A New-ish Monasticism
Updated: Sep 14, 2021
Years ago, when I first struck out to start the kind of church that would reach my friends, I did what any young entrepreneurial type would do. I researched. I stumbled onto a burgeoning world of young, missionally-minded folks, like Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, who were seeking to recover the idea of monastical living in a modern context. They were riffing off the ideas put forth by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who had once said:
"The restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The emerging ecclesiology of the groups spawned by these influencers was often referred to as "Missional Community." Missional Communities (MC's) were very diverse in their uniquely contextualized approaches. Some were made of up many people from diverse faith walks who sought to do life in community on mission together, by living under one roof and loving their neighborhood and city. Others were glorified versions of small groups with outward, 'missional' postures, focusing less on the soul care of those in the group, and more on serving the needs around them. This emerging approach to "doing church" was, in many ways, an irresistible revolution for those of us who longed for something fresh and alive.
But there was a big problem... Money.
To put it plainly, Missional Communities are hard to fund. Some of my friends traveled around from church to church, giving powerpoint presentations and mailing letters to raise enough support to live as full time missionaries in their neighborhoods. Others, seeing the inevitable lack of long term sustainability in this approach, sought to build hybrid Missional Communities of sorts, that would be attached to a church, and function as a group made of up everyday people working regular jobs and making everyday disciples in all of life. This second iteration had it's sustainable upsides economically, but the burden it put on the lives of everyday folks, and the difficulty of training and sustaining lasting leaders, while burdened with such demanding requirements, was difficult to put it mildly.
In the church we planted in Downtown San Diego, for instance, to be a Missional Community Leader meant you needed to attend on Sundays, join an accountability group (DNA) which met regularly, attend weekly MC Nights, receive regular coaching from a Pastor, identify and train leaders in your MC, host meals, organize parties, lead the charge in missional events, and lead in other ministries within the church. So while our model may have been more economically sustainable, its was very unsustainable when it came to the overall health of our leaders (and those who they were discipling).
We needed to figure out a way to set people free on mission in a way that was sustainable both fiscally and physically.
I was personally passionate about this need as a church planter, who, in the early days, had worked multiple jobs at once, and even started companies and non-profits to fund my ministry habit. The difficulty, of course, was that the logistics and hours needed to make those businesses successful often took me out of the saddle of church-planting, and made my main focus commerce-centric. Eventually, in order to ensure that the church could function healthily, I left the bi-vocational approach to ministry behind and took a full time staff position at our church.
But the desire to fund ministry in sustainable ways never left.
Once we began seeing the data of church attendance dropping here in America, we were struck with our country's inevitable decline towards a post-Christian culture, following much in the footsteps of Europe. Suddenly this dream for finding everyday ordinary ways to fund ministry wasn't just a neat idea anymore. It was necessary. And for me, it became a bit of an obsession. I started dreaming of building sustainable businesses that could become economic engines for mission. Which of those businesses might be great blueprints for other church planters? Which business models could help them not only fund their ministry, but also keep them in the saddle of church planting. As I researched, I fell in love with writings of practitioners like Hugh Halter, and I began to ask God for a ton of wisdom and clarity.
Along the way, Mike Breen recommended a book to me that blew my mind and awakened a new passion for me, both as a pastor and as an entrepreneurial sort of guy. That book was called "Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks" by August Turak. This book was birthed out of a Forbes Article that had gone viral, and sparked a new interest in the ancient approach to both mission and business. In both the article and the book, August lines out, not only the unbelievable success of the monastical approach to business, but also the principles these monks have lived out for millennia, which he suggests are the main reason for their incredible success.
I want to share a very brief summary of those principles with you here to get the conversation started, and I hope to post many more articles about this topic. I recommend reading the Article, then if your appetite is whet and you're hungry for more, get the Book, and consider how living a life of glory to God, in community with others, on mission to the world around you, might change not only your business, but your entire life.
Here is a brief recap of the principles (secrets).
Secret 1: Mission
The secret to Mepkin Abbey is that the monks are not in the egg, mushroom, fertilizer or forestry business. Like archers, they aim past all these targets. They are in the business of serving God by serving one another and their neighbors. They are spiritual people who happen to run businesses; they are not profit-driven people who happen to have a sideline interest in service for public relations purposes.
Secret 2: Selflessness
The monk's commitment to selfless service is contagious “Maximum motivation emerges from the peer pressure of a team working toward a common mission." When the team is motivated to love God, one another, and those they are reaching through their product and service, they are capable of extraordinary things together. "The task of management is to create superior organizations by getting extraordinary results from ordinary people.”
Secret 3: Excellence
Another secret of these monks is seeing every small act as a grand display of worship. They try to see every word and action as an offering to God. This leads to a level of excellence unmatched in many fields and factories, because the monks are not seeking money, promotions, or other motivating goals as their ultimate ends, but they are literally seeing their work as an act of worship.
Secret 4: Ethics
A reputation for honesty and integrity is one of those “intangible assets” that pay off in ways we can never fully anticipate. For the Monks, there is a bottom line far more important than the fiscal ones, and that is the bottom line of cultivating ethical character. who are we when no-one is around to observe our work ethic and hidden desires? what kind of inegrity do we truly possess?
Secret 5: Faith
Jesus said that if we seek first the kingdom of God, everything else will take care of itself, and that is the kind of faith that drives us. We Trust the Process.Faith is not limited to intellectualized theology. It means faithfully living out the mission regardless of where it leads and how scary things get. If we strive to “live the life” of service and selflessness, the necessities of life will somehow be provided.
Secret 6: Trust
Trust is the backbone of this kind of venture. Invest trust in others. Ask them to do the same. Build a culture of mutual trust exemplified through self sacrifice and service. model this kind of trust and create a culture where that trust not only multiplies, but becomes an motivating factor in the relationships both within and outside the business. Live in such a way that your word is your bond, and handshakes could be accepted as contracts once again.
Secret 7: Living the Life
The final secret to Mepkin Abbey's business success is the Rule of St. Benedict. The Rule is a living document used daily to foster, nurture and inculcate the values outlined above into the life of the monastery.