Launching the “Training Trail” Part 2

SUMMARY. Fast-forwards from the WabiSabi story of 2003 through the history leading up to a summit held in Houston in the autumn of 2006. It was here that nearly 30 people focused on discerning whether to formalize the Training Trail, and if so, what it could look like and how to do it. This post also demonstrates from both network demographics and its Values and Vision statement how this group was already distinct culturally from others within the “emerging” framework.

What kind of entity (notice that I am not calling it a structure, yet) would be about setting free, instead of creating boundaries? What kind of entity would be about improvisation rather than writing a script? What kind of entity would be about leading to the next level rather than justifying the current level? What kind of entity would be about the actors, rather than the stage, the set, or the director?– E.B. Brooks, questions for the Houston Meeting


Part 1 gave some of the roots of the Training Trail concept and the relational network that was already growing.

Part 2 fast-forwards from the WabiSabi story of 2003 through the history leading up to a meeting held in Houston in the autumn of 2006. It was here that nearly 30 people focused on discerning whether to formalize the Training Trail, and if so, what it could look like and how to do it. This post also demonstrates from network demographics how this group was already distinct from others within the “emerging” framework. This is a long post, because I think it’s critical to get more than a glimpse of WHO was involved in the Houston meeting in order to understand from WHERE the eventual Values and Vision Statement organically arises. Splitting it into two shorter posts would read nicer, but would lose the continuity …

The intention for the next post is to bring things up to the present, and offer some analysis on how the cultural backgrounds, infrastructures of this network, and multiplication strategies tend to differ from the usual approaches to emerging/missional matters.

Please consider chipping in this month to help us with Training Trail start up funds. Every Euro, Pound, and Dollar will help us grow this into a more sustainable Kingdom enterprise!


In between WabiSabi and the Houston Gathering, Training Trail participants had a variety of venues for connecting, learning, and growing:

  • trekking on the Camino del Santiago pilgrimage trail from Spain to France
  • camping out together at UK Greenbelt Festivals
  • establishing several experiments in residential living and “network hub” homes
  • inaugurating the international Doxology art exhibit series and other artisan/creators events and networks
  • brainstorming about how to “message missions” across the paradigm divides between people who are missional-minded and those who are missionary-minded
  • catalyzing or partnering with provocative social justice partnerships like Protest4, The Truth Isn’t Sexy, and Not For Sale
  • visiting various home ministries and communities hosted by Training Trail participants in Canada, Europe, and the US, and often helping out with local projects and events
  • consulting with and training those serving in ministries, churches, and mission organizations

So, the three and a half years between WabiSabi and the Houston meeting saw a gradual growth in quantity of partners in the Training Trail, in quality of relationships, and in opportunities to bridge the many divides between “the established and the emerging.” Finally, it was time to explore formalizing the Trail, and the Houston gathering in November 2006 set the stage for producing an initial statement of the network’s values and vision.

The Houston Mandate: “Birth It or Bury It”

At a London meeting in May 2006, Karen (a church consultant from the US) observed that the Training Trail had consistently been a side-conversation at the various other events and meetings that drew from this same international group of people. She felt the topic needed its own opportunity to be explored, and either be birthed or buried. And thus, Karen worked to find sponsorship for a series of meetings in Houston. There, the Training Trail itself would be the “star attraction,” as the concept itself was still so off-the-radar that it has no “stars” in the emerging church world (nor is it likely to!). So, when the time came and venues were set, a round of invitations went out for the week-long gathering.

One thing that seems to characterize Training Trail events is that it never, ever draws the same group twice, despite having dozens of committed individuals and communities who have been the pioneer participants. This time was no different. Those who were able to come were primarily from three of the network’s main communities (Houston, London, and Karlsruhe, Germany). Also present were some “node runners” (i.e., mobile-global apostolic-connector-type people – more about them in Part 3) one representing London links and the other representing  Training Trail communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Of the original WabiSabi Trio, Shannon Hopkins was present, Andrew stayed home in Orkney while Debbie (affectionately known as “Mum Jones”) represented the TSK Tribe, and Jessica Stricker wasn’t able to be there.

