This post is a part of a series on what it looks like to be a Slow Church that Pastor Joe has begun on his personal blog which can be found at www.noggingrande.com. Many of the thoughts from the Slow Church blog, book, and conference have informed the conversations we’ve begun here at New Hope, and it seemed like a good idea to share these thoughts here where folks from New Hope could consider them as well.
“The seeds from one modest-sized tomato can provide all the plants I need for my own garden next year and also enough for five or six additional people who are gardening on a similar scale. And that’s just one tomato!”
Chris Smith, Slow Church pg. 156
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. I believe he created them as a place where he could dwell with men and women, so that he could work through humanity for the flourishing of creation as a whole. God’s intention has never changed in this regard. The Big Gospel is the announcement that God through Jesus has accomplished the work necessary to reconcile all of creation, and through his church he is working toward the flourishing of his creation now in anticipation of the day when he completes his work in Jesus and all creation is made new.
The Slow Church is the expression of the church that grows out of this belief, and the understanding that God has been working toward the flourishing of creation through men and women made new in Christ. Having grown out of this rich, Big Gospel soil, the church becomes a community of patience, and love. It becomes a community committed to listening to the neighborhood where its people live in order to see where creation is not flourishing so as to proclaim the gospel in a way that brings people to Christ and leads to kingdom transformation where people live.
I shared last week, that one of the reasons I’m encouraged by the work of Chris Smith and John Pattison in Slow Church is because it creates a place for small churches to serve faithfully from who and where they already live. However, as we turn our attention to our neighborhood, and we listen to people’s stories, the conversation will inevitably turn toward questions of feasibility.
“How do we actually do this?”
“I mean really? How do we, a small church of less than 50 people, make a substantial impact in our community where people’s needs, their physical, emotional, spiritual, relational needs are so great?”
“And what I mean really is, how can we afford it? Where’s the money come from?”
Almost as quickly as we at New Hope have begun to talk about reaching out to the neighborhood, we’ve faced questions of means. In both the conference and the book, I’ve been greatly encouraged by the approach of Slow Church as it addresses this reality. It starts back at the beginning, and the fact that the God who is working toward the flourishing of his creation, created it with abundant resources, more than enough for everyone’s need. This is demonstrated by Chris’s observation about the potential for abundance in the tomato plant, and it was the focus of Christine Pohl’s lecture at the conference who said, “There is more than enough in the household of God.”
Of course the idea of God’s abundant blessing gets abused in our culture, and this is wholly counter to the aims of the Slow Church. The Slow Church has to remember the story we’ve been told by our culture, the story that Willie Jennings described in his lecture, so that we can live as a prophetic witness contrary to the prevailing story of our day. Jennings points out that we have divided all of the land, and thereby all of the resources God has given into parcels that shape how we relate. When the church acquiesces to this division, we build a fence around what is ours, protecting it and relating to others according to our boundaries. In this mindset, talk of God’s abundance is seen in the piles of stuff we can accumulate within our fence for our own keeping.
Contrast that idea of God’s abundance with the image of the dinner table, or the pot-luck dinner. When we sit to eat around the table, we each have our own plate, and we each have our own seat, but the gathered food is available for the feeding of all. The one who brings a little and the one who brings much are offered the same bountiful meal. In this way, God’s abundance for his people is for the sake of those with whom we gather that are in need of healing, love, and provision. The abundance we ought to trust God to provide, is therefore the abundance of God for sake of the flourishing of our neighborhood.
From the Lord’s Table Outward
Much of the discussion at the Slow Church Conference reminded us that it’s around the Lord’s Table that God’s abundance first flows. It’s around this table where we remember that Jesus gave up all of his own provision for the life and renewal of creation. It’s around this table where we receive with gratitude the blessing of Jesus’ sacrifice so that we can find life in him. Pohl shared beautifully of the need for gratitude to take shape in our hearts and form us as people who can offer true hospitality to those around us as we grow into a church that offers God’s abundant love and provision to the world.
This brings us back to the need for the church to slow down, because as we sit in gratitude around the Lord’s Table for the forgiveness and healing that Christ offers, we ought to begin to relate to one another as a group of broken people seeking to relate to one another. In order to be honestly, and fully who we are as a church, we have to be willing to take the long road of living with one another openly. As others enter the church from the neighborhood, in order to be truly hospitable, they must also be able to do so as they are. The danger in franchise church, is that in an effort to create something successful, we are tempted to sacrifice authenticity and vulnerability because relating to others honestly always takes more time. Always.
But returning to the issues of money and means, what I see as I read about God’s abundant provision and hear about God’s abundant grace that leads to hospitality and generosity, is a community that will inevitably begin to see our relationship to one another as well as to our resources differently. Through relationships and dinner conversations where people can be honest and real, needs inevitably come out, and for the slow church who is trusting in God’s provision we become people who seek to provide for the needs of others. It stops being about, “Did I put enough in offering plate?” and more about, “Do you have enough of what you need to live?” If the answer is, “No,” then we must imagine how we can share what we have until the answer is yes.
In that moment, I am challenged to see my possessions differently.
In that moment, I am challenged to see my income differently.
In that moment, I am challenged to see people differently.
The Church and Her Money
Not only that, but it challenges the church to see her relationship to money differently too. As we walked the streets of the Englewood neighborhood, it was easy to see how a church there who was committed to seeing the neighborhood transformed into a place of hope would be compelled to imagine different ways to generate the finances necessary to make it happen. In the book, they talk about the church moving beyond the offering plate, and this is one of the most intriguing ideas for me as the pastor of a small church.
If God has created a world in which there is an abundance of resources for the flourishing of the world, then as the church engages in God’s mission in our neighborhood, might we begin to imagine ways to resource our work that actually harness the potential of the creation God has made? Rather than working with what we can gather from a handful of people every week, are there ways we can put resources to work, so that over time, what we do to serve the community actual rolls over and serves further efforts to serve the community.
Englewood Christian Church has been at work through community development efforts. In the book they talk about harnessing the passions of people in the congregation in ways that coincide with the mission, like a coffee shop where the community can gather, in order to imaginatively fund the work in the community. It seems like such an obvious idea, but it’s as though the church has been so tied to an historic vision of how we have to fund what we do that we’ve forgotten how to let our minds wander into the, “what could be” of God’s Kingdom.
At New Hope, we’re only beginning to wrestle with this idea, but I’m hopeful we can begin to see that God is actually at work for the flourishing of the world, and that flourishing leads to an abundance of God’s creative blessings for the sake of the world. It will only happen when we begin as an honest, and grateful community at the foot of the cross, but from there I pray we can become a community that offers the super-abundance of God’s goodness to all with whom we share life. All of this takes time, and demands that we slow down, listen, pray, confess, and love.