October 24, 2017

Slow Church Week 1: The Convivial Church

Family-at-Dinner

SLOW CHURCH WEEK 1
The Convivial Church

Before this strange disease of modern life,
With its sick hurry, its divided aims,
Its heads o’ertax’d, its palsied hearts…

– Matthew Arnold

* * *

In their revelatory new book, Slow Church, Chris Smith and John Pattison reflect upon the following important words from the beginning of the Slow Food Manifesto (1989): “Our century, which began and has developed under the insignia of industrial civilization, first invented the machine and then took it as its life model” (p. 12).

As a result, the document’s authors say, today’s societies have succumbed to an “insidious virus” — Fast Life.

Churches are not immune to Fast Life; in fact, particular types of church such as the megachurch seem to have mastered the form. Churches deemed “successful” today are buzzing beehives of action, 24/7 centers of perpetual motion, with programs for every age and interest, keeping individuals and families on the move as their spiritual leaders continually try to think up new offerings. After all, they are competing with a culture that is constantly trying to get our attention so that we will partake of their goods and services.

A wise friend once told pastor and author John Ortberg that the one and only thing he must concentrate on to be more spiritually healthy was: “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Reflecting on this, Ortberg says,

I’ve concluded that my life and the well-being of the people I serve depends on following his prescription, for hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry destroys souls. As Carl Jung wrote, “Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil.”

For most of us, the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.

– John Ortberg
Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry

Slow Church calls us to form congregations that will not skim life.

It calls Christians to the kind of faith community described in the early chapters of the Book of Acts: They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers” (Acts 2:42, MSG). Note especially how Peterson renders the Greek term koinonia in The Message: “the life together.” It is a common life, not simply participation in common activities or programs. And the activities that are shared together are slow activities: soaking up apostolic teaching together, sharing common meals, and participating in regular community worship (the phrase “the prayers” reflects the daily services in the Jerusalem Temple).

mc4In contrast, the “Fast Life” church emphasizes the principles of “McDonaldization” identified by sociologist George Ritzer:

  • Efficiency
  • Predictability
  • Calculability (quantifiable results)
  • Control

Christianity becomes a commodity. The church becomes a dispenser of goods and services. As the authors say, the “Christian life” then revolves around two poles: (1) the Sunday morning “experience,” which is produced, controlled, and dispensed by the professionals and church leaders, and (2) one’s “personal relationship with Jesus,” which can be managed by each individual. It perfectly mirrors the consumer experience in a technological culture.

Smith and Pattison note that commodified Christianity is characterized by “plug-and-play ministries, target marketing, celebrity pastors, tightly-scripted worship performances, corporate branding, the substitution of nonhuman technology for human work, church growth formulas that can be applied without deference to local context, and programs upon programs upon programs — these entice us with promises of miraculous results in just a few easy steps” (p. 15).

In contrast, they invite us “to start exploring and experimenting with the possibilities of Slow Church. Not as another growth strategy, but as a way of reimagining what it means to be communities of believers gathered and rooted in particular places at a particular time” (p. 15). They encourage us to embrace conviviality and to make the table and conversation and sharing life together the essence of congregational life.

The book does that by offering us a three-course meal based on the principles that characterize a “slow” movement:

  • The ethics of slow church: an allegiance to quality rather than quantity or efficiency.
  • The ecology of slow church: understanding that our call to follow Christ is within God’s mission of the reconciliation of all things — that how we do things is as important as what we do.
  • The economy of slow church: relying upon God’s abundant provision for God’s reconciling work.

This week, we will be exploring these themes here on Internet Monk.

I am heartened to know that this subject is not theoretical to Chris and John. John lives in western Oregon in a rural community where he and his family attend an evangelical Quaker meeting. There, they seek to practice community life in their small town as well as in their church, hoping to preserve its character and history. Chris is a city-dweller who lives in downtown Indianapolis. His congregation is 118 years old and the neighborhood in which it exists has a rich history. Like many urban communities, however, the place has changed over the years and Chris calls it “a gritty, urban neighborhood.” For the last 25 years, the congregation has worked hard to be “fully present” to its neighbors, and Chris has written about this in another book, The Virtue of Dialogue: Conversation as a Hopeful Practice of Church Communities.

It is my opinion that Slow Church may well be one of the most important books on the church in our generation. It does for congregational life as a whole what Eugene Peterson did when writing about pastoral ministry and what Robert Webber did on the subject of worship. None of these folks who love the church is trying to be innovative or faddish, suggesting something that is “new and improved” with regard to our life with Christ. Instead, they commend simple wisdom that is tried and true and tied to living as full and redeemed human beings in community with others for the life of the world.

