Launching the “Training Trail” Part 1

SUMMARY. Gives background on the missional DNA and relational network of what eventually became the Tessera Learning Trail; a snapshot of the Trail’s development, taken from the [in]famous post-WabiSabi hot story; and background from Doxa-Qeren on the eventual Values and Vision statement.

If you’re looking for a decentralized network model for creative missional start-up of holistic Kingdom enterprises – contextual ministries, micro-businesses, social transformation movements – the Tessera Learning Trail has one of the best track records I’m aware of.


In just the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize that my life seems to be mostly about serving with teams who pioneer new things, figuring out and documenting organizational systems, and trying to understand what leads to health and sustainability for various kinds of communities.

I have no formal training in any of these, which means I’ve learned it all through hands-on experiences. Which always includes head-against-the-wall experiences. (If you’ve ever started a new church or agency, you know of what I speak …) Still, this seems to be what I was created for. So there is a deep sense of calling within that which makes the hardest things bearable at the most critical moments, and brings a greater sense of joy and fulfillment when the long-term fruit of efforts is evident. I persevere in this calling, and try to choose communal projects where there is what I call “transformutuality” – it contributes to my development while I develop a contribution to it.

One of the intriguing things I remembered recently was my first major organizational gig. My volunteer role was to figure out a way to schedule 1,500 conferees into their top choices for five workshop periods with 60 teachers, some of whom taught only once and some who taught repeat workshops. It was the first-of-its-kind event at our school, and this was before the computer era, so it all had to be done manually, and I had to create the system and train four other volunteers to implement it with me. Oh, yeah … that’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!

It doesn’t take rocket science to see in that snapshot of Free-Form Education Day (circa 1972) the core “gifting DNA” of who I could become. Connect the dots, and it will make sense that a quarter century later, I spearheaded what reportedly was the first American seminary training for academic credit on compassionate ministry to people affected by HIV/AIDS (1996).

This week, I received wonderful news about the “Training Trail,” an international network I’m part of. I’ve been watching for five years now to see how its unique core “missional DNA” would unfold. The Training Trail has roots and relationships that go back up to 20 years, and the dots have been connecting more broadly in the past few years. And now, the Training Trail is formally launching in 2008! [See details here on how to Chip In for the crucial start-up costs.] At last, at last …

… but even at first, there were foreshadowings that this international collective of individuals, ministries, and communities would become a most intriguing endeavor. In fact, if you’re looking for a decentralized network model for creative missional start-up of holistic Kingdom enterprises – contextual ministries, micro-businesses, social transformation movements – the Training Trail has one of the best track records I’m aware of. (By the way, expect the official name to be changed eventually to something more memorable.)

I’m sure there’ll be opportunities for a full history later, but I would like to share a story or two that capture snapshots of the early DNA and developmental contours in the Training Trail network, and then prepare the way for some posts that I hope you’ll find intriguing about the current state of its missional values, vision, and infrastructures.


The time and place: April 2003 in Austin, Texas.

The event: WabiSabi – the second major undertaking in a long line of experiential learnings in would eventual unfold as the Training Trail. (Epicenter was the first event, held in Austin two years earlier.)

The concept: Wabisabi is the Japanese idea and ideal of bringing together two items or essences that seem contradictory, but which actually enliven each other when they co-exist in dynamic relationship. Wabi represents younger and fresher, the more rustic and innocent. Sabi represents the older and wiser, the more repaired and experienced. Since it reportedly was a Japanese Buddhist monk who coined the term symbiosis in the 1920s, wabisabi certainly makes a lot of symbiotic sense in that paradoxical, holistic, organic Zen sort of way. And so, we create such Western wabisabi-ish couplings as: old-new, traditional-contemporary, established-emerging. In fact, this describes the times we live in, with juxtaposition of wabi + sabi, sabi + wabi, even if we wish it were not that way …

The purpose: WabiSabi was described in promotional pieces as “a collaborative event attempting to bring together those involved in both the established and emerging church. The purpose is to explore ways that the established and the emerging can together understand and discuss options as to how to expand upon the kingdom and bridge the gap that separates the church. Whether you consider yourself a wabi or a sabi, there is place for you at this event.”

