I’ve worked on this post, and worked on this post, and there’s still something just not right about it. Having got this far though, I figured what I’d do is post it and then ask folks who read it to let me know what might make it better. Where do ideas not connect? What’s missing that would help it make sense. If you’re reading this and have thought about the Slow Church ideas, is there something specific within the idea that I’m off on here. Hopefully together we can come up with a better thought, but until then, this is what I’ve got.
“There’s a total lack of imagination in our churches today for how the kingdom becomes lived amidst our contexts.” – David Fitch
The Images in our heads
When you imagine the church, what does it look like?
There may be no greater hindrance to the notions of Slow Church than the images we have in our heads about what a church is supposed to be.
And we all have images in our heads about what a church is supposed to be.
Many of these images are shared images. We know what the effective churches looks like, what kind of music they play, what kind of people speak from the pulpit, what kind of people sit in the chairs. We know what ministries are church ministries and which ones are not. Whether explicitly or implicitly, we carry these images around and take them out and compare them to our own congregations to find out if we go to a “good” church or not.
These images, however, hamper our ability to imagine how the principles in Slow Church can become reality in the world. If the Slow Church ideas are only evaluated by their effectiveness to bring about the image of the church that so many people share today, then we will be left wanting. However, if we allow the principles of Slow Church to fuel our imagination of what the church can be, and dream of what the kingdom might look like in our neighborhoods if we’re freed from the McDonald’s style, Sunday morning, church distributed, religious goods and services, then we might begin to experience a church that is positioned to see the kingdom come in a variety of ways.
Creating Space for New Ideas
Chapter five of Slow Church speaks to the importance of wholeness in the life of the church, and the dangerous ways that we have fragmented our lives as a result of our participation in the western culture in which we live. There are likely many types of fragmentation that threaten the wholeness of the church, one of the most prevalent is the accepted division between when we do God things and when we do our things. Whether we are dividing holy and secular time, space, matter, art, practices, or whatever, we severely limit our ability to participate as a community with God’s mission in the world when we limit our availability to only particular locations or times during the week.
This division is the result of separating of the church from the Kingdom of God. When we sent the kingdom out into the future, the thing we’ll experience after death, or when Jesus appears again, then the church’s ultimate relationship with creation is severely limited. As many have been drawn toward the bigger gospel I’ve mentioned before, however, we have realized that the kingdom’s far reaching claim that Jesus is Lord draws the church into seeing ourselves differently. Once we give ourselves to the reality that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth, and that God is reconciling all things to himself in Christ, this idea of differentiated space or time seems almost absurd.
During the Slow Church Conference, David Fitch shared about a “slow ecclesiology” and offered a way to create space for the church to imagine how the practices of the church can be lived out in a more holistic manner. Fitch used the image of a closed circle (a gathering of committed Christians), a dotted circle (a gathering in which Christians are joined my non-Christians as they live out their kingdom practices) , and a half circle (times when only one or a few Christians may find themselves living out the kingdom as the minority in the crowd) to make us think about the different settings we need to live out Christ’s kingdom rule in the world. By considering how the practices of the church can be lived out across all three contexts, the lines that divide Sunday from the rest of the week begin to blur and the kingdom can flow, and break in more freely.
As I sketched notes during Fitch’s session, I realized that as I drew the relationship between the closed circle, the dotted circle, and the half circle, this was an idea related to drawings I’d been doing as I thought about the future of New Hope. The closed circle looked like our worship service, from which could flow smaller gatherings in homes where people could bring friends from the outer, half circles areas of their life where they serve as ambassadors for the kingdom, inviting people to share in the kingdom through Jesus. The permeable boundaries of the smaller circles helped communicate what I’ve been struggling with, namely what does it mean to create multiple doors into the church from the outside.
I’ve realized something, as I’ve chewed on these ideas since the conference, and that’s one of the major issues in fast church, especially fast church based on the “seeker model” is that it seems to flip the closed circle and the dotted circle. The goal is to get as many people as possible to come into the front door of the church and join us in worship, creating a dotted circle in the center. From there, if people want to plug in further, we send them out from there into closed circles of small groups. This conjures up images of a fresh water spring flowing down into small pools that either dry up, or are left stagnant, with no ability to flow any further once they reach capacity.
Do you see these circles relating in this way, or is there a more compelling relationship between the three areas where the kingdom is practiced by the church?
It seems to be that the slow church must be a church that gathers under the kingdom banner together to worship, and is then encircled in smaller, dotted-circle communities where people who are not kingdom citizens can safely come in, challenge, ask questions, observe, and participate to some degree in the life and practices of the church in real life. This will take people who are gathered in these smaller communities who are intentionally living and teaching the practices of the church. This will take people who recognize that the rule of Christ and the life of the church are to be lived outside of the “official” church gathering, and who are able to take this into the world beyond their homes and lead others in.
And being the church this way, will take a lot more time.
It will take a willingness to commit to life together outside the church on Sunday morning.
It will take a long-term view of what God is seeking to do as we practice the life of the church together.
Which brings us back to the images in our head. The tendency in all of this is to imagine standard worship services (closed circles), or bible studies in people’s homes (dotted circles), or even sharing the gospel with the person next to me at McDonald’s (half circles), but what if we took the time to imagine new ways for the kingdom’s rule to be made known through us in the world. What if we gathered as a church, and imagined what worship could look like if we were to offer it from the gifts we have? What would it mean to set our artists free to create and respond to the gospel in ways that inspire us or shock us? What if we looked at our neighborhood and found new places for relationships to develop around a meal? What would it mean to engage with the neighborhood for more than just “an outreach or connecting event?” What if we dreamed of ways families could stake a claim at a local donut shop regularly, in order to bear witness to the kingdom in that space? What would it mean to build relationships with the regulars, to become kingdom bearing ambassadors in the world around us together?
It’s time the church gather together and work out some of these ideas, which is why it’s important to dream of things being slow, recognizing that God’s been working in centuries not decades. Whenever we gather to talk about how we do the things the church is called to do, it takes time.
Time to hear from one another.
Time to chase down ideas that sound good.
Time to recognize where people are hurt and where dreams are blossoming.
It takes time to relate to one another well, and so this transformation must be slow. If we push on, willing to take our time and listen to God about how we can be the church in the circles of our life, the kingdom can break in and people may well find they flourish when Christ is King.