Becoming Highly Productive Executioners.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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.

With Hope,

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.


bretDr. 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.

5 Ibid.

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.

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.

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Sent. Together.

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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.

Sent. Together.

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.

Stay tuned.

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The Great Missional Misunderstanding

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For United Methodists, the gathering known as Annual Conference is the high-water mark of the year. It is the time in which we gather to worship, organize our priorities, focus our vision, and catch up with each other — at least that’s what it’s supposed to be.

In past years in North Texas, Annual Conference has been particularly mind-numbing. But this year, things took a turn for the better with a gathering that refocused our eyes on the work of discipleship and revitalization.

The highlights of the event were the two addresses given by Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean, one of the leading youth ministry authors and speakers in the country. She galvanized the crowd with her depiction of today’s youth culture and a breakdown of Therapeutic Moralistic Deism.

People left the conference feeling better about the future of the church than when they arrived, and that says a lot about how well things went.

However, I think one thing did become clear to me: whatever we United Methodists are, we are not yet truly missional. Everything that happened at Annual Conference this week presupposed and presumed that the attractional church is the preeminent and ultimate expression of Christian community.

Now, before I go any further, let me define exactly what I mean by missional. The word has become a catch-all for a couple of different concepts. Dr. Dean used the phrase missional church in her first talk, and defined it herself as meaning “a church that looks outside of itself and its walls, instead of being preoccupied with itself.”

It would be great if that described most churches in North America, of course, but that is not what missional means, nor is it the best definition of a missional church.

I also heard the word missional thrown around in casual conversation and in the exhibit hall, where a number of ministries (including Daraja!) had booths set up. Most of the time I heard it used like this: “Oh, our church is very missional. We support a food pantry, we have two or three mission trips a year, and we sponsor a missionary in Africa.” In this context, missional means “our church loves to support mission projects.” But that is also not what missional means.

Missional means sent.

A missional church understands that it primarily exists to be sent.

A missional church is so preoccupied with life in the neighborhood that it doesn’t really have time to worry about the maintenance and upkeep of buildings, vehicles, and programs.

And, as a Missional Monk, I would like to remind us that we aren’t sent alone. We are Sent. Together.

Here’s an example of the fact that our Annual Conference doesn’t get that yet. The last thing that happens at every Conference is the reading of appointments. Traditionally, each district superintendent would get up and read the names of all the churches in the district, followed by the name(s) of the pastor(s) appointed to that church.

This year, they changed it up. Instead of taking the time to have each name read, one by one, each appointment was put on a slide which was then projected on the big screens during our closing communion service. The media team had also asked each pastor in the weeks leading up to Conference, to send a picture of the church which they served. Thus, each slide showed a picture of the church building, the name of the church, and the appointed clergy.

Think about the message that presentation sent. The clear message is that Rev. Jane Doe has been appointed, or sent, TO a particular building. Pastors are sent to an already-existing church, where there already exists a group of people who are used to meeting every Sunday morning to hear an inspiring word and then go home to lead a comfortable life. There are already committees and systems and customs in place, which mostly prop up a status quo which we know isn’t sustainable anymore.

Here’s another example that our Conference doesn’t understand missional yet. Another innovation in this year’s gathering was a Monday afternoon Toolbox Session, which is just another name for a series of workshops that people were free to choose from.

Look at the workshops on offer:

  • Social Media as a Ministry: Challenges, Content, Growth
  • Big VBS for Small Churches: Making VBS the Biggest Outreach Event of the Year
  • Planting and Growing an Explosive Small Group Ministry
  • Developing a Culture of Call to Ministry: How to Cultivate a Call in Young Adults
  • Building a Community Center Without Bricks and Mortar
  • Welcoming the Stranger in Small Churches: Five Changes in Hospitality that Can Make All the Difference
  • Inclusion at Our Church: A Place for Those with Special Needs
  • Are We Building Towers or Temples?
  • Retiree Matters: New Retiree Medical Insurance Program
  • God Talk: Reaching the “Nones”
  • Energizing Volunteers: Maximizing Lay Leadership for Small Churches
  • Multi-Site Worship: One Church, Different Zip Codes?
  • Confirmation: Claiming the Faith We Profess
  • Mission Programming: Growing Your Church Through Social Services
  • 911 Responding to Violence in Your Church or School
  • A Church Full of Cowboys: Alternative Worship for Small Churches
  • Partnering with Schools, the Community, and Other Churches
  • Creative, Collaborative Worship Team Planning
  • Senior Programming: Do Bingo, Buses and Brunches Really Meet the Spiritual Needs of our Elders?
  • In Sickness and in Health: Faith Community Nursing in Your Congregation
  • MinistrySafe Refresher
  • Effective Programming for Small Membership Churches

