RR Book Group: Slow Church

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  • Julie Silander
    Hutchmate
    @juliesilander

    In response to @jannabarber re: “those who don’t agree” and to @carrieg re: the McDonaldization (particularly in Charlotte) and to the rest of us, here’s what I’m thinking…

    Perhaps we’d all do well to acknowledge that the ideas presented in Slow Church (or in any book, for that matter), are excellent fodder for conversation and for personal reflection. Although I have to (constantly) check myself and my motives, I hope to develop a posture of curiosity. As Makoto Fujimura says, to “stand under” rather than “stand over” what I’m reading.

    Where should my own thinking be readjusted?

    What can I learn from those who hold different opinions?

    Is it possible that even those churches which may, on the outside, seem to be McDonaldized actually get some things right that my own church, which I love dearly, does not.

    The last six months has been very difficult at our house. When my husband had a stroke at the end of December, our world turned upside down. One of the many, many unexpected gifts that has come through our experience has been that his workplace has ministered to our family in countless, beautiful, consistent ways. Who woulda thunk that a big bank in corporate America would respond so compassionately. We’re still stopped by it. From the outside, it’s the epitome of corporatization and McDonaldization. But that’s far from the reality that we’ve experienced. We all draw our caricatures (of what we think we know about people and companies and churches). It’s humbling (and freeing) to see that perhaps I don’t see clearly. There’s so much to learn.

    So as we work through the book, I’d love to hear more about how the ideas presented, in the book and during our discussion, may challenge some of the caricatures that we’ve drawn of others, of our churches, and even of ourselves.

    Thank you for posing those questions. They’ve been helpful to stir my own thoughts.

     

     

    2 users thanked author for this post.

    “When have you experienced patience and community . . .?”

    I have experienced this first hand from my current church family. I have been disabled for several years and have difficulty sitting for long periods and walking/standing. Recently I’ve been diagnosed with non-diabetic peripheral neuropathy in feet and hands which adds additional pain and complications.

    Instead of discarding or ignoring me, they have pushed back against my limitations by doing whatever is needed to overcome obstacles that might keep me from participating. For example, when I became unable to stand during choir numbers, they bought me a stool. When that became uncomfortable, they allowed me to remain seated while everyone else stands. They cared more about me than the choir’s appearance in public.

    They have gone above and beyond my expectations, and are always asking me what they can do to help. That is still shocking to me because my experience in a previous church was so different. I felt like a burden and sometimes that was confirmed by comments from others.

    I’ve been at my church for almost 3 years and have found this attitude of compassion and longsuffering to be consistent and genuine.

    It seems they look beyond a person’s appearance and disability to get to know them and offer them a place at the table. Being truly known and accepted and loved is a beautiful thing.

    Their purpose is to help people encounter Jesus and to live as the beloved, transforming lives and making disciples, and going into the neighborhoods to show Jesus’ love to others. They have helped diminish my skeptical, sometimes cynical, attitudes toward many churches based on past experiences, and have helped me “taste God’s goodness” through the love and care of his people.

    5 users thanked author for this post.

    Confession time, here’s what I got: I’m only on page 26, you guys. I’ll try to catch up this week, but I for one wouldn’t mind extending (perhaps slowing?) the conversation on Part 1 another week, in case anyone was thinking that might be a good idea. 🙂 (@juliesilander)

    4 users thanked author for this post.

    @juliesilander – Thanks for the reminder about having a “posture of curiosity” and being aware of the caricatures we’ve drawn. I don’t think it’s necessarily true that large, multi-campus church = McDonalds level impersonal. I’ve never really been part of a church any larger than a few hundred people, but I have friends who are part of megachurches and feel at in them. Like @carrieg, not sure I understand the appeal… but your comments challenge me to want to understand. 🙂 I’d like to think “slow” micro-communities can spring up within a place that looks huge and impersonal on the surface.

    My concern (the real concern I think this book is addressing) is for leaders who have all the right business tactics and growth strategies, but lose sight of the true goals of the church, discipleship and caring. But hey, that could also be a surface caricature too… I imagine you have to be at least somewhat close to a church’s culture to know when something is working or not.

    The first time I visited our church, I both loved it and judged it for feeling awfully hipster. I mean, they have a curated Instagram feed and use all the right fonts in their branding and stuff. But once we spent time getting to know folks, my perception totally changed.

    1 user thanked author for this post.

    Also, a side comment / confession… I’m still struggling a little with the concept of stability. It comes up a lot in things I happen to be reading, and sometimes it gives me a weird unease. Can I process that here with you guys?

