Monks Making A Living

Posted in: history,Spirituality by bill-o on May 29, 2010

CNN had a very good article recently about monks: “Monks making money: A business beyond prayer”. The article covers the history of Western monasticism and how monks today in the United States earn money to support themselves and their monasteries.

As the article points out, monks have some of the same concerns that we all do, including a slumping economy and rising health care costs. The monks also face a need to be entrepreneurial with their side businesses and yet also maintain a solitary of life of prayer.

My friend (offline and online) Peter recently wrote in his blog,, about wanting to become a monk. Please see:

Like myself, Peter is a low-church, Protestant Christian, who has discovered gradually over several years a spiritual connection with monastic expressions of Christianity. Unlike myself, Peter is a married man with a family who would, therefore, probably not be eligible to join most Christian monastaries. But I think what is  more important here than the technical qualifications of becoming a monk or the actual possibility of Peter taking up actual residency at a monastery is what Peter might be saying to the larger Christian community: It’s time for us to see monasticism as a spiritual signpost, a light along the dark paths of 21st-century life in the Western world: materialism, busyness, lack of community, etc.

Peter’s post is personal and reflects his own particular journey. Having known Peter for 15 years, I can attest that the course of his spiritual life as expressed in this post is genuine and real. My goal here is not to discuss what is a personal relationship between him and God. Rather, I would like to touch upon what the things that Peter is talking about might mean to the larger body of followers of Christ today.

Using Peter’s post as a launching point, I’d like here to paint a picture of where I think Christianity could be headed. Please feel free to agree or disagree. (What I want to do here is add to the conversation, not make demands upon what the future should be.)

To get the conversation started here, I would like to define monasticism in broad terms. I see it as a deliberate setting aside of significant privileges or rights, for a non-trivial period of time, that one would normally be entitled to in order to grow closer to God and to further the purposes of his kingdom in this world.

1.  Peter cannot be alone here. There must be many others with a similar yearning. I see a forthcoming restoration of the monastic calling in the lives of many in the West. This will be expressed in a revitalization of Catholic monasticism and in the birth of Protestant monasticism. We are already seeing some of that in the New Monasticism movements in urban areas of the United States. I also see a day when rural Protestant monasticism will take root. Protestant monasticism will be less formal and will overlap to one extent or another with a variety of intentional communities. Some will become friars or see themselves as “monks in the world”, but I also see these two paths as valid expressions, at least in the broadest and more informal sense, of monasticism. These new expressions of monasticism will serve as a reaction to the pervasive materialism in the West and will frequently be coupled with expressions of aid and mercy to the desperately poor.

2.  Like Peter, other married followers of Jesus will discover the value of monasticism. These believers may not be eligible for the traditional monastic life, but they will become spiritual advisors to younger, single believers who will set their hearts on this vocation early in life, with the encouragement of these precious elders in the faith. In the meantime, God does not leave us on earth as orphans and his grace is sufficient. Therefore, married believers who, like Peter, discover a yearning for the monastic will draw closer to the Lord Jesus as God multiplies the effectiveness of the time that they spend with him in the midst of their family lives and responsibilities.

3.  Likewise, these married followers of Christ will serve as a bridge between low-church (and, in some cases, high-church) Protestants and the new monastics. Since there are very few single adults in leadership positions in the low churches, it usually takes a married person to have the credibility and authority to speak substantively on important issues in these congregrations and denominations. (I’m not saying that this is right, by the way; I’m a single adult myself: I’m just saying what is today the effective, operating reality.) These married believers, some of whom will be current or former church leaders, will be uniquely positioned to translate what is happening with the new monastics to low-church Protestants.

4.  Singleness will no longer be seen solely as a transitional state of life (a temporary way-station on the road to marriage) among Protestants. Many single adult followers of Christ will remain single for long periods of time or even for a lifetime. These believers will have the greatest access to the new and renewed monasticism. Many single adults who have never been married and who have no children will at the least be recognized as “monks in the world” and will be increasingly seen as a valuable resource and repository of monastic experience to the wider community of believers.