By Mark A. Taylor
Too many in the developed, Western world feel trapped in the treadmill of now.
They work for companies whose investors demand profit growth this quarter, not next year.
They go to doctors and expect a drug to cure their aches and pains today.
They rush from work to meetings, sports events, or kids activities with hardly time to eat. So they grab fast food, quick take-out, or an instant dinner from the grocery store shelves full of them.
And church leaders are not immune. We expect to see higher giving after a 12-week class, or more group leaders from one weekend training session.
The athlete develops her strength and skill through year after year of a strict training regimen.
Professional musicians practice every day, some of them long after they’ve become celebrities.
Parents live through their children’s turbulent adolescence because they know the turmoil of immaturity won’t last forever.
The farmer plants his crops and then he waits.
I was speaking with folks seeking to address the problems caused by poverty in their communities. One thread connecting all their experience and advice was, “Don’t hurry.”
Becky Ahlberg spent a year talking with community leaders before choosing a strategy for addressing problems around First Christian Church in Anaheim, California. She began with only six women six years ago, but soon she will have more than 80 graduates of a program that teaches inner-city mothers the mothering skills often missing in the midst of generational poverty.
“A group that size can have a leavening influence on a whole community,” she said.
Chris Smith recounted Englewood Christian Church’s decision not to abandon the center of Indianapolis just because many members had fled to the suburbs. “For many years we did the traditional sort of ministry to the poor around us,” he said, initiatives like clothes closets and food pantries.
But eventually the church abandoned all that and just began working week-by-week with their community to help their community solve their community’s problems. The church creates garden plots for local residents. They sponsor a food co-op to relieve hunger, and building or rehab projects to address homelessness. Residents are working to help themselves make a better life. And it has taken time.
Aaron Wymer described the first project attempted by Grandview Christian Church in Johnson City, Tennessee, where he serves. It failed because the church tried to do too much too soon and overwhelmed the agency they were serving with volunteers.
He started over, spending many months leading his congregation to discover needs and match them to church members’ abilities and passions. At last, they’re beginning to see that they’re making a difference.
All these experiences remind us that looking at the long haul is the best way to make the journey.
How will my investment in a few today develop leaders for many others in the coming years?
What small steps can I begin today to become the person I’d like to be?
What prayer can I resume about a need that hasn’t gone away—and am I willing to keep praying that prayer every day until it’s answered?
“In the fullness of time” Jesus finally came to earth, fulfilling all those prophecies from centuries earlier. How willing am I to slow down and allow the time that nature requires or God has ordained in order to solve the problems I’m seeing today?
Listen to the whole interview with Ahlberg, Smith, and Wymer, titled “Good News to the Poor,” here.
Learn more about Chris Smith’s book, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Way of Jesus, written with John Pattison, here.