As I shared before on here, a couple of months ago, I received a review copy of a new release from IVP. The book is Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, co-authored by Christopher Smith and John Pattison.
I can truly say that this is one of the better books I’ve read in my 17+ years as a Christian, for it captures a lot of what I see the church called to in the present-day.
What is that call? Let’s explore through the lens of Slow Church.
The idea of “slow church” taken up by Smith and Pattison was spawned off of the “slow food” movement launched in late 1989. It all centered around the protestation of a McDonald’s opening in Rome. During the demonstration, the crowd chanted: “We don’t want fast food! We want slow food!”
And, so, the authors of this book are calling us to “slow church,” that is, away from the McDonaldization and industrialization of the church that swept in like a tidal wave over the last half of the 20th century. The subtitle – Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus – lays out the thrust of their thesis. Community cannot ultimately be established in a few, short, microwavable steps. It takes time – time to put our roots down, time to know each other authentically and well, time to impact a neighborhood, time to do just about everything.
As the authors report, sociologist, George Ritzer, identified four dimensions of McDonaldization: “efficiency, predictability, calculability (quantifiable results) and control – or at least the illusion of control” (p14-15). While these characteristics might be considered proper within a free-market business model (though I might personally challenge some of these if and as they become destructive to human beings and all of creation), they will accomplish little in the long-term of God’s plan amongst God’s people in God’s earth. You cannot franchise the kingdom of God, nor the expression of his kingdom within the local church.
In contrast, Smith and Pattison reimagine the principles of the slow food movement through three categories: ethics, ecology and economy.
“By ethics we mean an allegiance to quality as opposed to quantity or efficiency. The ethics of Slow Church is the challenge to be, faithfully and well, the embodiment of Christ in a particular place. By ecology we mean that our call to follow Christ must be understood within God’s mission of the reconciliation of all things. This compels us to pay more attention to not only what we are pursuing as churches, but how we do so. Economy refers to God’s abundant provision for God’s reconciling work.” (p16)
As a result of their thesis, the authors flesh out these three categories of slow church as follows:
- Ethics: terroir (or actual place), stability and patience
- Ecology: wholeness, work and sabbath
- Economy: abundance, gratitude and hospitality
A final chapter in the book shares how we, the church, the local church, can have dinner table conversations as a way of being church. Have we ever noticed how important food is in Scripture?
And that’s been my own premise as of late: families don’t usually stare at the back of each other’s heads for an hour and a half. Of course, there is a time for gathered instruction, which we might accomplish in our Sunday gatherings. But even that whole time should be spent in better ways of engaging with God together and with one another together. As Larry Crabb notes in his book, Becoming a True Spiritual Community, we need to turn our chairs towards one another in conversation to build actual community, actual togetherness.
I love the book’s proposal of slow church. I think God is in to slow, patient building – think of the long-haul perspective for revealing his Son and Messiah, Jesus; think of the patient unfolding of Scripture over centuries and centuries; think of the longest wait we’ve encountered as God’s people, that being the final summing up of all things at the coming of Jesus.
God loves to take his good time. Perhaps we should take up the ways of our Father as well.
Would I recommend this book? Well, noting I’ve said it’s one of the top books I’ve read in my Christian life, then, yes, of course, I would recommend it. To all – pastors, theologians and lay-folk. To all – Evangelicals, Protestant mainlines, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics. Matter of fact, I think it will now be a main text of the Missiology class I teach in the spring. It’s well worth your time and investment.