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A Cover Letter

This post includes the text from a cover letter I’m about to send (along with some other material) to churches. Please consider directing leaders from your congregation to this post or email me if you think I should contact them directly. Thanks!

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Greetings in Christ!

My name is Bret Wells. I am a church planter in Burleson, TX associated with the Mission Alive network. I received undergrad and master’s degrees in ministry from ACU and am currently completing a Doctor of Ministry in Missional Church Studies from SMU Perkins. I served in youth, outreach & preaching ministries in churches of Christ in Texas & Louisiana for a decade before stepping out in church planting in 2008.

I’m writing to you today for two reasons. First, I would like to tell you about Missional Monks – an equipping organization born from my experiences in missional life and church planting as well as my doctoral studies at SMU. Officially formed in August 2011, Missional Monks provides an online network for collaboration in missional living as well as several resources aimed at the cultivation of whole-life discipleship in community.

Our primary equipping tool, Communitas, is a six month experience for groups which combines online learning & dialog, with intentional spiritual formation and guided missional engagement in your local context.

We also have a shorter experiences available. The Missional Imagination course (6, 8 or 10 weeks) applies the same principles and approach of Communitas in a condensed format. Then there are our weekend retreats and day-long seminars. Each of these formats provide an introduction to missional principles and practice in language which is Biblical, accessible and inspirational. I am also available to preach at your congregation, as a guest speaker or even as an interim preacher during minister transition.

The aim of Missional Monks is to assist the local church or even smaller groups of friends, in discovering the joy, adventure and power of a life lived on mission with God – right where you are. We believe that all who have been called by Christ have also be sent by Christ – this is what missional means. Missional Monks helps you live into your calling and sending. You can find more information at www.missionalmonks.com.

Secondly, I would like to invite you to consider partnering with us in the ministry of planting churches. In May 2011 ours and three other families, were launched out to begin a new church planting effort which we call The Gathering. Our vision for church planting begins with planting the gospel in our neighborhoods, coffee shops, parks, playdates, and in all the places where we live and move and have our being.

We often find ourselves developing relationships of reconciliation with people who are angry and cynical toward the church. The healing process is slow and often painful – and we need your help. Much like the apostle Paul, I find myself working among a people with whom it would be counter-productive to the gospel for me to take financial compensation. So I rely on bi-vocational work and the support of the Body of Christ.

Missional Monks is part of my long-term strategy for developing financial self-sustainability. However, in the meantime we need your help. Will you consider partnering with us through a one-time gift or a monthly donation of $200, $500 or more? Contributions are tax-deductible and can be made out to The Gathering. I would love to talk more with you about this. Please do not hesitate to call or email.

If you are interested in more information on Missional Monks or any of our equipping services, contact us here!

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Where Do We Go From Here?

A few days ago I watched a History Channel show on Rogue Waves. Basically, these are waves which can come out of nowhere and are at least twice as large as any other wave in the set. Often these waves are three and four times larger than anything in the area – and they can even pop up on calm seas. Apparently for a long time rogue waves were reported, but considered to be the excuses a drunk captain came up with to avoid the truth of his ineptitude…until people started catching them on camera. Waves of over 100 feet have been filmed, smashing into and completely destroying huge tanker ships and even oil platforms.

There’s a growing suspicion that these waves are particularly prevalent, and provide partial explanation for the strange disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle.

I was fascinated. Read the rest of this entry

Am I Crazy???

In our group’s discussions on “Missional Imagination” (part of my DMin project)an issue was raised that I think is appropriate to respond to publicly.

The question came in response to several disturbing passages of scripture – most notably the story of Abraham’s call and willing response to sacrifice his son Isaac. Initially the question was, “what would you do if God asked you to kill your child?”

Another passage, the story of God speaking to Moses through a burning bush, brought up the comment that if one of us experienced such an event, we and everyone else would think we were crazy. So, after some discussion on both passages the follow-up question was (I’m actually paraphrasing a couple questions here) “If you claim to hear from God, people will say you’re crazy. But who is to say that the crazy lady who kills her children and says God told her to, DIDN’T hear from God?…after all he told Abraham to kill his child.”

Here are versions of my responses to the questions raised (with a little editing to keep confidentiality in our group). I’m basically addressing 3 questions:

1) Are you “crazy” if you claim to hear God?

2) How do we know that God didn’t tell someone to kill their children?

3) How can we know who is and isn’t hearing from God?


First, there is a difference between someone being CONSIDERED crazy and someone BEING crazy. The difference, in this situation, is whether or not the event being described actually took place. If someone, like Moses, actually did see a talking bush, they wouldn’t be crazy. If they imagined it, and believed it to be real, they would be crazy. So the question is whether or not it actually happened. Since this is outside the parameters of “normal” experience (especially today), we would immediately suspect they imagined it until evidence was provided to prove otherwise. But just because we consider them crazy doesn’t make it so.

