7 min. to read.
September holds enormous excitement for me. Why? Because I’ll fulfill a long-held dream. A book I’ve written, a book I believe will help many people, will be on bookshelves all over the country. I can hardly believe I’m fortunate enough to have this incredible opportunity.
But September is six months away. That intervening space is filled with stress for me. Why? Because I’ve never been here before. Between now and September, there are all kinds of things I’m supposed to do to give my book the very best chance of reaching the most people, and I have no idea what I’m doing.
You may not be a writer, and yet I think you probably relate to this emotional experience. You have a journey you need to take into unfamiliar territory. The uncertainty and the risk bring up fear.
I had an experience this past weekend that taught me an important piece of wisdom for those moments. There is one thing you should do when you’re walking a new path without a map. This one thing transforms the journey.
A few months ago an invitation was extended to me to attend a writer’s Mastermind hosted by Frank Viola. Frank is a prolific author with a tractor-trailer full of practical wisdom about the publishing process. It seemed like a good way for me to get the map I wanted. So, I signed up.
That mastermind was one of the best things I’ve ever done—and the real value was a complete surprise.
Many Surprises that taught me a lesson.
The weekend was full of surprises, but those surprises led me to the one thing we all can do when we’re walking into uncharted territory without a map.
The first surprise was the people. I was expecting a group of writers and aspiring writers. That was true, but there was something else. This was also a group of people who intensely love Jesus and who are done “playing church,” living within the artificial constraints of a broken system.
They came from a wide variety of church traditions and theological streams, and yet everyone was ready to step out into something new and different. They all wanted to make a difference in the world with their words and actions. Their passion was contagious, spilling out in spontaneous conversation that was hard to contain.
The second surprise was that I went expecting to be a student, and I found myself being a collaborator and encourager. It wasn’t just me; it was everyone. We all learned from our host, and yet every person in the room put their best out on the table. No one held back. There was no hiding, no secret “proprietary information” that couldn’t be shared. Everyone jumped in feet first to support and encourage everyone else.
The third surprise is that I didn’t get what I came for; I got something better. I came hoping to get a step-by-step roadmap for the next six months. I certainly got some invaluable information, but I didn’t get the roadmap I had wanted. What I got instead was a community of people committed to walking with me through my uncertainty.
Everyone offered what they had, committing to stay connected, to support each other with their best ideas, resources, and connections. They’ve even begun laying plans to get together again next year!
I expected to come home with a to-do list. Instead, I came home with a whole team of people invested in helping me make the biggest impact I can. I have the same commitment toward them.
Church where you least expect it.
You’re probably not a writer, and you might be thinking: “That’s great for you, Marc. But it doesn’t help me.” Well, hang tight a moment while I connect some dots. I went to a writer’s mastermind. I expected a professional development event. The level of conversation, the personal sharing, the deep realizations people were having about themselves, the commitment people made to bear one another’s burdens, the passion for Jesus—It was nothing less than church.
Our wide diversity of theological and social views didn’t divide us; instead, they broadened and enriched the conversation. Everyone shared the best of what they had to offer freely in an atmosphere was generosity and grace. The authors around the circle had a wide range of success, including one who was a multiple-time best-selling author. But instead of this causing jealousy and competition (as I’ve seen in nearly every other writer’s gathering I’ve ever been to) it elevated everyone in the group.
The authenticity of our conversation pushed us quickly past discussions of strategy and best practices, into conversations that touched the depths of our hearts, our sense of identity and calling. There were even deep wounds of the heart that found healing!
This experience reminded me in a flesh-and-blood way of what we all need when we’re walking in uncertainty. Having a map is nice, but better than a map is having companions on the trail, especially when some of those companions have walked this way before.
God made us to live in community, but this is something much deeper than just having people we know around us. It’s something more compelling than sitting beside the same people every week at church, quietly facing the same direction.
Community, the way God intended it, calls us to be our best selves. It reminds us of our purpose and calling. It connects us with people who are not content to let us float. It stretches us and moves us forward.
This is what church is supposed to be, yet so often it isn’t. We hold back because we don’t want to let others in too deeply, but then we stay isolated. We don’t tell our whole truth because we’re afraid we won’t be heard, or accepted, or loved, but then we stay lonely. We don’t listen to what God is up to in the hearts of people who are different from us, especially people we disagree with theologically or politically.
As a result, our perspective narrows and hardens, and we lose sight of God’s incredible capacity to operate outside out boxes and expectations. We worry about giving too much, and we find ourselves living in relationships that feel small and stingy, instead of generous and graceful.
Get community. Find it. Or Make it.
I was floored by my experience. It was nothing like what I expected, and so much better than anything I could have imagined. I was encouraged as a writer, but more deeply, I was challenged on how I live in relationship and how I do church.
