Ok, maybe it won’t be hard to forget everything we know about monks. I think we know like 3 things. Monks wear long robes, do something weird with their hair, and live in compounds in the mountain with other dudes. That’s probably 80% of what you know. Now, there’s some good reasons for those thought pictures; it is what modern monastic ministry kind of looks like. But the early monks weren’t introverted isolationists. They were evangelists. I know “monk” and “evangelist” don’t seem to go together but that was the truth with the Benedictene monks especially. In fact, I think many modern day churches exemplify what confuses us about monasteries. Lemme esplain.
What the early monks did, such as Benedict, was move into a corner of the world near a people unreached by the Gospel. They’d build a self-sustaining community on the outskirts of town in order to not come into any unnecessary conflicts. Then they would work tirelessly toward bringing Christ to the unreached people. The monastery became both a missionary home-base and a training center for future evangelists. As it grew in size, those that began the ministry could leave to replicate a new monastery in a new community.
This has much DNA with modern mission movements such as the “Business as Mission” model, which plants missionaries in communities without the need of outside financing. They look to bring people into home-groups, bible studies, and newly planted churches with the ultimate goal of the indigenous people leading these spiritual activities.
Without digging too deep in the weeds, I think monasteries eventually had some other positive impacts on Christianity. The preserving and interpreting of the word, places to study with learned teachers, and communes for safety, rest, and rejuvenation. But it’s easy to see how seclusion can result from this formula and the spread of the Gospel can become an activity for another. Thus we question “monk” and “evangelist” in the same sentence.
Ironically, many American churches actually resemble what confuses most of us about monastic living. We set-up mega-church complexes at heavily traveled areas but not in communities where people actually live. (Some of these churches could be shelters for a zombie apocalypse.) It’s not uncommon to find that 90% of the church doesn’t live in a square mile from the location of the church. They have become Christian centers of learning (hopefully), filled with Christians who don’t actually connect to their community. This was what people think of when they think of the monastic life.
So what do we do with all this monktastic information. I think our churches should better reflect early monastic movements. Plant churches near and in communities that can be used as launching pads for evangelistic mission, training for biblical knowledge and ministry effectiveness, and create a culture of planting more churches in new communities. Let’s not have an “anyone is welcome to come” attitude. Every church says, “come as you are” and they think they’re the only ones to say that. Instead, let’s have a “let’s go tell everyone the Good News” attitude. Let’s have a new mantra of “go where you are.”