podcast, and other equipping works. Lately, Wes and I have been focusing on a new – shorter (you’re welcome) – version.
Missional = Sent. Monks = Together.
A tagline that defines our name and describes our vision. Simple, eh?
Of course when we start digging in to what it means to live a Sent. Together. life, there are countless paths to explore. Sent. Together. should describe the posture of our churches and faith communities. It provides direction for our church planting, evangelism and discipleship endeavors.
But it also speaks about the way we view broader cultural issues. The human experience itself should be understood as a lived expression of a Sent. Together. process. We are not created to live in isolation. The problems you face are my problems precisely because you face them.
And so as Missional Monks we are committed to engaging community building projects, like the Bret Sent Me experiment. And we’re committed to things like neighborhood meals, playdates at the park, volunteering in our children’s schools, coaching, and training coaches to help people improve their missional imagination.
This afternoon we’re going to post the first of a series of articles that address a disturbing and incredibly unjust piece of legislation currently awaiting either signature or veto from the Florida Governor’s office. Speaking out against this sort of injustice is part of what it means to be a Missional Monk, because it is a recognition that our neighbor’s struggle is our struggle…and hearing our neighbor’s plight is itself a call to action.
I am beyond excited to announce that Missional Monks once again refers to two people
…instead of one guy using the Royal “We.”
Dr. Wes Magruder is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, is the Director of Missional Community Development for the Missional Wisdom Foundation, and is the founder and director of Daraja, a ministry which works to build bridges with refugees in the Dallas area. Wes and his family served for several years as missionaries in Africa. Since returning, he has worked to cultivate missional renewal in a large congregation as the Associate Pastor, he has helped launch missional communities, teaches a course on “Reading Scripture with Missional Eyes” in The Academy, and has developed incredible relationships with refugees from multiple countries. So, since he isn’t busy, I asked him to partner with me as a Missional Monk.
In addition to working together on the blog, Wes and I are relaunching the Missional Monks Podcast (hooray!) – with the addition of monthly videocasts. We already have several fantastic interviews lined up where we’ll be talking about the collision of the missional and the monastic with people in a variety of different contexts.
Through our work together in the Missional Wisdom Foundation, Wes and I have had multiple opportunities to speak and teach together. The “Bret and Wes Show” as it is often called within the Foundation, seems to work pretty well. Specifically, we have had a number of opportunities to work with individual churches and groups that are interested in cultivating the missional imagination. Missional Monks is the perfect context to continue developing and improving that aspect of our ministry.
As this marks an exciting transition for Missional Monks, you can expect a number of changes coming to the website in the near future.
Please join me in welcoming Wes, because I’m contractually obligated to limit the nice things I say to him personally…and I think I’m already over my quota.
But for now it is time to unveil the first ever Missional Monks Videocast…complete with too many closeups of someone who needs to shave.
For this inaugural episode we visited the Seattle’s Best Coffee in Burleson to tell ’em…”Hi, I’m Bret.”
Check it out.
A while back I started writing a series of posts titled “The Bare Minimum.” While the series did not start this way, as I have unpacked these ideas (mostly offline) the contributions of the new monastics have surfaced as valuable answer to the discipleship conundrum presented by our part-time schedule in faith.
Obviously, I haven’t posted any of the follow-up posts that I’d suggested were in the works. There are a few reasons for this.
First, we’re entering a very busy season for the Missional Wisdom Foundation – new cohorts forming, current cohorts engaging in one-on-one coaching for their practicums (I’m doing a LOT of coaching these days). In a sense, I haven’t had time to write about the impact of missional monasticism because I’ve been consumed in the cultivation of missional monasticism.
But the main reason I haven’t posted anything else on this in a while is pretty simple…it is being worked into the manuscript for a Missional Monks book!
This year the Sentralized Conference is partnering with Forge and IVP to host The Great Forge Write-Off. People who have never published a book are invited to submit proposals that will be reviewed by a panel of authors and narrowed down to six selections – which will be pitched to the folks from IVP at this year’s Sentralized Conference in Kansas City.
So between work trips, coaching calls, course planning, retreat/immersion leading, schedule coordinating, and summertime Wellsbrother mad-houseness, I’ve been working on my first book.
Here are a couple excerpts from my application/proposal to The Great Forge Write-Off:
In The Forgotten Ways, Hirsch says that “if mission is our sending, then incarnational is how we go.” Missional Monks is about how we go together.
