lesson 7: …and be willing to set a high standard

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : November 17, 2006

While we must be open-handed, we must also set a high standard. One of the most common criticisms I get is that I have an insider/outsider way of discipleship. Monasticism assumes that members are to live by a rule of faith. Since Missio Dei draws heavily from the monastic tradition, we have a high standard for members that we don’t have for non-members.

While this may certainly create a sort of “in group”, I think one can get around this by having a “low” standard for fellowship. In other words, have a completely open table, where you invite anyone who will come, and share all good things with one another.

In most churches, you have attenders AND membership AND staff AND pastors. Missio Dei attempts to flatten that by having only one distinction: people who live by the rule and those who don’t. Those who live by the rule serve others and try to teach our way of life, but in no way are we supposed to see ourselves as “better.”

In the beginning, we set the bar too low. We assumed that we should start with a watered-down version of the vision and then slowly lead people towards the ideal. This usually encourages people to camp half-way. I think you have to start with the standard and call people towards it. Jesus’ first sermons in Luke and Matthew were pretty bold. He didn’t ease them into it. He was patient with his disciples, to be sure, but he didn’t start with Sermon-on-the-Mount-lite and then slowly build to Sermon-on-the-Mount-robust. We need to have a Jesus-shaped standard balanced with patience and process.
Pachomius, one of the monastic fathers, failed in his first attempt at monastic life. His followers tried to kill him, since his rule seemed to rigorous. Pachomius tried again with a new group, this time with a MORE rigorous rule. The second time, it stuck.

Mark Van Steenwyk is the editor of He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He and his wife Amy have been married since 1997. They are expecting their first child in April.

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