 

Did you notice that every single workshop offered presumes the existence of a building? Interestingly, one session explicitly suggests that you can do social services without a building, but not church!

Did you also notice that what is primarily being encouraged is programming? Lots of programs. The right kinds of programs.

Now, I am not criticizing these workshops, nor the presenters. I am sure these were great sessions, and I happen to know many of the presenters personally, and believe that they have plenty to share that is helpful and valuable.

But what I am saying is that everything presented at Conference was firmly inside the attractional church box. Everything shared and celebrated and lifted up as worthy of emulation was traditional, programmatic, and based on the idea that our job as church leaders is to try to get people inside the church building. And that’s an idea that I think we must get away from, if merely because it’s too small a vision!

The mission of God is greater than that. It transcends the narthex, the vestry, and the sanctuary. In these days of “nones,” spiritual-but-not-religious young people, the benign-whateverism of a good number of Americans, and the different religions and faith traditions of all the rest of us Americans, it might be very good for us to turn our attention away from our buildings and start paying attention to what God is already doing out there.

We cannot go on assuming that the best way forward is getting our programming right. In fact, perhaps the way forward will lead us to forsake programs altogether.

13 Things You Need to Know About Monk Wes

wes with kidsRather than write a long, boring bio of myself, which you would only briefly scan anyway, I thought I’d make it easy and give you a bullet-pointed list of things you need to know about Wes Magruder, the newest Missional Monk:

  1. Yes, I actually am a friend of Bret Wells. We got to know each other through our work with the Missional Wisdom Foundation, but even then, I kind of like him. I think he’s cool, especially with the facial hair. We like hanging out together, and even more, talking about how to be Sent. Together.
  2. I am a Wesleyan, but not sure how Methodist. Full disclosure: I am an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I became a UM because I felt called to the Church, and because I resonated with John Wesley’s emphasis on sanctification, joining together of faith and good works, and patterns of discipleship. When I see those things happening in the UMC, I celebrate. When I don’t, I get a little crabby.
  3. I don’t think most people who throw the word “missional” around knows what it means. I will say more about this later, but the missional conversation has been dangerously diluted by those who use the word loosely. And a lot of them are denominational folks looking for a new angle. If I can accomplish anything as a new Missional Monk, I’d like to help correct this situation.
  4. I hate church meetings. This comes from experience, believe me. I’ve been a pastor in churches in London, rural Texas, and suburban Dallas. Most church meetings, I have learned, peak after 11 minutes, and then quickly descend into ineffectiveness, gossip, and malaise. The proudest moment in my years as a pastor was shutting down a committee in England that couldn’t remember why it was meeting in the first place.
  5. I’m distrustful of institutions, but love community. This isn’t a paradox. It’s just a recognition of the reality that institutions quickly lose sight of the movements that birthed them, and end up doing things that undermine relationships and community. Exhibit A: most North American congregations.
  6. I believe that justice work is one of the great neglected themes of the North American church. Which means that most evangelical churches are lopsided, having determined (consciously or not) that social justice is not “spiritual” work. We need a recovery of the whole gospel, good news for every system, principality, power, and people group. Look for my contributions on this theme coming soon on this blog!
  7. I don’t own a gun, and never will. I might as well get this out here now: I’m a pacifist. No, I would not kill someone even if they were advancing on my family to do harm. I can explain some other time and in some other forum. All you need to know is that I believe the way of Jesus is nonviolent. Completely.
  8. I am suspicious of most Western missionary efforts, though I have been a missionary myself. I spent four years in Cameroon as the director of a new mission initiative through the denominational missional board. The experience was wonderful and life-giving (to myself and others), but even while I worked on the ground, I wondered if I was engaged in anything more than a colonizing project.
  9. Daraja is the Swahili word for “bridge,” and the name of the nonprofit organization that I recently started. Daraja is my current passion, a ministry to recently resettled refugees in the Dallas area. We train volunteers to coach refugees and their families, and help them make a successful transition to life in America. For more information, check out www.jesuswasarefugee.com
  10. I am a girl dad. That’s what my three daughters call me. This means that I know way more than I ever wanted about drill teams, the Twilight series, hair and clothing, and emotional swings. But it also means that I am pampered, loved, and spoiled. Rachel is 19 and currently touring the world with Long Island University — Global. Chloe is a Planoette and going to be a senior next year, while Mallory starts high school next year as a Vikette. Oh, and my wife recently started her own business, a franchise of Kumon.
  11. In my next life, I want to be a rock musician. Seriously. My younger brother lived this life for awhile as the drummer of a band called Calla, and I was madly jealous the whole time. I’m currently digging the new album by The National, but I also like Bon Iver, Delta Spirit, Mumford and Sons, The Tallest Man on Earth … ok, this could go on awhile. Just know this — Bob Dylan is the man. And so is Bono.
  12. When Jesus says to follow him, I think he meant it. My whole life has been an attempt to figure out what this is supposed to look like. It’s taken me to some pretty crazy places, but it’s what life is supposed to be about.
  13. There are only two seasons of the church year: Baseball Season, and Ordinary Time. My major leisure activity is watching baseball. I am a lifelong fan of the Texas Rangers, and thus, have recurring nightmares of a ninth-inning fly ball in St. Louis. I’m SO glad we let Josh Hamilton go, but hope we never trade Jurickson Profar. 

