Slow Church in a Fast World - Seeking Sabbath, Simplicity, and True Belonging

Anyone else remember sitting in front of the family computer - ours was an Apple II E - and waiting impatiently for modem to connect to modem across that
late 20th century dial-up connection?

It sounded something like this: “Pshhhkkkkkkrrrrkakingkakingkakingtshchchchchchchchcch*ding*ding*ding”

(If you want to hear a recording of that sound, or further consider its cultural significance, check out this 2012 article from The Atlantic.)

Once the connection was finally made, I would log into AOL and explore the whole world from my keyboard. A virtual bridge had been created that could transport information through time and space over a phone line in such a seemingly instantaneous way.

In 2018, we would not tolerate the twenty-second wait for the dial-up modem to connect. We would quickly become frustrated at the amount of time each individual web page took to load. And we would certainly not be willing to share one family computer, tied to a single location at a desk in our home.

We live in a world of break-neck speed! We want our internet fast, our news fast, our food fast, and more. What about church? Have congregations taken on the tempo of our high speed internet, smart phone, fast food culture? How can we slow down enough to hear God’s voice, cultivate deep relationships, and reimagine church in our changing context? Would even even know how to begin?

Here are a few ideas, for starters:

Remembering the Sabbath
As new technologies develop, we anticipate the freedom and efficiency they will produce - the ways they will open up space in our lives for leisure and rest. Often, the immediate effects are experienced along these lines, but quickly we fill the time and space with new busy-ness. Tethered to new cables and new devices, we feel less freedom and more anxiety.

The tyranny of the urgent dominates our workplaces, homes, public squares, and churches. We put more effort behind the tried and true methods and models of our institutional past, but find them producing diminishing returns. What we know to do and are comfortable doing just does not seem to work as well as it once did. We double down, work harder, and worry more. Our creativity is stifled, and our anxiety level continues to rise.

Walter Brueggemann’s recent book, Sabbath as Resistance, contrasts the call for the Hebrew people to find restfulness in Yahweh to the restless anxiety inspired by life under the reign of Pharaoh. Too often, our churches take our cues from the restless anxiety, widespread fear, and exaggerated differences of our cultural climate.

Can we let go of the push to fill committee positions with warm bodies rather than encouraging disciples to pursue their passions and engage their giftedness? Can we stop scheduling programs and meetings that do not resonate with our core identity and mission? Can we create space for those connected with our churches to experience communal rest and to develop deep, meaningful relationship with one another?

Fitting In or Truly Belonging
In our fast-paced world, true belonging has become increasingly elusive. We are constantly connected, but in less personal, less significant ways.

Sadly, church - particularly fast-paced, consumer-driven, attractional church - reinforces cultural pressures to fit in rather than creating space for participants to find true belonging. I’ve had numerous conversations with church members about preserving youth ministry, children’s mission education, and church basketball leagues so that their children can have the same experiences they had a generation ago. All the while, greater percentages within our communities see little value in what our churches are offering and young people are leaving the church at record pace. Moreover, to find a place in our congregations, outsiders are required to give up their identities to fit in to our prescribed church culture.

Can we re-discover a missional mindset that pushes disciples outside of the church doors to truly engage with those in our communities? Will we realize that God is on mission in our world, actively redeeming all things? Do we hear God’s invitation to be a part of this reconciliation project? Perhaps our own true belonging can be found in our engagement with God’s work in the world outside the church doors.

Slow Church Requires Slow Leaders
Congregations look to their leaders to embody the values of the organization. In an age where churches could benefit from slowing down, reclaiming their identity as disciples of Jesus, and refocusing their attention on God’s mission in the world, church leaders must take the lead.

Do you see yourself primarily as a disciple of Jesus, devoted daily toward following him in meaningful and practical ways? Are you grounded in gratitude - reminding yourself daily of God’s gifts and provision in your life? Are you practicing Sabbath, creating space to resist the culture of constant production and to rest in knowing that the success of the church does not ride on your shoulders but is held in God’s hands? Are you encouraging your congregation to buy in to the fast-paced, anxiety-driven models of church or are you providing an alternative vision of what it means to follow Jesus together?

We cannot bring back the days of dial-up internet connections, even if we wanted to. Neither can we recreate the “golden age” of the first century church nor the nostalgia of the “glory days” of the late 20th century church. But maybe we could sit around the table together a little more often, create time to listen to and pray with one another, celebrate and cultivate community across lines of difference. Who knows what might happen if we did.

Perhaps we could be a part of a “slow church” movement in the midst of a high-speed world. May it be so.

For more on this topic, sign up for David’s upcoming webinar: Slow Church in a Fast World,
(Sorry, dial-up users, you’ll probably need a high speed connection to access the webinar!)

David Brown is Pinnacle's Consulting Coordinator. Contact David at davidb@pinnlead.com.
Helen