I recently finished reading a new book edited by Scott A. Bessenecker entitled Living Mission: The Vision and Voices of New Friars (InterVarsity, 2010). Given my propensity toward all things monastic, I was mostly drawn to this book by its subtitle and was eager to read up on these so-called new “friars.” This designation is not new, of course, especially given that fact that Bessenecker published a work in 2006 with the title The New Friars: The Emerging Movement Serving the World’s Poor (InterVarsity). Like his earlier book, Living Mission is focused on those individuals who forsake the comforts of the western world and intentionally move into some of the worst slums that the world has to offer. This “incarnational” approach to ministry is detailed here by way of first-person illustrations and stories.
At its heart, this book understands “friar” as someone who ministers incarnationally, that is, they reject the comforts of the so-called developed world and adopt the majority world’s perspective(s), engaging in intentional ministry. In addition to being incarnational, the book describes the new friars as missional, marginal, devotional and communal. This is all loosely based on Francis of Assisi’s rejection of his father’s lucrative cloth business in order to mix it up with the poor, the sick and the marginal. In today’s world this intentional, incarnational ministry often takes the form of people moving into slum communities, living alongside and in a similar manner to those who are from the slums. This is likely not the only way that the authors imagine being friar-like but the majority of the examples in this volume involve the world’s slums.
The work and ministry pictured in the book is laudable. There are clearly Jesus-loving people who are sacrificing greatly to minister in what sound like horrific conditions. To forsake basic life comforts in order to live in a slum must be challenging and it certainly does not sound like it is for the weak-hearted. Regardless of whether one agrees with or rejects the concept of being a friar, the work that these individuals are doing is, without doubt, difficult, sacrificial work. The book sets an example and a challenge before its readers. What lengths will we, or should we, go to in order to bring Christ to the world? The answer, of course, is that we must go to the greatest lengths and these friars are setting the example.