Book Review of Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus

Posted by on Dec 2, 2014 in Voices

Chris Marchard

Chris Marchand is a pastor and the music leader at Epiphany Anglican Mission in Peoria, IL. Chris writes at PostConsumer Reports.

From the book:

Slow Church takes the long view, examining all thought and culture, every ideology and assumption, all action and reaction by the messianic light of the last day. (pg. 24)

And yet, as much as we are formed by Western individualism, and though we have allowed that individualism to shape the way we read Scripture, our calling in Christ is to community, to a life shared with others in a local gathering that is an expression of Christ’s body in our particular place. The people of God become a sort of demonstration plot for what God intends for all humanity and all creation. (pgs. 29-30)

I have some great news. It just so happens there is a new book out that finally gives us all the answers on how to do evangelism and discipleship. It finally gives us the perfect method for getting people in our doors and introducing them to Jesus. It just so happens it is the most difficult model possible, one that makes real the meaning of word longsuffering. In Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus (IVP Books 2014) by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison the new “formula” is simple:

  1. YOU NEED TO SLOW DOWN. Take a deep breath and as you do seek God and ask him to give you eyes that see and ears that hear. Learn how to listen to God and to the people God is placing in your path.
  2. The Church is not a machine and neither is it a fast-food restaurant. The Church is more like a tree and trees can naturally grow to be quite large so long as they are given plenty of time and proper cultivation to do so.
  3. So, if you want God to use you, plant your roots down deep, learn to understand the soil you are growing in, and get ready to work, listen, and converse even as God fills you with the grace to do so.

In this sense, the authors of Slow Church are propagating a formula-less formula. This could immediately cause some skepticism in a potential reader, as it did me before I started reading: Why read a book that doesn’t lay out some definite plan? If it’s just about listening to God and serving people where they’re at can’t we just do that on our own anyway?

Well sure, but to do so would be to miss the point of Slow Church on two points, one negative and one positive:

  1. First, authors Smith and Pattison want church leaders and ministers to take a step back from the very prominent “church growth” movements of the past few decades (made popular through influential leaders like Bill Hybels and Rick Warren) in order to see how the premise of such movements are based more on corporate business models and the idolization of efficiency for the sake of “results” rather than the principles of the Kingdom of Heaven.
  2. Second, Slow Church is more of an extended meditation on an approach to ministry rather than a step by step system to implement into your congregation. Sure, the authors give plenty of examples of projects they are a part of (for example, starting an art collective, working closely with local businesses, and even closing down a food pantry in order to work with those in need on a more personal level), but these are meant to inspire the imaginations of pastors, church planters, and ministry leaders. Slow Church doesn’t prescribe a model of ministry but instead lays out a paradigm through which to begin seeing how’s one’s own life and the life of his or her church community can become the living and active Body of Christ where they live.

Therefore, each point Slow Church makes is worth contemplating in prayer with God and in community with the other Christ followers in our community…and slowly at that

For Smith and Pattison the Church is to be the kind of people who:

  • take time to understand the communities and cultures they find themselves in, living in them over an extended period of time.
  • do not seek quick paths towards “success” in ministry, but instead seek the slow moving, patient path of God’s blessing.
  • take time to be present, patient, and compassionate with those suffering in our midst.
  • take the time to see where people are being mistreated in our community and world.
  • take time to live simply so we have more to give to others and be better stewards of God’s creation.
  • take the life and teachings of Jesus seriously, even when to do so makes us uncomfortable and strange to our culture.

So, let’s take a few steps back, read Slow Church at our leisure, converse on the excellent discussion questions provided at the end of each chapter, and allow God to do some amazing work in our communities and congregations.

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