Meet the New Missional Monk

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.

 Wes and Bret serving Communion during worship with The Gathering

Wes and Bret serving Communion during worship with The Gathering

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.


Everything I Needed to Know (About Coaching) I Learned in 1st Grade

Yesterday we attended the elementary school’s 1st Grade Award Ceremony. During this hour long presentation, parents join the teachers and staff in celebrating our kids’ achievements. I spent most of my time vacillating between reflecting on the significance of what I witnessed and wishing the bench at that table was a little higher off the ground. When I wasn’t lamenting the pain in my back and knees, here’s what I noticed.

Celebration is important. It’s very easy to bemoan the fact that we seem to give awards away for everything these days. We hear complaints about “the entitlement generation” which seems to expect accolades and high pay the moment they grace a company with a job application – and we wonder if perhaps giving everyone a trophy just for showing up may have played a role in that.

HOWEVER, one of the greatest problems I encounter in coaching – whether in ministry contexts or business – is the frustration, discouragement and burnout that develops as a result of never pausing to celebrate progress and accomplishments. We rush from project to project and goal to goal with little or no awareness of what we’re actually doing.

Even knowing this to be true, about a year ago my own coach caught me saying, “I feel like I’ve just been spinning my wheels without any progress.” He immediately stopped the conversation and had me look back through the list of goals I’d set and completed throughout our coaching relationship (after several years, the list was pretty extensive).

We didn’t move forward to deal with the new set of obstacles until I acknowledged just how far I had come and how much progress I had made. When I stepped back and took a wider view, I found my perspective changing dramatically. At that point, I was much more equipped to deal with the new issues.

If we don’t celebrate; if we don’t appreciate the sense of accomplishment from a job well done or the wisdom gained from a glorious failure, the temptation to throw in the towel will become nearly unbearable. That’s just how it works.

So, hats off to the teachers who – despite constant pressure to prepare for the next ridiculous, government-mandated, standardized test – take time out to celebrate the individual progress and achievements of each student.

Adults…we need to take notice. What accomplishments can we celebrate today?

You might be thinking that sitting around patting yourself on the back is a great way to become complacent with your accomplishments. After all, don’t post-game interviews always include someone saying, “There’s no time to congratulate ourselves. This game is over and now it’s time to prepare for next week.”

