Some people want to play word games when we talk about the speed of the church. So, OK, let's talk words. We all know the world moves fast. By fast, I'm talking about velocity, or speed. Contemporary culture travels at the speed of thought, movement occasioned by digital technology. That doesn't mean hasty or impulsive or without thought. It simply means that today we measure time in faster increments than ever before. There's not more or less of it. But, people and information navigate through time and space at a velocity not dreamed of just a few decades earlier.
Few will argue that his church is notoriouly slow. Typical church structures, governance, documents, and systems are historically designed to mandate a deliberate consideration and application of Scripture and the tenets of faith. As a result, Christ's church is very often outpaced by the world that needs him. Slowness means that many churches are lagging behind the spiritual demands of a world on the move. What is more, the massive needs of local communities, into which Christ has commissioned his church, are often missed by God's people because they cannot respond to urgent or immediate circumstances. By the time many congregations, and associations and denominational structures as well, work throught their committee structures and leadership grid, the need has shifted. His church is tangled in webs of organizational mess that makes it slow.
Jesus was aware of timing issues during his earthly ministry. He was atuned to the Father's heavenly time table for the unfolding of his redemptive plan. On the one hand, he resisted efforts to fast-forward his elevation, either on a cross or a throne. When his opponents tried to kill him ahead of schedule, he left the crowds. Some of the people tried to make him king, another attempt to move the timing ahead of the Father's plan. He also told his followers to express urgency in their kingdom assignment, reminding them that the day was short, and night-time was coming when they could not work. Then, there was the immediacy of his touch on the people with great misery or need. You cannot read the Gospels, or the Epistles for that matter, without sensing the weight of timing on his work and teaching, how he expected his followers to exhibit intentionality and purpose in their mission.
What still amazes me in the Acts is how his disciplles repsonded to the needs of such demainding times. After his ascension they quickly chose another apostle to fulfill the number he had chosen. When mission and pastoral care were lacking they decided to appoint seven as servants to the people. They prayed about it, and got it done. When there was debate about bringing Gentiles into the church they called a meeting post haste, heard from Peter and James and settled the issue while the need was great. In a short span of time they took the message past Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the world. In all the instruction about the church and mission this same intensity, the deep belief that time was short impressed them, and they needed to minister accordingly.
The idea that speed is automatically wreckless is just a terrible assumption at a time when the church is so disconnected from an increasingly secular world. His church should be at the vangard of a spiritual movement that is urgently deliberate in fulfilling the commisison of Christ. We must reject the idea that slow is safe and more accommodating to making disciples. Slow is slow. And, these times demand fast, or at least faster.
How can we notch up the speed without sacrificing intentionality and purposeful mission?
(1) Be very clear and concise about mission. Making disciples of all nations isn't such a mysterious assignment. Even more to the point, much of the energy and resources of his church today are expended in busy-ness that is not central to the mission.
(2) Simplify governing documents and the church organizational chart. Once again, Scripture is very clear about how his church is to be structured and how mission is accomplished. Our response time these days is slowed by having to plod through layers of approval, allocation of resources, and pin- pointing mission strategy.
(3) Teach about trust in the organizational system of the church, what it means for God's people to work toward a common mission and prepare to connect with the world around the church in a meaningful and influential manner.
(4) Teach and practice the concepts of the Body of Christ and the principles of spiritual leaership. We all know that bureaucracy and conflicting layers of leadership are frustrating to people. Our joking about it is only funny because it's so true. When his church is functioning like a body, much of this frustration is eliminated.
(5) Join the twenty-first century. Many churches minister and serve as if they were still in the 1950's. They wrongly believe that preserving the wineskin makes the wine better. I grew up in the fifties and loved that period, happy days for sure. But, that was then, and this is now. The world around us is zooming and we're chugging along at the pace of another time.
Leonard Sweet's "Carpe Manana" is on my favorites list. I read it annually. In it, he traces paradigm shifts that mark this new world, post-1990. In the old world "vast" was the deal, big everything. Today, the operative word is "fast". It's a word his people better learn, like fast.
Or at least faster.