Another issue is how we define and determine “normal.” Norms are typically determined culturally, not universally. For our highly modernized society there are any number of things which are considered superstition or even “crazy” which, even today in other parts of the world – or in certain segments of American society – are considered normal.

In parts of Africa, it is “common” to see demons. In Pentecostal churches it is common to “speak in tongues.” Who determines whether these things are crazy? Well… “we” do. (We being the people who live in that place; participants in that culture.) The collective community decides what is and isn’t normal. That does not necessarily mean that someone operating outside those boundaries is actually crazy.

In Moses’ time people were more likely to believe in “magical” or supernatural appearances than your typical 21st century American. But even then, remember, Moses wanted God to help him know what to say to people who most likely wouldn’t take his word about the appearance of God. Even if it may seem that way to us, theophanies (an appearance of or conversation with God) were not common even in Moses’ day.

I was asked by a friend (who first raised several of these questions) what I would do if God appeared and asked me to kill one of my children. My first response was that it is hard to know what we would do if God showed up in front of us and said to do something. Maybe we’d be so overcome with fear we wouldn’t know what to do. I start with this because I think its foolish to confidently declare what we would or would not do if we were talking to God face-to-face.

It is also important to remember that, with the Abraham/Isaac story in particular, we only have a small picture of this story. What was the context? Did God show up in front of Abraham unannounced and say, “Hey, remember your son Isaac? Well…I’ve got an idea…”

Or, did Abraham look around at the other religious cultures of the area, notice that most of them engaged in child sacrifice and become convinced God was calling him to do the same? Did he then find a ram in the bushes where he was about to sacrifice Isaac and determine that God had been testing his faith and had provided an alternative based on his faithfulness? (*Some will say that this scenario isn’t possible because the Bible says “God said to Abraham” – but consider two things: 1) These early stories were transmitted orally for many years before being written down. 2) We have scriptural evidence that the details of the stories were sometimes changed to make specific statements – compare Exodus 18:17-26 to Deuteronomy 1:9-18 / Numbers 13:1-6 to Deuteronomy 1:19-24  / Numbers 13:26-33 to Deuteronomy 1:25-28 / Numbers 20:1-12 to Deuteronomy 1:37…in one speech Moses changes several major details. I’m not saying Abraham did this, just saying, we don’t know.)

Did God call Abraham to perform such an action and then stop it as foreshadowing for the very act to which Jesus would willingly submit in the future? Was this a way of showing humanity that God is going to greater lengths to redeem us than that we could imagine?

Or was it something else? We don’t know.

What we DO know is that God did NOT require Abraham to sacrifice his son and has never required any of us to offer child sacrifices. Beyond that, we know that Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross did away with the sacrificial system…and from the words of the prophets we can wonder whether the sacrificial system was ever what God desired in the first place.

For God to suddenly require me to murder an innocent child flies in the face of how God has always operated; it would not be consistent with the scope of Scripture, with the teachings or life of Jesus, or with what we know to be right. Child sacrifice is an abhorrent practice and to suggest that such a thing would be pleasing to God suggests some very distasteful things about God. As Hosea reminded us, “God desires mercy, not [blood] sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6)

Jesus extended that to say, “If you knew what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Matthew 12:7) So for God to suddenly decide we should randomly murder an innocent child would be an unnatural departure from the very nature God has professed to humanity.

If “God” were to just suddenly say, “I need you to kill your child” then I would first question whether or not this “voice” was truly that of God. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say it was. At this point I would begin to question if God has ever been good…and I would consider the possibility that Satan is right, we need to overthrow this tyrant.

BUT (and this is a very significant but), I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think God is an evil tyrant, I don’t think Satan is a noble revolutionary and I don’t think God would ask me to kill my child.

I don’t often make definitive statements about other’s motives or actions, but I will now. Those who claim that God told them to murder their children are either lying or crazy or else the good God we worship is a lie. And again, I don’t think its the latter.

Throughout history, people have used “God” to justify all kinds of craziness, whether it was Christians and Muslims killing each other throughout the middle ages; the extinction of entire groups of people (Germans killing Jews, European Americans killing “Native” Americans, Hutus killing Tutsis in Rwanda, etc); one people group enslaving another; men oppressing women; the rich oppressing the poor – all have claimed divine mandate to do so – and I believe they’re all crazy.

The question that seems logical here is, “How do we know who is and who isn’t hearing from God?” This post is already ridiculously long and it would be book length before we could exhaust this question, but let me suggest 4 important aspects.

