Evangelists, and apostolic, entrepreneurial Christian types generally, seem to be the unsettling opposite of ‘slow mission.’ They dash about. The apostle Paul seemed always to be in a hurry.
This can make the rest of us feel uneasy. These people are out evangelizing the world while we are digging allotments, playing games, visiting Aunts or watching cricket. Do they show up us slow mission types as wicked, lazy servants?
Here’s why that isn’t—or at least might not be—the case.
- Much of what is achieved in haste seems either to evaporate altogether or need re-doing more slowly.
- In my experience, some evangelists cut corners. They might be slapdash with relationships, or with money, or with the speed limits. Their evangelistic zeal is a kind of coverall to hide their character defects.
- God in any case has his ways of slowing evangelists down. Paul kept being put in jail, and arguably did his best work there, writing half the New Testament.
- Slow mission is not about laziness. When you follow your love and your passion, you work harder and for longer than when you work at anything else. Duty can take you a long way, but devotion will take you further.
- Evangelists’ love and passion is in winning people. That’s their thing and their devotion. Wonderful. But it shouldn’t–should it?– be foisted on the rest of us as if it were the final word in discipleship or obedience.
The title was irresistible and was happy to promote this book up my reading shelf. This was the first time I’d come across Erin Loechner who is evidently famous in lots of places for her interior design (in the sense of homes, rather than souls. Though she’s not bad on the interior design of souls either.). Here are the pluses and minuses for me:
* Beautifully designed and very often beautifully written
* A personal life-story, nevertheless it’s crafted well enough to connect her story with ours and is stimulating and thought-provoking.
*It’s an enjoyable, fresh, challenging read.
*I found the beginning (?more about hope, ambition and dreams) more interesting than the latter half of the book (more about the challenges of rearing a toddler and for me a bit more been-there-done-that)
* It’s about a blogger reflecting on her blogging life, which as a blog itself contained a lot of reflecting on life. Shades of someone looking at herself looking at herself looking at herself in two facing mirrors. In this sense, it’s quite millennial in its enthusiastic self-analysis, but that’s refreshing for a boomer like me.
* There are some lovely aphorisms in the book, but I got a little worn down by the sheer mass of cutesy one-sentence solutions by the end.
I certainly don’t mean to be harsh. I liked this book, and its writer, a lot and will recommend it to others. Bit more cutting would have made the diamond shine brighter.
** I picked this book up for free as an Adavanced Review Copy. There was no obligation to write a review, still less a positive review, but it’s a good book. **
We Christians, especially us evangelicals, are very keen on programmes and courses. It sort-of suits our desire to package things. And we all of us like to receive pre-packaged things, whether it’s a ready meal or story. Life would be impossible without them, especially the Western consumer lifestyle.
I can’t help feeling something has been lost though. This is God we are packaging, the Ultimately Unpackable. I suppose it’s good to always have something in the freezer that you can bring out when necessary, a gospel ready-meal, systematically covering the basics of Christian truth. A reader myself, I like a book, even though it’s a packaged summary, because it’s at least a start. (I’ve even written one for just that purpose.)
But the danger with a power-point-type presentation of the gospel is like every other power-point you’ve ever seen, it passes through the mind without ever being internalized. All the boxes are ticked, you’ve had the training, but in another way none of the boxes have been ticked.
Jesus told stories which were totally incomplete accounts of the gospel. He probably had many reasons for this (not being stoned to death in a religious hothouse might have been one). But his stories are like the smell of coffee. They set you off on a hunt for the source.
Does our love for the pre-packaged make us compartmentalized in our thinking? Identikit in our practice? Unnatural in our growth? Interesting.
1. We all have to share the planet and be good neighbours.
2. We all agree (I think) that humans are both wonderful and ‘born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward.’ We disagree why. Is it because we are created good and fell from God (as the Christian account has it) or because our intelligence and reasoning skills sit atop a brain still programmed by (some) unhelpful routines that evolved millions of years ago? Is that even different? Either way, we have a shared space to explore celebrations and remedies.
3. We can enrich each other. I have to admit that Christians (with some notable exceptions like the Quakers and the Salvation Army) have not historically been the leading proponents of fighting for some things that are now commonly held as precious, such as gender equality. Christians tend to put up with things rather than upset them. Sometimes, radical, pioneering atheists force me to go back and ask fresh questions of the Bible. They challenge sloppy thinking. Which can only be good. Perhaps we Christians can return the favour, because I have to report that sometimes in my observation the champions of pure reason do trip on their own shoelaces, especially in the face of Christ.
4. I’d like to hear the best things that atheism has to offer; and like to offer the best things I know of Christ in return. So our debate is about our comparing our good points, more than dredging up our bad.
5. In all this, it is quite fun winding each other up. At least atheists are interested in God, which is more than I can say for most people in the West.
6. We can convert each other, which is a lot more possible in a place of peaceful dialogue than trench warfare, lobbing chosen texts at each other. And this is a good thing, a free-market in ideas.
