André Baard

andre.baard@gmail.com

S.L.O.W. Church

“Here is something else I have learned: The fastest runners and the greatest heroes don’t always win races and battles. Wisdom, intelligence, and skill don’t always make you healthy, rich, or popular. We each have our own share of misfortune.”

Ecclesiastes 9:11

We are to run in such a way as to win the race set before us. According to Barna Research, 70% of pastors in the USA don’t make it to the end of their race.

Festina lente or make haste slowly” is an ancient saying that is as true in ancient times as it is in the modern age. We know the tortoise beats the hare but still we are tempted to ‘sprint and hurry up’. The caterpillar is slow and ugly at first, but it turns out in the end to be swift and beautiful insect.

Speed kills. But the other trouble with speed, is that it is just so slow. Let us slow down to the speed of the Holy Spirit. In a world that glorifies and rewards fast, we need to reexamine our current practice in the light of ancient truth. Fast food, fast cars and fast relationships, fast thoughts, fast diets and fast love. God calls us to “Go low and slow” as Heidi Baker says. Lust is fast, love is slow.

Lower, slower and simpler.

To win the race set out before us and the churches we serve, we need to pace ourselves. The Pilgrim’s Progress is a process of sit, walk, run, sit, walk, run and sit again, it’s not a flat-out sprint. If we realistically want to win the crown of life, we need to slow down to the Speed of Love. Love is slow. Slow Churches are love based churches, they S.L.O.W. to the speed of real relationship. We need to be counter-cultural to the status quo which medicates speed sickness with Pharmakeia. We medicate our pain, often missing the wisdom to deal with the cause of the pain. Conformity to a sick culture makes you sick. There are some issues that cannot be fixed with better doctrine or trying harder, only changing pace. Changing pace is not a cure-all but in this time and hour, it seems like the right medicine.

Most often, going slower is more difficult than going faster.

“Slowness, not as some understand it.”

2 Peter 3:9

The Slow Church acronym consists of four words that are useful to describe a healthy and temperate Christian lifestyle. It is also useful to speak as a counter to the fast and fear driven culture we find ourselves in. Sustainable, Local, Organic and Whole churches … Christians practicing agape in Slow Churches. Love is slow. We are told the lie that fast is good, fast is better. It is an allusion. Speed kills. Fast love is not love.

Slow as a word, not an acronym, is a term describing time. Now, God exists outside of time, He is eternal but here on earth, we are not. We are eternal beings but are also bound by time and space on this dusty planet. We also live in a cultural context, where haste is considered a virtue. Therefore, using ‘slow’ is a useful readjustment reminder, that in a fast paced world, Christians are called to live at the pace of another kingdom, not of earth. Our clock and calendar is not from this age or even dimension. Jesus engaged in eternal things.

Peter in this scripture shows us our innate, fleshly impatience. We want things now and quick and fast, so we project that speed onto God. Yet God is not slow as some understand it … He is God-paced … not world-paced. The devil is in a hurry, scurrying to and fro on the earth, knowing his time is short. He makes his servants also hurry and scurry, in aimless circles of fear based purposeless effort. We have not so learned Christ. We are undistracted, with our eyes fixed on Him.

Make the Greatest Commandment Great Again

A church centered around the great commission looks very different to a church centered around the greatest commandment. We are human beings, not human doings. We were created on Friday, a day before a public holiday. We were created for rest. We were created to be lovers first. Lovers win because love always wins. Our identity as lovers of God needs to remain central. Service comes from love. We act from love, not for love. Many saints and churches are burnt out because of all the doings, we have forgotten how to ‘be a witness’.

Godliness with contentment is great gain but it seems we celebrate unbridled ambition and call it industry, we celebrate overwork and call it diligence, we consider busyness a virtue and not a trap. When do you “Be still and know that I am God”? Mental health issues in the church match the world. Anxiety is the norm for many. Why? BUSY BUSY – ‘because you said yes’, ‘barren under satan’s yoke’, you are!

Relational Order, Chaordic DNA

Slow Churches are based on a relational order, not an organisational order. They are chaordic, they have the chaotic life in the vine but order in the trellis. Life is in relationships. ‘Chaim’ is life in Hebrew. It also means ‘community’, because in a Hebrew mindset, to live is to be community, in relationship. Graham Cooke, puts it like this “There is an effervescence in relationships that carries us into the anointing and the presence of God.” The chaos of relationships producing life, it is not a weakness, its a pillar of strength. The order in relationships is carried in the heart, not in constitutions or vision statements. A deeply relational chaordic DNA in a church can only be caught, it cannot be taught.