    I feel like I keep reading things that suggest the absolute best way of life to is stay put in one place, know it deeply, forever and ever amen. (I don’t remember if this book suggested that, but I’m pretty sure there was a Wendell Berry comment somewhere… haha.)

    I kind of agree with that… except I know that sometimes moving and change is inevitable, and history has shown God disrupting the comfort and stability of his people to accomplish a greater purpose. I’ve also known people who move quite a bit, but would fully and wholeheartedly invest in their local world, even if they were only there for a few years.

    I’m not sure what that has to do with Slow Church (other than there was an entire chapter on stability and I think about this stuff a lot lately.) I’m just going to throw this unfinished commentary out there for you guys and see what thoughts come up… 🙂


    Janna Barber
    Hutchmate
    @jannabarber

    @jroseyokel – totally. That was a tough chapter for me as well. And I think there’s more than one Wendell Berry quote in this book. 😉 I’ve lived in many different places, and it’s rarely been my choice to move. Some of them I got to know deeply, some I did not. But it’s not necessarily dependent on the amount of time I’ve spent in these places. So perhaps it’s meant to be a loose principle, or maybe it has more to do with our intentions than anything else.

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    Julie Silander
    Hutchmate
    @juliesilander

    @jannabarber @jroseyokel – The chapter on stability stirred much in me as well. I may be taking liberty with the authors’ intent, but I wonder if stability can be as much of a mindset as it is a physical reality. After college, I had a year of training for my job in one location, and I knew at the end of that time I would be moving to a different city. I look back on that time and wonder what would have been different had I invested in the people/community for that year as if I was going to be there indefinitely. I knew I was only a tourist and acted as so. I feel the tension between the “staying in one place is best” philosophy and the “my ways are not His ways” reality (it’s much easier for me to cling to my community than to be open to moving if that’s what we’re called to do).

    As for extending this week’s discussion for another week – intense negotiations with @pete continue. I will update you asap.

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    Re: stability…Early in my life as a mission worker, there was a lot of travel involved. The org I am with practically invented the most recent idea of the “short term” mission trip (Yay! And, sorry.)

    I have seen many good things happen on cross cultural, short term trips. I have been involved in some things that, looking back on them, were not very helpful, a good use of time or resources. There is this idea in theology of modality (the church locally) and sodality (the church on the move…mission endeavors, monastic orders, charities, etc) and how both are needed in the greater mission of “Your kingdom come…”

    I have been a part of short term endeavors that have changed the course of my life and whole outlook on the world. Jesus, while he stayed in a small corner of the world, did quite a bit of moving around. His short term interactions with people changed their lives forever. He did call some to travel with him but he also told some to go home. Like the man of the tombs who wanted to go with Jesus and Jesus told him no and to go home and tell all he knew of what God had done for him. Also, the Samaritan woman whose whole village decided to throw in with Jesus after her “short term” interaction.

    And at the end, Jesus looked at all of His followers and said “Go into all the world…” and most of them did not. Most stayed put and a few of them became the “church on the move.” But staying put is part of “all the world.” And so is travel and moving.

    After 10 years of much travel, training and short term endeavors, a hunger grew in my heart to put down roots. I was deeply affected by Franco Zephirrelli’s “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” about the life of St. Francis. I had a longing for the simplicity of living the gospel out in a local context with a long term vision. This was quite a romantic notion. Little did we know how messy it can get.

    15 years ago, my family moved to California to work with a small (very slow) church and we have, for the most part, stayed put. As you can imagine, simplicity can get lost. Life gets convoluted. We lose our way. We drift. We get pulled back again. The interaction with this book and discussions are doing that for me.

    Travel and moving can sometimes help you get unstuck. I heard an interview with the Farrelly brothers talking about when they are writing a screenplay together. When the story gets stuck, they have several times rented a car and hit the road together. The act of getting out does the work of helping them find the story. That has been true for me sometimes.

    But, knowing and being known by friends in my local community is by far the more excellent way. To stay long enough to find out how different we are, to hang in through disagreements and to choose to stay, work and love anyway has been the hardest, most rewarding thing in my life outside marriage. It’s a lot like marriage, come to think of it. Living out “church” is allowing God to set you (the lonely) into family.

    Family is messy and heartbreaking and wonderful.

    2 users thanked author for this post.

    I’m going to slide a few thoughts on this section in at the last minute. This book has been frustrating and encouraging and convicting. I tend to be cynical about church, so the reminder in the first chapter that God is patient in partnering with an often rebellious people has been a helpful way to frame this conversation. I’m spending my summer doing a research internship with a Christian conservation organization in Nashville to find out how churches are thinking about and interacting with their environments. It’s been good to read so much about church and place and to be reminded that it takes time for the church to live into all she’s been called to. As I interview people from so many different backgrounds and we begin to dream about how churches can love their places well, this book is giving me a tremendous amount of perspective and hope.

