I’m privileged to present at the Slow Church Conference in Indianapolis this week. I love this conference. I love this theme. The title of my talk will be “A Slow Ecclesiology or a Fast Ecclesiology?: Why There is No Fast Ecclesiology in God’s Mission.” I’m bringing together some themes I’ve been working on and speaking about alot these past two years. This week, I will explore three points with the bulk of my time spent on the third point. Here they are:
I. THE CHURCH IS A WAY OF LIFE EMBODIED (DEFINED BY) A SET OF PRACTICES.
As opposed to defining the church via some static descriptors (one, holy apostolic, catholic) or creedal boundaries, it is imperative (in a state of mission) that the church understand itself as a people submitted to a set of practices, which when practiced (and in practicing a people gathers to submit to Jesus as Lord in this time and space) the Kingdom becomes manifest among a people before the watching world. Of course creedal statements are part of it and there will be adjectives that will describe Christ’s church. But in the church’s return to its call in God’s Mission, it’s central focus should be on its faithful practice from which creedal statements are refined/contextualized, and a people is sanctified by Her Lord in the Spirit to give witness to the kinds of people befitting to our call. I propose there are seven of these practices (actually 8 including baptism) as given to us directly from Jesus Christ to his apostles to his church.
II. CENTRAL TO THESE PRACTICES IS THE REALITY OF PRESENCE (or the practice of Presence)
In these practices Jesus promises to be present. Indeed this has always been recognized in the church. These practices became the sacraments of the Roman church. Yoder, in redescribing them , called them social sacraments. What I want to say is that Jesus promises to be “with” us in a visible reality in the midst of these practices when we gather to submit to His rule in them. These practices were given by Christ as the means to extend His presence via His people into the world. Unfortunately during certain periods of the church’s existence (most notably Christendom), these practices got sequestered into maintenance functions of the church. In so doing, we lost the wherewithal to be present to His presence and in the world.
As opposed to the ways of efficiency and control often enforced in Christendom periods of church life, these practices require a.) quietness to become present to God’s presence in Christ, b.) patience to become present to one another and “the other,” our neighbor, c.) and discernment to discern His presence, submitting to His inbreaking reign in these practices among us.
III. IT IS INHERENT TO THESE PRACTICES THAT THEY MUST BE DONE SLOWLY, LOCALLY, CONTEXTUALLY IN DISCERNMENT.
These practices can best be understood as practices “on the move” related closely to our homes, and our neighborhoods. They move slowly and take time. They move in three movements – from Close(d) –to- In the midst –to- As Guest – And Back again. I will show using the Eucharist in the New Testament how this basic core practice of the church shaped a people into the presence of Christ and the reality of His Kingdom becomes visible. I will show how other practices follow this same pattern including reconciliation, proclaiming the gospel, being ‘with’ the least of these, and the five fold ministry.
When we gather people too quickly, when we try to make church efficient, when we try to control their operations, we lose the church, and we lose Mission. It is safe to say that one the things Euro-colonialism did was bring the sequestered practices of Christendom church to other places and enforce their practice disregarding context. The church is in danger of sequestering these practices to this day in different (and often defensive) ways. We must reclaim these practices for the slow patient local cultivation of the Kingdom as Christ church in His Mission.
What would be your biggest problem with these ideas? your biggest question? hurdle? Of course, you’ll have to come to hear how I flesh this stuff out with stories of real communities doing these things!!