October 19, 2019

Meeting Michael Spencer

MOD NOTE: Here is a link to the full transcript of David Head’s eulogy for Michael.

MOD NOTE: Here is a link to an audio file of Pastor Bill Haynes’ message at Michael’s memorial service.

Michael Spencer, the founder of this internet monk community–the iMonk himself–would not like all of the attention that has been focused on him since his homegoing on April 5, 2010. But we who remain need to talk about him. We need to lift our glasses at least one more time and say, “You done good, Michael. You done good.”

Yesterday in Oneida (pronounced o-NEED-a), Kentucky, a crowded chapel on the ground of Oneida Baptist Institute celebrated the life of the iMonk. There were friends and relatives and OBI students. Then there were those who had never met Michael in person, but who felt as if they had known him all their lives. There were those who had made peace with Michael’s death, and those (like I) who were still angry.

I think we all were helped through this time of grief by the words of David Head, pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Kentucky. David and Michael were lifelong friends and related in some convoluted way that only occurs in Kentucky. I wanted to share some of David’s words–for those who are still working through their grief, and for those who are just now discovering this community and this man who is known as the iMonk.

“For 53 years and four decades of ministry, God’s grace in Jesus flowed through a vessel named Michael Spencer in a variety of places. Michael’s ministry began at home, with Denise, Noel and Ryan, Clay and Taylor. How he loved them, longed for their best and blessing, and stayed through all the seasons of family life: the struggles and pain, the joys and laughter. Home was his strong and safe place. Even there, he clung desperately to Jesus for help in being the husband and father he longed to be.

“Michael’s public ministry had five phases, beginning with his preaching in churches and youth groups within months of discovering his calling at age 15. Phase 2 was local church youth ministry in several churches throughout Kentucky. He always found a way to connect with kids and move them beyond the easy, safe church life. Phase 3 was serving as pastor at Bullitt Lick Baptist Church in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, a mixture of pastoral pain and joys that shaped the rest of his life. Phase 4 was the nearly 18 years he served at Oneida Baptist Institute as campus minister, English teacher and Bible teacher. Overlapping that was Phase 5 as the Internet Monk and proprietor of the Boar’s Head Tavern, where from this corner of Clay County, Kentucky, Michael literally had a global impact through writing, podcasts, thousands of conversations and too many friends to count.

“Always, there was teaching and preaching the Bible. Michael loved and was deeply saturated in God’s Word. He delighted in it as an expression of God’s mind and heart for life and all that matters. he believed it deeply. He studied it faithfully, worked hard at understanding it for himself. But the fruit of that study came in the overflow–in the thousands of lessons, sermons or essays where he helped God’s Word become clear for teenagers, adults, small groups, or three guys with open Bibles and a cup of coffee.

“Michael was a speaker, teacher, preacher, writer. He summed that up by simply calling himself a communicator. That’s a good word because of its root: communion. Michael delighted to share deep connections with God in Christ and with people. Wherever he was, he formed community. It has been astonishing to the depth of that connection online. Michael simply loved people. Family and strangers, men and women, rural and urban, young teenagers and retirees, gay and straight, intellectuals and the simplest thinkers. He loved Christians of all brands and atheists, church people and church dropouts, cutting edge and traditionalists, contemporary worshippers and hymns-only worshippers, people he knew personally and those he knew only as a screen name on the web. Michael’s ministry of grace was about Jesus and about people–opening his arms to extend to them the welcome of Jesus. One person wrote: ‘I’ve been amazed by some of the people Michael was willing to invited to hang out with him.’ Sounds like a certain carpenter.

“Gospel, gospel and more gospel. Jesus, Jesus and more Jesus. But we still have yet to touch the core of Michael’s ministry. Michael lived an honest life for Jesus. Or maybe better–and honest life with Jesus. Michael’s life was his ministry. He let us in on the dynamic of what it means to live with Jesus at the center. I call it honesty. You might call it being confessional or transparent or open or real. If you encountered Michael, you got to see exactly where he was on the journey with Jesus.

“There are others who do that as well. But what made Michael’s ministry so powerful was his willingness to share his brokenness, flaws and struggles. He never tried to convince us that he had his act together. He refused to take the easy road of cultivating an online image that he was heroically certain. he went to the boundaries of safe and predictable faith and stepped over. He was Jacob wrestling with the angel of the Lord through the dark nights of his soul. He expressed his fears and laments, questions and screams at God, fears and failures, doubts and ambiguity that left you wondering how faith cold possibly survive that moment.

“A first encounter with that depth of honesty was scary. It left you feeling like a voyeur, with access to something intimate you weren’t supposed to have. But then something happened. Michael’s outrageous honesty about the beautiful messes of his own journey with Jesus gave permission for thousands of us to own our mess with Jesus. To realize that brokenness, flaws, struggles, fears, and doubts are a part of the normal Christian journey. Because they are a part of life and you do it–all of it–with Jesus. One said, ‘Michael put into words my own struggles in ways I wish I could but couldn’t. I know I’m not alone in this. His was putting himself out there so that we can read and shout, Yes! Exactly! Someone understands!’