1) Community. It is very important to have a community of faith surrounding us; praying and discerning with us whenever we feel we’ve gotten direction from God – be that in a general sense or a very specific calling. That doesn’t HAVE to be your church, it can be a group of close and trusted friends and spiritual advisors – people who are serious about their faith and serious about listening to the voice of God. Community (not a new theme from me, I know) is an important corrective to many of our ills – whether they’re overtly religious ills or not. It was to the Community of God the scriptures were entrusted in the first place – not individuals. Which leads to my next point…

2) Scripture. Does what you’re hearing fit with the scope and trajectory of scripture? This is not the same as saying, “can you find scriptural permission to do this thing?” Scripture isn’t a rule-book meant to give instructions for every event that crops up in our lives. BUT it is the story of God at work with (and in) humanity. In the pages of scripture we find a story of redemption that has progressed and continues into this very time. We turn to the scriptures for wisdom more than instructions – instructions are just information, wisdom is the ability to apply information to a given context. This wisdom comes from Scripture, but we need to remember that Scripture is the story of God at work with the people, so…

3) History. An awareness of the story of Judaism and Christianity – both what is found in scripture and what we can learn from both secular and church historians. This is true both for specific “callings” as well as more general matters – like the formation of a new church or church planting movement. Do you think what we’re doing is new or unique? Not even almost. There have been reform movements similar to ours in nearly every generation – including MANY that took place before the Protestant Reformation. Some of these movements have had long lasting positive impacts…others have devolved into very unhealthy expressions of faith. Many of those which have veered into toxic faith have been those who shunned connection to and awareness of the history of Judaism and Christianity. And finally…

4) Theology. When faith lacks reflections on the implications of our theology (whether it is explicitly stated theology, or implicit – what we apparently believe because of how we function, regardless of whether we’ve thought it through) it is difficult to notice when we’re moving in the direction of toxic faith and an improper or false “hearing” of God. I know because the “theologians” and leaders in churches have at times abused power or worked to control rather than serve the church, many people are distrustful…but what is needed isn’t LESS theological guidance – it is godly, good, healthy, Christ-like and humble theological service to the church.

There are many voices calling for attention and loyalty. Discerning the voice of God in the midst of the chaos can be difficult – which is why we must be dedicated, as disciples of Jesus, to learning his voice and listening carefully together.

Snowmageddon 2011

The Ticket (AM 1310) dubbed it “Snowmageddon 2011.” A record-breaking 3-4 inches of snow in a select few parts of the dfw metroplex which mercilessly ground productivity to a halt on the morning of January 10. You could almost hear creation groaning as the temperature dipped to a startling 31 degrees. Who could have predicted such a devastating occurrence?

It took 2 hours and 20 minutes (that’s 8,400 seconds) to travel 18 miles from I-20 to SMU that morning. When I made it to Dallas County by 7am, I hoped I’d be okay. Yet, as soon as I saw the cars literally parked on the Hwy 67 overpass, I knew there was no hope.

I had to make a snap decision (survival situations of this magnitude require quick thinking). I knew that this decision, much like a shipwreck survivor choosing whether to seek shelter or remain on the beach, could be the difference between life and a slow, miserable death. I knew what I had to do.


I would have to resign myself to being late for class.

Once the decision was made, my surroundings immediately appeared less hostile. I realized that the glowing eyes in the bushes were just a curious raccoon, the large shadow monster was a tree blowing in the wind and the strange sound snapping twigs was probably just a chupacabra…


I’m not livestock, so it probably wouldn’t attack me and drain my blood.

I realized that that the millions, nay billions, of similarly stranded travelers were also in the process of making, or not making, similar decisions. One man angrily got out of his company van and began raking the snow from his hood as though each handful were a dreadful Communist deserving of such treatment. The veins sticking out in his neck and newly discovered color of red on his face were indicators that he had not chosen wisely and death was setting in.

A young woman in a Jetta was dancing (all the more impressive because she still had on her seatbelt) and singing along with her powerful Volks Wagon stock stereo system. Somehow she also reached deep into her inner well of talent and found time (while still dancing) to check facebook on her iPhone…funny what you can see when traveling at a blinding 5 mph. While the veins in her neck were in remarkably better shape than the poor dying man, I hope the addition of facebook didn’t come back to haunt her.

A couple middle-age women in a Nissan Sentra were engaged in a lively conversation, their laughter nearly audible over the relaxing sounds of my AM sports talk-show. I was glad for them that they were not stranded alone. A companion completely changes these survival situations. Plus, their carpooling was saving the environment even while the environment was trying to destroy us all. Good for them.

The young man in multi-colored car I couldn’t identify seemed to like the Jetta-Facebook-Dancing-Queen’s idea of listening to soothing music…however, as he sang along his face did not look very peaceful. I think it was some of that angry music. To each his own, I guess.

Then there was the elderly man, gripping tightly to his steering wheel. He didn’t seem to mind how slow we were going, in fact, I think it suited him just fine. This situation wasn’t going to be tough for him to weather…Way to go sir!

Another lady was quite upset when a 15 passenger van decided to move over and share her lane – didn’t our parents teach us that sharing was a good thing? I could actually hear her screaming at him over the sound of her horn. Odd to watch. A little like watching that guy get run over by the snail-paced steamroller on Austin Powers.

Interestingly enough, the driver of the van seemed to have much better manners. He just smiled and waved, as if to say, “I forgive you for saying those mean things to me.” What a great guy.

