In 1977 Bob Sabath and six other young seminary students each contributed $100 each to cover the cost of printing the first 20,000 copies Post-American.

The bold initiative of these young students eventually became the internationally renowned, voice of politically active evangelicalism in the US, known as Sojourners.

The founders of Sojourners who worked together also lived together  worshiping, and ministering in close Christian community embodying a vision of radical Christian living.

Thirty-five years later, in 2012 Sabath reflected on those early Sojourner years in an important and powerful article with the provocative title, “Poorer, Poorer. Slower, Slower. Smaller, Smaller.”

His article should be read in its entirety here:

Sabath remembers that in those intense early years of establishing the Sojourners community and ministry they discovered that,

To stay alive, we needed prophet, pastor, and monk.

But, there was a problem at the core of their shared life. Sabath explains,

On our best days these three energies were at least on speaking terms with each other. But like every other community that I know, most of the time we majored in one, minored in a second, and had a hard time with the third.

For us, the outer journey of prophetic ministry was our major. The journey together in community was our minor. And the inner journey was our blind spot. We did not know how to be silent, or still, or slow. And so, like most young communities, we often could not see our own inner contradictions and arrogance, our own excesses and extremes.

As success came to the Sojourners brand, the challenge became even greater. They became

an “institution” with the necessities of policies, procedures, protocols, precedents, and concerns about hiring and firing, supervision and management, promotions and salaries, lawsuits and litigation.

Institutional life presented unique challenges that deepened as their “blind spot” grew. The dangers that inevitably crop up for those who ignore “the inner journey” became more serious.

Sabath articulates the challenge all institutions must confront, saying that

Poorer, slower, smaller may be necessary for the inner journey, but it is not a very good business plan.

The institutional function of prophet/activist/change-agent, lives in difficult tension with the role of pastor, and often has little time or patience for the monk. The introverted contemplative practices that seek to ground all action in stillness and depth do not sit easily with the extroverted energies that required to keep the machinery of institutional life operating.

Sabath quotes Thomas Merton who wrote,

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects … is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism … kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

The challenge of leadership in any institution, but particularly in the church, is to resist being swept along by the pressures of the “multitude of conflicting concerns… too many demands… too many projects…”

Leaders in the church in particular need to step away for a moment from “The frenzy of activism.” We need to understand that we are not fundamentally defined by anything we do in the external realm. We are defined by a deep secret inner relationship to the hidden Divine Presence. Church exists first of all to help the world open to the possibility of this secret reality within. Too much frenzied activity will always inhibit our ability to fulfill this primary function of the church.