Within the missional conversation, some have begun questioning whether the missional impulse adequately emphasizes intentional discipleship.
Perhaps the problem isn’t a low emphasis on discipleship, but a struggle to find ways to translate that emphasis into actually, consistently pursuing discipleship together in our hyper-mobile culture. We talk about missional as an orientation, as a way of life. But is it?
Have we gotten good at talking about being missional, even started getting to know our neighbors again, but failed to address the rhythms of life that continually pull our focus away from living in the moment?
If engaging in the mission of God is going to be rooted in deep discipleship; if it is going to be more (though not less) than social activism, we must find ways to fully and finally let go of our part-time and individualistic approach. This message has been put forth, but often the question remains… “How?”
This is where the new (and old) monastics can help us – even in the suburbs. This book draws largely from our experiences in the Missional Wisdom Foundation, from my own struggles and successes in missional-monastic church planting, and the stories of friends who have sought to cultivate this kind of life in their own context.
Contribution to be made by this Book
The information in this book is not “new.” It is ancient – and has been wrongly set-aside in our culture. By bringing the missional and monastic streams together in this way, the book provides a glimpse into a major aspect of why our attempts at discipleship often flounder.
This book is the fruit of both academic study and actual practice. I’ve read and been shaped significantly by a wide range of missional and monastic scholars and practitioners. I have reflected academically on their work. Yet, I’ve been blessed to work in the trenches as a church planter and a minister in established churches. My thinking has been challenged and refined through my work with multiple missional-monastic communities through the Missional Wisdom Foundation (MWF) – both residential communities and worshipping communities. And I’ve seen these principles fleshed out in many different ways as teacher, equipper and coach with those in established church contexts through the MWF’s Academy for Missional Wisdom.
It seems that often in missional literature we simply avoid the problem of time. We say that we must focus on daily-lived faith, but we dance around how to actually accomplish that with others.
On the other hand much of the work of the new monastics fails to connect with those who aren’t planning to relocate to urban centers, and aren’t willing to move into a large house with several other people.
That being said, I am finding it increasingly common to encounter people who have read the work of Elaine Heath, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, John Perkins, and others. The question – whether asked longingly or dismissively – seems to be, “Is it even possible for this to translate into our context?”
Missional Monks bridges the gap. It will address the issue of time and community, but with a constant eye toward what that means for everyday disciples with jobs, families, and responsibilities that may seem – at first glance – incompatible with monastic rhythms.
By drawing from the stories of real people attempting to live these principles in community with others, this book provides examples of how missional-monastic rhythms are possible in our culture. This book will not attempt to convince people to organize in a particular way, leave to plant churches or relocate to a specific type of location. It will inspire imagination as to how a disciplined imagination in community can be lived out wherever we are.
At the end of this month I’ll be flying out to Kansas City where hopefully I’ll be among those selected to pitch my book idea to IVP…and then hopefully will be one that they’ll decide to publish (they might not select any of the proposals…or may take all six).
So, if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, please let the folks at Sentralized (Facebook page / twitter account) and InterVarsity Press (Facebook page / twitter account) know that you’d like to see Missional Monks: The Wisdom of a Disciplined Imagination in Community become a published work.
This post is continued from yesterday. I hope you hugged a preacher…
The decision to potentially pursue a ministry position with an established congregation would most likely mean moving out of the area – possibly out of Texas, yet again. We didn’t like the idea of moving away, but if the job didn’t come through with MWF, I didn’t really see what options were left. I’ve learned that you can do just about anything for a season – if it is important enough. But we all have limited energy and resources…and mine were tapped.
In late February we received the news that the MWF’s paperwork would not be finalized in time for the March grant deadline. It could be another year or more before the position would be possible (in fact, it is now May and the paperwork is still pending). It was time to initiate plan B.
Putting together a resume was not half as difficult as getting my heart and mind to a place where A) any church would be interested in hiring me and B) I would be faithfully entering a new situation without bitterness and reservation.
I really believed that just making a decision to move forward would bring a semblance of peace. Isn’t that how it usually works? Even if it isn’t the outcome we’d hoped for, just the removal of wondering is typically a relief.
It wasn’t… at all.
The truth is, I felt fairly confident that if we accepted a position, I would throw myself into the life of that community…but it still seemed wrong somehow. This was when I started doubting just about everything in a significant way. How could I feel so strongly about what it was God had called me to and yet not be able to do that? It was as if Paul had received the vision about the man from Macedonia calling them to come help only to find that someone had extended the Great Wall of China right across their path.
