I first learned of the Slow Food movement when I read Carl Honoré’s In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed (Vintage Canada, 2004). Instead of doing everything faster, the book proclaimed that “slow is beautiful”–not only in preparing and eating food, but in mind and body, work and family, and other areas of life. It was a formative book in my own thinking and writing of Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal.
That’s why I was so eager to read Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison (IVP, 2014). I was curious to learn how “slow is beautiful” might apply to church life. And I wondered, what about the perception that the church is already too slow in a world of great need and great change? Could the church really be any slower?
In their introduction (page 16), the authors answer my wondering in the way they define Slow Church as
a call for intentionality, an awareness of our mutual interdependence with all people, and all creation, and an attentiveness to the world around us and the work God is doing in our very own neighborhoods.
That doesn’t mean slow in the sense of being unresponsive, but slowing down to pay attention to God and to the world around us, being aware and intentionally engaging with others and with creation. As the subtitle indicates, this is slow in the sense of cultivating community, slow in the patient way of Jesus who created a small community of disciples.
After setting a theological vision for Slow Church in the opening chapter, the book covers a number of related themes: place, stability, patience, wholeness, work, Sabbath, abundance, gratitude, hospitality, conversation. These are not the only expressions of Slow Church, but they’re enough to flesh out the authors’ basic definition and illustrate the theological vision in action.
I appreciate the authors’ critique of the “McDonaldization” of the church which emphasizes control, efficiency, predictability, and measuring results over mutual interdependence, cooperation. and community. I am glad for their challenge to the homogeneous approach to church growth which promotes segregation (page 110):
Which do we prefer, the homogeneity of our congregations or God’s reconciliation of all things? The church growth movement’s emphasis on homogeneity seems to imply that it sets its sights on something less than God’s reconciliation of all humanity and all creation.
In contrast, Slow Church offers a more holistic and hopeful vision for the church. The book’s combination of story telling, biblical study, theology, and practical example is engaging, and makes me want to be more intentional in relating to my church and community too.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from InterVarsity Press. The opinions are my own based on my reading.