Slow Church by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.
Summary: This book argues that the church has been “McDonald-ized” and that just as the Slow Food movement has returned to embracing food that is good, clean, and fair, so the church needs to embrace an ethic of quality, an ecology of reconciliation, and an economy of abundance.
Slow church. That’s not what I wanted when I was growing up. I wanted to get my weekly dose of church and get on to more interesting things. If the authors are to believed, the church growth specialists gave my generation what we wanted–fast church. Messages that cut to the chase, efficient, homogeneous organization that led to big box churches that provided a great show. For a time, I was part of such a church in another city, typically driving 10 miles to attend. But it seemed totally unconnected to the place where we lived and so when we moved to our current home town, we found a church in the neighborhood, which in recent years has come to embody many of the things the authors of this book describe as part of the “slow church” movement.
The authors describe an approach to thinking of the church that gives words to much of what we were looking for. They believe that God’s redemptive work is slow and values the unique qualities of people and place and gifting that our particular places of worship reflect. They organize their approach around three categories.
First they think in terms of ethics. What is the good to be pursued in the life of a local congregation? It begins with a sense of place that takes time to become a community that shares life together and learns how to serve the mix of people in a real neighborhood rather than efficiently reaching a “market segment.” It encourages stability that takes time to understand a place rather than our restless mobility. It values patience that is willing to suffer alongside others and walk alongside the people of one’s community through the seasons and changes of life as Christ is formed in us.
A second emphasis is on ecology. It focuses on the connectedness of all things and all of life as opposed to fragmenting life, and groups of people into segments, often with the result of dividing them against each other–young and old, liberal and conservative, poor and affluent, and even humans versus the rest of creation. It cares about the dehumanization of work and fosters good work based in our neighborhoods. It celebrates sabbath where God provides enough in six days for us to live seven.
A third focus is on economy. Will we join the culture’s economics of scarcity or the kingdom economy of abundance? This means noticing all the abundance God has placed in the people and physical resources of a church and a community and responding with gratitude and hospitality. And in a wonderful connection with the slow food movement, it means reveling in the fellowship of the table, having rich conversation over good food.
This book is particularly important for churches that take seriously the work of “re-neighboring” and community development in transitional or struggling communities. It is also important for churches in more suburban “communities” that often don’t have a real sense of community and place, and are at great peril over the long haul.
The authors challenged me to consider how, even though I am in a church that is seeking to become these things, I am embedded in a “fast church” life and way of thinking that is formed more by my culture than the church community with which I identify. I work in a ministry that is not located in the community where I live, where I travel extensively, and work with colleagues in a tri-state area, and more widely with individuals throughout the country as well as an extensive virtual community. As I write today, I don’t have good answers to resolve this tension. But this book serves as impetus for a conversation, maybe a slow conversation, but one that I recognize needs to begin in my life.
How about you?