An answer that seemed increasingly reasonable was that God hadn’t called me to anything, I was just making it all up in my clearly “nuts” head.
The day I sent out my first batch of resumes I had an experience which brought me more sadness about leaving Burleson and caused me to question everything all over again. Then a couple days later, I had another one (you can read about that here).
So I talked it over with Rachel and we decided to do something that neither of us wanted to do again – a path we’d even rejected in choosing to put together resumes. We decided to continue pursuing conversations with any of the churches that contacted us from the first round of resumes, but to hold off on sending any more until we tried one final round of fundraising.
From conversations with MWF I felt confident that within two years I could have a full-time position which would allow to continue in our church planting work here in Burleson and also work to equip others to start new faith communities, as well as lead established ones in missional renewal. If I could just hang on for a couple more years.
At this point the “are you nuts” questions started bubbling up again.
Nuts or not, I put together a packet of fundraising materials. I posted them in pdf form here on this website, and started contacting churches in hopes of setting up a meeting to discuss our request.
I didn’t get any takers. That wasn’t really surprising – I’ve done fundraising before and I know how long it takes to get any traction with churches and missions committees. I wasn’t discouraged by the lack of folks jumping at the chance to support us…though I was starting to get a little antsy at the lack of any response at all – not even a “we’ll get back to you.”
I forwarded my material to lots of people, including several who I knew would be good at offering a careful evaluation and suggestions for how to improve.
One of those people was Larry Duggins, the executive director of the MWF. We were working together on a website project anyway so he asked if I’d like to stay a little longer in order to talk about my fundraising material.
In the two days before our meeting two separate churches (neither of which in or near North Texas) contacted me saying I’d made it past the initial “resume culling” and was invited to pursue further conversations about their ministry opening. Both asked me to fill out a questionnaire to help the search team get to know my theology and philosophy of ministry. Honestly, just trying to fill them out was difficult.
There was a (mostly) unconscious part of me that was rebelling and wanted to subtly undermine my chances of further interviews – easy enough to do. There was a more conscious part that just wanted to curl up in a ball. But I knew that if this was the door that God opened then I’d better get my head and heart into it – both seemed like good churches and if I wasn’t going to commit then, well…they deserved better than me and I needed to stop pretending like I care about following where God leads.
So I committed. I responded carefully and honestly (without being so in-your-face that they’d run in fear).
The day after both had been sent, I met with Larry. I was looking forward to some helpful insights on the fundraising process. Instead he said, “We looked over your stuff. We’d like to offer to pick up the amount you’re seeking to raise and have you start working full-time for MWF effective immediately.”
I think I was accepting the job before I’d even registered that it had been offered.
I’d like to say that my calm acceptance and conversation was simply an example of my awesome professionalism. But really, I was simply blindsided and in shock…in a good way for once.
I didn’t start shaking until the drive home.
Back to the discernment issue. If we hadn’t carefully and prayerfully made plans – and then stuck to those plans – there’s little chance that we would have been in place long enough for this to all play out. Sure, most of the plans we made didn’t pan out the way we anticipated. It was frustrating and exhausting.
In retrospect I can see how most of what we attempted over the last three years either taught us something significant about this approach to missional life and church planting (you should hear some of my stories of 2 am conversations with fellow security guards) or they kept us going until the next temporary phase came along.
In the moment it didn’t make sense that my prayers and processes of discernment lead to the perceived response of “I’ve called you to this, do it faithfully.” How? How could we keep going when the doors to support kept slamming shut? And yet, we never missed a payment.
That part really didn’t make sense. According to our budget and financial records, we should have run out of money MONTHS ago. But at the end of each month everything worked out. Every month.
I don’t think that our plans give God something to laugh about. Our plans, if they are developed through prayer and discernment, keep us moving forward when we can’t see where the road is headed. Our plans are one part of why we were still here to see God’s miraculous provision come to pass. Without prayerful planning – and sticking to our commitments even when conventional wisdom said to cut our losses – we most likely would have given up and moved on to something else entirely. Had that happened, I am confident that God would have still found ways to use our lives for his Kingdom, but we would have missed out on that which I believe God has been carefully and thoroughly preparing us. By sticking it out, we are more convinced than ever that we are doing precisely what God has called us to do.