* * *

Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus
C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison
IVP Books (May 6, 2014)

Full disclosure: CM received this book as a complimentary copy.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. In 1971 “The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention” began using the name LifeWay. Today, all SBC Sunday School, Bible study and VBS materials are marketed by LifeWay Christian Resources. We are getting ready for VBS in a few weeks and let’s be perfectly clear about one thing: the purpose of LifeWay is to sell you stuff. Materials are packaged in “selling units” and they don’t come cheap. If you don’t like the prices at Target you can just go to Walmart. If don’t like the service at Walmart try Costco. But SBC churches are committed to LifeWay like North Korea to the Communist Party. In one particular church which I will not name, we ordered our VBS materials from Group Publishing and got all of the silly little “stuff” we could from Oriental Trading Company. Other SBC churches would turn you out for something like that.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Nice mini rant. Not sure how it relates to the “Slow Church” concept, though. Can you help with the connection?

      • matt harding says:

        Hey Rick,

        I think that although Clark’s post might seem to be out on the edge, he is drawing attention to the commodification of the Christian life — a life which is no longer concerned with thoughtfully considering what the message of Christ might be to those in our care, but is instead drawn to the pre-packaged deal. I suppose that lack of contemplative distance would tie right into Smith and Pattison’s idea of ethics (and maybe to a lesser degree, the economy of God) within the Christian community–at least as noted by IM. I would not come out and state that anyone using pre-packaged materials to teach VBS or whatever is irresponsible, or cogently complicit with these marketing strategies that tout efficiency and structure; however, I would argue that resisting the call of the pre-packaged life is the first step to acquiring the kind of psychological and spiritual distance that is necessary to begin critiquing the effects that modernity has had on our thinking and our relationships. I would also think that the kind of authority structures that require lockstep thinking and practice are not at all beneficial to relational models of living.

      • Really???

  2. When I moved from Cleveland, OH to a small rural town a few hours away, one of hardest things for me was adjusting to the slower pace out here. When people stop to chat it isn’t a few words and then dash off to whatever they were doing before, it’s a whole conversation. Relationships and networks built over decades, not days. It’s been five years since I moved and I’m only just beginning to recognize this and see the value in it. Guess I’m slow in my own way, too.

  3. dumb ox says:

    Small churches succumb to industrial disease as much as mega-churches. Small churches can plan meetings every night of the week, but are small enough to know when anyone isn’t attending everything. It’s tyranny of the urgent in a fish bowl.

    • You are right, of course. But this is not necessarily about small church. It’s more about being rooted in a place and being committed to practices that are personal and conversational.

  4. I stayed and worked at a Cistercian abbey for a month about twenty five years ago. One of the monks who saw me scurrying to do something said to me, “Haste is an act of violence and a monk is a man of peace.” I don’t know if he was quoting someone or said it somewhat off the cuff but I’ve never forgotten it. Actually living it, not so much unfortunately.

    • Christiane says:

      ‘“Haste is an act of violence and a monk is a man of peace.” ‘
      I love this.

      My own father, a man who had one time held three jobs (seven days a week), while tending an organic garden, and cooking hot breakfasts for us, used to say:
      “slow down, you will get there faster”
      . . . Pop was a calm person, focused and thoughtful. I think he was something of a contemplative, in that he tried to get us to appreciate the beauty in gardening . . . even on his most active days, he carried his calm within him and I recall that our German neighbor said Pop possessed ‘gemutlichheit’ which translates to pleasantness and a calm presence.

      So what was his secret to remaining this way in a life that would have crushed many with its obligations and hours and demands? I think he was at peace with God and with himself, and that he was a humble, yet dignified and reserved person, much like his Canadian parents, my memere and pepere. Something solid there, which the modern world could use, if it could be understood and experienced.

      I think Pop looked at time differently. And lived accordingly. His generation may have all done that . . . ‘keep calm and carry on’ . . .

      From another era, our human consciousness of ‘time’ is placed appropriately within the vast context of eternity,
      this from the 1600’s England:

      ‘I saw Eternity the other night,
      Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
      All calm, as it was bright;
      And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
      Driv’n by the spheres
      Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world
      And all her train were hurl’d. . . . ‘

      (Henry Vaughan)

      • Your Dad sounds like a fabulous person. Your reference to eternity brings to mind the quite obvious fact that there is no haste in the eternal as there is no measuring the passage of time. You must run past something to be in a hurry. Eternity is always now. Hence living in haste is just another small way in which we are, for all practical purposes, out of touch with our deepest, truest selves who are existent out of time, “seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” ‘Seated’ is the state we are in. Sounds like Sabbath. Sounds like Martha’s sister Mary. Sounds like “the Lord was not in the wind…the Lord was not in the earthquake….the Lord was not in the fire.” Sounds like peace.

