Instead of highlighting The Fastest Growing Churches, I recommend we highlight The Slowest Churches, i.e. those that help us most to slow down and pay attention to God, ourselves, and others. When our churches continually remind our people that “only one thing is needful,” we strategically position them to be a gift to the world (Luke 10:42).
Here are five reasons why I believe this is true:
Going slow makes possible …
- The doing of God’s best plans. I love the story, told in Wayne Mueller’s Sabbath, of a USA international agency in the 1990s and their frenzied plan to address needs of a famine in equatorial Africa. In failing to be quiet, listen to the people, and study the soil, they developed a short-term solution that actually worsened the problem in the long term. We too are dangerous when we move at high speed.
- The receiving of Scripture in our hearts. According to Jesus, one essential for each of us is to clear space and time for a deep hearing of the Word of God. He warns us that shallow, distracted listening (e.g. studying Scripture only for sermons or guiding others) kills seeds meant to take root in our soil. Without time to slowly linger and meditate on Scripture for ourselves, giving it time to penetrate the hardness of our hearts, we cannot bear lasting fruit for Jesus.
- The building of genuine, authentic community. Unlike the building of a crowd, the relationships that make up a church are built slowly … very slowly. Touching people through preaching and social media is important. But personal relationships require the sharing of life-on-life. Listening deeply to another person, being present to them, and walking with them in different contexts takes time … a lot of time. Without slowing down to be with one another as the new family of Jesus, the world will not see a distinct love and depth that points to Him.
- The applying of the Gospel to a particular place. I have been living and leading for Jesus in Queens, New York City for almost 33 years. Not only is Western culture changing rapidly, so is my city and neighborhood. Geri and I just returned from almost two weeks in Switzerland. It wasn’t until we listened to multiple Swiss leaders talk about their lives and culture that we began to understand the specific application of Emotionally Healthy Discipleship in their context. Without slowing down to deeply see people, and particular places, we miss applying the Gospel accurately to our contexts.
- The transforming of our shadows. We can’t give what we don’t possess. We can only give what we do possess, i.e. who we are. But the power of our deeply entrenched shadow is not easily broken. Receiving feedback from trustworthy sources – counselors, spiritual directors, mentors – takes time. And it is hard. Listening to supervisors, peers, and co-workers when a crack in our armor rears its ugly head is painful. But I can promise you that if you follow Jesus to this cross, God’s love and grace will meet you. Without slowing down, however, to make room for these gifts, the life of the Holy Spirit, in and through us, will be limited.
I have certain anchors in my days and weeks to help me slow down (e.g. structured periods of silence, solitude, Scripture meditation, Daily Offices, Sabbath). But I continually seek additional ways to slow down to meet God in each new season in which I find myself.
What might be one or two anchors you need today to slow down for God?
Let me invite you to meditate on the words of Jesus to Martha, someone who was a leader who also had more things to do than time allowed. He said, “Only one thing is needful” (Lk.10:42).