In addition to these noteworthy travel companions, there was another terror traversing our wintry hell-scape. There were zombies. Actual zombies driving motor-vehicles. I’ve seen the movies, I know what to look for. Glazed over eyes staring into nothingness, unnatural movements attempting to mimic the routines of live before death. And of course the unquenchable hunger for brains. Admittedly, that one’s a little harder to notice until they come after you…but I’m sure it was there.

These zombies didn’t look around, didn’t smile and didn’t frown. They were just shells of their former humanity. I was impressed that they still had the fine motor skills (get it?) to start and stop their cars’ forward progress without hitting the vehicle in front of them. But there was no life in their eyes…just an empty stare.

Victor Frankl, a Jewish prisoner in the WWII Nazi death camps said in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, that the one thing our captors can never take from us is our ability to choose how we will respond to our situation. No one can make us angry at the traffic (or the snow on our hood), that is an ability that resides solely within. Our ability to choose our response to a situation may or may not impact our survival, but it will certainly impact the time we have until our end is realized.

I wonder how often we mindlessly hand over this power to the situation? When we abdicate our God-given ability to respond, very rarely are we rewarded with a healthy perspective from our captors – be they human or circumstance.

Without an intentional process of introspection it is likely that we will continue on auto-pilot at best. And yet Paul, through the example of Christ, teaches us that even in suffering we can choice to rejoice because we know (among other things) that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character and character, hope. I pray that today we will fix our eyes on Christ so that Snowmageddon or whatever ill lies around the next corner, will have no power over our response. Hopefully it will protect us from the zombies too.

To Lead or Not to Lead.

Recently there have been a number of conversations floating around the internet and blogosphere regarding the issue of leadership vs discipleship. It isn’t always couched as a competition…sometimes its just about whether or not leadership is Biblical at all.


The points are well made (for the most part) and highlight the dangers of taking on the dominant culture’s understanding of power and leadership. I get that. However, I remain thoroughly unconvinced that we should do away with the concept of leadership. The following was my response to one of the more healthy of these conversations. Surprise, surprise, my response ended up being too long to post in the comments section…


John Perkins says that the response to bad leadership isn’t NO leadership, its good leadership. I tend to agree. For Perkins, good leadership is characterized by following Christ well (healthy discipleship) in the midst of community (check out Follow Me to Freedom, which he coauthored with Shane Claiborne).


This posture of leadership allows us to remain alongside others as we follow Christ together, but also recognizes that some people have an apostolic calling: they take risks and step out on faith while others are waiting for someone else to step first. I know the answer we often give is that Jesus took the first step. That’s true, and for most of us in this conversation, who have that apostolic gift, it seems simple enough. Trust God. Follow Jesus. See the good you’re called to and go do it.


But not everyone has that same risk-taker personality, and not everyone has that prophetic imagination. That isn’t to say they’re less committed, less called or less anything. But those with the gift of prophetic imagination are called to help others begin to picture what life could look like if get swept up in God’s advancing Kingdom. This doesn’t have to be the top down, power driven leadership we see in corporate America. I’ve read the conversations you mentioned above and I appreciate the critique of putting a Jesus t-shirt on the business model and calling it Christian leadership.


However, I’m concerned about where we end up when we completely eschew leadership. In a sense, it is its own form of elitism because it basically makes Christianity something that only the risk takers and self-starters can participate in. That’s a bit overstated, I know, but I don’t think we need to get into an either/or battle with leadership and discipleship. Both are necessary. Without discipleship, as has been pointed out, we have another business organization replete with power dynamics, coercion, manipulation and a continued favoring of the wealthy over the poor and insignificant. This is bad. We must not allow this to continue.


Without leadership though, we may end up with a loosely connected group of individuals, some of whom are involved in great discipleship experiences while others are wondering what happens next. We may miss out on the synergy and cohesion of a truly vibrant community of faith held together by a shared mission (communitas).


I agree, good leadership should be marked by person(s) who have been discipled well and are currently engaged in discipling others. Good leadership should also include the willingness to step out in faith and ignite the imagination of others to do the same. When we have no leadership our discipleship risks becoming increasingly individualized. The role of a good leader includes helping the group continue moving together.


Leadership can never serve as a replacement for disciple-making. But unless we want to declare the church useless, as some have chosen to do, leadership is still an important part of our group dynamic. It helps us function as a community of disciples who are joined together by a larger mission. A mission that is much larger than our personal salvation, larger even than our personal discipleship experiences.


We’ve seen bad leadership often enough that many of us want to distance ourselves from it. I COMPLETELY understand. But when we abdicate our calling to lead others we can (I’m speaking from experience) begin to resent them for not responding to that leadership vacuum by stepping up and leading themselves. In other words, we resent them for being themselves, rather than being us. Not only is that not fair, its incredibly arrogant.


