by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison
InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill. 247 pages
REVIEWED BY FELIPE N. MARTINEZ
Hello! You’ve reached Fast Lane Church, where Sunday services are 58 minutes or your tithe back!™ Of course the staff is not here to take your call: we’re out serving, caring, programing, small-grouping, building, feeding, and sharing at the speed of the Holy Spirit! Don’t bother with voicemail. Just tweet us @TheFast&TheFaithful
If the pace of your ministry feels anything like that, then here is a quick book review: Eating fast causes indigestion. Churching fast does too.
If you can spare the time, though, I’d encourage you to chew on the important message C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison offer all congregations: slow down. With some concepts loosely based on principles of the slow food movement, Smith and Pattison challenge congregations to dare to live as communities invested in being locally rooted and deeply relational, committed to trust in divine abundance, and determined to rebel against a mechanized approach to ministry. The authors argue that churches find themselves idolizing the business model of a company like McDonald’s, as if the marks of successful ministry hinged on ”efficiency, predictability, calculability (quantifiable results) and control,” which in their view actually come ”dangerously close to reducing Christianity to a commodity that can be packaged, marketed and sold.”
“Slow Church” presents a thoughtful critique of the North American church and its infatuation with quick fixes for challenges that instead demand the spiritual long-view. The book does not sell us a self-help program or 10 proven steps to grow our church. Instead, “Slow Church” offers an engaging reflection on community and the nature of congregational life served as a three course meal: the slow church’s ethics (being the “faithful embodiment of Christ in a particular place”), ecology (taking seriously “God’s mission of reconciliation of all things”) and economy (trusting “God’s abundant provision for God’s reconciling work”).
A slow church feels deeply immersed in its neighborhood and draws its flavor from the bountiful gifts unique to its community; it is fruitful not just on Sunday morning worship; it lets decisions rise organically, taking the time to listen intently to God and God’s people; it values knowing it is part of a larger divine banquet being prepared.
At first glance, some pastors or church leaders may guess this book does not speak to their congregational reality, because Smith and Pattison write from the perspective of their own church settings (urban Indianapolis and small town Oregon). It may be particularly difficult to relate if the reader expects a one- size-fits-all church growth strategy or if the reader has already bought into the very ministry models the authors critique. But for those readers patient and daring enough to let “Slow Church” take on the flavor of their suburban, or yoked, or aging, or immigrant or struggling congregation, they will find Smith and Pattison will whet the appetite of faithful believers ready for deeper conversations with God and each other.
“Slow Church” offers a layered challenge for congregations to trust that God calls them to be fully present with their community, that God equips them to be instruments of God’s gracious hospitality and that God sends them to embody God’s love in open conversation with church and community members alike.
FELIPE N. MARTINEZ is associate executive presbyter for Whitewater Valley Presbytery.