April 24, 2014

A Conference I Recommend: Slow Church

slow church book

UPDATE: A great place to start getting to know more about Chris and his church is with his book, The Virtue of Dialogue: Conversation as a Hopeful Practice of Church Communities. It describes how his inner-city congregation made conversation among themselves and with their neighbors a primary practice in the church. It’s available as a Kindle book for only $2.99 at the link above.

Note from CM: My friend Chris Smith is a bright young thinker here in Indianapolis who believes the church must slow down and become more personal and less programmatic in order to truly share the life Jesus has for us. He asked me to help promote a conference that’s coming up in the spring, so I’m happy to have him tell you about it today.

Chris blogs at Slow Church. He also oversees the fine Englewood Review of Books, a weekly review of good books you won’t find in your local Christian bookstore.

In addition to promoting this conference, I’d like for us to discuss the whole idea of “Slow Church” today. Keep reading after the conference information, where you will find some additional thoughts to consider and talk about.

* * *

As co-author of Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, I am excited to invite you all to a conversational event on Slow Church that my co-author John Pattison and I will be curating on April 3-5.

The aim of this event is to introduce participants to Slow Church, through lectures by theologians whose work has given shape to Slow Church and by creating ample spaces in which participants can engage in conversation with the speakers and with one another around the themes of the lectures.

Slow Food and the other Slow movements hold important wisdom for our churches. They compel us to ask ourselves tough questions about the ground our faith communities have ceded to the cult of speed. And they invite all of us—clergy, theologians and laypeople—to start exploring and experimenting with the possibilities of Slow Church. Not as another church growth strategy, but as a way of re-visioning what it means to be communities of believers gathered and rooted in particular places at a particular time.  Just as Slow Food offers a pointed critique of industrialized food cultures and agricultures, Slow Church can help us unmask and repent of our industrialized and McDonaldized approaches to church. It can also spur our imaginations with a rich vision of the holistic, interconnected and abundant life together to which God has called us in Christ Jesus.

We hope that you can join us for this important conversation with some of the theologians whose work has given shape to Slow Church!

SLOW CHURCH CONFERENCE – INDIANAPOLIS 
April 3-5, 2014

Englewood Christian Church / 57 N Rural Street

More Details and Registration: http://slowchurchconference.com/

Keynote Speakers:
Willie James Jennings (Duke Divinity)
Christine Pohl (Asbury Seminary)
David Fitch (Northern Seminary)
Phil Kenneson (Milligan College)
Carol Johnston (Christian Theological Seminary)

When: April 3-5, 2014 (Thursday evening through Saturday lunch)

Where: Englewood Christian Church/Indianapolis

Cost:  $99 (Earlybird, through Feb 7)  / $149 (Feb 8 and later)

Starting Feb 8, students can register for the special Student Rate of $99
(using the promotional code: STUDENT2014)

        This price includes 6 locally-sourced meals during the conference

Praise for the Slow Church book:

This thoughtful, discerning book advocates “slow” in faith and in life. This advocacy is a recognition that faith is a practice of relational fidelity that cannot be reduced to contractual or commodity transaction.

The authors ponder and reflect on this summons with both pastoral sensitivity and missional passion. Readers eager for an evangelically paced life will pay close attention to this advocacy.

- Walter Brueggemann

The only way the church can be the church as God wants it is when the people of the church slow down enough to become the church. Good themes, excellent quotations, telling stories, and solid research mark what is one of the freshest alternatives to church-life-as-it-is-today. Buy this, but don’t read it fast. Read it slow.

- Scot McKnight

Chris and John have done a fantastic job of envisioning a wholesomely sustainable, spiritually alluring, and thoroughly kingdom-centric church that is simply fulfilling its purpose of witnessing to Jesus in the rhythms of God’s grace.  I just have to join in!  An inspiring read.

- Alan Hirsch

* * *

Chris Smith wrote a post for us last summer called “A Joyful and Vibrant Life: Cultivating Community as Slow Churches.” I encourage you to go back and read that post again today, and then let’s talk about its ideas.