      • David Cornwell says:

        Your father reminds me in many ways of my father-in-law. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve learned to appreciate him more the older I get. When I was a young man, there was much had still had to learn. But he was a calm, serene man, who had the life of Christ within him.

        • While I generally agree with the “slow church” concept, the idea that hurry or haste is somehow violent or harmful doesn’t seem quite right for me. In this day and age we tend to error on the side of haste, definitely, but I don’t think it’s helpful to treat hurry as a bad thing. Love for one’s neighbor requires as much; if one is going to the store and meet a friend on the street it is probably loving and community-oriented to engage in conversation with him. But if his reason for going to the store is that his wife has forgotten to buy hamburger for the family reunion and needs it ASAP so that she can get dinner done on time, it is probably more loving for him to hurry up and get on his way. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”

  5. Rick Ro. says:

    I think when this “Slow Church” concept was first mentioned here, I didn’t necessarily buy into it (as I recall, it felt like another “program”, or just one more different attempt at “doing church”). This article’s glimpse at the concept makes a lot more sense to me.

    One thing that struck me is how the word “slow” has a sort of negative connotation in our Western societies and cultures. A person is a “slow learner.” An athlete is “too slow” to be draft-able. Success in our society is usually equated with speed: first to the market, first across the finish line. Thus, “Slow Church” is counter-cultural, which may make it difficult for a leader to “sell” to his/her congregation or leadership and difficult to implement. That said, I now see how “Slow Church” is probably a good thing and maybe even a God-thing.

  6. David Cornwell says:

    In the Introduction section of Slow Church the “Futurist Manifesto” is referred to as a counterpoint for the idea of Slow Church. The Manifesto was the product of Filippo Tommaso Marientti who at age thirty-two had it published in “Le Figaro” in 1909. While over time the influence of Marientti’s Futurism faded, the core ideas seemed to have formed a lodging in psyche of the 20th century that we continue to see in everything we do today.

    I’ll admit that saying this may be giving the movement too much power, because many other influences were also in play during the entire century, and it will take future historians to figure it all out.

    I read the “New York Review of Books” when they lower the subscription price way down to my level, which they tend to do if I wait long enough. In this issue they reviewed an exhibition at the Guggenheim in NYC dedicated to Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe” by Jonathan Galassi.

    I want to highlight several of the ideas that this review points out about Futurism, because they, to me, become part of the “lie” that we have purchased into in our cultures, and the paganism that is at heart. And thus become the opposites of the idea of what Slow Church is all about.

    “The Futurists were dedicated to motion — not the meditative pace … the revving of a Lamborghni, or better yet a Ducati motorcycyle, relentlessly powering up, up, up and away, its engine knocking, spewing exhaust, mowing down everything in its path. … making a great big fuss, in being young.”

    … “vigor, not grace.”

    From Marientti: “‘There is no longer any beauty except the struggle … [war] ‘is the sole cleanser of the world’.”

    “‘Time and space ended yesterday’ … we already live in the absolute — that is, in a state of perpetual youth menaced only by death.”

    “lust s the act of creation, and is Creation itself.”

    “All in all, they were suspicious of the body, which after all is about as old hat as you can get.”

    I’ve been reading Slow Church slowly. Today I’ll finish it.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > “Futurist Manifesto” is referred to as a counterpoint for
      > the idea of Slow Church. The the core ideas seemed to have
      > formed a lodging in psyche of the 20th century

      Futurism has certianly been influential in the American psyche. I think the ideas of the original Manifesto are an extreme form – but parallel ideas live on in both specific influential people [Rem Koolhas comes to mind] as well as in the legacy of Urban Planning policies which embraced a lot of Futurist memes although usually of a more popular Worlds Fair type.

      > become part of the “lie” that we have purchased into in our cultures,
      > and the paganism that is at heart.

      I object to the notion that Futurism is somehow “pagan”. I don’t see that at all. It is almost exclusively Humanist. It is a decidedly areligious set of ideas. Someone thing non-christian does not make it pagan; that is not an opposite.

      > And thus become the opposites of the idea of what Slow Church is all about.