A book wot I wrote for atheists and Christians to enjoy.
Our worklife is another area that we can think of as something to do with Kingdom of God. (As I blogged here.) So:
- It’s about devotion to Christ. Work, like the rest of life, is something in the end that we do in front of an audience of One. That leads to the extra-mile contributions.
- It’s now and not yet. Some stuff at work will never be put right until the end of everything. But we can make a difference today.
- It’s internal and external. Our heart has to be right, not just our conduct. (The heart always spills over anyway.) It was said of the great reforming MP William Wilberforce that he kept on friendly terms even with his political enemies. The Christian faith calls us to love our neighbours, enemies, brothers, even, therefore, the awkward so-and-sos at work. We can’t just politely hate them. That’s awkward, but ultimately productive.
- We come in weakness. Which implies patience, willingness to admit being wrong, persistence, gentleness. Not a doormat, but not a door-slammer either.
They are familiar words, ringing across at funeral services:
The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)
The seed is the perfect picture for the now-but-not-yet, complete-but-incomplete, slow-mission Kingdom in which we live.
Some seeds look wizened. Y0u bury them in the soil. They are inconsequential. But a plant has spent a whole summer and all its strength manufacturing them. And they are packed with life: as the old saying has it, you can count the seeds in the apple, but you can’t begin to count the apples in the seed.
Seeds are complete but incomplete, fulfilled and unfulfilled, finished yet hardly started, old in one age, new in the next.
In Christian-world and Christian-speak I think that’s what we aspire to be. Wizened, inconsequential, easily forgotten; and at the same time, seasoned and refined by grace, fulfilled, and ready to carry all the good we’ve known into an unfolding future. We aren’t there yet, and we don’t get there except through death, but even through death we don’t lose anything of importance; we carry it all. Everything sown here–every hope, every partial work, every tear–find a harvest there.
[Jesus] also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces corn – first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. As soon as the corn is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.’ (Mark 4:26-29)
January, the month of hope: the hope being that the rest of the year isn’t January. But perhaps we can add meaning to our trudging through the cold and snow.
Slow mission starts with where we’re going – that in the fullness of time (lovely phrase) everything will be headed up or summed up or brought together in Christ.
When time has filled its cup to the rim, as it were, Christ will be in and over everything.
We can’t actually make that happen. But in the interim we do what can, where we can, with whatever we have. We try to subject ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus, and try to extend his influence into whatever we touch. So all of life matters. This puts meaning into every day.
I am reading a series of devotional books by F B Meyer (1847 – 1929), one page on each chapter of the Bible.
From an entry on Psalm 62:
‘[Abraham] was left waiting till nature was spent… till all that knew him pitied him for clinging to an impossible dream. But as this great silence fell on him, the evidence of utter helplessness and despair, there arose within his soul an ever-accumulating faith in the power of God…
‘This is why God keeps you waiting.’
‘Slow mission’ is about huge ambition–all things united under Christ–and tiny steps.
I contrast it with much talk and planning about ‘goals’ and ‘strategies’ which happens in the parts of church I inhabit, and which have an appearance of spirituality, but make me sometimes feel like I am in the Christian meat-processing industry.
Here’s a summary of slow mission values, as currently figured out by me:
Devoted. Centred on Christ as Saviour and Lord. Do we say to Christ, ‘Everything I do, I do it for you.’ Do we hear Christ saying the same thing back to us?
Belonging. We sign up, take part, dive in, identify, work with others, live with the compromises. Not for us a proud independence.
Respecting vocation. Where do ‘your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger’ meet?1. Vocation is where God’s strokes of genius happen. That’s where we should focus our energies.
To do with goodness. Goodness in the world is like a tolling bell that can’t be silenced and that itself silences all arguments.
Observing seasons. ‘There’s a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.’2.The world will be OK even if we check out for a while. (Note: our families, however, won’t be.)
Into everything. We are multi-ethnic and interdependent. We like the handcrafted. We are interested in all humanity and in all that humanity is interested in. Wherever there’s truth, beauty, creativity, compassion, integrity, service, we want to be there too, investing and inventing. We don’t take to being shut out. Faith and everything mix.
Quite keen on common sense. We like to follow the evidence and stick to the facts. We like to critique opinions and prejudices. We don’t, however, argue with maths. Against our human nature, we try to listen to those we disagree with us. We’re not afraid of truth regardless of who brings it. We want to be learners rather than debaters.
Happy to write an unfinished symphony. Nothing gets completed this side of death and eternity. What we do gets undone. That’s OK. Completeness is coming in God’s sweet time. ‘Now we only see a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.’3.
Comfortable with the broken and the provisional. Happy are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for right, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the laughed-at. This also implies a discomfort with the pat, the glib, the primped, the simplistic, the triumphalistic and the schlocky.
Refusing to be miserable. The Universe continues because of God’s zest for life, despite everything, and his insouciance that it will all probably work out somehow. In sorrows, wounds and in the inexplicable, we join God in his childlike faith.