DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Go With The Slow

Written by: on June 3, 2015

Signs Warning of Approaching Curve ca. 2000 Scotland, UK

Signs Warning of Approaching Curve ca. 2000 Scotland, UK

“Go With The Slow” – Costco’s caption of their most recent The Costco Connection – intrigues me. Yes, many ads of products fill the inside, but the main focus in their Health section concerns subjects such as de-stressing, wellness, spiritual focus, being present, and mindful eating. These articles contradict what would be expected for a company that produces a net profit of $1.709 billion in 2012 and 19th on the 2014 Fortune 500. Could it be possible that a business, one that directly impacts over 71.2 million members (2013), would be more willing to lean into a destabilization than the church? Costco appears to recognize that disequilibrium – doing things different than before – brings about new possibilities and creativity. By encouraging people to actually slow down, Costco could be setting herself up for failure as people take time to reevaluate and assess their budgets. Or is she?

Reading Wheatley’s and Hjalmarson’s articles addressing liminality, chaos and order, leadership and more, I reasonate with the truths about the need for the church to move in a different direction than where we have been and are headed. As a church, we emulate businesses who seek to grow bigger and more efficient. We define good management by getting certain people not just in another seat, but “off the bus” (I appreciate Good to Great, but we have missed the point in some ways). Gaining new members and disciples becomes the big hairy audacious goal with a focus on numbers. Worship services need to excite and stimulate with new gadgetry and better bands.  Yet, I can’t help but wonder, are we simply building on “habits and customs” that will actually “kill [us] in the new space [we are] enter[ing]” as Franklin and his Expedition did? (Alan Roxburg, “Derivatives with a Twist”).

Then I come back to Costco’s “Go With The Slow,” and realize what a profound message for the church. It’s not about doing something different for difference-sake, but rather, what would it take for the church to actually take time to listen? Discern? Wait? Intentionally choosing to stay in a liminal place, the church welcomes the threshold as a place that does not provide answers, but rather creates a posture of leaning into what the Holy Spirit might say. This could be the time to “rediscover God’s purposes in history.” (Len Hjalmarson, Broken Futures) By allowing the church to hold both oars – the past and the future – we have an opportunity in this identity-shaking time to humbly ask God to speak into the “spaces inbetween.” (Broken Futures)

About seven years ago, I left full time ministry in my church. A good church, she does the best that she can. But I no longer had the capacity to focus on building nicer offices, razzle-dazzling congregants with the best new idea, and more meetings that supplanted relationships. Mind you, I did not serve as the senior pastor, and I recognize there are concerns and pressures that I don’t understand. However, the time came to leave when I no longer had opportunities to meet with parishioners because I had to create another program. I took myself off the bus.

As a result of that decision and the 2008 financial crash, I fell headlong into a liminal place. That’s when I first understood what it means to wait. And wait. And wait. In fact, Sue Monk Kidd’s book When the Heart Waits became a source of comfort in finding someone who understood. She speaks to the struggle:
Back in autumn I had awakened to a growing darkness and cacophony, as if something in the depths were crying out…Orphaned voices. They seemed to speak for all the unlived parts of me, and they came with a force and dazzle that I couldn’t contain. They seemed to explode the boundaries of my existence. I know now that they were the clamor of a new self struggling to be born.
In many ways, the church cries out in the same way. She is struggling to be born again into a new space. But in order for that to happen, we need to let her cry out in the waiting. We need the time to listen to God, to each other, to ourselves.

Meg Wheatley offers wise words in her organizational dynamics work. She speaks language that makes sense to me when it comes to how an organizational leader can operate as a host and convenor of people. (Hjalmarson, Leadership in Chaordic Age) She became my hero when she made the choice to move towards chaos and uncertainty, rather than trying to create yet another system to make everything work in a controlled environment.  But even more than her leadership and uncertainty research, she strikes me profoundly when she addresses listening:
I have learned that when we begin listening to each other, and when we talk about things that matter to us, the world begins to change. Human conversation is the most ancient and easiest way to cultivate the conditions of change — personal change, community, and organizational change. (http://www.margaretwheatley.com/articles/listeninghealing.html)

What would it take for the church to be about listening? Or as Dietrick Bonhoeffer, could we be Christians who “have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share?”

About the Author

mm

Mary Pandiani

Spiritual Director, educator/facilitator, follower of Jesus, a cultivator of sacred space for those who want to encounter God

17 responses to “Go With The Slow”

  1. mm Brian Yost says:

    “the time came to leave when I no longer had opportunities to meet with parishioners because I had to create another program.”

    Mary, this is such sad truth about the state of the American church. Wouldn’t it be great if we were not so obsessed with measuring and comparing? Programs are easier to measure than relationships and inner growth, so it is easier to judge a church by what we can measure. As we are getting ready to move to a new church, people keep asking me how big it is. Seldom do people ask about the health of the church, the personality of the church, the witness the church has in the community, or how Jesus is represented within the local body.

    • mm Jon Spellman says:

      Brian, it is interesting that most Christians don’t seem concerned with the important things that define a congregation’s missional footprint. Just how big is the building and how many people show up on Sunday

    • Mary says:

      I preached awhile back to a church of about 25 people, 10 of which came from a special needs adult home. At first, I was discouraged as I felt like I put a lot of work into a sermon for JUST 25 people. But something happened in that service, can’t really explain exactly what happened, other than I realized each one of the folks who came that morning was/is a child of God. God doesn’t see the number; he sees each of us as His kids. That means 25 people that morning were in the holy presence of God together. And while I might have preached, I came away ministered to. I share my story out of some embarrassment because, if I’m honest, I think I’d much prefer to preach to a larger church. Yet God’s economy is so much different than mine. I actually got to meet Jesus that morning in a very special way.

