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Book Review: Slow Church

June 12, 2014

SlowChurch

 

A few weeks ago I came across a product that highlighted for me the instant, need-for-speed reality of our consumeristic culture in the United States. The sole purpose of this product was to cook ramen noodles faster and easier. It was designed specifically to cut down all the waiting: for the water to boil, the noodles to cook, etc. According to the ad, having to wait fifteen minutes for a meal to be ready is just too long for busy people to endure.

Apparently, we have reached the point where cooking ramen noodles takes too long.

“Slow” is a challenge. “Slow” probably qualifies as a four-letter word in the suburban context that I inhabit. We like convenient, pre-packaged, easier, bigger, and especially faster!  Churches and ministries often talk about gaining “momentum,” and it is usually in the context of gaining speed. However, over time this need for speed can create tension in both personal and congregational life. For this reason I have been looking forward to Chris Smith’s and John Pattison’s new book, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus.

Smith and Pattison present the case for a slower, more patient, more intentional life in community as followers of Jesus.

At the heart of our vision of Slow Church is a theology deeply rooted in the importance of the people of God to God’s mission in the world and in the rich joy of shalom that comes to all creation as we grow and flourish in the places to which we have been called. (33)

This vision is an incarnational one which invites us into the practice of “cultivating together the resurrection life of Christ, by deeply and selflessly loving our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and even our enemies” (32). This kind of life is messy, it is not easy and it is not  fast. But it can help us move more in sync with God’s mission in the world.

The authors highlight a number of values and practices that are a part of the Slow Church vision, such as place, stability, patience, wholeness, work, sabbath, abundance, gratitude, hospitality, conversation, and meals. Speed can cause us to neglect or be deficient in these practices, so Slow Church invites us to slow down and engage (or reengage) with these important practices and elements of life and faith.

As a pastor of a small local congregation I found the book to be a great encouragement and source of theological reflection. Smith and Pattison included a chapter on “Dinner Table Conversation as a Way of Being Church,” which I really appreciated as I’ve written about similar topics and regularly experiment with this kind of practice with our congregation. Slow Church is an enjoyable read and also includes discussion questions at the end of the chapters. The questions enhance each chapter making the book a great resource for reflection in congregations and church leadership teams. I’m excited to use this book as a tool for equipping us as a congregation in these rhythms.

In a fast-paced culture, “slow” can be a challenge. But it is a challenge we would do well to accept. And Slow Church is certainly a valuable contribution for the spiritual formation of the church today.

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