I appreciate this conversation and I realize I’m responding to way more than what has been said here. I hope we can continue wrestling through these issues. I appreciate your leadership in the conversation 😉

Its Time

I am tired of being just another religious person. So often it seems that Christianity is just another thing that I’m a part of. Even as a church planter, as someone who left behind the illusion of stability to attempt something risky for the kingdom, it still often feels like I’m just another man who happens to be a Christian.

As a man I can be corrupted, co-opted, ignored and discarded. So I must become more than a man. I cannot do that alone, in isolation, by my own creativity and power. I can only accomplish this as part of something bigger than myself; bigger than a man; bigger even than humanity. And yet it must be intensely and fully human. Fully human in a way that few of us have experienced.

We must become more than a group of friends, more than a congregation. We must become a symbol of something bigger. It must be bigger than an empire, it must be representative of a whole world. A world beyond this world, greater than this world, different from this world. And yet it will bear a strange familiarity because it is the essence from which this world was formed and that which this world dreams of becoming.

We must be more than just another religious group. We must be symbols of this other world. We must be citizens and participants in the reality of this new world. And yet because we know (at least to some degree) why this new world seems so familiar, even in its strangeness, we cannot leave the present world behind. We are a symbol of the new world because we are also locals who have been named ambassadors and harbingers of its coming.

This “something bigger” we are part of is nothing less than the remaking of creation. It is the transformation of this world into the new world it has always been destined to become. But we cannot believe that it is our world to make. We cannot fall into the trap of arrogantly assuming this world will appear when we reach our own perfection. If the world and the symbol are of our own making, they can be corrupted. They can be controlled, conquered and bought. The world we anticipate, represent and experience is a world beyond this world and we have been invited to take our place in its rightful arrival.

BUT…

To become this symbol and to participate in this new reality we must be radically committed to the small local reality. We must not forget that we were chosen to serve as heralds precisely because we are inhabitants of the present world. Those chosen as ambassadors of this new reality are the people next door, not strangers from a foreign country. We must be fully present where we are. For us the symbol must be more than a symbol, it must be concrete…even mundane.

We must maintain the realization that we now carry dual citizenship. If we forget the new world we represent, our eyes will be darkened and we will be fighting a battle with insurmountable odds. However, if we forget the world in which we were first born, to whom will we serve as a symbol? We will lose touch. We will lose our voice in this place.

To accomplish this we must do more than good deeds, though they are part of the whole to be sure. Beyond good deeds we must become the change our good deeds point to. This cannot happen unless we are radically committed to our shared mission…and to one another.

This includes reordering our commitments so that we do not experience long periods of isolation in work and other routines. This will mean sacrifice. It will mean thinking of family and community in ways that seem foreign or even foolish to more…sensible minds, even “Christian” ones.

This includes actively inviting others to come and see what the new world holds, and so it must also mean experiencing the new world as a reality worth inviting others to investigate. If we do not live the life, we are no symbol at all, merely theorists or thespians. If we do not invite others to see, we are no symbol at all, merely separatists.

If we do great deeds without proclaiming the source of all that is good, we are just another corruptible and forgettable human institution. If we proclaim the source of all that is good without exemplifying the new life available from that source, our symbol has no substance.

To speak directly, if we believe that we have been called to join in the mission of God then (among others) three things must be true. First we must experience the healing and reconcilliation of the Kingdom ourselves. This means that where distrust and isolation were the norm, deep connection and relationship (with God, one another and the “other”) must become the new normal. If it isn’t at least becoming true for us, how can we claim it is something real and worth exploring?

Second, we must be engaged in the ministry of reconciliation. We must actively seek out the dark places in our society and shed light and hope. We should be working against oppression, isolation, poverty, violence, neglect and abuse of power. This is the calling. Wherever we find examples of brokenness and darkness in this world, we can trust that God is at work there…we should join in that work.

And third, we must be inviting others to experience the same call in their lives. It is not enough to simply do good, just as it is not enough to fail to do good. We have to be intentional about introducing others to the hope we have. They don’t have to become disciples of Jesus in order to receive kindness, but they certainly shouldn’t be denied the opportunity because we failed to invite them to come and see.

The time has come to move beyond talking about this kingdom and to live as though it were a present (though still arriving) reality. None of us can do this alone, but none of us have to wait for an organization to tell us to begin. This kingdom has been among us for millennia…Its time.

A Short Story

As the sun climbed to its highest point he realized he wasn’t sweating anymore. This was probably the end. The wind, rather than providing cooling relief, relentlessly blasted his face like the old gas heater in his grandparents’ house. At first the sand was annoying, getting inside his clothes, his water bottle, his food, his pack…it was everywhere. Now, the water and food were gone, so that didn’t really matter anymore. But the wind driven sand recommitted it’s soul-quenching effort and focused instead on sandblasting the few remaining patches of uncalloused skin.