      I think the Church has struggled to find its place [not unironically] with the rise of placelessness [see John Inge] which came at near the end of the industrial era. That happened for lots of reasons, some circumstantial, some malicious; but community is difficult, perhaps even impossible, in a placeless environment. A church that is without community is always at risk of becomming just-yet-another-institution. That is the best aspect of Slow Church literature and thinking – it is really recognizing the obvious and practical.

      > From Marientti: “‘There is no longer any beauty except the struggle … [war]
      > ‘is the sole cleanser of the world’.”

      Yep, he an Koolhas would get along well together.

      > I’ve been reading Slow Church slowly. Today I’ll finish it.

      Don’t rush! 🙂

      • David Cornwell says:

        “‘There is no longer any beauty except the struggle … [war] ‘is the sole cleanser of the world’.”

        “‘Time and space ended yesterday’ … we already live in the absolute — that is, in a state of perpetual youth menaced only by death.”

        “lust s the act of creation, and is Creation itself.”

        From the article:
        “Much of what Marinetti preached — the love of speed, the courting of death, ultra-nationalist politics, the efficacy of war as social purification” …

        These ideas and concepts are the idols they worshiped. Thus, to me, they are pagan. I’m not saying there isn’t some beauty in what they left behind, thus the exhibition.

        The Fascists loved all of it and latched on to it like a magnet. And he got the war and destruction he wanted.

        • David Cornwell says:

          My use of “pagan” was meant only in a broad sense. Maybe it is a poor use of the term. I’m sure some pagan religions would object to the way I use it.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            There is no Pagan in “a broad sense”. Paganism is the belief in, and potentially worship of, multiple gods. What is not that is not paganism. You are confusing Paganism with a pop-culture notion of the Occult. Use of this type of speech (a) does not accurately portray your point and (b) only serves to exclude people from the conversation. You have equated people, without knowing them, what they believe, or what they value, with power-hungry aggressive fascists – not exactly charitable or facilitating the opening of dialog.

            The belief in something as a core-value, or intrinsic-to, is also, simply, *NOT WORSHIP*. Worship is a specific type of act. This metaphor of everything as an “idol”. It does not make sense in the 21st century, at least not in the 21st century west – where next to nobody has any experience with idol *worship*. It makes you sound like an Evangelical culture wonk, and it also is not useful for describing your position or opening dialog. Anyone who hears you use it is going to make assumptions about your positions that do not benefit you when you engage in dialog with them.

          • Robert F says:

            “The belief in something as a core-value, or intrinsic-to, is also, simply, *NOT WORSHIP*. Worship is a specific type of act. This metaphor of everything as an ‘idol’. It does not make sense in the 21st century, at least not in the 21st century west – where next to nobody has any experience with idol *worship*. It makes you sound like an Evangelical culture wonk, and it also is not useful for describing your position or opening dialog. Anyone who hears you use it is going to make assumptions about your positions that do not benefit you when you engage in dialog with them.”

            I hear progressive Christians use the words “idol” and “idolatry” quite a lot. They get it from Paul Tillich, who said that whatever one’s “ultimate concern” might be, that is one’s god, and that much of the time these are false gods, and so also idols. Progressives, like the pastor of the church where my wife works, use “idol” and “idolatry” to describe the relationship of many of the rich and powerful in our world to their wealth and influence. There’s nothing Evangelical culture wonk about the use of these words by progressives, and progressives actually use them quite a bit.

            We have to remember that Hitler was intentionally attempting to revive the values of classical pagan Rome in his Third Reich. Those Christians who opposed him at the time, like the Confessing Church, criticized the Nazi sympathizing German Christians for putting the Fuhrer in Jesus’ place as Lord, that is, Kaiser or Caesar, and thereby worshiping an idol rather than the true God. Out of this historical experience, Tillich, and other theologians, revived and applied these words, “idol,” “idolatry” and “pagan,”
            in their theological attempts to grapple with the existence and outburst of radical evil in human affairs.

            So there is a history of serious theological usage of these terms, grounded in real historic concerns, outside of the evangelical world, and having nothing to do with that world. Of course, now that neo-paganism has become a kind of loosely connected movement, full of many people of good faith and intentions who have nothing to do with the fascism in any form, it probably would be a good idea to stop using “pagan” as a pejorative, because it’s needlessly antagonizing. But it will be a harder sell to get both conservatives and progressives to stop using “idol” and “idolatry” in the way that their different histories have handed down to them.

          • The earliest usage of the term “pagan” was in reference to rural hay-seeds in contrast to urban dwellers. Very little if anything to do with religion. The term “peasant” carries the same meaning.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > The earliest usage of the term “pagan” was in reference to rural hay-seeds

            That was then, there.

            This is now, here.