If you are walking a path with no map, don’t go alone. Whether in your professional life, personal life or in your church life. You were meant to do life as a part of a community. If that community is reflecting the character of God, it will be other-centered and self-sacrificing. That’s what I experienced this weekend.
Each of us needs a community like this—a place where we are mentored, and we mentor, where we are encouraged, and we encourage, a place where we are lifted, and at the same time, we help bear the burden of another.
Make it your highest priority to find this kind of group. If you can’t find it, create it. Don’t be limited by the structures that exist around you. Don’t let church leaders tell you “We tried that before and it doesn’t work,” or “We don’t do it that way around here.”
I have experienced this kind of community, but this weekend was a vibrant reminder of how crucial this is for our journey. I’m going to be making the adjustments in my life necessary to continue in this kind of community. You would do well to do the same.
10 thoughts on “How a Writer’s Mastermind Group Reminded me of What I Needed Most.”
This was very powerful for me, Mark. I have been out of a community of believers for almost 8 years because of a very bad experience. And I do feel the need to find a local one. But unitl then, you Scribers are it for me. So thank you for sharing your heart in this post.
Hey Andrea, thanks so much for reading and leaving an encouraging comment.
I’m so glad that the Scribe event was as rich of community for you as it was for me. Really powerful. I’m sorry you had a bad experience with a local church. You are not the only one in that boat! Don’t get limited by thinking of church as only local congregations. I’m certain there are followers of Jesus near where you live who would love to go deep in relationships of grace and encouragement with you.
In the meanwhile, can I recommend a book? A friend of mine is something of an expert on the different ways followers of Jesus are experiencing community. She wrote a book called How to be a Christian Without Going to Church: The unofficial guide to alternative forms of Christian community. It’s great. You may find it helpful.
I wrote about it here: https://marcalanschelske.com/how-to-be-a-christian-without-going-to-church/
Such a timely and helpful post Marc!
Not surprised by #2 because you’ve encouraged me a ton as a writer and leader :).
I’m working on launching my book this Fall and there is so much to do!
Also working on improving our church’s small group ministry and integrating visitors and new attenders into the rhythm and community of the church.
Have made changes by joining a mastermind group two months ago, meeting with a friend from our old church regularly and started a book club at church for The Anxious Christian book by Rhett Smith.
I like this principle of having a map.
I’m preparing my parenting book for content editing and this blog makes me think I should be more clear about a map, a process for parents.
Hey Sovann, thanks so much for your thoughts! It’s such an encouragement to me having you show up here. Sounds like great things are going on! I’d love to get together again and hear more.
For your parenting book, I wonder how you might both provide a map, as well as help parents get connected to others on the journey? I think in some ways that was the real magic of Heartlife, back in the day. The opportunity for parents to talk frankly together about the struggles of parenting.
Amen! For a couple of years now I’ve been part of a group like this. We call ourselves the Spiritual Bushwhackers: people who feel called to serve in a deep way but also have no idea, really, what we’re doing. 🙂 The group includes a pastor, a rabbi, a counselor/shaman, an energy healer, and a facilitator/blogger (me). There are no clear paths or “right” answers for any of us, and we get together in part simply to be reminded of that. It is spiritual nourishment at its best.
Congratulations on your book! I trust it will reach exactly the right people at the right time. Just keep being and sharing the best of you.
Thanks for the kind words. What an incredible community you’ve got there. I’ll be you all learn a lot from each other.
I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughts and perspective. You have a distinct way of communicating in writing and speaking that captivates my attention to hear more. I really appreciate that in you. At this place in my life and in ministry I don’t have that with very many people. I’m finding it is to my advantage and I’m glad that those I have that with are speaking in ways I’m not able to articulate myself yet. I’m sure you know the place I’m speaking of. It’s a good place for me right now. I didn’t realize I had received some healing at SCRIBE until you wrote it here. I felt it when I read it.
This post in particular along with my personal experiences at SCRIBE have me re-approaching how I’m viewing the specific forums that the Lord is speaking to me about in my community and online. One is at a coffee shop that is located in an old mill building that has been repurposed for the arts community and their businesses. Encountering Christ in different ways is where my life is now after conducting series for 25 years.
I enjoyed meeting you at SCRIBE and really look forward to continuing community and reading your emails.
Hey Bret, so great to hear from you. I really appreciated meeting you and hearing you share about the incredible transformation and deconstruction you are going through. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, here! Glad to be on this journey with you.
What a great experience Marc and so well written about! You are a great writer (as well as as a great speaker and pastor). May blessings continue to rain down upon you from your Father!!
Roy!! I’m thrilled to see you hanging around the comments here. How wonderful. I hope life is well for you! Thanks for the kind words.