“This is the money shot,” I said, teaching on a theological point.

Nineteen sets of eyes dramatically scanned each other before several shouted out in near unison some version of, “No, no, no; you can’t say that!”

Welcome to the world of Pastors’ School, Set Free style.

Set Free is a residential church where women and their children live, learn, and stay clean. Men are involved but housed off site. Set Free churches, born in Yucaipa, California, are spiritual boot camps for ex-cons, druggies, and the we-need-to-avoid-them among us. These people are considered the low-lifes in our society, yet they have been redeemed by Christ through the work of born-again ex-cons and former druggies.

Set free by the grace of God, ex-cons and ex-druggies minister to the world of ex-cons and ex-druggies, and you can, too.

Needles, California, is home to a Set Free church. Marty Souder, former druggie, is pastor. Marty also has a heart for education. I was enlisted to teach a one-year crash course to nineteen of his potential Set Free pastors. I never smoked, never experimented in drugs, never had an alcoholic beverage, and never inked my body. But I have a heart for education and for the neglected among us. With that combination, my world expanded exponentially.

I will not explain what the men defined in their former life as the “money shot.” Their cultural language is shocking at times and has little in common with my cultural language. Likewise, I cannot describe the deepness of their desire to serve Christ after being so close to the pits of Hell itself. There are no churchy answers, no spiritual clichés, no spiritual bravado.

Set Free is where twenty-second-century Jesus meets today’s Mary Magdalene and Gadarene demoniac.

As a retired college administrator and recovering faculty member, my goal is to interest you in the most untraditional, non-traditional education in my experience. Groups like Set Free are near you, guaranteed. They long for men and women of your stature to instruct and mentor them. Relationships you might never have considered may become the highlight of your teaching world.

Here are three ways you can impact the untraditional, non-traditional education world:

  1. Volunteer for down-and-out ministries who need academic help of your caliber. These men and women are eager to learn; your gravitas as an educator demonstrates their worth as made in the imago Dei. You will be an instant role model and valued mentor.
  2. Assign students an internship or practicum in a down-and-out setting you know to be safe. This may require you to develop strict patterns of participation. For example, no less than three students or mandatory faculty attendance. Help our students move out of the church and Christian college bubble.
  3. Invite trusted and verifiable Set Free-type leaders and residents to speak to your classes or chapel sessions. Introduce Mary and the Gadarene to your disciples of Jesus. Demonstrate the worth and imago Dei of Set Free type participants to your students and colleagues.


  • Bruce Cannon

    Dr. Cannon led a mission board’s theological education program in Syria, taught honors history in a 1,200-student Arab school, and served as interim principal at an international K-12 school in Jordan. Prior, he pastored three churches in Montana for seventeen years. He also served as the president of Yellowstone Christian college for nine years, leading it to achieve ABHE accreditation before retiring in May, 2019. And he is the author of the book, INCOMING! How to Survive Destructive Behavior of Your Local Christian Leaders.

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