July/August 2011 - Vol. 51

Steve Clark, founder of the Servants of the Word (second from right) with brothers gathered for an international council meeting in August 2010
Servants of the Word
Giving thanks for forty years 
of God's call and faithfulness
The Servants of the Word is an ecumenical, international brotherhood of men living single for the Lord within a larger community of communities, the Sword of the Spirit. The brotherhood began 40 years ago in August of 1971. Today there are more than forty lifelong members, along with many other younger men who are affiliates or in a formation process in the Servants of the Word. The brothers live a common way of life in ten households around the world and actively serve in the mission of the Sword of the Spirit, an international network of Christian communities. The following articles highlight some of the key aspects of the brotherhood, as well as its early beginnings.

An Introduction to Servants
of the Word

by Andy Pettman

In the New Testament, a young man seeks out Jesus to learn from him the path to eternal life. Jesus’ reply was a personal invitation – “Go, sell what you have and give to the poor … and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). That invitation has been taken up by Christians through the centuries; the Servants of the Word began with a similar call. 

In the early 1970s, a group of young men, inspired by the Holy Spirit, came together with a common vision for a life of total consecration to God, lived in community and in simplicity, for the sake of more fruitful and effective service to the Christian people. What follows is a brief description of the most important aspects of our brotherhood.

Single for the Lord
There are many ways of following the Lord, and most Christians are called to the blessing of marriage, family life, and fruitful careers. But by choosing to stay single, we in the Servants of the Word are free to devote our time, energy, and resources to more direct and concerted service of the Lord and his people (1 Corinthians 7:25-33). Jesus himself is our best model of a man whose perfect freedom and single-minded dedication to his Father enabled him to accomplish his mission on earth (Matthew 19:10-12).

In response to the exceeding greatness of the gift of God, we dedicate ourselves to loving him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and consecrate our lives to his service.
from Servants of the Word Covenant 

Our name, The Servants of the Word, expresses our fundamental identity: we are servants of Jesus Christ, servants of his Gospel which we wish to proclaim to others, and servants of the local communities of which we are a part and of the larger Sword of the Spirit, an international and ecumenical federation of covenant communities. As servants, we believe that our lives are “not our own” (1 Corinthians 6:19), and we wish to place all our time and every aspect of our lives at the disposal of the Lord and of his people.

A few of the brothers from Michigan on Christmas retreat 2010

We firmly believe that God has called each brother to make a personal decision to be his disciple. Like the man who stumbled upon hidden, buried treasure, and like the merchant who chanced upon a pearl of exceeding value, we have renounced all else in order to follow the Lord and have the “one thing necessary” (Luke 10:42). To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to belong to him. We are his men, going with him wherever he goes, trying to do his work, and living as he would. Our desire is to imitate him as well as we can, as we await the coming of his kingdom.

A life of prayer
The Servants of the Word aspire to be men of prayer. The worship of God punctuates our waking hours, from morning praise together, to communal evening and night prayers. Following a longstanding Christian tradition, we chant the psalms, and together intercede for various needs. Appreciative of the Lord’s gift of charismatic prayer and worship “in the Spirit,” we also spontaneously “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” with thankfulness in our hearts (Colossians 3:16).

In addition to corporate worship, each brother also spends time individually in prayer and meditation.  The reading and study of Scripture is a high priority, as well as growing in understanding of our Christian faith through other teaching resources.

Several times a year, the brothers go on weekend retreats together. These are special times for more extended prayer and meditation, and for building up our brotherly relationships.

Brothers in North America enjoy a celebrative Lord's Day dinner

A shared life
Our relationships of brotherhood and friendship are an integral element of Servant of the Word life. We wish, not just to be co-workers or fellow servants of one another, but brothers, friends in Christ. To this end, we regularly meet in smaller groups to talk about our lives and to be accountable to one another. We normally share the morning and evening meal together, and we make time for other common activities, recreation, and fellowship to strengthen and build up one another.

Sharing a common life also means respecting the order and structures which make a corporate existence possible. Some brothers have pastoral responsibility for governing our life and caring for brothers.  Some are entrusted with handling legal and financial matters on behalf of the brotherhood. And some are concerned that the daily, ordinary life of our various households goes well.

Simplicity of possessions
For us, living in a community means that we give up owning things individually, and that we share all that we have; this sharing is the most obvious expression of simplicity in our life. Simplicity expressed like this is not a burden, but in fact a freedom, a freedom that means we do not need to own or possess material things, and we find it gives us space to better meet and seek the Lord, and to do his work. Simplicity does not mean that we don’t use material things, even expensive ones, but rather that we only use what we need to help us work, rest and be refreshed, and to live out well the call the Lord has given us.