There’s something to that. First of all, there’s the coolness factor…you know “act like you’ve been here before.” And it is well documented that cool guys don’t look at explosions.

“The more you ignore it, the cooler you look.”

Secondly, and a bit more legitimately, celebrating our accomplishments should not lead to a permanent encampment. Make no mistake, the cool guy jumps up and down and points at the flames as soon as he’s offscreen and the athlete leaves the stadium and goes to a party. But, the ones who want to keep winning or keep…er…blowing stuff up, have their party and then get back to work the next morning.

To return to my own example from coaching, after Anthony and I reflected on the goals I had achieved, we used that as a platform to begin figuring out how to address the current obstacles. He did not say, “Ah, don’t worry about these issues, you’ve already had some great success. Kick back and take it easy.”

Celebrating our successes helps remind us why we’re working on these goals in the first place, and this helps us maintain focus when difficulties arise.

I recently wrote about becoming more innovative by coaching others. I witnessed a similar principle at work today – one that brought me an incredible sense of pride along with a moment of insight.

As my first grade son stood in line waiting for his name to be called (sorry buddy, I passed on a “W” last name to you…you’ll be at the end of the line a lot), I watched as an uncommon thing took place. He was listening intently as each of his classmates were called up and honored for their achievements and then he would applaud enthusiastically each time.

Micah has always been considerably more reserved and less likely to show emotion than his two brothers, so this really stood out. I thought maybe he was just clapping loudly as a goof, but I soon realized that he was truly excited for each person.

Micah is one of those cool guys that doesn’t look at explosions. He puts a lot of effort into looking nonplussed when someone compliments him – it doesn’t really work, you can see it clearly…but he definitely tries. There wasn’t even an attempt as he climbed the stage yesterday. The sheer joy on his face was priceless.

His accomplishments were not in any way lessened by recognition of the accomplishments of others. In fact, I can’t help but be convinced that his practice of celebrating the successes of his peers significantly enhanced the experience of his own.

This too is an area where we adults need to take notice.

What accomplishments of your peers, friends, family or neighbors can we celebrate today?

Whether our goal is to raise well adjusted children, to lose 20 pounds, to start a new business or to reach a certain milestone in our career, there are going to be frustrations and set backs. We’re more likely to get there – and to appreciate the result when we do – if we acknowledge the significance of the small things we choose to do each day.

Perhaps celebrating those things in the lives of others will strengthen our ability to do the same, and make the process more palatable along the way.

It may not be EVERYTHING I needed to know about coaching…but I’m telling you, we can learn a lot from 1st graders if we’ll pay attention.

Just Some Dude From The Neighborhood

This is part of an ongoing reflection and unpacking of our “Bret Sent Me” social experiment. If you’re new to the conversation, check out the original post here.


Almost as soon as I had the idea to get a bunch of folks to tip their baristas, another thought occurred…”Can I really expect to influence enough IMG_2592people in this area to even make a difference? I’ll end up looking like an idiot…again.”

Isn’t that exactly the kind of thought we’re faced with whenever we want to have an impact? How many transformative projects never even started because people were afraid of their own insignificance? 

As a coach I help people address fears that are holding them back needlessly. In my Missional Imagination course, we focus a great deal of time and energy on developing a theology of risk and adventure. I’ve been a church planter for nearly 5 years for crying out loud! Even with all of that, this response of fear and insecurity was my first reaction.

I thought about all the commercials where famous people say, “Tell ‘em I sent you.” Powerful people, influential people, wealthy people. These are the ones who say that – people who’s names carry weight. (Unless the store is offering referral gifts…then we all do it.)

I’m not famous. I’m not wealthy. In the grand scheme of things I’m not really that influential even in my own town.

My friends know me. My family knows me. A good number (but not even most) of my neighbors know me. I have a modest presence on the web, but its a relatively small presence in the midst of a relatively small “niche market.”

But in the context of Burleson, TX, who am I? Just some dude from the neighborhood.

And maybe there is more significance in that than we give credit.

That was next piece of this experiment – the piece that has been most exciting to me throughout the past week. Part of the reason it grabbed me was the realization that after all I’ve seen, with everything I spend my time doing, it was still a message I needed to hear! And I don’t think it’s just me.

