Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Wanderer’s Guide

Written by: on January 18, 2021

In May 2018, my roommate and I decided that for our weekly “Mansion Night”[1] we would break from our normal sharing and prayer and go to Shake Shack, which had just opened in Hong Kong.  To say I was relieved would be an understatement.  I was sick and tired of talking about Jesus and having any kind of spiritual/religious talks.  You see, several months prior I had been burned by the church in a way that stripped me of my identity and forced me to reconsider my faith in a way I hadn’t been forced to up until that point.  I was hurt by people I loved and who I considered family and, with the metaphorical middle finger thrown in my face, had felt that they turned their backs on me and said, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

That was November.  It had been almost six months since the events of that split happened and there was still only rage, hatred, bitterness, and a desire to fall into the deepest pits of self-destruction.  In those six months, I lost myself.  I didn’t know who I was anymore.  And I liked it.  For the first time, I didn’t have to pretend to be the “Golden Church Kid” or the “budding theologian” or whatever BS title I or others would give me.

But I was still hollow.  And God did I fight trying to restore that sense of Self I had lost.

That night around the outdoor tables at Shake Shack, somehow or another topic of political assassination was brought up and whether it was ethical.  One of my housemates and I had talked about this before, so I was more or less tuning him out (we had a LOT of ethical/theological conversations in our house).  But then he turned to me and said, “Dylan, what did Bonhoeffer say about that again?  I remember you brought him up once.”

He was referring to an article I had found where Bonhoeffer claimed he did not try to justify his claims in assassinating Hitler, but rather he would throw himself on God’s mercy.[2]  I affirmed what he said, but it also got me thinking that I didn’t know his full story.  I knew from my undergraduate program that Bonhoeffer’s involvement in the plot to kill Hitler was both misconstrued and over exaggerated in some ways, so I wanted to delve into the truth and know the full story of the man behind the legend.

That night I downloaded Eric Metaxas’s biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

To say I was enraptured by it is an understatement.  As I flipped through the pages, I felt a heaviness weigh on my heart as page after page detailed the life story of the man who would become my “Hero of Faith.”  I was blown away by his upbringing as a man of the highest privilege who looked beyond his station in life to step into the world of others.  But it was his central question that made my eyes widen:

“What is the church?”

It was a question I had been wrestling with subconsciously since before I moved to Hong Kong and had been exacerbated by my recent fallout with the church.  As I read that question over and over again, for the first time in six months I felt like I wasn’t alone.  The discombobulating journey I had been on wasn’t something I had to walk alone anymore.  My first reaction was, “If a man of Bonhoeffer’s caliber and intelligence struggled and wrestled with this question for his entire life, then it’s okay if I wrestle with it too.”

The journey I had put on hold for six months was starting again.  Just as the Expert prepared to leave his Tower at the beck and call of the Pilgrim, so I had found my guide.

For me, the Journey of not just reestablishing my lost sense of Self had begun, but the Journey of discovering who I truly am was in full motion.



[1] We call our flat “The MANsion” because we live in an old building called Wah Kiu Mansion and it’s four guys living together.

[2] Here’s a link to the article: https://news.psu.edu/story/140578/2000/05/01/research/bonhoeffer’s-dilemma


About the Author

Dylan Branson

Small town Kentuckian living and learning in the big city of Hong Kong.

11 responses to “The Wanderer’s Guide”

  1. Jer Swigart says:

    It makes me wonder what the core question is that drives every leader. For Bonhoeffer, “What is the Church?” set his journey and led to myriad additional questions. I wonder how the leader discovers her/his question.

    • Dylan Branson says:

      I think it can be any number of things. The simplest answer may be experience, but that brings in a whole myriad of complications and reflections as well. In my own opinion, I think suffering or the recognition of suffering can also be the catalyst to help the leader find their question. With Bonhoeffer, the struggle of the Jews ended up being a major push for him in the development of his theology of what the church is supposed to be.

      What was it that sparked the question that initially drove you?

  2. John McLarty says:

    It’s good when we find those whose stories feel authentic enough to lead us in our search for truth. You’ve picked a good conversation partner for this leg of the journey. I think I remember someone else saying something about losing one’s life in order to find it?

    • Dylan Branson says:

      That sounds familiar 😉

      But yeah. When I first read Bonhoeffer, I had never really expected to find a historical figure that would act as a conversation partner in my own journey. I think that shows how God continues to speak to us through the lives of those who have gone before us in that “great cloud of witnesses”.

  3. Shawn Cramer says:

    Like Jer, I’m intrigued by guiding questions. I think each leader gets out of bed with a few driving questions. What is the question behind your particular doctoral work?

    • Dylan Branson says:

      The question has continued to evolve over time. At this stage, the question has become what are the narratives we tell and how do these narratives influence the way we see not just one another, but God.

  4. Darcy Hansen says:

    As you know, much of your experience resonates with my experience in the church. One difference is that I never really felt lost; I never once doubted God had led me out the doors of that church, away from the people I’d loved, away from all the Christian-y things that brought comfort and identity. I knew I was walking the path laid out before me by God. I wonder if in someway, you weren’t actually lost, though it definitely felt that way. I wonder if that suffering was a necessary step to bring you to where you are now? To open your eyes to new realities? To give you fresh perspectives and enable you to ask new and age old questions? Has your question changed, or are you still asking “What is the Church?”

    • Dylan Branson says:

      I think the question at its core for me is still, “What is the Church?”, but it’s manifesting in different ways.

      But yeah, I agree with you that as I reflected over the past several years I wasn’t lost so much as refusing to see or acknowledge the path I was on. It was part of that refining process, of being forged in the crucible as John mentioned in his post, that reopened my complacent and prideful heart to the realities around me.

  5. Greg Reich says:


    I appreciate the honesty of your blog! For what it s worth I consider it a privileged to be on this leg of your pilgrimage with you from a distance. I think the question of “What is the Church?” has concerned Christians throughout history. It is one of those things that isn’t clear in scripture and that has morphed through out history. When looking at the question we often get bogged down in doctrine, style and polity issues. I appreciate Bonhoeffer because he looks at it through a biblical social lens. I will be interested as you proceed on how is shifts your paradigm of church.

    • Dylan Branson says:

      Yeah, Bonhoeffer really shifted it away from the idea of institution to that of reflection. Seeing the church as a reflection of God and the implications that brings for how we view the Self as well. After I read Bonhoeffer a few years ago, I devoured as many of his books as I could. I went through his dissertations, re-read his other classic works. etc. Each one broadened my perspective in some way.

  6. Chris Pollock says:

    What a wonderful guide, Bonhoeffer. I’m looking forward to hearing more of the encouragement you’ve received from him.

    Never give up! Never let down. These ones who carried the torch and tossed it on to us…

    How do you feel about carrying the torch on? What does that look like for you, now?

    Thankful you’re not stuck in the box anymore 🙂 still, that you’re inspired toward what’s possible, what our ‘life together’ could be like.

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