Called to serve
As a brotherhood, we have a special call to spread the Word of God, and to help strengthen the quality of committed Christian life among his people. Our work takes many forms, but most often it involves evangelism, building Christian communities, and helping Christians to be “in the world but not of it” (John 17:14).

Dan Keating (left) & Andy Pettman (right) are frequent speakers at conferences 

Teaching God’s word
Because we are Servants of the Word, we aim to serve the Word of God, that is, the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. One expression of this is the love we have for God’s Word in Scripture. While every brother makes time regularly for reading and studying the Bible, some of us who are able to do so receive additional and in-depth training to better equip ourselves to teach from the Scripture. We feel privileged to be able to teach God’s truth from his Word, providing wisdom for living as Christians in the modern world.

Our brothers frequently teach at retreats, conferences, and prayer meetings. Some brothers have also written books which have inspired and helped many people.

A commitment to ecumenism
God calls all Christians to love one another despite the real differences which exist between various denominations. The Servants of the Word is open to men from the full spectrum of Christian churches; today we have men from various Protestant, Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox traditions joined to our life. We believe that what already unites us in Christ is greater than that which still divides us. Christians from many backgrounds can live and serve together in peace and love in spite of doctrinal differences. Whether praying and worshipping the Lord together, or advancing the cause of Christianity through evangelism and other society-impacting activities, our brothers endeavor to respect the differences among the churches while sharing commonly-held beliefs and practices as fully as we can. 

As our Covenant expresses it: “We will pray for Christian unity and so live that our life together might be an aid to the Christian people as we all seek the Lord’s path to fuller unity.”

Tadhg Lynch (left) & Dave Quintana (right) lead a mission household in Dublin

Evangelism and youth outreach
Many Servants of the Word are engaged in direct mission to young people. Often this involves organizing youth and university-age groups in which young people can discover (or re-discover) Christian faith, experience love and acceptance from peers, and receive guidance and teaching from older Christians. The activities our brothers are engaged in vary greatly: Bible studies, retreats, international conferences, drama, community projects, summer camps, outings – in short, any event in which young people can be challenged, trained, and won over to a deeper life of discipleship.

Building Christian community
To live as a disciple has never been easy. However, with modern Western society moving away from its Christian roots, being a Christian disciple is probably as hard today as at any time in the past. Strong committed relationships are a key help in living as a disciple, and since its beginnings the Servants of the Word has worked hard to found, build, and strengthen communities of families and singles bound together by a covenant, or agreement, to love and care for one another. These communities have over the last forty years become not only places of support for their members, but also focal points for renewal, mission, and outreach to those around them.

Brothers from London and Belfast on retreat in Glenarif, Northern Ireland

Around the world
The Servants of the Word is part of an international and intercultural network of more than 60 Christian ‘covenant’ communities of families and singles called The Sword of the Spirit. 

All our brothers in different houses throughout the world are actively involved in their local Sword of the Spirit communities. The result has been a mutual enrichment: brothers often provide much needed service to the community, and at the same time receive tremendous love and support from community members. For us, Jesus’ promise is time and again fulfilled: that we who have left behind families and homes and lands would find so much more in return – more families and homes and lands.

Living for a high ideal
In the Gospel, Jesus’ call to discipleship to the rich, young man was a loving call: “And Jesus looking upon him loved him” (Mark 10:21). Unfortunately, the man was unwilling to accept the invitation – “His face fell, and he went away sorrowful.”

We in the Servants of the Word see ourselves as men who have been richly blessed by God. We desire to answer the Lord’s invitation with joyful, wholehearted, and single-minded devotion.  Rather than turning away sorrowfully, we want to be his dedicated servants and disciples, having him as our treasure and portion.

As our Covenant reads, “To have the Lord as our only treasure and to live with an undivided and single heart is the life of the Kingdom.” We therefore accept this high ideal as an upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14), making every effort to love him and to make him loved.

Andy Pettman is senior coordinator of Antioch Community in London, UK and leader of the Servants of the Word household in London. He is a member of the Sword of the Spirit teaching team and regularly speaks at conferences, seminars, and retreats..
A Word of Tribute
from Jean Barbara, President of the Sword of the Spirit 

“The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:32). How true this statement of Paul’s is about each and every brother of “the Servants of the Word,” and how prophetic, exemplary, and inspiring their individual lives are for each one of us in the Sword of the Spirit – whether we are married or not, old or young. 