          • Robert F says:

            “The earliest usage of the term “pagan” was in reference to rural hay-seeds in contrast to urban dwellers. Very little if anything to do with religion. The term “peasant” carries the same meaning.”

            Actually, it did have a lot to do with religion, Tom, because Christianity grew almost exclusively in the urban centers early and first, and had much slower going in the rural areas, where pre-Christian customs and beliefs resisted Christianity for a very long time. So, when Christians adopted the term “pagon” to refer to those people, they were insulting what they considered the primitive and unsophisticated religion and the “hayseed” culture of the rural people. It was most definitely meant as an insult, and the Christians of the first centuries adopted a very urban contempt for those who lived in rural areas, even considering them subhuman.

            Even the word “peasant” carries not so subtle undertones of contempt that are rooted in this usage by early Christians; for instance, from John Lennon’s song Working Class Hero:

            “Keep you doped with religion, sex and T.V.
            and you think you’re so clever and classless and free
            but you’re still f–king peasants as far as I can see….”

            (Aside: Sometimes we don’t remember that early Christianity was considered a sophisticated and forward-thinking religion by many in the Classical world. It drew the best and most educated minds, and many very influential and wealthy people in the urban centers, people who were aware of their own sophistication and intelligence and were a bit proud of it, and contemptuous of those who didn’t share their beliefs.)

  7. Faulty O-Ring says:

    I thought “conviviality” meant boozing.

  8. As an elementary school teacher, I have an alarmingly increasing number of students who suffer from anxiety. I’m currently following a series of workshops, where mediation and mindfulness is a large focus to balancing anxious feelings. It’s often referred to as being more Buddhist; it’s nice to see that these practices may have a resurgence in Christian circles as well.

    • Radagast says:

      So the workshops deal with the symptoms, just like Paxil…

      Maybe they need unstructured play instead of arranged everything..

      Maybe they need to learn how to fail instead of being left on a pedestal and showered with praise for everything mediocre…

      Maybe they could participate in family, and work as a family including chores, and not expect to get all the new gadgets because Jimmy and Crystal down the street have them.

      Maybe they could be taught freedom goes hand in hand with responsibility….

      Of course participation in faith life might help too ; )

      Comments (rant) from a Father of Seven, watching parenting change over time… for the worse….

  9. I happen to prefer a ‘medium speed’ church.

    I know many that wish it’d be over in 10 min. or less.

  10. Radagast says:

    I have not read the book so I must reserve judgment… but it would seem that this concept would affect Evangelical churches more than Catholic or EO (do other’s agree?). At first glance it seems like one more way to do Church, like a marketing gimmick, but again I do not want to sell this short until I have read AND even after reading I may not have the same take away since I do not experience what many of you have….

    • Slow church–the Liturgy of St. James
      Fast church–the Liturgy of St. Basil

  11. Rick Ro. says:

    Your reaction here is the same one I had several weeks/months ago when this book was first mentioned. (I allude to this in an earlier comment above.) It feels less like a marketing gimmick to me now, after having read several snippets posted at this site.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      (This is a comment to Radagast.)

    • Yes, I too see the underlying message behind what had struck me as very “gimmick-y” at first. Especially since we have thrown around the concepts of community and how one is formed versus the ‘selling Christ” model….in addition, I can see how badly this is needed in many churches.

      • It’s no gimmick. Rather, this understanding demands an entirely different way of seeing/living/valuing life. It won’t “sell” to most North American Christians.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          Tom, I pretty much said the same thing in an earlier post. “Slow Church” is so counter-cultural that it’ll be a tough sell to church leadership. It’s also what tends to lead me to believe it might just be “of God.”

  12. RobertF and Adam,

    I just love whippin’ dead horses ;o)

    pagan (n.)
    late 14c., from Late Latin paganus “pagan,” in classical Latin “villager, rustic; civilian, non-combatant” noun use of adjective meaning “of the country, of a village,” from pagus “country people; province, rural district,” originally “district limited by markers,” thus related to pangere “to fix, fasten,” from PIE root *pag- “to fix” (see pact). As an adjective from early 15c.

    Religious sense is often said to derive from conservative rural adherence to the old gods after the Christianization of Roman towns and cities; but the word in this sense predates that period in Church history, and it is more likely derived from the use of paganus in Roman military jargon for “civilian, incompetent soldier,” which Christians (Tertullian, c.202; Augustine) picked up with the military imagery of the early Church (such as milites “soldier of Christ,” etc.). Applied to modern pantheists and nature-worshippers from 1908.

    I think all yall and I are right ;o)