Throughout the week, 26 people participated in various sessions. At first greetings on the first day, some had already known each other over 20 years, other less than 20 minutes. It was a fascinating group! And its very diverse composition certainly affected the ultimate expression of values and vision. Its diversity also hints at how this network may prove distinctive among the various kinds of groups and movements that are labeled as “emerging.” For instance, consider this:

Gender Participation and Parity

The Training Trail is a network where the contributions of people are based on their maturity as disciples and on their gifts, not on their gender. At this event, about a third of the participants were women, evenly distributed across generations from Boomers (40/50-something), Busters (30/40-something), and Blasters (20/30-something). Also, my informal estimate is that half to two-thirds of the primary catalyzers of new network partnerships or events are women.

My intuitive sense is that this represents a significantly higher percentage of women than you’d find in most emerging churches, networks, and events elsewhere. (If you know of other cases of emergence where women are this prominent, please let us know in the comments.)

Multigenerational and Intergenerational

Generations of people over 45 years old comprised about 35% of the group, those between 25 and 45 were 55%, and those 25 and under were 10%. However, the mere presence of multiple generations doesn’t necessarily say much. My question is always whether there is intentional connection among people of different generations. And Training Trail participants typically value commitment between those from established and emerging backgrounds to continue learning from each other.

Also, in this particular group, age does not necessarily correlate with perspective; 75% of the participants would be considered more in the emerging wing of things, and they ranged in age from 20-something to 50-something.

Cultural Diversity

The Houston group included 18 Americans, 1 Australian, 2 Brits, and 5 Germans. Most of these participants live in post-Christendom, retro-pagan cultures. Conversations with any random selection of individuals and clusters was likely to yield a significant range of subcultural backgrounds and preferences: cyberpunk, eco-spiritual, hippie, hip-hop, neo-celtic, punk, rave, retro-beatnik, technos, maybe even a goth or two.

At this point, the network is not very diverse racially – it is primarily Caucasian – and that is a concern. However, as with all issues of racial diversity among Western emerging cultures and Kingdom enterprises, the situation is complex. There are factors that seem to gravitate some groups toward directions that are not so multicultural or intergenerational. But the nuances of different clustering points for emergence phenomenon among races in the West would need to be the subject of an entire series of posts to do it justice. So, that’s a topic for another time…

Role and Resource Diversity

If you consider the two or three main roles that each participant plays in everyday life, you find this amazing range of roles represented in this cluster of people, with each role having several people who live them out:

  • academicians/professors and classroom educators
  • artisans and creators
  • business entrepreneurs and interns
  • church planters
  • church/missional strategists and consultants
  • college students
  • collegiate ministers
  • culturologists/organizational and cultural system interpreters
  • denominational workers
  • facilitators/mediators
  • futurists
  • media and technology workers
  • mentors
  • monastic/community/hospitality home leaders
  • outdoor/wilderness and ecology ministry developers
  • researchers
  • social activists and catalysts
  • social ministry leaders
  • soul friends
  • systems administrators
  • therapists/pastoral care workers
  • writers

As with many organic systems, there is duplicate coverage of most key functions or roles. So, any reasonably large group selected from Training Trail participants means there is always ALWAYS a significantly diverse resource base from which to synthesize something new.

Also, a significant percentage of those in the Training Trail would qualify as Interpolators. Check my Interpolators blog page for detailed descriptions of what that means. But in brief:

  • Interpolators think holistically, paradoxically, and with systems.
  • They alternate perspectives easily between both the big picture and analytic details.
  • They demonstrate high levels of “cultural fluidity” and are inclusive. They relate consistently with people from a wide range of generational and cultural backgrounds.
  • They don’t fit the usual exclusive cultural stereotypes of what constitutes “masculine” and “feminine.” Instead, they tend to be psychologically androgynous.
  • They value mutual respect, mutual learning, and mutual leading.
  • They flow seamlessly between functioning in areas of the spiritual gifting and by filling in wherever needed by using spiritual disciplines where they are not gifted.
  • They tend to be interdisciplinary, creative, paradigm shifters and paradigm pioneers. But they can also come alongside to serve anyone or in any project as a spiritual Jack/Jill-of-all-trades.

