Dreams Coming True is a Thursday feature on my blog, a way to highlight those whose goal is to create community. The dream might be a blog, a published book, a small business, volunteering, or even fundraising for a charity. Something that makes the world a better place . . . for others.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10, NLT).
Welcome Chris Smith, author of Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, to Dreams Coming True! Leave a comment on this post to enter to win a copy of Slow Church!
Tell us a little about yourself, Chris:
I’m a writer and editor, a member of Englewood Christian Church on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis, a husband and a father of three kids. As part of our church, I launched The Englewood Review of Books website and magazine. Most recently, I co-authored a new book entitled Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus (Intervarsity, June 2014).
When did this book project begin?
My mother grew up in a conservative Mennonite community, only a few generations removed from Amish ancestors. Like many of your readers, I imagine, I was fascinated by the world of the Amish and Mennonites, and especially the ways in which they shared life in tight-knit community centered around their Christian faith, a vastly different sort of life than the suburban culture in which I grew up. Slow Church is, for me, the latest in a series of efforts to imagine how ordinary Christians can start to experience deeper community life together, as the Amish do, but without all the baggage of Amish culture (sectarian life and dress, legalism, no electricity, etc.).
How did this project get started?
My co-author, John Pattison, pitched the idea to me, as he had been thinking about Slow Food, and the way in which that movement seeks to offer an alternative to the speed and tastelessness of fast food, and starting to wonder about the ways in which churches have been focused more on efficiency than on faithful life together. John came to me because my church, although a pretty traditional 118-year-old congregation, has started over the last couple of decades to share life together in deeper ways: moving back into the Englewood neighborhood where the church building is, creating jobs where at least some of us can work together throughout the week, working diligently to care for one another and our neighbors. I thought that the language of Slow Church that John brought to the table was really helpful for talking about our experience as a church, and the experience of other churches that are on a similar trajectory.
What makes your project stand out from the crowd?
We’ve been speaking and blogging about the book throughout the writing process, and we’ve found that it resonates with a wide swath of Christians, who are seeking a more meaningful life, but are struggling to imagine how that might come to be. I’ve found that for many Christians, even many who take their faith seriously, church is almost an after-thought; what matters most is my personal faith in Jesus. We try to gently push back on this sort of individualistic faith, and demonstrate that one of the main things God is doing in the world is gathering people together (think of Israel, of Jesus’s little community of disciples, and in our world, of churches).
How does your project create community?
As I’ve already described, Slow Church is all about cultivating community. We believe the local church is the place where God teaches us to unlearn the habits of individualism and to learn to find joy through living in community. We spend a good chunk of the book talking about familiar practices that with some imagination and diligence will help churches nurture deeper community together: practices like patience, Sabbath, gratitude and hospitality. And of course, learning to be together as a church community isn’t just for the church, but to be shared with our neighbors as a taste of hope and joy – of really good news! – of what God intends for humanity and creation.
Many have creative ideas but trouble following through with them. What advice would you give to creative types who start projects eagerly…but then enthusiasm drizzles off?
Be patient! In our fast food culture that wants to see immediate results, there’s something to be said for sticking with a thing and watching it grow over time. This experience of waning enthusiasm is pretty common, if not universal. Stick with the project, even after the honeymoon is over. This persistence does not have to be joyless, always be looking for the ways in which God is leading and providing for the work into which you have been called, and be grateful for even the tiniest of gifts. Often, God’s provision comes in forms we would have never expected.
The deeper I get into this Slow Church project, the more I realize how much I still have to learn about living in community. (And I think my co-author would probably say the same thing). But by the grace of God, none of us have reason to be anxious. We should always be seeking to grow, but God isn’t in a hurry (remember, for instance, the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for 40 years!), and we shouldn’t be either. There certainly are urgent situations that demand our attention, but Jesus is pretty clear that we have no reason to be anxious; God loves and cares for us all.
Have there been any unexpected surprises?
Honestly, I’ve been surprised at how excited people are about Slow Church, and about the really wide range of Christians who have wanted to engage with us and learn more.
Creating something is one skill. Marketing and promoting it is an entirely different skill set. How has that gone for you? Shocked by the amount of work marketing takes? Or pleasantly surprised?
We’re a little skeptical of marketing culture, of the sort of hype that tries to sell people things lots of stuff they really don’t need. This culture is bad for our mental and physical health, bad for our churches, our neighborhoods and the Earth. That being said, we have poured a lot of ourselves into this project and are convinced that it’s not just a lot of hype and that our message is really timely and needed, so we can’t help but tell people about it – which we do on our blog, on social media, through speaking events, etc. Like all good things, we think this project is a gift from God, and as such is not just for our own pleasure or sustenance, but is meant to be shared. So, we can’t help but talk about Slow Church. We certainly won’t get rich, but God will take care of us, as God has done in the past.
How can we find more about Slow Church?