He looked around at the band of people who looked to him for leadership. They looked malnourished and beyond weary. He was pretty sure that most of them had lost confidence in him. Why shouldn’t they? He was often the voice of one calling in the wilderness, urging them to stay together and keep moving forward. And look where that had gotten them.


Some had already wandered off in search of greener pastures…literally. Those who remained were supportive with the words but their eyes told a different story. He knew it was just a matter of time. He didn’t have anything left. His encouragement was empty rhetoric, he wasn’t sure he even believed it anymore. He wasn’t really the leader anyway. He was just another member of the group. Some expected him to lead, some needed him to and others, well they just saw it differently. He was tired of trying to figure out who was who in the mix.


It had been five years since he and his family were forced into the wilderness. At first he was lost and terrified. The landscape was harsh and unforgiving and more nights than not he lie awake wondering if tomorrow would bring destruction.


Over time the landscape grew more familiar and he even learned to notice the small mercies. It took some time but eventually his eyes grew accustomed to noticing the occasional wildflower defiantly blooming against a seemingly lifeless backdrop. He learned where to search for water and food, sometimes naturally available but more often left as small supply drops from their true leader. It was strange and unexpected but with time he even learned to appreciate the beauty of this untamed wilderness.


Spectacular sunsets, crafty wildlife and those enigmatic flowers all took on a sacred aura. More and more often he found himself feeling sorry for those who were numbed by the comfort and security of home. Their senses were dulled to the majesty around them, just as his had been.


After a few years the small band of travelers expanded. They joined forces with other travelers and even sent an invitation back home to family to take the risky journey as well. It seemed like a good idea at the time.


Their Leader would send periodic communication, giving marching orders and some encouragement. They were told to trust in the supply drops, He promised they would come as needed. They were never promised an over abundance of supplies – after all, they were on the move and couldn’t carry more than a few days provision at a time.


As he surveyed the exhausted faces he began to wonder if they were really receiving supplies as needed. They were still alive, but just barely. He understood the concept of traveling light. It made sense, he was on board…and he did his best to keep others on board as well. Most everyone struggled with it at times, himself included, but all in all the group got the picture.


Had he tricked everyone, himself included, into a death sentence? Lately the supplies were meager at best. Everyone was so hungry that even few bites shared among them seemed like a feast, but when it was over he realized they’d only eaten enough to stave off starvation, not enough to be filled and energized. So they’d stumble forward until the point of collapsing only to find another small stash. He still saw the flowers and they were nice, but you can’t eat or drink a flower and to be honest, they were starting to get on his nerves. They were just going to burn up in the afternoon heat anyway.


It reminded him of what his father used to say about fishing, you get a bite every now and then and its just enough to keep you from going home. He remembered how many times he’d spent an entire day fishing without catching anything, but true to his father’s words, every time he started to pack up he’d get a strike on his line and the adrenaline would start pumping. On and on this cycle went, but at the end of the day, there were no fish on the stringer to reward his efforts.


Sure they were still getting the minimum they needed to survive and he was glad that they hadn’t yet buried anyone who’d died of starvation or dehydration. But was this the grand adventure? Thriving seemed like a myth from an ancient culture, something that made a good plot line for a children’s bedtime story, but not something which they were going to experience again. No, mere survival was about all they could hope for and even that was beginning to seem like just a delaying of the inevitable. He was pretty sure he couldn’t continue the hard journey on minimal rations much longer and the faces of his companions told him he was not alone.


He couldn’t give up. He loved his companions too much. He was bound to them and would do whatever he could for them. But he wondered how long it would be before they felt betrayed and in despair turned on him and killed him. He wouldn’t blame them, he didn’t even plan to stop them when it happened. In fact, it would be a welcomed release from this burden.


But for the moment, the battered man continued trudging forward…


——-


The sun dawned over the horizon and almost immediately the temperature began to climb. The battered man awoke and stared at the sky for a few moments. Another day had dawned and he was still not dead. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been staring up at the sky before he noticed the figure sitting nearby.


“What are you doing?”


The man said nothing for a moment.


“What are you doing?” the figure repeated.


“Surviving…at least I’m trying to.”


“No, you’re just waiting. You say you’re waiting for rescue but you act like you’re waiting for death.”


“I thought that was what I was supposed to do. Depend on the Leader for rescue…you told me that yourself. I’ve been told repeatedly not to attempt to do it on my own power.”


That was what all the sages had told the man. He should learn to depend completely on the Leader, not trying to do things himself because it would just lead to defeat. He was always told to trust patiently because the Leader often waited to act until there was no explanation for victory other than his deliverance.


The visitor was silent.


The man continued looking straight ahead. “What am I supposed to be doing here?”


“What do you want to do?”


“I want to thrive. I want to succeed…but I’m not sure what success even looks like anymore.”


“So, why aren’t you?”


“Are you serious? I’ve been struggling for survival, waiting for something, some assistance, deliverance, something…anything.”


“Sounds exhausting.”


“Look, if you’ve come to taunt me, there’s a long line.”