This is a lesson we must continually relearn for ourselves because we live in a society that pushes us toward mediocre lives of risk management. Over time we can begin to drift back toward obsession with the myth of comfort and security. We can allow insecurities and the fear of being confronted with our insignificance to slowly box us into self-imposed exile. Deep in our bones we can forget – even with the words on our lips – that we are made in the image of a creative, risk-taking, adventurous, incarnational God. The God who took on flesh and moved into the neighborhood. The God who walked in relative obscurity for several decades of human life and who called a few “dudes from the neighborhood” to participate in something far more significant than they would have ever imagined. A God who recognized the kingdom-defining significance of being a neighbor.

I often say that my church planting strategy when we moved here in 2008 was this: “Go to Denny’s. A lot.” It seemed to me that the most important thing I could do was to become a part of this community – for real, not as a gimmick or hook. So I became a regular at a few coffee shops, got to know employees and other regulars,  got to know the parents of my kids’ school friends, and just looked for ways to be involved around town.

Over time I began to realize, Burleson isn’t just where I reside, it’s my home. I am a part of this community. (Which didn’t really hit me until I got free ice at the gas station because they knew me).

I may be just some dude from the community…but we shouldn’t lose sight of how important and valuable that is. It’s so easy to think that because we don’t have positions of influence that we don’t have any influence, and that – at best – is short-sighted. In reality, this is exactly the context through which we are invited to join in God’s mission of reconciliation. When God chose to become human in the person of Jesus, it was a radical consecration (or perhaps reminder of the consecration) of the seemingly mundane experience of being human.

Telling the baristas that “Bret sent me” didn’t  mean anything to them initially. They didn’t recognize my name…until they did. This wasn’t about them figuring out who I am. The “Bret sent me” part was really just a strange – and thus memorable – group identifier. This was about a group of people rallying around a simple cause they perhaps only barely understood…and the impact that had on strangers. It was a simple (and yet, to me, very profound) reminder of what can be accomplished when we call one another to specific action.

In one week, with nothing more than a few blog posts, social media updates, and friends spreading the word, the phrase “Bret sent me” went from eliciting blank looks and polite, “Okay…tell him thanks,” to, “Everybody is saying that! Who is this guy?”

This experiment worked. It worked on something as “insignificant” as getting free coffee at a new store and leaving a tip. It worked with an unknown person’s name. There’s no reason to suspect that you, regardless of how influential you think you are or are not, cannot have the same or greater impact regarding whatever issue arises in your own neighborhood.

What’s the “tip your barista” opportunity in your neighborhood? Disconnected neighbors? A chance to encourage struggling single parents? Starting a community project, like a garden, book exchange, collaborative yard work / home improvement / spring cleaning?

Or what about more systemic issues like poverty? Injustice? Crime? Hatred? Loneliness? Lack of education?

Is there anything you can do about these things? I mean, seriously, in the face of these challenges and possibilities, who are you?

Just some dude/dudette from the neighborhood… Which means something after all.

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What Was the “Bret Sent Me” Experiment Actually About?

I’m glad you asked.

Over the next couple days, I’ll be addressing some of the different aspects and then later this week there will be a video that goes into more detail and also presents a major change and launch of a new era for Missional Monks. (If you’re just joining us, you can read the initial experiment post here.)

The idea for the experiment began with a simple comment. On the first night that Seattle’s Best was open in Burleson, my friend Ron and I went by for free coffee. As we were getting our drinks Ron (who was driving) asked the barista if they accepted tips. They did and so he did. As he was doing so he made a comment to me along the lines of, “Should be easy for folks to leave a tip when they didn’t have to pay anything for the coffee.” And that was the end of it.

But the idea stuck in the back of my mind.

The next morning, Ron’s wife Shandy made a comment on facebook regarding the free coffee all week. And in that moment, I remembered Ron’s comment about tipping…and the initial idea for the experiment was born. Here’s a new store in our town and for this week, every single penny we give them (well, if we order the free coffee) goes directly into the hands of new employees. What if a bunch of people did that?