      • Jon Spellman says:

        Mary, there is a safety in numbers that we preachers enjoy. Smaller groups leave us exposed and a bit vulnerable. We’re generally not comfortable there…
        j

  2. mm Nick Martineau says:

    Thanks Mary….I appreciated a quote from Broken Futures that said, “Mayan civilization has demonstrated that civilizations near the end of their life-cycle increase their pace as they sense that the party is nearly over.” Waiting is hard…it’s so hard for most people that they just busy themselves to death and it appears many churches do the same thing. Waiting is hard but I really agree with you that waiting and listening will be what brings revival.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Business takes the place of business doesn’t it?

    • Mary says:

      I’m with you, Nick on that quote. I’ve already repeated it numerous times to folks since I read it. Once we think we’ve arrived, we’re actually dying – that’s another way I’ve been looking at it. We’re so busy trying to do so much that we’re missing the point. I hope that I can learn to be better at waiting and listening.

  3. mm Dave Young says:

    Mary, I love your heart. How you prioritize people over efficiency or programing. I’d say that as a senior pastor I’ve never been one to focus on putting butts in chairs. However where I’m seeing my own error is that the call to ‘make disciples’ is both quantitative and qualitative. We should get frustrated when the pendulum goes too far in either direction.

    I’m also hearing the Lord’s direction in waiting, maybe it’s another rarely grasped, spiritual discipline. Thanks for your encouragement and grace in that regard too.

    • Mary says:

      You make an interesting note on qualitative and quantitative disciple-making – I think the idea of deeper and relational disciple-making is the key. Sometimes that means it won’t be a lot of people. For you as a pastor, I would assume that would be difficult since the hope is to reach as many people as possible. I can appreciate how you have to hold both – qualitative and quantitative – in hand together.

  4. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Mary, I saw this post on Facebook. Maybe there is hope for the church to go with Costco . . . or at least right behind it. Thanks for sharing more of your story and the authentic journey you are on. 🙂

    Slow Church

    https://scontent-ord1-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-prn2/v/t1.0-9/1240069_531565566923218_683829847_n.jpg?oh=6ef0fa6e03062fa952e38d95c719040b&oe=56024EC0

    While we may bemoan the fast life of the 21st century and the fragmentation that comes with it, we often are blind to the effects that this “McDonaldization” of our culture has on the shape of our life together as churches. Our churches increasingly reflect the unreflective speed, dehumanizing efficiency and disintegrating isolationism of the wider Western culture.”

    “A 90-minute Presbyterian Outlook webinar
    Tuesday, June 9, 2015 at 2 p.m. ET (11 a.m. PT)
    featuring SLOW CHURCH c-author C. Christopher Smith.

    More details and registration:
    http://pres-outlook.org/2015/04/slow-church-toward-a-deeper-life-together/

    Live event with on-demand replay (1-6 people) – $29.95
    Pre-order the DVD – $43.95 (FREE S/H)

    https://www.facebook.com/events/415254465350090/

    https://www.facebook.com/events/415254465350090/?acontext=%7B%22ref%22%3A3%2C%22ref_newsfeed_story_type%22%3A%22regular%22%2C%22feed_story_type%22%3A117%7D

  5. mm Travis Biglow says:

    Hi Mary,

    That is a good heading “go with the slow.” I can relate to this so much. I have had to do this. Being extremely ambitious while growing up i was into trying to make things happen my way or the way the world does it. I was not concerned about waithing for anything. But failure after failure and runing into walls is not a fun thing. I thank God for realizing that what he has for us we dont have to rush for it. We just have to wait for it and it will show up. I praise God for that and for knowing that emulating every possible thing that looks successful is not always that. Sometimes in the process of our chaos success is present!

    • Mary says:

      “Sometimes in the process of our chaos success is present!” Great line, Travis. It’s usually when I don’t know what I’m doing that God can accomplish the most 🙂

  6. Mary, your opening point needs to be heard: there is less resistance to change and more openness to querying long standing assumptions out there in the world than in the church. People of faith should be leading the way — because by definition we ought to be the ones who can imagine an unseen future; by definition we should not be afraid of the dark. Yet — we are often the slowest to imagine an alternate world and the most stuck in our ruts. What is this sickness among us? And why is it that we are often find ourselves (rightly) following the insights and the courage offered by those who claim non-biblical faiths? This could be asked another way: why does there seem so much llight in the world and so much darkness in the church? I realize that this seems wide off the trail of leadership and adaptive challenge, but unless we ask these questions we may not not be using the best maps for the landscape we are traveling.

    • Mary says:

      I appreciate your words, Len, as you speak to how I view myself – always going off the trail when it comes to leadership and adaptive change. I don’t necessarily see myself as one who will be the navigator for others as a pastor, but I do see myself helping those navigators ask the questions that can help create the new maps that are needed. I’m curious – do you suppose that means I’m not a leader in the church? I’m okay with that, especially as you spoke about darkness and light – I’m much more comfortable in recognizing what is sacred in secular settings. The darkness in the church frustrates me too much.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      But Len, how much light is there to be found among unredeemed humanity? I’m not saying that all truth is encapsulated within Christianity, I agree that truth is truth (light) wherever it may be found, IF it can be found, but my problem is that darkness seems to prevail whenever the church is absent. I don’t buy into the whole “everyone is really good at their core, with just a few bad apples” and I think scripture affirms that.

      J

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