“I didn’t come to taunt you. I came to remind you.”


“Of what?”


“Who you are.”


“Who I am? I know who I am, I just don’t see how being me is sustainable.”


“That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve heard you say. And I’ve heard you say a lot of dumb things.”


“That’s helpful. If you’re here to remind me of something, get on with it because I’m tired.”


“I know. It takes a lot of energy to pretend you’re a victim. You were told to trust the Leader. You were told to rely on His strength rather than your own. But you were never told to ignore what you’ve been given, how you’ve been trained and what you were sent to do.


Get up and remember. You have been brought safely through many trials. You have passion, vision, resourcefulness. These people you feel so burdened to lead are not here to be a drain…they are here to experience this journey with you, alongside you. You were given tools to lead, and they were given tools as well.


You are a warrior, not a victim. There is a difference between depending on your own strength and using the gifts entrusted to you. They don’t come from you, they come from our Leader. This pity party is getting old. It isn’t helping you and its an insult to everyone who has invested time, energy and tears into your preparation – especially the Leader.


Those who are sent are not sent empty handed. The time for complaining is over. The time for movement has arrived…It is time to remember.”


“What do I do next?” the man said, but he knew without looking that the visitor was gone. It didn’t matter because he knew the answer to his own question. The next step was simply to deal with whatever came next.


It was a brief conversation, but something had already changed. He was no longer the battered man. He looked at his wounds and realized that most of them had already changed to scars. No longer painful, but still present to remind him of who he was and what he’d been through. The time for melodrama was over, he had work to do.


For the first time in a while, he smiled.

To my favorite:

Once again you are shouldering more than your share. There are three very demanding boys (hopefully) sleeping right now…and you’re likely cuddling at least one of them – if by cuddling we mean there are feet in your face, ribs, back, neck, knees…

Then there’s the other demanding boy who is once again on the road.
I got spoiled to laying down next to you for two straight weeks, even if it was for just a couple hours at a time. After nearly ten years of marriage, I’m just plain spoiled to being near you…
Lot’s of people are impressed by you, but I will always be your biggest fan. You are my favorite.
I hope you sleep well tonight and that the boys let you sleep late – like 6:30 or 7!
Love,
Me

the Traveling Companion: episode 5

I just started my next to last class for my D.Min at Perkins – Spiritual Leadership in Missional Churches. One of our assignments is to keep a journal during the 2 weeks of class. I decided to blog mine…

Swimming Lessons
We made it to the end of week 1 in our class. I’ve really enjoyed this conversations and I’m looking forward to next week. On Monday and Tuesday I’ll have an additional seminar in the mornings as I present and refine my topic proposal for the D. Min. project – I am VERY excited about that. As part of my general research and also just something we’ve been planning to do for a while now, Chris and I are going to be launching the missionalmonks podcast (it will be hosted at christjourneylife.com) where we periodically interview different missional and monastic thinkers and practitioners. Elaine Heath has agreed to be our first experiment…er, I mean, interview. We have the second interview lined up already…how’s that for being on the ball?
Throughout this week we’ve been talking about the power of metaphor for connecting with culture. Anyone who knows me well is aware of my love for metaphors. I drive Rachel crazy because they’re usually much more complex than what I unpack for others…but she gets the unabridged explanation!
Something happened last week that I’ve been thinking about as a great metaphor for leadership development, so I thought I’d share it here tonight.
The boys just finished their two-week stint in swim lessons and I think all three made some great progress. It was pretty amazing to witness the transformation of Josiah from a frightened 2 year old to a water-happy swimming fiend.
The big boys had their swim lessons first – with Conner and his class on one side of the pool and Micah and his class on the other. After the big boys were through, Josiah and Rachel had a “Mommy and Me” class, that only had one other mother-son pair (and they were only there a few days). So typically Jo-Jo received the undivided attention of Rachel AND the swim instructor – who just happened to be Micah’s teacher too.
Once Josiah got comfortable with his little puddle jumpers lifejacket he discovered that he could pretty much swim all over the place on his own. I was shocked on the Saturday after their first week when we went to Ron and Debbie’s to swim and he just took off and jumped in all by himself!
JoJo had a great environment to learn and develop confidence. He had a great life jacket that did most of the hard work for him, and during his lessons, Rachel and the instructor were right there the whole time. But, as can happen, his confidence quickly outdistanced his ability and we had an…event.
One day, as the big boys were preparing for their swim lesson, Josiah saw his instructor in the pool and took off running and jumped right in the swimming pool…with no life jacket. Rachel had seen it coming and was right behind him, but suffice it to say, the life jacket is still very much responsible for Josiah’s buoyancy!
When equipping and developing leaders it is great to have experienced guides “in the pool” with them; teaching in the pool rather than in a classroom. This gives the new leader a chance to immediately try out what they’re learning in a safe and structured, but still very real environment.
All spiritual leaders, new or not, need the buoyancy of a life jacket. It is the power of the Holy Spirit which keeps us afloat and does most of the hard work. Supported by the Spirit the leader is able to kick, paddle and move about with confidence.
Occasionally we take off running toward the pool with our life jacket still tucked away with our towel and goggles and we quickly find ourselves sinking in the same waters which had previously seemed so easy to navigate. What makes matters worse, this same over enthusiasm and confidence can lead us to forget the value of a community of guides and family that watch out for us and even pull us up when we get in over our heads.
Assurance of our freedom and the confidence to jump in make the call to leadership exciting and sometimes even fun. But make no mistake, the fun stops when we are suddenly alone, without a life jacket in deep waters. And we’re a lot like Josiah – in this pool even the shallow end is over our heads.
Josiah learned how much he needs his lifejacket. I hope I have the same wisdom to realize how foolish it would be to rely on my own skill, rather than trust in the tireless flotation that is my most basic and fundamental promise of safety. May we as leaders also remember how much we need a community surrounding us.
Swimming alone is a recipe for disaster.