 “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32).” How accurately this description of the early Christian community portrays the common life of “the Servants of the Word,” and how prophetic, exemplary, and inspiring their life together is for each of the Sword of the Spirit communities around the world.

It is God’s plan and initiative that the Sword of the Spirit and the Servants of the Word do not exist without each other and that they share the same call and mission. May the Lord then – in his great mercy and favor –  grant and gift each and every one of our local communities not only with single men who choose this life of sanctity, martyrdom, and mission, but with enough of them to so that we see built in each of our communities a “Servants of the Word” household. 

And warm congratulations on your 40th anniversary.

The Beginnings 
of the Servants of the Word 
by Michael Shaughnessy and Don Schwager

The Servants of the Word an ecumenical, international brotherhood of men living single for the Lord within a larger community of communities, the Sword of the Spirit traces its roots to the late 1960s and early 1970s a time of turbulent change and division in the US, marked by countercultural forces that led to mass student rebellion, the sexual revolution, hippie communes, the peace movement, riots, and violent anti-war demonstrations. But it was also a time of God acting in a powerful way through new movements, including the charismatic renewal and the covenant community movement. 

1967 - Steve Clark (left) with Gerry Rauch

During this period, Steve Clark, the founder of the Servants of the Word, began to call young men to serious personal discipleship and to a common life and mission as men living single for the Lord. 

Steve had been converted to Christ when he was a university student at Yale in 1960. Two books about Francis of Assisi, The Little Flowers of Saint Francis and The Mirror of Perfection, were key in bringing him to personal faith. In reading these books he saw that being a Christian involved more than intellectual assent to the truth of Christianity it also involved a living, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Like Francis, Steve quickly decided that he needed to make a more concrete response to the call of Christ. Francis of Assisi had made a decision to live as a radical disciple of Christ. This call to radical discipleship provided the vision for Steve to decide to live single for the Lord and to call others to serious personal discipleship. 

While at Yale, Steve was also involved with the Morehouse Catholic chaplaincy which was attempting to build a faith community environment. This attempt at community began to form the basis of Steve's vision for building a community of disciples on mission. He saw that those who were involved in Christian activities together grew in faith and holiness while those who only attended church on Sunday seemed to struggle with their faith and often left the church during their university years.

Steve went on to study for a year at the University of Freiburg in Germany and then at the University of Nortre Dame. At Notre Dame he got involved in the Curisillo, an evangelistic retreat-based renewal movement. In less than two years became a writer and national leader for Curisillo. Steve and other young leaders in Curisillo were also curious about the apparent spiritual power found in Pentecostalism. Early in 1967 the charismatic renewal erupted in the Catholic Church. Steve was among the first to be "baptized in the Holy Spirit." He became one of the renewal's leading spokesmen and authors.

Community and brotherhood
Steve, along with three other leaders from Notre Dame, moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan in the autumn of 1967. They began to evangelize students at the University of Michgan and invited the students to a charismatic prayer meeting initially held in their apartment on Thursday evenings. Interest in charismatic renewal soon brought hundreds of people to attend the weekly meetings in Ann Arbor.

Bruce Yocum, one of the first students to get involved in the beginnings of the community, noted: “We wanted something more, something that would focus on our relationships with one another in Ann Arbor. So we started a Monday night meeting in addition to the Thursday meeting. God began to lead us into something deeper. In the summer of 1969 we received some prophecies about ‘covenant.’ We didn't understand this very well, so we started doing a Scripture study on ‘covenant’ which led pretty quickly to the idea of Christian community. By the beginning of 1970 we were talking about establishing a community by making significant commitments to one another.” 

Steve's teaching, one-on-one discipleship, and personal example inspired a number of young men to consider the call to live single for the Lord.

A radical call

An example of Steve Clark's teaching on discipleship can be found in the following commentary on the story of the encounter of the rich young man with Jesus which is recorded in the Gospel of  Luke, chapter 18. This exhortation was given to the group of men who wanted to join the brotherhood in 1971.

 “Many of us are like the rich young man.  We have been given much, we seem to be living a good enough life, and yet we realize that there is more.  Jesus, in his love for us, has chosen and invited us to be his disciples, to leave all else, and to identify our lives entirely with his.  The cost appears high, but it is nothing in comparison with what we gain.  To say 'no,' to hold on to what we already have, is ultimately to go away sad and to lose everything.

