In speedy culture, slow church is better

Nov 10, 2014 by

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“News of [great numbers of Greeks becoming believers] came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch” (Acts 11:22).

Imagine sending a person on a 300-mile journey to check on a church. In our world of instant communication, we save time by emailing, tweeting, blogging and Facebooking. How time-consuming to send Barnabas!

Yoder-Short

Yoder-Short

In our speedy culture there is little time for visiting Antioch or questionable congregations. What do we miss when we rely on quick digital interaction? There is no eye contact or body language or tone of voice to aid communication. Looking into a person’s face can transform the conversation.

We want action now. In Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison remind us that it is easy for the church to get caught up in efficiency. We want quick results, but fast comes with a price. As in fast food, efficiency means fewer choices. Predetermined patterns are the norm. Exploring multiple solutions is viewed as inefficient. Slow allows time to hear differing perspectives.

We don’t know how slowly the Jerusalem church chose Barnabas. We do know he was more than an errand boy. We first hear about Barnabas when he sells a plot of land and gives it to the church. He was from Cyprus — a Jew with cross-cultural experience (Acts 4:36-37). The disciples gave him the name Barnabas, which implies he was a person of encouragement, a bridge-builder. Barnabas reached out to Saul when the disciples weren’t so sure about him (11:25). We hear he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit (11:24).

The Jerusalem church didn’t send the person who felt the strongest about the issues surrounding Gentile inclusion. They sent Barnabas, an encourager, a person with cross-cultural knowledge, to observe the church in Antioch.

Even those who live in the same country can live in different cultural settings. The church is not like McDonald’s, where we expect a restaurant in California to dish up the same fast food as in Ohio. We all have Jesus as the center of our menu, but seasonings vary. Jesus as presented in Antioch looked different from the Jewish-seasoned Jesus in Jerusalem. Understanding our differences takes time.

Can we institute a modest proposal for slowness? Before a congregation thinks about leaving Mennonite Church USA, can we send people to the congregations we are concerned with for face-to-face conversations?

Conversations can go both ways. Congregations that feel anger toward those they perceive to be holding on to outdated cultural requirements can send someone to see the love for the church in their eyes. Some of these bridge-building conversations happen when we gather for regional conferences. But can we be more intentional about personal communication? Can we send out Barnabases and Barbaras with reliable ears and spirits of encouragement?

Being church isn’t easy, cheap or fast. The time is right for slow church. Slow church where we take time to listen and hear each other’s stories. Slow church where we aren’t in a hurry to assume who is in and who is out, who is clean and who is unclean.

We all want Jesus’s body, the church, to be a beacon of hope in our fast and often distressing world. Is it time to start a Barnabas and Barbara travel fund? Let’s at least slow down and stop expecting instant solutions.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.


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