Inhabiting a Suburban Abbey

I’ve begun using the term “missional monasticism” to refer to our particular approach to church planting. Like the monastics and new monastics (you may have noticed that I have a whole series of posts reviewing books on this subject. Read the intro here) we have embraced a call to immerse ourselves in our neighborhood and community as a community of light and hope. However, unlike some new monastic communities, our calling involves an intentional engagement intended to form new worshipping communities among those who are not presently disciples of Christ.

But still this term “missional monastic” seems strange – even paradoxical – to some. Chris and I have been discussing some different options for not only living this life and inviting others to come and see, but also just helping people understand what we’re talking about. Here’s a short post I’ve been working on to introduce the topic – I’d love some feedback regarding how helpful this is (as a starting place for conversation, not a definitive thesis on “missional monasticism”) So, what do you think?


What in the world is Missional Monasticism???

You may already be familiar with the language of “missional.” Many people over the last few years have been talking about (and a few are even living) the call to join in God’s mission to reclaim, restore and remake all creation. Like many things which make their way into popular vocabulary there is sometimes misuse and overuse of the word to refer to anything new, flashy or “relevant.”

Strictly speaking, missional refers to the belief that all God’s people are called to participate in the mission of God – not just a few select “ordained” leaders; our participation in religion is defined by whole-life discipleship in the way of Christ.

The New Monasticism has gotten more attention lately due in large part to the leadership of folks like Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and others. Monasticism has a long history of prophetic voice within the Church. The Desert Monastics of the early Church were men and women who withdrew from the trappings of their culture in order to embrace a life of simplicity, prayer and service. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of monastics did not/do not see their calling to leave the world behind and hide themselves away. The call for monastics throughout the ages has been to embrace holiness for the sake of the world. The movement being referred to as the new monasticism is made up of communities of people who commit to a common Rule of Life. Many draw from the 12 Marks of New Monasticism. The purpose of such a commitment is not moral perfection or super-spirituality. The desire is to dwell in the presence of the Lord…on earth as it will be in heaven.

But what is Missional Monasticism?

Missional monasticism is one possible result of acknowledging that the call to discipleship in the Way of Jesus, participation in the mission of God and being joined to the Body of Christ are all one call with both immediate and eternal implications.

Missional monasticism is a commitment to whole life discipleship in community for the sake of the world…and it is a commitment that calls us to intentionally invite others to make similar commitments. Instead of extracting people from their community and inviting them to worship somewhere else, missional monastics help people discern how to worship, pray, learn, grow and serve right where God has planted them.

We are not seeking to come up with something novel and trendy. We are seeking to draw from ancient wisdom in ways that speak gospel to our present context and embrace the Kingdom of God which is both a present reality and our future hope.

When we read about the life of Jesus and the early Christian disciples we notice that there is a distinct lack of the dualistic views that are so prevalent today (ie, separating our existence into “sacred” and “secular”). To be a disciple of Jesus meant committing your entire life to a new Way. There was both an internal conversion of heart and mind and an external conversion to the Community of God for the sake of those still bound to the rules of the Empire.

We are part of a church planting movement. We invite others to follow this Jesus and then we walk with them as they invite others. We believe that the good news of new life should spread into new neighborhoods, coffee shops, office complexes and other gathering places. It does not require ministry budgets, building projects, finance committees or human constructed hierarchies (though it has worked like leaven within those places and will continue to do so).

It does require the people of God to follow Jesus into the neighborhood. We who are disciples in the new kingdom are all priests. As priests we have all been called to pray to God on behalf of the world and we discover that Jesus is already aware of them. We have been called to go out into the world on behalf of God and we discover that Jesus is already there.

Slowly we are beginning to hear the gentle whisper of God saying, “See those two over there? I love them and I’m doing great things in their life…go tell them I said hi.” The crazy part is when we go say “hi” and we distinctly hear the gentle whisper of God saying “hello” back to us… as if Jesus was there all along, waiting for us. Imagine that.

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