Book Review – Slow Church by Christopher Smith and John Pattison

Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus explores what it would look like for the church to embrace the “slow” way of life. The authors explore the possibility of doing slow church by focusing on three areas – ethics, ecology, and economy. By “ethics” they are referring to what it means to be the embodiment of Christ in a particular location. By “ecology” they are referring to their place within God’s mission of reconciliation. By “economy” they are referring to God’s provision to carry out his reconciling work. As the authors tackle each section they give us a sampling of what it looks like to live as a “slow church.” They do not provide “steps” or “instructions” or “how-to-lists” – because that would be characteristic of a “fast” way of doing church, rather they paint pictures with words, give plenty of examples of churches who practice “slow church,” and open up the reader’s imagination as to what God might want to do in each local church community.

Review

Efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control – are four words that nail down the essence of MacDonaldization. These are the same four words that nail down the essence of (many) Mega Churches. Working in a Mega Church I know that many see these four words as “good words” but Smith and Pattison see them as “bad words.” They aren’t qualities that we as a church should strive to achieve. Nevertheless I have seen ministries built around these four concepts. As I see churches strive to achieve these things I can’t help but think to myself – Is this the way that Jesus would have done things? Is this the way that Jesus built his “little flock?” Is a MacDonald-ized (Supersized) church the church that Jesus envisioned? I don’t know. Either way, I know that this is the Church that Jesus loved and died for. Whether it’s a “fast church” or a “slow church” Jesus loves his church. However because Jesus loves his church he desires to see his church flourish. I honestly (along with Smith and Pattison) think that the “fast church” isn’t flourishing. Humans can’t thrive and flourish on a fast food diet – neither can the church thrive and flourish with a “fast church” mentality. Change is needed – the church needs to slough off its industrialized and Macdonald-ized approach to church. It needs to embrace a holistic, interconnected, organic, and local way of life grounded in a grand gospel. Slow Church helps us imagine what it would look like if the church were to do that.

A Personal Note

I believe that I have embraced (or at least have tried to embrace) a holistic, interconnected, organic, and local way of living out the gospel. Of course, being a fallen human being, I am tempted to Macdonaldize my ministry. I am tempted to value efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control over and above relationship and God’s sovereignty. However Jesus helps me to recognize my sin and repent of such things. One area in which the Lord has been helping me to do that has been in the area of discipleship. I want people to grow in Christ, I desperately want that. I want the college students I work with to grow into a Christ-centered community of missional disciples. But my temptation has been to try to systematize that growth. However as I read this book I came to realize that much like a political revolutionary I wanted, no I demanded, instant change. However (as the authors say) “unlike human revolutionaries, who demand instant change, God is not impatient.” I am impatient – I want growth to happen now – on my time and my conditions. As this book has forced me to rethink how people grow I have come to realize that God’s primary means of growing people is through the slow process of intentional one on one and small group relationships. Spiritual Growth takes time and effort, it’s a slow process, it’s a messy process, its a relational process, and I am certainly not in control of it. Spiritual Growth cannot be “Macdonaldized” – it’s a slow and organic process.

(Note: I received this book courtesy of IVP in exchange for an impartial review.)

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