Here’s an important quote from it:

883599_10151535749623919_804742565_oWhen we start to think about cultivating community in our churches, one of the first steps is coming to realize the ways in which our theology has been hijacked by the ideologies of the modern age (particularly individualism and consumerism). Essential to the vision of Slow Church is that the people of God are at the heart of God’s mission for reconciling creation. We have therefore intentionally chosen the language of Slow Church, as opposed to Slow Christianity, Slow Faith, or similar label. Part of the slowness of our calling is that we are called into the life and community of God’s people. We are so accustomed in Western culture to living and acting as autonomous individuals, that the idea of being God’s people in the world, as Israel was the people of God in the age of the Old Testament, can be a foreign one for us. Being God’s people is messy at best. We are broken human beings with fears, prejudices, addictions, and habits that are harmful to ourselves and others. It can seem more practical and convenient to keep to ourselves and minimize the risk that we’ll get entangled in the lives of others. 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.

Comments

  1. ” …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.”

    Nice.

    We do that every Sunday when we gather together with other sinners to hear the Word, and receive the sacrament.

    Been doing it that way for a long, long time.

  2. Hmm…in other words, if your program isn’t working, try mine. (Sorry…in a cynical state of mind after the last post.)

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > in other words, if your program

      It is easier to be charitable if you read this in the Evangelical vernacular. “programs” is just thier goto intellectual model, it is a natural outgrowth of a scheduled commuter-oriented small-commons life-style [here at 8, there at 10, then lunch, then ...]. That is just how things work. So it makes sense that change would start there – change always has to start IN the existing model.

      I’m skeptical; but if all I can do negatively is needle HOW the guys says it… It appears I pretty much agree with WHAT he says [if I choose to ignore the HOW]. Albiet that is hard as just the term “Slow Church” rubs me… what a dumb name, even that smacks of marketing-think. Argh! Be positive, be positive… :)

  3. Sounds like re-inventing the wheel (at least the evangelical one). “Slow” and communal are what CathOdoxy has been for 2000 years….”The Body of Christ, The Communion of Saints, and the Pilgrim Church on Earth”.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      +1 Of course, there is nothing wrong with reinvention if by that we mean the resurrection of sound ideas from the rubble of fads. But I don’t think this will work; this will burn out like the purpose driven life I do not know how you change cultures, but I am certain it is not via conferences. The greatest hope is that evangelicalism and its bedrock of suburbia is graying [along with many sections of America] – with that may come real self-reflection – it may be self-reflection driven by necessity, but it is self-reflection none the less. The graying changes the leadership not only by its being older, but by opening gaps into which much younger leadership can rise.

      >> We are so accustomed in Western culture to living and acting as autonomous

      “We” being wealthy and mostly white “Western culture”. Eh… I’ll refrain going on about how amazingly exclusive this rhetoric is [that it does not reliably describe huge populations of people living under the umbrella of "Western culture"]. It would be very nice – and a step towards community – if these people would describe themselves appropriately.

      >> We are broken human beings with fears, prejudices, addictions, and habits
      >> that are harmful to ourselves and others.

      Yes.

      >> It can seem more practical and convenient to keep to ourselves and minimize
      >> the risk that we’ll get entangled in the lives of others

      The upside is that while less “practical” [from their cultural vantage point, a whole lot of other people would disagree], a community is certainly more fun. The hermit can never have a party.

      • The graying changes the leadership not only by its being older, but by opening gaps into which much younger leadership can rise.

        I don’t see any grey in that wonderful beard of his. Maybe Chris is exactly the kind of leader you are talking about. If this conference was happening anywhere near KC, I’d find the $$ and go. SLOW church sounds like a great direction to me.

    • Mule Chewing Briars says:

      I was going to say. We Orthodox who are interested in church planting would benefit from attending a conference such as this.

      We have the “slow” part down pat, but we’ve still to get the “church” part completely right after 2000 years.

  4. Christiane Smith says:

    ‘OFTEN IT IS BETTER SIMPLY TO SLOW DOWN . . .

    “A Church which “goes forth” is a Church whose doors are open. Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way.”

    (Pope Francis)

    I found this quote over at Patheos

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > … rushing out aimlessly into the world …

      “rushing out aimlessly”, what a perfect word picture.

    • there’s that darned LISTENING thingie again…. that Francis man is SO annoying (to my polished sense of self-absorbtion..)

  5. “What do you do when you come to a red light…?”

  6. ‘Yellow light’…sorry.

  7. Yes, but what would it look like if combined “Slow Church” with the First and Ten Church”?

  8. I am not happy with the way the discussion is going on this post. I have invited a friend to share an important concept — a concept, by the way, which involves holding respectful conversations with one another in the church — and many of you are not taking it seriously. You’re actually behaving rather rudely.

    Man, I hate to scold. But the discussions the past couple of days have really degenerated.

