Stewardship Versus Faithfulness

grapes-690230_1280In their wonderful, challenging book, Slow Church (reviewed on this blog), Chris Smith and John Pattison argue against the “fast-food-ization” of the American culture, including and especially the church. As a gross over generalization, we as a culture want everything quick, nicely packaged, and to be the same wherever we may be. Sadly this has seeped into the church at times, where we can be more enamored with results than with being faithful. They write:

Instead of cultivating a deep, holistic discipleship that touches every aspect of our lives, we’ve confined the life of faith to Sunday mornings, where it can be kept safe and predictable, or to a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” which can be managed from the privacy of our own home. (page 14)

Against this “fast-food-ization,” pockets of Slow resistance have arisen to call us back to a different way of being. The Slow protest began with the Slow Food movement, started by Carlo Petrini, in Italy in response to a McDonalds near the Spanish steps. Instead of the homogeneity of fast food culture, Carlo Petrini wanted to reclaim Italy’s native foods and food culture—pasta, cheese, and wine—food that expressed what it meant to be Italian to its fullest extent.

Drawing on the principles of the Slow Food Movement, Chris and John write:

Slow Church can help us unmask and repent of our industrialized and McDonaldized approaches to church. It can also spur our imaginations with a rich vision of the holistic, interconnected and abundant life together to which God has called us in Christ Jesus. The Slow Food Movement is fundamentally about the richness of a common life with the neighbors who grow our food, prepare our food and share our food. Slow Church is a call for intentionality, an awareness of our mutual interdependence with all people and all creation, and an attentiveness to the world around us and the work God is going in our very own neighborhoods. (pages 15-16)

In seeking to correct the over industrialized and McDonaldized approaches to church, we will be tempted to over compensate. If fast food culture and church are defined by control and efficiency, where we seek homogeneity and easy, quick results, then Slow Church adopters might be tempted take a laissez-faire approach to church, letting come what may.

I would argue that both are false approaches, both hiding behind the appearance of being spiritual. The McDonaldized approach to church claiming they are seeking to effectively steward the resources of the church; whereas the laissez-faire approach will hide behind the claim of simply being faithful, letting God do the work that only he can do. (I recognize that these are gross over-simplifications. I see the danger lying more in the subtle ways leaders cave to one of these two temptations without ever outright saying it.)

In using the ideas of Slow Food, Slow Church finds a middle way by demonstrating that stewardship and faithfulness go hand in hand.

Slow Food seeks to elevate native food culture and traditions instead of simply importing the latest fad. This means stewarding the natural resources and traditions of the place, while simultaneously being faithful to the place. As I understand them, stewardship is making the best out of the resources one has, whether as an individual or a community. To bring out the best with what one has. Faithfulness is being observant, listening, and aware of what is present in one’s surroundings, and willing to use them for good purposes. According to this, then, I cannot be faithful without being a good steward, and I cannot be a good steward without being faithful.

I wonder if this is a far analogy: stewardship is the science and faithfulness is the art. In dealing with any living organism, from farming, to viniculture, to cooking, to church, there is always a science and an art to what we do. And the top people in the craft realize and strive to see the two harmoniously interwoven.

While this is easy to recognize, the hard part comes in putting this into practice for it is easier to live in one of the two extremes.

How do we seek to harmoniously interweave stewardship and faithfulness into the church? Stay tuned for thoughts. But in the meantime, I would love to hear from you: How have you sought to do this?

In my next blog I want to examine how the Benedictine vows of stability, obedience, and conversion might provide a framework for moving forward.

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A Return to Blogging

My blogging habits fell by the wayside for a couple of years due to a variety of life circumstances. But recently, I have been challenged to do so again.

This blog will be about more than just food, although food will always play a prominent role.

Now that I am working in a local church, I want to converse with those that are thinking deeply about the role of the church in this new and different 21st century. But at the same time I want to remember and learn from my predecessors whom God used in amazing ways to build His church.

I want to converse about how spiritual formation and missional church intersect and how the two desperately need each other.

But most importantly I want this to be a place where I can wrestle, and you, in turn, can wrestle with the tough questions. And through the wrestling, my hope is we can all work together to see God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Just as a shared meal around a shared table creates convivial conversation, my hope is that this blog creates and adds to the already amazing conversations being had. So please, pull up a chair and join me at the table.