    I found chapter four to be particularly challenging. Some health issues have made it difficult for me to have the energy to enter into suffering with others, but on the other side of that, a handful of friends have walked with me through these years with more grace and compassion than I ever could have hoped. Still, I struggle sometimes to make my needs known and to know the needs of others, especially after moving in January and finding myself in a new church full of new people. All of this has me wondering what it looks like to bear one another’s burdens when those burdens aren’t obvious or are carried by those we don’t know well. I don’t have any good answers for this yet–just a lot of jumbled thoughts and questions. If any of you brilliant people have any ideas, though, I’d love to hear them. I’ve enjoyed reading all of your thoughts and stories so far. 🙂

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    Andy
    Hutchmate
    @andytate

    I find this book quite convicting, especially being in a large city like Houston Texas where there is a church on every corner but few know why they actually go (or they call it their home church and go maybe three times a year …)    That being said, the whole slow church idea had already been implanted in my head when I was on a two year hiatus due to some medical issues and had to “slow down” because I couldn’t work and was confined to a chair most days.  Sometimes you have to stop to smell the roses, take a road less traveled, or even a detour to gain a new perspective of the country side and the world we live in.

    I have always been fond of a smaller church feel where everybody knows you and you know everybody else. The only downside of that is, everybody knows you and you know everybody else … which often makes church messy but yet beautiful. There is a certain beauty that is cultivated in a small body of believers that do life together and walk with each other through trials and struggles, joys and triumps. The question however I have to keep coming to is “what makes a healthy church?” The modern formulas would base it upon baptisms, conversions, growth in the body ect ect. But in a “slow church” mind set when you’re focusing more on quality than quantity how do you know the ground is being cultivated and seeds are starting to grow into something that gives life, not for its own sake, but for the sake of those that are enjoying the flower/produce? A fruit is only as good when there is one tasting and seeing that it is good, it doesn’t exist for its own vain existence but to bring joy to another. So, when do you know that your Church is growing in a “slow church” mentality? Do the people from the outside recognize the growth when they come in or is it evident from inside the body?

    I have been part of my church for 26 years (…talk about stability … or insanity, take your pick) since I was 8 years old so I have seen some messy things happen, been a part and reason of messy things happening, but have also seen the mercy and grace of being in a covenant relationship with the body of Christ of whom we are all baptized into and seeing the gospel lived out. Using the imagery of the body I would say that due to the complexity of how God has designed our bodies, there are no “quick fixes” or “short cuts” to personal growth so it would be the same way within the body of Christ. Programs, modification, and trying to buy the power of the Spirit that may have worked elsewhere (ie: Simon the Sorcerer) by expecting the same results with your Purpose driven ____ and whatever new buzz word campaign you heard another Church use hoping it would have same result may find itself lacking and exhausting. Been there and have tried that and was left wanting.

    The thought that has come to mind listening to the book (which unfortunately means I missed several areas while driving) is that anything “slow” would imply as stated above and in the book a sense of patience with the product, an intimacy and closeness, and an increasing knowledge of your surroundings. Which is often uncomfortable for most people due to trust and fear. If people truly know me will they fully love me? So, the biggest thing I have gained so far in my listening of Slow Church is that it will take trust and for me in my culture of which I serve, it will take time and sacrifice outside of the confines of my church building. Often times I am more in awe of the creation God has made around me in the painted skies of the sunset to the waving of the trees or the crashing of the ocean and how the whole earth is charged with the grandeur of God. But, there is only one creature that has been crowned with glory and honor and created in the image of the most high God and that is our fellow man. We learn most about the tri-unity of God when we encounter and live in fellowship with our fellow man, but it may mean shedding our leaves that we have covered ourselves with in fear of being vulnerable and known.

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    Pete Peterson
    Hutchmaster Prime
    @pete

    Slow Church Discussion: Week 1.5

     

    Here are a few more quotes/questions to add to the first three:

    “Slow Church happens when people live, work, worship, go to school, eat, grow, learn, heal and play in proximity to each other, often outside of the sanctuary.” (p.44)

    4) Do you agree? If so, what obstacles stand in the way of your developing such a community? How could you overcome (or mitigate) one of those obstacles?