Because Interpolators are a relatively rare species, they need one another for support so they know they are not crazy, they just think very very differently from the vast majority of other people. But those very differences also give them apostolic abilities to assist in catalyzing a vast range of new kinds of Kingdom enterprises. (Check out the cultural backgrounds of most of the apostles and their team members, and see if you don’t find multicultural/intercultural people …)

On first meeting, it can be easy to mistake as Interpolators those who are actually big-picture or creative people (not the same as paradoxical producers), or who enjoy multicultural exchanges (not same as intercultural), or extroverts (not the same as fluid relationally). However, my sense of things is that discerning Interpolators takes sufficient time knowing the person to clue in to some very subtle nuances about learning styles, cultural integration, and relational styles. Still, I’d estimate that fully half of those at the Houston meeting had developed into Interpolators. They are distributed fairly evenly across gender and generation lines. And, from what I know of the Training Trail participants in general, that percentage seems fairly consistent across the board. I’m not aware of any organization or network anywhere with that high a percentage. Let us know in the comments section if you do …

Anyway, there was a huge amount of dynamic difference present! (As one person quipped, “We have four countries, three continents, both genders, and one Kingdom here!”) And hopefully, this look at the cultural demographics of the group will help in understanding the roots of its Values and Vision statement (which is, I promise, coming up soon … relatively soon, that is …).

But the presence of diversity doesn’t mean the Houston meeting was like attempting to “herd cats,” where everyone was going his or her own self-serving direction. An opposite of narcissism is interculturalism, and the Training Trail network holds a strongly shared value on interdependence of individuals and communities. In the culture common to Training Trail participants, it’s about creative connections to help each other experience a life transformed by Christ, not about conformity to anyone else.

Still, it was an intense experience, trying to explore and understand what our shared vision and values are as a network. The key question was, Is “the new thing” – is “IT” – meant to be birthed or buried? There were many other questions to consider, such as:

  • How do we keep people first, and not become an inflexible institution?
  • How can we make the experience of mutual learning more accessible, but without being overwhelmed by the numbers of people who are interested in learning with us?
  • How do we communicate when we are feeling anxiety in ourselves instead of empathy for others?
  • How do we hold ourselves accountable, while still giving freedom to grow?

Do-It-Yourself Section:

Training Trail Network Demographics

If you have been working through my ongoing series on Taxonomies of Emergence, you’ve seen my summaries of various systems people have used to categorize emerging/emergence. Here are some questions to consider in bridging between profile studies of individuals to case studies of social groups, and thinking about the existing systems for describing clusters of emergence:

  • What kinds of personal profiles would you need to best discern what the overall cultural composition of a ministry, network, or movement?
  • What personal interview questions do you think would help you eventually differentiate between broad boundaries within the overall “emerging” phenomenon, and discern some of the major and minor clusters in it?
  • Where does the Training Trail network best seem to fit within any of the frameworks suggested by others, as listed in Taxonomies of Emergence – Part 1?

Snapshots from the Houston Meeting

Perhaps the best summations of the questions we wrestled with came from E.B. Brooks. (If you read the Tallskinnykiwi blog, you know that Andrew Jones periodically mentions E.B. as a mentor.) Although he was not able to attend the meetings, his presence and legacy were felt. As an executive leader in the Baptist General Convention of Texas, E.B. had pioneered ways to foster “the new and emerging” through financial support of people, events, and projects. There was a recognition among us that there would be no Training Trail network, except for the visionary passion of E.B. as a Builder-generation mentor for all of us. Shannon read this quote from an email he had sent, and she noted it as one of her favorite quotes:

What kind of entity (notice that I am not calling it a structure, yet) would be about setting free, instead of creating boundaries? What kind of entity would be about improvisation rather than writing a script? What kind of entity would be about leading to the next level rather than justifying the current level? What kind of entity would be about the actors, rather than the stage, the set, or the director?