And I wonder about those two interviews. The timing was very interesting. Was this a situation like Abraham on the mountain with Isaac where I was being given a chance to see for myself just how much I trusted God’s leadership? I don’t know if it was or not…but that’s precisely how it has impacted me.
I’ve been trying to write this post for a couple weeks…but I’ve been speechless.
Obviously, it was a short-lived affliction.
For the past 17 days I could feel the implications, lessons and reflections rolling around in my head, but they wouldn’t surface. Dan Bouchelle wrote a post recently on the danger of journaling and writing for us wordy types. I think he is absolutely correct. I needed to be silent before God in thanksgiving and praise before trying to share this story.
My role has expanded considerably within the MWF and I’m already tackling some new challenges – not the least of which being the very enjoyable task of getting to know the students and leaders who participate, serve and lead in the Epworth Houses and New Day communities. One of the aspects of my job which I anticipate bringing me great joy is coming alongside to support and encourage these folks. Their holistic approach to life, faith and ministry is inspirational and, let’s face it, somewhat nuts.
I can appreciate that.
A lot has happened since I started working on my Bare Minimum series of posts. I haven’t forgotten about that, I’ll come back to it very soon. However, after a couple weeks of vacillating between dazed and frantically busy, I need to post some thoughts about a huge development in our lives.
I’m needing help processing a particular feeling. I’ve heard of it before, I’ve even known people who claim to have dealt with it, but the very concept has always been absolutely foreign to my life experience. So, I’ll need some coaching from those more accustomed to this (for me) uncharted experience of being rendered “speechless.” Who’d have thought such a thing was even possible?
Of the spiritual disciplines I’ve sought to cultivate in my life, perhaps none has been more transformative (particularly to the way I make decisions) than the practice of spiritual discernment. Sure, I grew up in a tradition and in a family that valued praying about matters, big and small, to ensure that we were submitting to the will of God in our lives. And sometimes, not always, this got translated into a low view of planning and thinking ahead. After all, “our planning just gives God something to laugh about.”
This wasn’t always the mentality, but it certainly cropped up – usually when someone was tired of thinking, didn’t know what to do or was frustrated by rapidly changing circumstances and unpredictable developments.
Several years ago, as I began digging more deeply into the classic spiritual disciplines, someone commented on the “lost art of discernment.” The comment was made that “the only planning which is a pointless, human endeavor is that which is pointless, human planning.”
What if, instead, we viewed the process of planning as an act of prayer and discernment. To spend time with God in silence, listening deeply. To listen, meditate on scripture, bring what you feel you’ve heard back to a discerning community and “compare notes.” And then to allow our decisions, plans, etc to grow from this intentional process of listening, rather than praying over what we’ve decided…could be cool right?
Actually, as I already suggested, its been transformational. Ridiculously so. So what do you do when you’ve submitted something to prayer and discernment repeatedly, and in community with others, consistently hearing the same thing…only to have outside factors block the path over and again? What do you do when your heart, your prayers, and your praying community all agree, but other issues seem to be demanding a different conclusion?
Well, I don’t know what you do, but apparently I begin to lose confidence in whether I have ever actually been led by God at all. It isn’t an “all at once” kind of deflation, but a gradual, life-draining, slow-acting toxin which little by little even erodes one’s basic convictions about their relationship with God…I must not be walking too close if my messages are getting this crossed.
For quite some time people have been telling me I’m nuts. They’re right, of course. However I’ve always felt they had reached the correct conclusion on wrong evidence.
When I left a well paying, relatively stable (shocking in its own right, given the history) preaching position in order to pursue church planting, some said the decision was inspirational – others said it was nuts.
When we chose to do so in 2008, on the verge of a national economic melt-down, most people said we were nuts – a few said it was inspirational…but even some of them seemed to wonder if at least the timing was nuts.
When we decided that our efforts in church planting would focus on the slow, non-salary producing connection to cynical de-churched folks and the suburban poor, people rightly asked how we’d pay the bills. My response that God had called us into this and wouldn’t leave us stranded received a nearly unanimous “you’re nuts” even from those who thought it was inspirational.
When I accepted that the bi-vocational approach was necessary some believed I was starting to see the light. But when we realized that my skill set and training don’t exactly translate into many “secular” career opportunities – and certainly few that would allow us to continue church planting, even I began to think I was nuts.
When bi-vocational became multi-vocational (sometimes as many as 6 different part-time and full-time jobs simultaneously) I started thinking that “Nuts” should be printed on my business card.