The hot-tub happening: Shannon Hopkins, Andrew Jones, and Jessica Stricker – three key WabiSabi conveners – decide to wind down together after all the intensity of the event. In a typically postmodern irony, they end up chilling in a hot tub.

Talk goes back and forth, weaving in details and conversations and thoughts about the event’s many multigenerational dialogues among people from traditional, transitional, and tribal perspectives. Yes, things occasionally got heated, but people hung on with each other.

The three review what they heard about the sidebar small groups based on affinity interests, where people could engage in a temporary, fluid “mini-learning community” to share about their common passion. And don’t forget the international interactions among the Americans and “the English” – an affectionate term given to those eight brilliant Brits from Sheffield and beyond who paid for their own flights for WabiSabi, just so they could come support and serve those who organized the event. How lovely their teas and teasings were! Then, there was the “Sabitage House,” that holistic, immersive learning-relating-being experience. This very creative, open-to-the-public, arts-worship-community-reflection, was held in a rented house in a residential part of town and drew in neighbors as well as WabiSabi-ers.

Inevitably, the topic of a “training trail” surfaces. Again. Various participants in WabiSabi and other related networks had talked before about setting up some kind of a more formal trail. It just made sense. As Shannon said, “If missions is looking more like pilgrimage these days, then education for emerging leaders will look like that, too. Or should look like it.”

Anyway, the big hesitation is always in not wanting it to get too over-organized. A growing number of people are very interested in learning and being mentored. They emphasize a paradigm of mutuality of learners-teaching-learners over the expert-educator approach of the teacher-teaching-the-student. And these kinds of learners simply don’t want to pull up roots, move to a training institute, study there for a few years, and then finally be considered educated enough to go out and use what they’d learned. They want a more personal process … a more relevant and contextual process … a more mobile process.

Is this trail an idea whose time has come … at last?


A few months earlier, Shannon and Jessica had brainstormed about what it was that people were interested in being and doing on a training trail. They came up with Doxa-Qeren as the basic idea of discipling missional followers of Jesus. The Doxa-Qeren way would use a three-piece project. Visualize three overlapping circles: a contemplative space, a community environment, and a cottage industry. Here’s how they summarized it:

Doxa means “the glory of God” and we, as His children, are that to Him. The Doxa parts of this project are the community environment and the contemplative space.

In the community environment, it will be just like it sounds: People living together under one roof and all that is involved in living in community.

The second part of Doxa is the contemplative space or urban monastery, as it is called by some. This will be a part of the space that God should provide in the community environment. It is a quiet space established for reading, reflection, and space to really devote to spending time alone with Jesus. It can be used by those in the community or from those who travel here specifically for this place. There never has to be fear of it disappearing or transforming into something else; this is something we feel that God specifically wants provided for those who want to partake in it.

The last circle is Qeren, the business piece. A funny name, originally from Hebrew, that is pronounced like the name “Karen” but with a strange accent. The short definition of the name means “container.” Cottage industry micro-business should be the container that God uses to allow the circles to continue … but all are necessary and included in the overall vision.

I see in those humble bloggings and hot-tubbing talks the basic framework that has matured into the Training Trail. Check out its short history at the Chip-In site, and you’ll get a sense for the diversity of the apprenticeships and pilgrimages and projects, the businesses and enterprises and exhibits that have spun out of this relational network of intuitively and intentionally missional people. There is an amazing history of activity and accountability for this group of artists and mediators, culturists and activists, intercessors and entrepreneurs … and this is an opportune time to support and pray for the critical set-up needs for it to launch into a larger sphere of influence.


As I said, someday there will be an opportunity to share more fully the longer-term history of the Training Trail and its more in-depth development over the past five years. But let me leave you with some phrases and sentences I’ve extracted from my draft of that history about the years 2003-2006. These show the essential unfolding for much of our trail’s values and vision … and consider this list as my Do-It-Yourself section of this post. As you review statements of the eventual values and vision of the Training Trail, ask yourself and your community these questions:

  • As we move toward being more missional, do we express each of these values? Which are strongest and weakest on? Which are we missing?
  • Of those we already express, how should we rate ourselves? What’s the quality of our expressions?
  • How might we be more intentional about a specific value, either for sustaining it, or to begin implementing it, or to continue developing it?
  • What missional values do we share as a community that the Training Trail seems to be missing? Are these actually values, or are they just differences in vision or in methods?
  • Are the values we or they are missing constitute potentially “fatal flaws” – i.e., DNA so critical to healthy survival and sustainability that we need to take radical action to make sure we absorb it?

