rule of st benedict

From Affluence to Monasticism – The Story of St. Benedict

stbenedict

In my previous post, I briefly outlined the project I will be working on for my Doctor of Ministry at Sioux Falls Seminary. This project is rooted in a deep and practical study of an ancient rule known as “The Rule of St. Benedict.” In this post, I will provide a little more information on the author behind this ancient monastic rule. 


Monasticism become a popular movement around the time that Constantine declared Christianity to be the favored (and then legal) religion of Rome in the 4th century. The Church went from being a persecuted minority, depending on one another and the Holy Spirit for community life, to a powerful majority as a state religion. As a result of this change, the faith slowly become corrupt. Church leaders began making extravagant amounts of money and yielding extraordinary power over those in their charge. It became the opposite of how Jesus taught his followers to exercise leadership:

Matthew 20:25-28
25 Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. 26 It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Many Christians were deeply pessimistic about the corrupt nature of the church. In order to live out the radical elements of the Christian faith, many retreated to the desert to be alone with God, study God’s Word, and commit to intercessory prayer on behalf of the Church.

It was in this climate (during the 6th century) that Benedict was born into an affluent family in Rome. From the little we know, Benedict lived a charmed life and had all the comforts of luxury. As he got older and was studying in the great city of Rome, he became disillusioned with his wealth and the state of the church. It was during this time of seeking that he felt drawn to monasticism.

Benedict retreated into the desert and pursued the life of a hermit. A hermit was a monk who lived on his own in an effort to seek God through prayer, Scripture study, and manual labor. Benedict’s fame began to grow and a large multitude of people were regularly visiting him to receive his counsel and insight into the spiritual life. Eventually, other men decided to apprentice themselves to Benedict and become his fellow monks. Benedict’s first foray into forming a monastery ended up as a failure; his disciplines were too strict and demanding for those who sought to follow him.

Eventually, Benedict formed another monastery at Monte Cassino around 529 (about 80 miles southeast of Rome). It was from within this monastery that Benedict developed what has come to be known as “The Rule of St. Benedict.” It was written with the purpose of applying the Gospel to the everyday lives of those in his monastic community. Nevertheless, since it was a faithful exposition of the Scriptures for community life, it became the standard monastic rule of the Western church. The fact that there are Benedictine communities all over the world, 1,500 years after the writing of the Rule, demonstrates the power of this ancient rule for our lives today.


In my next post, I will briefly outline the Rule of St. Benedict and explain how you can study it for yourself to experience the benefits of this ancient document.

The Death of Pastoral Ministry

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The majority of those who embark on the journey of pastoral ministry will end up being a statistic of burnout, depression, exhaustion, and bitterness. On average, seminary-trained pastors will last less than five years in pastoral ministry.

This is a problem. Our current philosophy of ministry is killing the pastoral office.

As many of you know, I have begun the journey of attaining my Doctor of Ministry through Sioux Falls Seminary and I am hoping to address this problem. A few years ago I was on the verge of becoming another statistic; I was becoming pessimistic about ministry and drinking the poison of bitterness. It was during this painful season that a mentor of mine invited me on a 3-day retreat to a Benedictine Monastery known as St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota.

As a good, nondenominational pastor, I was not a fan of liturgy or the Roman Catholic Church. I assumed that liturgy (i.e. written prayers) were inauthentic and aligned with the babbling Jesus warned against in the Lord’s Prayer. Regarding the Roman Catholic Church, I followed the lead of Martin Luther and assumed the Pope was the Anti-Christ and the Roman Catholic Church was the Babylon spoken about in the Book of Revelation.

Nevertheless, I was desperate.

Desperate for a spirituality that was deeper than a surface reading of a text with vague applications.

Desperate for way of measuring success that went deeper than attendance and budget numbers.

Desperate to truly experience the ancient God of the Bible rather than the false american god many of us worship in our churches.

Desperate to align my ministry with the trusted traditions of the church rather than sleek business models that propagate the false gospel of marketing and excellence.

With the Psalmist, I realized my soul was panting for God like a deer pants for streams of water (Psalm 42:1). The wells of evangelicalism and popular church culture had run dry. I was discouraged by attendance numbers, giving statistics, and my lack of “success” as defined by modern evangelicalism.

That 3-day retreat was a turning point in my faith and leadership. I participated in the Daily Office with the monks – gathering throughout the day to chant the Psalms and listen intently to the reading of Scripture. I began to read a small book placed in the guest room called “The Rule of St. Benedict.” This is an ancient monastic rule written by Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Holy Spirit used this ancient monastic rule to save my ministry and renew my resolve to remain faithful as a husband, dad, and pastor. I will be spending the next 3 to 4 years studying and applying this Rule to the lives of other pastors with the hope that the Holy Spirit will breathe renewal into their lives and ministries.


This is the first post in a series – stay tuned for more discussion on the Rule of St. Benedict, my story, and how I believe this ancient rule offers a philosophy of ministry that is able to bring greater healing and depth into the ministry of pastors in small churches.