I had not read much on the desert monks of the 4th and 5th centuries until now. But reading A History of the Monks of Syria has been, like the reading of any good spiritual biography, very invigorating. Today I read of Julian, a desert monk who lived an ascetic life for over 50 years and died in 367.
Julian sought to live solitary and ascetic. However his reputation quickly spread far and wide and it was not long before he had 100 young men living with him in a cave in the desert, eating only once a week and taking only enough water to survive. Over his lifetime he raised many other holy ascetics by allowing them to live with him.
In Inc Magazine this month the cover story is about Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator. Graham mentors young entrepreneurs in the startup of companies by having them live with him for 3 months learning "ramen [as in Ramen Noodles] profitabilty"--in other words they don't get much money and they work their tails off. They live together, eat once a week together and receive training and startup help from Graham and his team. The approach has been very successful and is now being replicated across the country.
And what's funny to me is that whether you're a desert monk living in the 4th century or a venture capitalist in 2009 or a pastor, the way of shaping disciples is the same: proximity, simplicity, repetition, longevity and shared banality.