    “Place, like all things in life, is a good gift from God. Our calling is to come to know our places in ways that reveal God’s gifts to us and that evoke in us deep gratitude and rejoicing.” (p.70)

    5) What are some practical ideas that could help you “get to know your place”? Are you willing to try one of them and report back to the group?

    “How do we grow deeper into our calling as the patient people of God when our surroundings reinforce our inner restlessness?” (p. 80)

    6) How would you want your life to look differently as you grow to be more patient?

    ---Hutchmaster Prime, wielder of great and terrible cheeses


    Matt Conner
    Participant
    @mattconner

    I just wanted to throw in on the chapter causing some tension, the one on stability.

    I just read an article that Jeffrey Overstreet posted on FB about the ability to watch TV in fast-forward mode. Someone said it was their preferred way to view TV and be able to take in every show deemed “must watch.” The acceleration is too much. There has to be anchors that offer a bookend to our current acceleration, in my opinion. So that makes me thankful that some authors are calling us to plant ourselves long-term in a single place. I’m grateful for reminders to slow down, to be quiet, to reflect and pause. Even if it’s not what I want to do, deep down I am still grateful for the challenge.

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    “Slow Church happens when people live, work, worship, go to school, eat, grow, learn, heal and play in proximity to each other, often outside of the sanctuary.” (p.44)

    Do you agree? If so, what obstacles stand in the way of your developing such a community? How could you overcome (or mitigate) one of those obstacles?

    I highlighted this very sentence–what struck me as interesting about it was that the past two churches I attended were between 45 minutes and 1 hour from my home. Other than Sundays, I didn’t see those people outside the sanctuary. On the one hand, that kept me from having some of that community with other members of my church.

    For my situation, though, it was a good thing. I was working at Christian colleges in both places. I was part of a small Christian community where I was highly engaged–sometimes 24/7. Having a church where I could go on Sunday, where I was known and loved and accepted even though they only saw me once each week, was a wonderful thing. No one judged me for not coming to Bible study mid-week or not being involved in community activities outside the church.

    I think why that worked, though, was particularly because both of those churches were places where Slow Church was happening–they were small bodies that were focused on their immediate community inside and outside their walls. That allowed them to open their doors to an “outsider” like me, and give me the grace I needed.

    2 users thanked author for this post.

    The acceleration is too much. There has to be anchors that offer a bookend to our current acceleration, in my opinion. So that makes me thankful that some authors are calling us to plant ourselves long-term in a single place. I’m grateful for reminders to slow down, to be quiet, to reflect and pause. Even if it’s not what I want to do, deep down I am still grateful for the challenge.

    I agree that its a good challenge. I think that there is the danger on either side of the spectrum: where being planted becomes our god or being rootless becomes our god. Someone above mentioned having the “attitude” of stability. I like that. I’ve generally landed on the rootless side of things in the places where I’ve been throughout my adult life; however, I’ve had opportunities even in the short spans of time, to dig deeply into relationships in my Christian community. Where I see the challenge of stability as particularly apt is when we are tempted not to dig into a church community because we are constantly looking for what’s next-what’s next.

    Yet at the same time, we cannot hold our plans (and planted-ness) too tightly. My pastor recently gave the picture of someone holding their plans in their hands, palms up in front of them–then, little-by-little, our fingers begin to curl around them and we grip them more and more tightly until we are suddenly holding fists up to God, rather than open hands.

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    Julie Silander
    Hutchmate
    @juliesilander

    @mattconner – Given your (fairly) recent move, I’d love to hear more re: your experience. What does it mean to move into a new city and begin to grow roots? Was “slow church” easier or more difficult to cultivate in different areas of the country/types of cities?

    Still, I struggle sometimes to make my needs known and to know the needs of others, especially after moving in January and finding myself in a new church full of new people. All of this has me wondering what it looks like to bear one another’s burdens when those burdens aren’t obvious or are carried by those we don’t know well.

    I know that feeling @bwinz. I don’t readily make my needs known either, and moving to a new place adds its own set of complications! I guess the thing that has helped in a new environment is to slowly build connections. That happens best for me in a small group, where I’m regularly scheduled to meet the same people every week or so with a specific thing to do, whether that’s studying the Bible or just eating together.

    The acceleration is too much. There has to be anchors that offer a bookend to our current acceleration, in my opinion. So that makes me thankful that some authors are calling us to plant ourselves long-term in a single place. I’m grateful for reminders to slow down, to be quiet, to reflect and pause. Even if it’s not what I want to do, deep down I am still grateful for the challenge.

    I read that article too and kind of died a little inside. :/ And yes, this is a good perspective.  I also would love to hear your thoughts on @juliesilander‘s question!