As often happens, the idea snowballed in my overactive brain and pretty soon there was a lot more to it. We’ll get to more of them later, but simply put, the first impulse for the “Bret Sent Me” experiment was an opportunity to extend hospitality to the employees of a new business in town.

The baristas are our neighbors. Our town is still small enough that a new business opening is a big deal…even if they hadn’t been giving away free coffee all week. New employees, in a new business, with lots of long lines – this had the potential to be an incredibly stressful week for the folks inside that little drive-thru coffee shop.

So, I thought we could not only practice generosity, but also include some light-hearted stress relief with mysterious “Bret sent me” comments coming in throughout the day. The barista’s comment to his coworkers on the first day was perfect, “Uh…Bret sent her. Who knows Bret?” The laughter in the background as we drove away gave the answer, “Nobody!”

We’d like to publicly thank the following folks who we know participated in the Bret Sent Me experiment – if you played along with us and we left your name off the list, let us know!

Those who physically visited: Rachel Wells (obviously), Robert Bishop, Jodi Bishop, Ron Myers, Debbie Myers, Seth and Beth Nichols (who visited Seattle’s Best in Burleson even though they live in Hillsboro!!), Chris Chappotin, Heidi Chappotin, Jamie Gonsoulin. I’ve also heard that friends of friends, people I don’t even know, started participating…but I don’t know who they are. If you do, please tell us!

Those who posted on the Seattle’s Best fb page or shared on fb: Ron Myers, Rachel Wells, Caroline Wells, Pam Wells, Anthony Parker, Ruth Ann Prude, Ross Callarman, Noel Hammac, Matthew Johnson, Jamie Dahman, Robert Bishop, Brandon Lazarus, Seth and Beth Nichols, Hallye Fletcher, Daryn DeZengotita.

I’m grateful to each of you for your help. This would have been really anticlimactic if you hadn’t taken the time to play along. But that isn’t what happened. Sunday morning, I walked up to window and said, “Hi. I’m Bret.” The barista, Elizabeth, said, “Hi Bret…Wait…You’re Bret? We’ve been hearing about you all week!”

For me, anyway, this was anything BUT anticlimactic. The experiment worked, and it helped confirm another, incredibly important goal of the whole project. More details and explanations are coming up tomorrow…

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Final Day of the “Bret Sent Me” Experiment

Here we are folks. Tomorrow is the last day of our experiment. I’m so grateful and excited at the response we’ve had – tons of people in town have gone by Seattle’s Best and told ’em “Bret sent me.” And so many of you from other places have left comments on the Seattle’s Best Facebook page. I hoped people would respond…and I guess that was part of the experiment as well. If so, it was a part which has been amazingly successful. And that, my friends, is 100% you. Thank you.

The question that barristas have been asking repeatedly is, “Who’s this Bret guy?

That’s really the question, isn’t it?

…But if you don’t know the answer, you’ll have to wait until next week to find out. 😉

However, the experiment isn’t over yet! One more day to leave a tip or a comment…and tell ’em Bret sent you.

This morning someone suggested that Bret should send Bret by as well. So he did…er…I did. And he…I…we are very glad he did. If you didn’t see on Facebook, here’s how it went down:

The “Bret Sent Me” Experiment Continues

We’re halfway through the week of free coffee at the DFW area Seattle’s Best Coffee. We here at Missional Monks – and at the Wells household in general – are big fans of free coffee. And we’re also fans of the opportunity to bless folks, cultivate community and reclaim the concept of neighborhood. So we’ve got the “Bret Sent Me” challenge in full swing at the Burleson store. You can read a slightly longer explanation in my previous post. But if you’re in or around Burleson, please go by Seattle’s Best, get some free coffee (or another delicious treat…or nothing at all), leave a nice tip and tell them “Bret sent me.”

If you aren’t in Burleson, and even if you are, you can also leave a message on the Seattle’s Best facebook page telling them that Bret sent you to the Burleson store – but DON’T TAG ME!

Many thanks to those who have already gone by or left messages – be sure and let us know if you do so that we can give you a shout out next week when we reveal the point of this little experiment. And if you are able to get a video of your trip, share it with us and we’ll make sure others see it as well!

Here’s what it looked like when Rachel went by….

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