John Pattison / Chris Smith – SLOW CHURCH [Feature Review]

May 30, 2014

 

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What we desperately need, then, are bold witnesses willing to say no. We need prophets like Samuel who are willing to declare against the rising tide, “It’s a trap!” (1 Samuel 8). We needs books written by people who are not promoting their ministry’s path to renown, but their churches’ inglorious acts of everyday faithful service. We need books to celebrate life on the long, patient, unpredictable path of God. And this is exactly what we find in Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. In this important book, Chris Smith and John Pattison seem delightfully oblivious to what the world defines as success. Instead they extol the virtues of staying in one place for a long time, making the most of the particular resources that are already at our disposal, welcoming neighbors who cannot help but sully our reputation, breaking bread amid the screams and mishaps of unruly children, and talking things out for the benefit of all—long after the most promising solution has already been presented.

 

Of course, Chris and John are not oblivious to the world’s vision of success. They are both well read and richly blessed with experience. They are wise to the allure of church growth and the McDonaldization of religious goods and services. But having lived out of another story and having grown amid another kind of people, they simply lack eyes to see, ears to hear, and billfolds to buy what the world is trying to sell.

 

Nor are they seduced by the opposite of “big church,” which is “no church” or “Jesus and me” spirituality. There is no hint that one should stick with Jesus and leave his people behind. Slow church means participating in God’s mission through a people, which is the way God has wired his people to operate. John and Chris do not supply the blueprint to end all blueprints for agrarian hipster churches. Rather, they convey a style or sensibility for churches of any tradition to be God’s people in a world whose prevailing styles and sensibilities militate against the kind of community that faithfully bears witness to God’s kingdom.

 

I have to admit that if I didn’t know the authors I would have been skeptical of this book. I would have assumed that someone co-opted another catchy title from pop culture (this time the “slow food” movement) and is using it to recycle the same pious Christian platitudes illustrated by a different set of churches and stories. Yet even though this book makes good metaphorical use of the “slow food” platform to stylize its language and frame it section headings, it is not grounded in that metaphor. As chapter one demonstrates, this book is grounded in a rich theological vision of who God is according to Scripture and what God is doing through a people in this world. Israel’s four hundred year hiatus in Egypt and six hundred year monarchical detour remind us that whatever God is up to in this world, he is in no rush to get there. Nor is God content to get there just any old way. How we get there is just as important as the fact that we do.

 

If you are looking for a quick read that will give you fresh ideas for a new church growth program or perhaps a catchy theme for the next calendar year, don’t read this book. It is a slow read and it will have you re-thinking your church’s fundamental identity and overall vision of membership. If you are open to such transformation, read this book. If you are already in the process of such transformation, read this book. If you are new to the faith and want to wrap your head around what God is up to with this strange people called church, then read this book. It is a reliable guide that will help you along the way.

 

In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul warns us, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise,making the most of the time, because the days are evil.So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (vv. 15-17). The days are no less evil now than they were in Paul’s day. Yet he makes clear in this passage that living wisely and understanding God’s will are one in the same. Having placed their finger on the pulse of God’s will, Chris Smith and John Pattison gently encourage us in this book to slow down and make the most of our time.