    Y’all are better than that.

    • You are right that the discussion is not going as you intended. But in defense of some of the comments made, church folk, especially Evangelicals, are a bit weary of new ideas which have come on–and gone from–the scene since the Jesus Movement of the late sixties.

      Having said that… I am in favor of the idea of “Slow Church” if for no other reason than that the opposite (“Fast Church”?) “New & Improved Church”?) has not yielded good results (to out it mildly). The book is not out yet, and I am unable to attend the conference. I will hold further opinion until I have more information. But it does sound hopeful!

      • All I can say is–get to know Chris Smith better. This has nothing to do with “a new and better way.” It’s about sharing a common life in Christ.

        • My friend Phil Kenneson imagines trying to explain Slow Food to his now-deceased parents who were farmers, and he suspects that they would respond: “Why that’s nothing but plain ol’ food!” I think something similar could be said about Slow Church being “Plain Ol’ Church” — i.e., taking our calling to be communities of God’s people seriously. Let’s strip away all the programming and marketing, and simply learn to BE together and to care deeply for one another… That’s the spirit driving Slow Church

          ~Chris

  9. David Cornwell says:

    As a former pastor, the term “slow church” has great appeal to me. Too many pastors are in a continuous rushing to and fro, multitasking, thinking about growth, and meeting budgets. And more. Some of the things that are of real and lasting importance, such as prayer, study, rest, reflection, and pastoral care are pushed aside to wait just a little longer. Pastors end up with health conditions, depression, and burnout.

    When I retired my stated goal was to live more slowly. Eventually I moved to a rural area, on a sparsely populated road, and literally slowed down. I refuse to even walk across the parking lot at a fast gait. I eat too slowly to suit my wife. This winter the snow and cold have forced me to slow down even more.

    So to me “slow church” is much more than a marketing term. It means re-introducing Christian sabbath into our way of living.

    David Fitch, one of the speakers, wrote a book several years ago entitled “The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church…”. The thesis of the book s “that evangelicals have ‘given away” being the church in North America.” This book has easily withstood the test of time, and the thesis if anything has been re-enforced.

    Christine Pohl, from Asbury, I know from reputation. She is concerned with subjects such the recovery of hospitality.

    The conference probably will not help add to a church’s attendance. At least not over the short term. However it might just assist one to achieve a more complete level of “wholeness” and maybe even holiness.

    • David… well said! Thank You…

      Sabbath is indeed one of the practices that we emphasize in the book…

    • I often quip that the only people not resting on Sundays are the Christians…

    • I’m not actually making a reply to what David C wrote–his is insight worth noting–rather, I want to add something which speaks out of my experience of the past 7 yrs. or so.

      Chris wrote above;

      I think something similar could be said about Slow Church being “Plain Ol’ Church” — i.e., taking our calling to be communities of God’s people seriously. Let’s strip away all the programming and marketing, and simply learn to BE together and to care deeply for one another… That’s the spirit driving Slow Church

      The basic problem as I see it relative to our Evangelical Religious Business Clubs IS precisely that “the kingdoms of this world” have coopted the Kingdom of God and so few of us recognize that reality or have any clue as to how to step out of it. One of the first necessary steps is, imo, to choose to step out of the busy-ness which has been called “community” and then to take notice of each other with no agenda other than to listen to and know each other. The single most necessary element of activity to living life together is simply to stop, look, listen to/at one another and to say, “I see you and I’m willing to take the time to know you to the degree you will allow me.” EVERYTHING the ERBC’s do militates against “seeing” each other. The “American Dream” does the same thing by it’s emphasis upon the Individual.

      About 7 years ago my wife and I and a close friend of ours who had been with us at the previous “church left behind” had been doing a lot of reading and praying and talking about what it means, in our best understanding, to “be church”. We three came to the conclusion that the best format to provide the necessary environment to “see” each other and to genuinely share life together would probably be in something called “house church” or “organic church” or “relational simple church”.

      In the first several years the group grew to about 15 adults and their children. People craved the simplicity and the absence of pressure to “perform”. This lasted about 6 1/2 years. We did become positively involved in each others lives. We loved and sacrificed for each other.

      However, several problems ultimately busted us apart.

      1. Individualism ingrained into our psyche is extremely insidious. That individualism is often transferred into a religious motif which I’d call a family-olatry driven by patriarchy. IOW, because of the Fundagelical background of some an OT perspective that each husband/father was to act as the monarch of his own family. Ultimately, the nuclear family becomes the end-all-be-all. Unfortunately, the house church setting is an inadvertent growth medium for that heresy.