“How could he do that–and why was it so powerful? The grace of Jesus had set Michael free. He knew he was the undeserving recipient of extravagant mercy. He would say, ‘Real grace is simply inexplicable, inappropriate, out of the box, out of bounds, offensive, excessive, too much, given to the wrong people and all those things.’ By grace, Michael knew that Jesus accepted him and loved him no matter what. There really is no condemnation for those in Jesus and when you’re free, darkness loses its bite. When you’re accepted and free, you don’t worry about pleasing people or currying favor or protecting yourself. You simply live, desperately clinging to Jesus. Grace, the centerpoint of Jesus’ gospel, is the thing Michael came to value as most precious of all, the defining center of everything he was and did. Grace in Jesus was his north star and the theme of his story in ways he knew and in ways was still discovering.

“His ministry is not over. Michael gave his life away in serving Jesus during 53 years of life on earth. He followed Jesus and stayed  near Jesus with every breath. Though he has died, his life and ministry will bear fruit in lives and in the church for generations and for eternity. The Father honors him. So do we. We thank God for the honest life and Jesus-shaped ministry of Michael Spencer.”

Comments

  1. “His ministry is not over.”

    Amen to that. The torch has simply been passed on to the hundreds – nay, thousands – of us who, in a very real sense, sat under his ministry, and grew from his teachings.

    So with the others I will lift my glass one more time, saying “You done good, Michael. You done good.” Then, having done that, I will take Michael’s message to heart as I strive to serve the One he loved so much, and in Whose presence he now stands.

    • I will add one more thing – I will do all of this, but only once the tears stop falling. We miss you already, Michael, and because you shared so much of yourself we loved you more than many we know IRL.

      Thank you, Lord, for having given us Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk.

  2. The pain is just too great. Eulogies like this only remind us even more of what is lost to us. It seems like a judgment from God (against us, not Michael) that he is taken from us at this time; much, much too soon.

    I know Michael would have been uncomfortable with the attention; but such a man deserved lines of cars for miles seeking to come to Oneida to pay their respects. But as the iMonk would remind us; the tomb only had two visitors on that early Sunday morning. He got so much more as a follower of the King.

    But, oh, Michael, I wish you were still here; challenging us even further; opening our hearts even more!

    Yes, I join the ones who are still angry.

  3. Another Mary says

    Thank you so much for that beautiful eulogy.

    I’m just so sad.

  4. GranpaJohn says

    Great Idea to share this Jeff.
    It was an awe filled afternoon. The only thing I will add is that the presence of God the Holy Spirit allow David’s words to provide comfort and sense to each of us there and the clear presentation of the gospel honored Micheal’s desires fully.
    Grateful Thanks to each who ministered.

  5. Thank you sharing the eulogy,it was true and fitting. I can only join the others in saying I am sad and miss him very much.

  6. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  7. The Guy from Knoxville says

    Jeff,

    Thanks for sharing with us the words shared in Oneida, KY (o NI duh – in Scott Co TN lol!) yesterday – wonderful tribute and very appropriate. I was unable to get up there from Knoxville,TN where I live just
    a 145 miles away because of a work schedule that would not allow for it – it was a very great disappointment. Yes, I’m still angry too and the profound depression of the past week is something I’ve not experenced since 2004/2005 in which it seemed every one around me was dying – wife’s mother, my mother, close dear friend, wife’s oldest sister lost husband and two sons within a year and a half – it was hell on earth during those days and this past week has had that feel at times.

    All that said to say this – it’s been a difficut week to say the least with emotional ups and downs but what you posted was helpful and we have the wealth and resources of Michael’s writing, wisdom and the new book coming this fall so there is much to look forward to as we move past this difficult time. Looking foward to what you and Chaplin Mike and other are putting together as this unique place of refuge continues to be just that for all walking in this wilderness of post evangelicalism.

    Thanks again Jeff!

  8. Thank you.

    Laura.

  9. I haven’t really been able to post until now about this. Yes, I’m very new to this site but even so, its a blow. I also felt judgment, briefly, at first. And I’m still one of the … maybe not angry, more so completely bewildered. The first night after I read Chaplain Mike’s announcement, the only words I could form toward God were “I don’t understand”. Eventually, we all will, but for now it seems like an unfinished sentence to me.

    Thank you for sharing this with us. Thank you to all who will help this good work continue.

    • I can relate to your feelings on this – and I haven’t posted about this, either. While I am glad that everyone else is able to have such a Christian reaction to Michael’s passing, my internal reaction would probably not be judged as so. Not PC, I know – but honest. I am glad he is not suffering, and has been released from the frail body, but I just feel like there is no other voice like his (that I have discovered yet), and I am not trying to put down any efforts made by others to keep this site going. It is just a fact.

