Last September I was in New Orleans with my wife (Amy) at a CCDA conference (Christian Community Development Association), and one of the small break out groups was called “Slow Church”, where Amy and I heard a short interactive presentation by Chris Smith on “church conversations” that serve to build up and unite the body of Christ. The brief presentation affirmed many thoughts in our own hearts, thoughts and questions we have been wrestling with for years as Young Life and church leaders, namely, the question: “What does it look like to be successful as a church?”
Chris Smith and John Pattison are co-authors of the book Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. This book indirectly answers the question of what it looks like to be successful as a church, as Chris and John unfold a new kingdom ethos for being the church, present and rooted in a particular place. Jean Vanier has said, “A Christian community should do as Jesus did: propose and not impose. Its attraction must lie in the radiance cast by the love of brothers.” This is what Chris and John have done; proposed a new theological vision for church with ‘on-the-ground’ examples.
The “slow church way” is a necessary correction in the life of the American church. As someone who loves the bride of Christ and in no way desires to tear her down with criticism, Slow Church eloquently points out glaring weaknesses in the consumer-driven, church-growth model, Western church that views success in quantifiable numbers (butts, budgets, and buildings), which makes church something we consume, rather than being consumed by Christ. But after the critique, Chris and John offer refreshing and life-giving alternatives for the Western church today to be a display community, showing off kingdom values through everyday life.
The framework they build their book on (ethics, ecology, and economy) provides a broad holistic base with which to help the reader re-imagine what the church was meant to be in culture. Jesus’ slow way of life shines through these pages as the reader is invited into the patient way of the kingdom that bears fruit only after the proper season and the proper work has been done. Chris and John speak of sabbath, place, patience, work, reconciliation, sharing, gratitude, hospitality, sharing meals, and sustainability all re-imagined within the story of God.
We need more slow church parishoners and leaders who are committed to being a truly alternative community in the midst of unchecked capitalism, out-of-control consumerism, self-serving individualism, and the growing number of “nones” who do not identify with any religion at all. So here’s to those living in light of the true story of the universe, as ones who know how it all ends, and are co-actors/laborers with Christ, offering a foretaste today of the kingdom to come when the King comes. Chris and John, thanks for creating space for conversation, critique, grace, forgiveness, messiness, responsibility, and much needed correction.