      2. Despite it all we never really learned to take the time to put away personal religious agendas (the need for “Bible study”, sermonizing, glorying in personal experiences, listening to each other without feeling the need to “fix”, etc. It became impossible to be vulnerable with each other.

      So, it is possible to provide the most appropriately understood environment for the possibility of developing community and yet fail to actually achieve the desired results over time.

      I don’t underestimate the difficulty of being “slow church”. To our acculturated Americanized hearts it is excruciatingly tedious, relationally bloody, and to our “normal” thinking — POINTLESS.

      And, as David has implied, we are forced in the “activity” of Sabbath (which essentially means “rest”) to look deeply into our Self and then to come to terms with the egoic reality within. Then that will force us–if we tolerate the pain for long enough–to enter into something of the contemplative mystery which has always been and will always be at the center of Faith.

      Chris Smith, do you identify with anything I’ve written here?

      Tom

  10. Jesse Reese says:

    In the hopes of saying this more constructively, I think something this author needs to be cautious about is the potential that the language “Slow Church” could become another brand rather than simply a way to spread an idea, to give it a hearing at the ecclesiastical table. I believe that the latter is his intent, but the former is the potential. The way to implement an idea like this is not to hold a book study and bring a set of proposals to a congregation for how to spread and implement the ideas of this book at every level of the church’s operation (“program”). That is the danger inherent in using this kind of approach – a marketing-savvy approach – to spreading an idea.

    • If you read the article I linked, Chris’s post, his blog and other things he’s written, you will see that hype and marketing play no part in his approach. In fact, this has grown organically out of the experience of his own congregation over the course of many years.

      I would hope those reading this blog would assume nothing less. We’re about as anti-”branding” as I could imagine.

      • Good rebuttal. I just hope you can see how some of us might view “Slow Church” as a branding, whether or not it actually is.

        • I can see it. I guess I’d just expected: (1) that more people might go back and read the post we ran last summer that gives a fuller description, and (2) that people would give IM the benefit of the doubt that we’re not promoting something faddish.

          • You expected that from a place full of damaged believers, skeptics and cynics??? ;)

            I apologize for letting my cynicism get in the way of considering the idea of “slow church” more fully. It’s just that the promotion of a “Slow Church” conference and book struck me as typical of evangelical “here’s how to do church better” programs that tend to get slammed here at iMonk.

          • You expected that from a place full of damaged believers, skeptics and cynics??? ;)

            Healthy skepticism (“skopos”, to look closely) is appropriate.

            However, one endemic problem is that either we expect others to fix our damage and if they don’t we become resentful–which kills relationships. The other problem is that we too easily become comfortable with our “damage” and resist dealing with it.

      • Jesse Reese says:

        My intent was not to dismiss this book or conference as just hype, but it is certainly “market-savvy” – which is not necessarily a bad thing. The shorthand “Slow Church,” the cover of the book, and the general aesthetic on display here clearly appeal to millennial sensibilities, and, I want to reiterate, marketing is NOT necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that, in an evangelical culture over-saturated with such well-marketed material intent on putting the church through the ringer of yet another “program” designed to “fix” it, this book/concept could easily be MISTAKEN for “branding” by (a) those who want to use it for such a purpose or (b) those who are quickly cynical of such approaches.

        And I did indeed go back and read the article, before my first comment. From what I remember, the only thing I felt uncomfortable about was the potential for a “demonization” of the mobility which is a simple fact and necessity of life for many millennials pursuing their desired careers or life paths in an increasingly globalizing world. This is not a final judgment, but a hope that this kind of approach would still leave room for hospitality and appreciation for those who travel for educational or vocational purposes and wish to connect and contribute to a community in the potentially short time they may have there.

        The intent of these comments is not to dismiss, but to fruitfully dialogue about the details of the concept introduced in this post. It is important, should we actually desire to see something like “Slow Church” become a vision for lasting change in church communities, that we not allow it to be adopted as a “program” that will disappear when the “next big thing” comes along. That would defeat the purpose.

        • Jesse Reese wrote;

          the only thing I felt uncomfortable about was the potential for a “demonization” of the mobility which is a simple fact and necessity of life for many millennials pursuing their desired careers or life paths in an increasingly globalizing world. This is not a final judgment, but a hope that this kind of approach would still leave room for hospitality and appreciation for those who travel for educational or vocational purposes and wish to connect and contribute to a community in the potentially short time they may have there.

