Sunday, June 8, 2014

Slow Church: A Review

 
 

One of the great virtues of Slow Church (hereafter SC), and there are many, is that one who knows only the traditional church will not easily recognize what they read there as having much to do with church!

Before any meaningful steps toward fresh forms of church more resonate with the world we live in and the scriptures we live by can be taken, we must somehow come to term with the reality that church as we have known it no longer can or does “work” in our time and place.  This is a very difficult reality to accept “all the way down.”  No more tinkering, no more incremental recalibrating of the present system.  Instead, we need a fresh vision that can immerse us again in our scriptures and enliven our imaginations to dream new dreams about being God’s people in our own neighborhoods.

That means “we can’t get there from here.”  It seems to me that the inherited structures, expectations, and history create an inertia that will not allow us to move beyond them as long as we continue to think and work within their framework.  Only if we’re willing to painfully let go of what church has been and radically open ourselves to outside the box inspiration from the Spirit, scripture, and community itself is there hope for genuine change.

This is the story that of what such a radical, outside-the-box re-envisioning might look like and how embracing this vision would change the look and feel of church.

SC joins a variety of other “slow” movements (slow food, slow travel, slow cities, slow living) which are attempts to reclaim a human pace and a human face for life.  Slow Church could as well be called “Church at a human pace with a human face” or, as a “Three- Mile-an-hour-Church, harkening back to Asian theologian Kosuke Koyama’s wonderful book of reflections from several decades ago, Three-Mile-an-Hour-God.  Three miles an hour is the pace at which humans can walk one mile.  SC, along with Koyama, offer us the opportunity to rethink who and what we are as God’s people at “three-miles-an-hour.”

What first struck me first about the proposals of SC is that they are relentlessly local and ordinary.  Baseball pitchers and real estate agents know that the main thing is “location, location, location.”  The authors, Smith and Pattison, seek to teach us that for the church as well.  The neighborhoods where we live (whatever kind it is) is the place where church needs to happen.  Church gatherings (whether in a building or not) must be located in the neighborhood. 

And this means slowing down to pay attention to the people, needs, opportunities, issues, celebrations, etc. of the neighborhood.  It means incarnating Christ in the neighborhood by immersing ourselves totally in its rhythms and dynamics and understanding its heart as part and parcel of we ourselves are.  And it means inundating the neighborhood with acts of love and mercy which, quite quotidian, are the very gifts of the triune God to your place.  Finally, it means exciting neighbors’ imaginations to see fresh hope and possibilities that is a genuine future, instead of the defeat and despair which imprisons us to thinking only about a past when we believe things were better and gentler.

SC is full of practices and strategies to move our churches in a more human and humane direction. I have chosen to focus in this review of the compelling vision Smith and Pattison offer us in hopes of enticing you to read the details of what is the very best book on church in our time that has so far been written.  Descriptive rather than prescriptive, there are no formulas, gimmicks, or programs for us simply take over and use in our settings.  Rather, SC is a clarion call for us to embrace the both the pain and potential of leaving church as we have known it and journeying into the wilderness where God always takes his people to renew, regroup, and reform them (Hosea 2:14).  Join us in this journey, they invite us, becoming local and ordinary, that is, incarnational, in all the best senses.  The authors frequently quote Eugene Peterson’s rendition of John 1:14 in The Message:

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

May it please God that this be so for us!

 

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