Throughout this time we continued to pray and discern with others. Perhaps relocating to a new area for church planting would provide other opportunities – both for support and employment. But over and again the closest thing to an answer I felt I was receiving (and having confirmed by others) was “I’ve called you to this, do it faithfully.” It didn’t seem to matter that I was increasingly convinced that I had no idea how to do it.
I tried working in sales for both a roofing company and a security company. It was not good. I prayed with a few people as we put new roofs on their house – that was great. I had some very significant conversations about the Way of Jesus with a couple contractors. But at the end of the day, I wasn’t a good salesman…which sort of defeated the purpose.
I tried taking my experiences and education and translating them into an organization – Missional Monks – which could provide the financial support we needed. I still think that is a good idea, but it became very apparent that I would need one or both of the following to grow Missional Monks into something financially sustainable: time and money. I had neither.
According to our budget and conversations with some of our financial supporters in church planting (without whose partnership we could not have held on this long) we expected that our situation would no longer be sustainable after August/September of 2011.
But then another possibility arose. Last year I helped to launch The Academy for Missional Wisdom – one of three ministries operated by the Missional Wisdom Foundation (MWF). I was able to integrate my work with the Academy with the completion of my D.Min. project and dissertation – which I believe improved my efforts in both.
We began conversations about the possibility of a full-time position with the MWF around the beginning of 2012. Unfortunately, it seemed as though the timing was going to be a little late. We began praying that if this was the path forward that God would not only provide for our needs in the meantime but would also give us the courage to push through.
September came and went and somehow there was still enough money in the bank to pay the bills. Seriously, Rachel is fantastic with budgets and stretching a dollar but she said plainly, “I don’t understand, there shouldn’t be anything left in there.”
In November we learned that there were some IRS bureaucracy log-jams impeding the MWF’s progress toward getting the grants necessary to fund a full-time director. The job was still a possibility, but things were looking shaky on the early 2012 timeline.
Meanwhile, even those who’d been our strongest supporters began asking subtle questions like, “So…what’s plan B?” I insisted that I wasn’t interested in plan B until I had clear evidence that God wanted me to abandon plan A…and I’m pretty sure I heard “you’re nuts” in the subtext of my friends’ replies.
Others asked, “At what point do you decide that all of this is the answer to your prayers for discernment? Maybe the answer just isn’t what you want to hear.”
That one rocked me a bit. For the first time I began wondering if my friends were right in their conclusion of my mental state.
After more prayer we decided that if the paperwork for the MWF didn’t come through in time for the grant deadlines then we would begin pursuing the dreaded plan B…we just had to figure out what that was.
I’ve worked a lot of jobs these past several years and I’ve learned a few things about myself in the process. It’s not just that I’m trained to equip disciples and teach others about God, I’ve been called to do so. I know that because I’ve tried doing a lot of other things, and this is the only stuff that makes sense…and it is what I want to spend all of my working hours devoted to. This isn’t about not wanting “a real job” or only wanting to do what is pleasant – if you think differently, I’d be happy to compare time-sheets and job lists.
A line from the movie Gladiator has always resonated with me, “Sometimes I do what I want to do, the rest of the time I do what I must do.” I will do whatever I must do in order to continue doing what God has called me to do.
But if a sustainable bi-vocational situation wasn’t possible – and working a crazy assortment of random jobs was no longer sufficient, what would I do in order to continue doing what God has called me to do?
We determined that if plan B became necessary then I would once again pursue a position as a minister with an established congregation. We would pray that God would direct us to church that was seeking to equip the congregation for missional life in their community. Perhaps I would even be able to find a situation where we could work to equip and support the planting of new churches and the formation of missional-micro communities from within the congregation.
It shouldn’t be the case, but so often serving in leadership for a church is not very conducive to connecting with people who aren’t Christians. There is so much “stuff” that gets in the way of the very thing you feel called to be doing. I know its fun, and more than a little humorous, to make jokes about preachers getting paid to play golf all week. There are probably a few for whom this is accurate, but I don’t know many personally…and I know a lot of preachers. It is a rewarding job, but it is frustrating, exhausting work that comes with an oversized target as part of the compensation package.
If you’ve never served as a full-time minister or an elder for an established congregation, stop reading this, go find one and give them a hug. I’ll finish the rest of this post tomorrow, after you’ve had a chance to do so…
Seriously, at least send them an email…