With that introduction from Shannon, we divided into three small groups for a time of discussion and brain-storming and note-taking. We were asked to focus on these network/group issues:

  • Who are we and what are we passionate about – values, concerns, etc.?
  • Who are actual people we know and how could we help them?
  • What types/categories of people may be interested in who we are/what we’re doing?
  • Where do we find others who would be interested?
  • What other networks or learning trails are we aware of that are at least somewhat similar to us?

The work wasn’t done that day … hardly begun! The rest of the week included a multitude of active and reflective sessions. Worship services. Shared meals. Explorations of empathy, anxiety, and resolving conflict. Sharing our stories. Group discussion on momentum, critical mass, organizational systems, and grassroots. Cultural experiences (everything from Texas Hold ’em to Texas Two-Step, blues to movies). Panels and multimedia presentations for disciples in multiple kinds of settings. And a most amazing opportunity to share a Southern-style brunch with a group of pioneer scientists and astronauts from NASA!

By the end of the week, there was definitely a sense that the Training Trail was in fact meant to be “IT” – this new entity that E.B. Brooks had encouraged us to discover/uncover. Also, we sensed that what began as a conversation focused on our learning trail in fact blossomed into something else, something bigger. The time together validated those who were pioneering ways of being disciples that fit who they were and the cultures God had placed them in. It identified a core of shared values, and demonstrated a paradigm that is holistic, paradoxical, and systems-oriented. And it gave more form to what had already been happening organically, so that we could be more intentional in our processes of expanding the learning processes to include more people and develop learner-leaders for the next generations.

On the next-to-last day together, a smaller Design/Concept Team of six people was chosen. This team included members of the Houston, London, and Kubik (German) communities, and two kinds of “node runners” – one relational (a missional catalyst traveling the UK and Europe), and one informational (a cultural researcher in the U.S.). The team drew on the experiences of over 30 hours of meetings and conversations, all focused around discerning who we are and deciding what we were going to do. They spent the last few hours of the Houston meeting in face-to-face conversations, and compiled the basic framework for a draft of the values and vision. That version was reviewed and revised several times over the next two months. Finally, it felt like the best possible description of us and our distinctives.

Training Trail Values and Vision – January 2007

An introductory note … The following Values and Vision Statement was drafted by a six-member “Design Group” on behalf of the 30+ participants of the larger international workgroup at “Houston Summit” in November 2006. They produced the first draft at the end of a week of meetings, and refined it over the next three months. The Design Group consisted of: Mark Berry (SafeSpace, UK), Karen Campbell (UBA, Houston), Daniel Ehniss (Kubik, Germany), Shannon Hopkins (Walking Missional Incubator, UK/US), Mark Reichmann (Kubik, Germany), and Brad Sargent (Superhero Sidekick, US).

This is much more than some list of 12 items. It represents the providentially interwoven stories of dozens of people over several decades. It is not a manifesto of what we think we or others should do, but is a snapshot of what we are already being, doing, and becoming. It represents the integration of our heads and hearts, our imaginations and emotions, our spirits and our will …We love being part of this thing, because we find God is before and behind it, beside and above it, guiding us onward, step by step together. Perhaps you will find yourself led to join in our journey of transformative living and learning!

We Are …

1. We are an international network of communities and individuals engaged in transformative learning and creative partnerships for discipleship. We know what it feels like to be missional pioneers, and have found ourselves in providential relationship with one another.

2. We are committed to continue developing each other and the next generations of missional practitioners. Our participants provide transformational, reciprocal learning experiences that include the following (but are not limited to):

  • Self-directed learning.
  • Learning in missional community.
  • Learning with mentors.

3. These kinds of transformational, reciprocal learnings apply to individuals and to communities. They experiences include general spiritual disciplines and healing needed by all who follow Christ, as well as specific skills for applied ministry.

We Value …

4. We value holistic learning. Transformational learning impacts the whole person. It’s not just about a series of courses with content, it’s about experiencing ourselves in a context and in community. When we engage our whole self in active learning in a cultural context, we find it affects our physical, emotional, spiritual, and social aspects of personhood.

