Rev. Dr. Ben Bohren on the Heart of NBA XPLOR

Rev. Dr. Ben Bohren

Ben Bohren
Ben Bohren

After more than eight years serving as a Mission Specialist for NBA XPLOR, Rev. Dr. Ben Bohren, has retired from his role with the XPLOR program. Beginning in 2012, Ben worked with NBA staff and various partner leaders to build a Disciples’ residential service year program to support young adult Disciples exploring the connection between a life of faith, and the work of justice. Since its formal launch in 2014, NBA XPLOR has had more than 120 young adults go through the program working with Disciples churches and nonprofits across the country.

For more than 50 years Rev. Dr. H. Ben Bohren has been involved in ministry within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The ministries Ben has led over these years include 20 years in local church pastoral ministry; campus ministry at Chapman University; young adult ministry with NBA; regional ministry in Northern California-Nevada; and numerous summer camps, workshops, church boards, and committees.

While the XPLOR program may look different in a post-COVID world, the original mission and heart of XPLOR will stay the same. Before the end of 2020, we asked Ben to reflect on “the heart of XPLOR,” the Four Cornerstones of the program, and what being part of young adult leadership development has meant to him personally.

NBA: What are the Four Cornerstones of NBA XPLOR and how have they impacted and guided the program.

Ben Bohren: The staff of NBA XPLOR have tweaked them along the way and added emphasis to certain ones depending on context, but they are solid! In the feedback we receive from Residents each year, many of the “learnings” and “areas of growth” they mention are ones that emerge from those Four Cornerstones (Community Engagement and Justice Work, Spiritual Deepening and Vocational Discernment, Leadership Development, Simple Living in Intentional Community). Our graduates are living their lives differently as a result of XPLOR.

NBA: What other characteristics does the XPLOR program value?

BB: The value of diversity, in all of its glorious forms and manifestations, gets named over and over. The Residents are living with people from different background from them, some for the first time ever. Living with people different from you, learning from them in various ways from cooking, to worshiping can be a life changing experience. Asking how “diversity” becomes further informed by and with “equity” in the future of XPLOR is critical.

NBA: What is the importance of the cornerstone “simple living in intentional community”? 

BB: Bringing together four strangers to live under one roof, into a brand new environment of church, community and community service is never easy, and sometimes overwhelmingly difficult. However, with perseverance, it is transformative!

NBA: Talk about the importance of the program’s collaboration with local congregations/ministries.

BB: The heart of XPLOR are all the many interactions – shared meals, exchanging of stories, daily work, activities, learning moments, fun times – that a Host Team, Host Pastor, and Community Engagement site has with the XPLOR Residents. The partnerships and deep connections have been wondrous for me to be part of and to observe over the years.

NBA: As the program was being shaped, why was it important to include a Spiritual Companion and Sabbath time for Residents?

BB: In creating XPLOR, we did not see another program that provided this kind of extensive and intensive support for the Residents. Over and over again, Residents named having a Spiritual Companion as one of the highlights of the program, if not the highlight of XPLOR. Our graduates are living their lives differently as a result of Spiritual Companion and Sabbath Time.

NBA: How did the XPLOR staff work together to create this program at NBA?

BB: Launching a program like XPLOR is a mammoth undertaking! XPLOR staff often worked sacrificially – countless hours in discussions, planning, travel, phone calls, emails, and, yes, prayer – to make it all happen! Challenges were ongoing and often brand new. There were many “We’ve not encountered this one before!” moments. So, guidelines had to be created and crises addressed. The staff has experienced a few struggles, but overall worked exceedingly well as a team. This team loves and believes in young adults and the church deeply.

Also, without the huge financial investment of the NBA Board, and the availability of other NBA Staff, XPLOR could not have happened from the beginning, nor year after year.

NBA: What do you think XPLOR means to the Disciples of Christ Denomination?  

BB: Our denomination definitely sees XPLOR as the strongest sign of commitment to this age group (21–30-year-olds). There are other DOC young adult programs, yet I am biased to claim that XPLOR has a special depth to its programming and impact. Look at what our over100 graduates are doing with their lives. They are involved in the church, in society, in justice work, in community transformation and so much more. Many of our graduates are becoming and will become significant leaders for a wide variety of professions and causes.

NBA: Anything else you’d like to say about the heart of XPLOR? 

BB: A comparison that our XPLOR team has used is studying the heart of an athlete. A heart becomes stronger when exercised regularly. A heart becomes stronger when appropriately pushed, but not beyond capacity. A heart becomes stronger when rested appropriately, but not so long it becomes lazy and cannot support the regimen of an athlete. I believe this is true for the heart of XPLOR.

Join us March 3 for NBA’s Story Hour where we will celebrate Ben for his work with NBA XPLOR and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at large. We invite you to make a donation in his honor to the Rev. Dr. Ben Bohren NBA Leadership Fund which supports leadership development programs like NBA XPLOR.