          IMO a little identification of “demons” needs to be done for the millennials–and all of us actually.

          We need to rethink the actual cost of pursuing desired careers or life pathways. We certainly do naturally evaluate those choices, but too much from the “normal” cultural perspectives of “value”. If we start early in life with the understanding that the missio deo is in reality God reconciling the WORLD to himself, then a natural recognition should be that what’s most important are relationships, which often are only achieved at the expense of careers and/or pathways.

          Globalization is a reality, but it ain’t God to us or for us. Globalization is one of those big “principalities and powers” of this present age and that is what we “battle” against.

          One of my son-in-laws bought into bought into the zeitgeist of the age, moved our daughter to Berkley, spent $30000 to get masters to add to his chem. engineering degree, went to work for a hip startup and one year into the job hates what was initially his “dream job”, feels trapped in their present situation, yet doesn’t yet have the understanding that he may actually have to accept a job in his field which is at a lower rung of the ladder.

          When will we stop repeating the cultural mantra that “you can be anything you want” without adding, “and it’s going to cost you more than you imagine”?

          • Jesse Reese says:

            Thank you for exemplifying my point. Now I’ll go on trying to find something other than a crappy job at Lowe’s without further education in the crappy economy handed to my generation.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > The way to implement an idea like this is not to hold a book study and bring a set
      > of proposals to a congregation for how to spread and implement the ideas of this
      > book at every level of the church’s operation

      So that is not the way.

      So what is the way to *implement* an idea like this?

      i will admit to being scandalously skeptical, and in agreement with your this-is-not. It seems this approach has been tried with so many ideas.

      But I do not know the answer to the question I ask – how does one bring these type of principles and concepts to bear via an organization like a church? It is one thing if one is in a tradition where these ideas are not all that novel, but in a system and culture where they are novel…

      – Of course: they might discuss that, concretely, at the confernce -

      There is not a shortage of brilliant people and really good ideas. Nothing seems to be able to get traction and keep it.

  11. Chris, are the Amish in any way related to what you have in mind? They are certainly slowed down, intentionally, and purposely separated to a large extent from all the distractions of modern society.

    • Yes, and no… I do have Amish in my blood, a few generations back… And there are certainly things that churches can learn from the Amish about Slow Church (about being attentive to community, land, animals, etc), but the biggest problem is the sectarianism. One of the key theological convictions that my co-author and I were working from was that God is reconciling all things, and that flies in the face of an adamant sectarianism. I highly recommend Phil Kenneson’s book BEYOND SECTARIANISM in the Christian Mission and Modern Culture series…

      ~Chris

  12. David Cornwell says:

    Spend some time at the Slow Church website and the blog over a period of time. Go to the Englewood Review of Books and read some of the reviews. This has nothing to do with buying into a new marketing scheme. In fact it probably has everything to do with just the opposite. I’ve followed it now for some months and to me it has great appeal. It also seems to attract pastors, teachers, and laypersons from across a spectrum of theology or non-theology.

    And I hope by saying this I’m not scaring anyone away! Because there is much more to it than my opinion or analysis.

  13. This is good good good GOOD. I think of CM’s post “Pliny vs. Paul”. God has declared His Kingdom is here, nNOW….. a Kingdom that united slaves with their owners. Therefore, its good for us to slow down and realize the Community we have, a Community that bridges conservatives and liberals, Reformed and Orthodox, homeless and upper class, Americans and the world. Its good to slow down and realize our Community under the Lordship of Jesus.

  14. For some of us, no matter how well intended, the presentation looks like marketing. I will look past that and say I am in agreement that we need to get away from the individualism and the running of Church as a business and focus on what is important.

    I think some of the best models are the cultural Catholic and EO churches (those supporting new immagrant populations who have not yet been affected by American Individualism). In these churches, the Church is still the center of life, a part of life and part of the community. It is not something forcing itself on the community, just a natural part, like breathing. I am not sure how we in America emulate this. In my neck of the woods (Catholicism) we get whispers of this from those who “get it” but there are so many more just going through the motions. I expect it is the same in EO for churches that have been established for a while.

    I like an authentic church where folks aren’t wearing a mask (I don’t see the masks in mainline denoms). The idea of slowing down seems to fit into what the christian mystics were writing about, as individualism in its purest form can lead to narcicism and speed has a way of busy-ing us to a point of never getting deeper than the shallow end of the pool.