Mull that over awhile. Perhaps in a few days, I can post a more formalized values and vision statement produced by the Training Trail in early 2007. It shows how these seemingly scattered bits and pieces came together into something I consider to be deep and profound. And maybe after that, I can produce an analysis of its unusual network infrastructure. Meanwhile, happy musings!

The List …

Pioneer something new.

Help each one be, become, and do all that God intends.

Wrestling with truth and life that comes out of encountering diversity.

We desire each participant to contribute for the common good the unique resources of his or her or their own cultural context for ministry, redemptive gifts, and approaches to biblical disciplines.

Grassroots relational systems we find sprouting in the discipleship edges of emerging cultures.

Networking has to do with sparking mutual obedience to Christ’s Kingdom commands, not in manipulating others to meet our personal demands.

A gathering of individuals and communities throughout Western cultures, and mobile international “node runners” who contact others regularly. (Node runners hold a large-scale picture of the Training Trail network in their heads and hearts, and help keep participants energized by personally carrying and sharing news when they visit.)

Grow slowly, as one friend, couple, family or community providentially connects with new people on pilgrimage who we find or who find us.


Organic, relational discipleship.

Reflective learning.

Missional community.

Creative enterprise.

Active learners.

Pilgrimage, journey, recollect, reflect.


Next generations.


Healing and unity.

Gradual unfolding of interconnections.

A natural commitment within our relational network to stick with one another.

Composite of people coming together to make this event a reality. Everyone who helped ultimately played a critical role.

Catalyze temporary communities within long-term relationships of transformation.

Established and emerging.

Traditional, transitional, and tribal.

“Tribal paradigm” missionals met with representatives of three “traditional paradigm” mission agencies. Could emerging and established work together? If yes, then on what could we work together, and how could we best to relate as partners?

Long-term relationships were being planted.

Diverse perspectives.

Draw deeper from what various individuals and groups “carry” as their gifts for the larger entity.

Draw in new people who feel drawn toward the same things we are.

Provocative social justice ventures.

A place life happens.

Composite a fresh group from many prior temporary mini-incarnations of the Training Trail participant group.

Diverse composition.

Holistic, paradoxical, and systems-oriented.

It’s about creative connections to help each other experience a life transformed by Christ, not about conformity to anyone else.

Keep people first.

Hold ourselves accountable, while still giving freedom to grow.

Jump forward to Launching the “Training Trail” – Part 2.


8 thoughts on “Launching the “Training Trail” Part 1

  1. Very interesting background piece, Brad. I can see many other ways in which our experience dovetails…

    I am doing a great deal of pondering about what to do within my current church situation, now that the new sr. pastor has arrived. Very must WabiSabi-related. Wondering about God’s timing for CovenantClusters, which sounds a lot like what you’re describing.

  2. Hi Peggy. I think you’ll find a lot of similarities in values and vision between the Training Trail and CovenantClusters. And I could be wrong but I think there may be some significant differences between the two systems in terms of networking infrastructures (due to degrees of decentralization) and perhaps multiplication strategies (due to range of activity types). Stay tuned …!

  3. p.s. We much be content, because there much be a higher percentage of typo’s when we have so must content to type! No worries … it’s just an preoccupational hazard …

  4. Tee hee, bro… ;^)

    …and I will be very interested to see the differences in infrastructures and multiplication strategies. Definitely staying tunes…I mean tuned :^(

  5. oh, brad! you are blogging again. shannon tells me i have the wrong email address for you after i mentioned an email i sent you recently went unacknowledged – she says that’s very unlike you!!!!!! i will resend it if i have your right email address. from what shannon filled me in on i have a sneaky feeling the content of the email was not only coming from me but also coming from the Spirit who dwells in me.

    oh, the english and the teas and teasing. you are precious.


    bea xxxxxxx

  6. hi bea – delightful to hear from you! will email you shortly so we are sure to reconnect with right addresses. meanwhile hi to andy and the family. perhaps will see you in person sometime this year…

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