Reports of the Church’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Even the smallest acts of human faithfulness to God’s mission are slowly and patiently being woven into the great biblical drama of the reconciliation of all things.

More and more of these pinpricks of light are coming online now—in the tens and twenties or more. They are giving shape and detail to the country, but they are doing it from the inside. What you’re seeing, of course, is the Church. This isn’t the abstract “Church of Seattle”—these are small, humble, unobtrusive communities of Jesus-followers weaving fabrics of love and care in their particular places, in parishes in cities and suburbs and rural communities.

 

I spent a lot of time on the road in 2016. Too much time probably, considering that I was out there talking about the virtues of slowing down and staying put.

During one 120-day stretch, I traveled one out of every four days, curating discussions about Slow Church in neighborhoods and churches from suburban Seattle to rural North Carolina. Over four months, I did 22 formal events—and had numerous informal conversations—in ten states, some by myself and some with Chris Smith.

Our consistent message: Don’t be overly enthralled by the fast and the flashy. The kingdom of God is like yeast and the mustard seed. The small stuff matters.

Faithful presence in place can be difficult, slow, unsexy, and often heartbreaking work—though it could be the most rewarding work of your life as well. It almost certainly won’t put you on the cover of Christianity Today. It can’t be distilled into the “six easy steps to anything.”

But it matters.

Every life you touch, every person you equip to love and serve others—it matters. Some of the change may be invisible to you, but you never know where your influence is going to stop. Even the smallest acts of human faithfulness to God’s mission are slowly and patiently being woven into the great biblical drama of the reconciliation of all things.

Though I talk about this stuff all the time, even I have to be regularly reminded of the truth of it.

In July 2016, I spent several days in Chicago. It was my first time in that great city in a long time. I had rented a car, and so I spent a lot of time driving around, through one neighborhood and another, and out to the wealthy suburb where I was staying with some friends of friends.

What I saw through my windshield was a city deeply segregated. Neighborhoods of enormous monetary wealth next to vast neighborhoods of striking economic poverty—with apparently no mixing of the two. And what I heard on the TV and radio were statistics of a city soaked in blood: 324 murders in the first six months of the year alone.

On my last day in Chicago, I went to a Cubs game with my friend Tim Soerens. Tim is cofounder of the Parish Collective, an organization that connects and supports churches and community practitioners committed to the work of neighborhood renewal. Tim lives in Seattle but he happened to be visiting Chicago the same week as me. By the time we met up at Wrigley, my heart was in despair for the city.

But I was shocked as I listened to Tim describe his own visit to Chicago. Unlike me, Tim had gotten out of his car. He had walked the streets and met pastors and laypeople, people of passion, creativity, and goodwill. In those same segregated neighborhoods that I had grieved over, judged at face value, and nearly written off—all from the safe confines of my rental car—in those same neighborhoods, Tim had heard and seen stories of life and hope. I despaired; Tim was energized. Violence, poverty, and systemic racism are real, obviously, but Tim had seen the Kingdom of God sprouting forth in the granular, in the everyday stuff of life.

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