“Being a disciple of Jesus is a primary image of the Christian in the Scriptures.  It is also one of the first, and most fundamental, images that we have been given as a brotherhood.  We are loved and chosen by the Lord, offered the ‘one thing,’ God himself, God alone. 

“We are called as rich young men to leave all behind and to go with Jesus where he is going.  We are called to deny all rights and claims to our lives, and instead to throw our lot in completely and without reserve with Jesus, identifying utterly with him, seeking to be like him in everything, doing what he does, fighting where he fights, sharing in his sufferings and trials, and also sharing in his triumphs and joys.

“To be a disciple of the Lord Jesus is the highest call, the greatest privilege that a man can and could aspire to.  As disciples, let us answer the invitation without hesitation or reluctance.  Let us gladly sell all, and leave everything else behind, and make the Lord himself, and the Lord alone, our life.”

First commitments
In August 1971, Steve and seven young men who were seriously interested in pursuing a call to live single for the Lord, took a 10-day retreat in Dexter, Michigan. Over a period of months they had spent time praying, fasting, and talking together about giving themselves to God in a special way. They had studied the rules of many religious and monastic orders. They read through and discussed the rules of Francis of Assisi, Benedict, Basil and read Cassian’s conferences. During the retreat in Dexter, Steve and the group set about putting together a set of ideals which they sought to live by and formulated these ideals into a written “covenant.” At the end of the retreat, they each made a temporary commitment to live single for the Lord. The Servants of the Word was born. 

1974 prayer meeting in Ann Arbor  - Bruce Yocum (right), Steve Clark (center), Don Schwager (left) 

Two and a half years later, in January 1974, five of the original group of eight deepened this commitment while on retreat at the Trappist monastery of Genesee, in western New York State. During that retreat, they voluntarily made a promise to remain single for the Lord for the remainder of their lives and to live together a common life in community. The lifelong nature of the commitment greatly strengthened the fledging brotherhood and guaranteed it stability to go forward.

One year later, in 1975, the young brotherhood adopted a name: The Servants of the Word. The name reflects the call they believed God had given them, a call to be servants of the Word of God, Jesus Christ, servants of the Gospel which they wished to proclaim to others, and servants of the covenant community which began in Ann Arbor, The Word of God, which joined with other communities around the world in 1982 as a "community of communities" called the Sword of the Spirit.

1975 prayer meeting in Ann Arbor - two of the early brothers who decided to live single for the Lord were Ted Kennedy (left) and Bob Bell (right) 

Growth and expansion
The next several years (1976-1990) were a time of growth and expansion. The Servants of the Word went abroad to Belgium (1976) and London (1979) to help build communities. Men came from other communities and countries to "taste and see" and some went to see if they could begin a brotherhood back home – with varying degrees of success. 

In late 1981 a brotherhood that was started in a community in Minneapolis, Minnesota, decided to move to Ann Arbor. The merger of the two brotherhoods in 1982, and the interest of many brothers from Lebanon, the Philippines, and Latin America, in joining the Servants of the Word led to the decision that the Servants of the Word would become an international brotherhood. 

In 1986 the Servants of the Word established a household in Manila, Philippines. In 1989 a household was established in Belfast, Northern Ireland. And in 1990 a household was established in Monterrey, Mexico. 

In recent years the Servants of the Word have established a household of affiliates in Lebanon, and have expanded the number of households in the US to six locations in Michigan. 

Decision points for joining
What is it that attracts a man to consider living the life of the Servants of the Word?  Possibly the most important is a desire to consecrate one's life to the Lord in a radical way, living a life of single-minded dedication to the Lord, or, as the Apostle Paul describes it, “To be undivided in heart and to be anxious only about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32).

Jamie Treadwell, an Anglican who joined the Servants of the Word in 1987, expressed how he reached his decision: 

“There was a point in my life when I realized that, if Christianity was true, then there was no other way to live it except in a wholehearted way.  Committing myself to the Servants of the Word was the way I felt God inviting me to fulfil the calling he had given me.” 

Doug Smith, a Reformed Christian who joined the Servants of the Word in 1985, puts it similarly: 

“My desire was to live for God as fervently as I could.  When I came into contact with the Servants of the Word, I saw it as a way to live radically for God.  As I became more involved, I saw it as God’s way for me.”

The Servants of the Word in London host a "come and see" weekend retreat for men interested in learning more about brotherhood life and the call to live single for the Lord.

From its beginning the Servants of the Word has actively supported other men and women living single for the Lord, including the Brotherhood of Hope and Bethany Association for women living single for the Lord in the Sword of the Spirit. 

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