5. We value just inclusivity. We seek to treat each other as colleagues to learn from each other in a community of disciples, where each individual brings multiple perspectives based on gender, generation, family of origin, racial background, national ties, socio-economic status, and many other factors.

6. We value accessibility with responsibility. We show our trust by sharing life together. We are intentional about including others in our network of relationships, listening to one another, participating in learnings and activities that will change us, and opening ourselves for truthful accountability.

7. We value reciprocal learning. Everyone’s learning needs and contributions providentially overlap with the needs and contributions of others eventually. This is mutuality in action: What I have right now to share matches what someone else needs, and vice versa. Also, we value the wisdom of those who have experience and we also value the contributions of those who are new to our network. SO there is reciprocal learning in an environment of trust that allows for risk,

8. We value fluid leadership. No one leader or team directs, speaks for, or oversees our network. We do not expect every network participant to be involved in every function that happens. Instead, leadership in any given event, project, or partnership is based on giftedness, expressed in humility, in response to invitations based on the Spirit’s leading in whoever catalyzes a function, and often with surprises based in God’s provision for whom He wants to participate.

9. We value entrepreneurship. We desire our lives to have Kingdom impact that leads to personal and social transformation. Such ministry that is both appropriate yet challenging for a given cultural context calls forth an entrepreneurial spirit. This involves the freedom to be creative and take bold risks, as well as the responsibility to engage in critical reflection and exercise community discernment.

10. We value being independent and interdependent. We value what we learn and do independently as individuals and communities, but we are not about individualism. We also value interdependence among network participants, but we are not about conformity. We see the need to strengthen each other by sharing our resources and relationships, and by keeping connected and accountable. We are especially concerned that we maintain dialogue among disciples from “established” and “emerging” cultures.

Our structures and our commitments …

11. Our structures flow out of these values, and we work intentionally to have them embedded and embodied in all we do as a decentralized network. Many of our “structures” are actually individuals or communities who carry specific giftings, and who are passionate to serve in ways that facilitate our remaining as organic a system as possible.

12. Our purposes, relationships, networks, and lifestyles reflect God’s missions and the ministry of Christ incarnate. So, we are committing ourselves not only to be accountable, but to pursue spiritual formation, holiness, ethical and just living, with honesty and integrity, with humility and respect. This is who we are, and who we strive to be with God, each other, and the world. We do not enter or exit relationships lightly, and our promise with each other is to help each one be, become, and do all that God intended.

Do-It-Yourself Section:

Training Trail Vision and Values

If you already spent some time absorbing and sifting through the Do-It-Yourself Section in Part 1 of Launching the Training Trail, you may want to continue that exercise by considering how what was presented there did (or did not) end up in the Values and Vision statement.

  • How is this expression of Values and Vision “organic” to what you have seen presented of its history, the demographics of its participants, and its activities?
  • Were there items or aspects of the Values and Vision that surprised you, that you did not expect, or that you felt were inconsistent with the network’s profile?
  • Given what you now know about the Values and Vision of this network, what reasons can you see for why the term Training Trail does not fit well, even if it is somewhat descriptive for the WHO or the WHAT of this community? What would you suggest as names that better suit the overall nature of this network? (Let us know in the comments section!)

Also, as you are able, please consider chipping in this month to help us with Training Trail start up funds.

Jump back to Launching the “Training Trail” – Part 1.

4 thoughts on “Launching the “Training Trail” Part 2

  1. I have had to postpone my opportunity to read this post because I needed to be sure I had both time and brain cells simultaneously. ;^)

    Great work, Brad…every ounce of my being years to have CovenantClusters associated with this network. We’ll have to talk about that. God has all along been faithful to provide both confirmation and encouragement as I have embraced his vision for CovenantClusters and been working to be able to articulate what it would look like. This is yet another link, as your 12 items of value and vision absolutely resonate.

    The Abbess is grateful to have you as both brother and friend. Rock on, dude!

  2. Well, not all brain cells connected with typing fingers (haven’t we whined about this before?)…that would be “every ounce of my being yearns….” ;^)

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