      Michael convinced me (unbeknownst to him) that I didn’t have to chuck the whole thing, as I was contemplating at the time, but that there was a place called the evangelical wilderness, and I was in lots of company. As a Christian, I had come to the place where I didn’t even like very many Christians that I knew, and it’s not because I “hated the good news” (see Michael’s essay, “Why Do They Hate Us?”) He spoke clearly and honestly about the way we act sometimes, and why people often hate us – because we’re obnoxious and we deserve it. This enabled me to find some understanding and compassion in my heart and keep on going. Just one example.

      He was a true and honest and people-gathering voice, and he is much missed, and the world is a much worse place without him. And that’s all I’ve got right now.

  10. Christopher Lake says

    I just read about Michael’s passing last night…. and for once, I’m actually glad that I currently don’t have a job to go to, as I’ve been up all night, trying to deal with this news. He seemed to have so much left to do in this world… but then, none of us knows when his/her time will come. All I can say now is, echoing the words of the post above, you done good, Michael. You done very, very good.

  11. Thanks for sharing these words. I’ve followed Michael’s words here for something like eight years, rarely commented, but found in him, beyond areas where we might disagree, a leader, a friend, a man of integrity; and when I read in David’s thoughts concerning him “You simply live, desperately clinging to Jesus”, I find expression of the Gospel as Michael, himself, brought to us……..

  12. That Other Jean says

    No anger here—just sadness that Michael’s family, friends, and readers will be deprived of his company and his wisdom and the example he provided through his struggles. As much as I miss his individual voice, I am grateful that his ministry will continue here through the work of his friends, so that this site may continue to be a guidepost in the Evangelical wilderness in which so many people find themselves.

  13. Internet Monk was a “wake up call” nearly every morning. I will surely miss Michael’s very distinctive voice (literally and figuratively), but I am looking forward to more thought-provoking dispatches from the wilderness as his work is carried on. What a challenge for the community in the wilderness! I think Michael would be thrilled to see that collaborative work continue at the “abbey”.

  14. the imonk had a positive impact on my faith life. i’m very sad to see him leave us but i am encouraged by that path through life, all the way to the end of it, that he has set before us.

    i have great admiration for what the imonk did on this website. there are many bloggers who come and go, but the imonk was a constant. that dedication and consistency is such a rarity. God bless the imonk and his family and friends.

  15. I can’t believe it! After more than 30 years of pastoral ministry, I have been struggling with faith to the point of giving up (too many issues to discuss here). Then, I came across this site. I read, “I Have My Doubts – The many reasons I don’t believe.” I have never found anyone who has been able to so honestly address many of the things I’ve been dealing with for years now. THEN, I READ THAT THE AUTHOR HAS PASSED AWAY!!! How cruel! (yes, that’s selfish of me). I’m new to imonk. I hope there are many more of Michael’s writings available. Further, I hope someone is able to pick up the mantle and continue writing and addressing the “messy” side of faith. Phillip Yancey and C.S. Lewis are about the only two I have found (especially Yancey) who are willing to take on the disappointing side of faith and address things most people are uncomfortable discussing. Honestly, I read “I Have My Doubts,” and felt as though someone was taking dictation from me! I’m sorry I’m late in finding this site. I’m looking forward to much more reading. I do pray God’s peace and presence to be with brother Spencer’s family.

    • Welcome to this site, L. You will find so many wonderful essays by Michael in the archives. It will keep you busy for a long time catching up to all the great things he wrote. And luckily for you and us, his book is now coming out in June so we won’t have to wait until September!

      Enjoy your time here with us all.

      • Thanks Joanie,
        I’ve needed a resource like this for years. Truth is, I came across this site while looking for someplace to vent my frustrations. I don’t want to come across as flippant toward God nor do I want to be irreverent. I’m just tired of playing the game, so to speak. As a pastor, it isn’t easy to find a place where it is safe to speak openly about troubling faith concerns. Most folks want to hear of a God of “warm-fuzzies” and endless blessings. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in two worlds- on the one hand I am called to encourage people in their faithwalk to trust God and believe in His infinite goodness. On the other hand, I find myself desparate for an intimate relationship with a God Who, according to the Word, also desires intimacy with
        me, yet, seems distant or indifferent to my prayers to know His presence in my life.
        Whew! Sorry. Didn’t mean to go off.

        Thanks again,
        L.

  16. Judy Palmieri says

    For those of us who were his close friends and saw him on a daily basis, words cannot express our grief and loss. For those of us who hugged him and kissed him goodbye he was not IMonk. That was only part of who he was. He did not carry his fame and international status along with him over lunch and dinner. To us he was just Mike. Our pastor, our teacher, and our dear friend. We will never be the same for having walked with him, and we will never be the same now that he is gone. My last words to him were, “See ya later!” and I meant it.

  17. Kathy Jaspersen says

    Well said, Judy. I still expect to see him walk in my office every morning…sometimes looking for baked goods….always carrying books and talking about the subject of the day. Just Mike.