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    Jonny Jimison
    Participant
    @jonnyjimison

    Fair warning: the following is so long-winded and off-topic that I tried to rewrite it as a separate forum topic… but I couldn’t find a way to do it gracefully so I’m returning it to here. I apologize for the rambling and the bluntness, but I really can’t discuss the book without dealing with this obstacle. Here goes:

    The church group I used to meet with came across a really powerful Bible study a while back (can’t remember the title off the top of my head) and we went through it several times – the way it broke down theology became the ‘curriculum’ not only for our Bible study, but for the church as a whole. I really loved it at first, but over time it began to wear on me because of many of the things that ‘Slow Church’ talks about: this Bible study was well-written, but it distilled the story of the gospel into a series of simple diagrams and object lessons, instead of wide-eyed embracing the mystery of truth. It was efficient, practical, and split into bite-sized chunks that could be processed in a series of easily-moderated discussions.

    But what really turned me off it was the ultimate fast-food theology: instead of diving into the messy, complex eternity of scripture, we began turning to this “diet scripture” that phrased the deep truths as simple equations, and made those equations all about OUR lives in 21st century America. This is what makes me nauseous about reading most theology/religion/Christian life books, as well as attending most churches – these books, bible stories and sermons dismiss what they see as misguided approaches to God and, in contrast, try to provide the ULTIMATE answer to what following Christ is all about. They sum it up with words like: Mercy. Relationship. Outreach. Liturgy. Hope. Truth. Story.

    But guys, I’m growing more cynical about those lessons/books/sermons every day. They all claim to have answers, but even great (abstract!) principles like those can’t come close to painting a picture of the fullness of Christ. He’s bigger than any of it. And that’s what following Christ is all about – Christ himself.

    So now I’m reading ‘Slow Church’ and squirming for the same reasons… isn’t Slow Church just another manifesto? The book seems to condemn ‘packaging’ church life for consumers, but isn’t ‘Slow Church’ just another ‘packaging’ of church life?

    To put it another way: eating healthy is a good thing. But when the corporate world drives an overpriced health-food craze, when people fanaticize and turn organic food into a trendy fad – well, eating healthy is still a good thing, but a thousand new problems have grown out of it.

    Surely the authors wouldn’t want it that way, but that’s what the books screams at me so far: “Here’s the answer to the church problem! Here’s how you fix your church!” Yet I have no doubt the principles in this book can be abused, overemphasized and dangerous just as much as every other philosophy of church life can – even scripture itself has been distorted dangerously by well-meaning people trying to follow Christ.

    Let me be clear: I’m all too aware that this pushback is more about my own struggles and frustration than the book itself. I’m not criticizing what I’m reading, I’m aching over my struggles as a reader. But I’m hoping that I can find some perspective in this group discussion that will allow me to contemplate the ideas in the book, instead of battling them. So I’m looking to you folks for help: can anyone identify with what I’m talking about? How does one force the nutrition of thought past the gag reflex of cynicism?

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    How does one force the nutrition of thought past the gag reflex of cynicism?

     

    @jonnyjimison I don’t have an answer to this, but it is a great question. I can relate.

     

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    Julie Silander
    Hutchmate
    @juliesilander

    @jonnyjimison – I hear you and feel your “we-are-all-a-bunch-of-sheep” pain. As I read through your post, this Tim Keller quote kept coming to mind:

    When you listen and read one thinker, you become a clone –
    two thinkers, you become confused –
    ten thinkers, you’ll begin developing your own voice –
    two or three hundred thinkers, you become wise and develop your own voice.

    I think we get into trouble when we pick up the latest book (or curriculum or whatever vehicle is delivering ideas) and see it as having THE answers. Rather, I want to develop the habit of gleaning the wisdom that is present – while acknowledging that all books are written by (fallible) human beings. Each holds a piece of the much larger puzzle. And there are many puzzle pieces we won’t see this side of heaven. If we can learn from, without subscribing to, whatever ideas are presented, then we’re starting to move from being sheep (or clones) toward being wise. Maybe we can help each other along that road. Leading with discernment and gentleness.

    Anyone have an idea of what that could play out (practically) in your community?

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    Julie Silander
    Hutchmate
    @juliesilander

    Hey friends, and happy almost 4th! As we wrap up the first section of Slow Church, I’d love to hear if there’s been one thought (or question) that’s been stirred by your reading thus far. If you’re just getting started, no worries. You can chime in at any time. But we’ll be moving into the next section next week, and it would be great to have a recap of where everyone is so far. Just for fun, try to summarize in a sentence. 🙂

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