Moving and Growing by the Holy Spirit

We need to slow down to the speed of the Holy Spirit, not the speed of our ambitions to push the numbers, that is not very representative of the image of God. God weighs us, He doesn’t count us. Slow Churches are a return to the ancient slower ways, to the speed of life, not technology.

As churches we have absorbed a lot of the cultural priorities around us. Church life is often measured in two two-hour per-week sessions. There are some drive thru type gatherings … churches lending from the fast food chain models … no time to sit and eat, its about turnover. Fast Church suits a fast passed life where the dogma of more-is-better, is the order of the day. And God by His grace, uses that.

But where do you ‘tarry’, or corporately linger in the Spirit? Where His Spirit has time to work in hearts and do that spiritually formative work? When does the Holy Spirit have His way? Where is God the only Agenda? Yet, it’s not to be slow, it’s not about sloth. That is unwise. It’s about temperance, to use that important word of 1 Cor 9, it’s to reduce our speed and sometimes speed up our sloth, to a point where we meet the Spirit at His speed. It is about attentiveness, to Jesus. You cannot pay attention carefully, while in a rush. To establish a rhythm of individual life and community life that is tempered and paced and budgeted for the long haul Christian Race.

Slow Churches are neither slow nor fast. They move at the Spirit’s pace. They move outside of earth time. They are Spirit-based churches. Slow Churches are spiritual churches. It’s being and doing; resting and working; it’s hammocks and hammers; it’s modality and sodality; it’s sitting and walking – it’s being settled settlers and restless pioneers. God had to give a Jacob a limp so he could stop running, running away from fear, running from pain of the past, running too fast …

Church & Mission

Its not ‘missionless church’ or ‘churchless mission’. It is about a devoted to Christ church. Its about Jerusalem as home (but not immovable) and about Regions Beyond always beckoning (but not all consuming). It’s where your away game is as good as your home game. It’s about developing healthy, safe spiritual homes and about reaching Regions Beyond. Its about spending resources on church development and spending resources on mission development – 50/50? Its about a fruitful tension between church and mission, inward focus and outward focus. Tension is good because it evidences life, dead things are limp, living things have the tension of life in them. ‘And’ is the most important theological word. Both and. Mission and church, church and mission. Contentment at home but contending for the lost on the mission field!

SLOW Churches are SUSTAINABLE

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…”

Hebrews 1:1-3

“You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you and I have appointed and placed and purposefully planted you, so that you would go and bear fruit and keep on bearing, and that your fruit will remain and be lasting, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name [as My representative] He may give to you.”

 John 15:16 Amplified

“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

Isaiah 46:4

 He initiates and God is both Creator and Sustainer and Upholder of what he started.

  • Sustainable by the Spirit. The Spirit of God sustains the work; it’s the Spirit’s activity, not by might nor by power but by His Spirit.
  • Sustainable Slow Churches or spiritual families speak of a church where the leaders and people aren’t burnt out, because everyone operates at the speed of the Spirit and not out of the speed of flesh and rampant ambition.
  • Sustainability is essential because we’re aiming for rewards of gold, silver and precious stones that will be tested by fire. Works that are sustainable are produced by the Spirit. Works done by the flesh, or wood, hay and stubble are unsustainable church work; their foundations are built on man, not gold, silver and precious
  • We don’t want burnt-out churches and burnt-out leaders because they weren’t burning the oil of God. A lot of work fails because they aren’t We are to be a sweet smelling aroma to the Lord, a reasonable spiritual sacrifice, not making smoke offerings by our tires burning rubber – high effort for no progress but by hearts on fire.
  • We have to slow down to the speed of the Spirit and not to the ability of our own competence and knowledge to do God’s work for Him.
  • Sustainable speaks to the candelabra burning in the temple, and when the candle burns with oil, a beautiful light is emitted, but when the oil runs out, the wick burns and produces smoke and it obscures, stinks and blinds. It obscures vision. The picture is of pure oil burning, the Spirit of God sustaining, supplying the work, versus the wick burning, speaking of our own human flesh, our own human strength, which can burn … and lead to burnout!
  • The wise virgins supplied their lamps from the extra oil kept in their Portable Backup Oil Jar, which they filled with oil that comes from intimacy with Jesus. Their output (external light from lamps) was always less than their input (secret oil given by Jesus from intimacy inwardly, in the prayer closet). They had overflow and extra in case of unforseen times.

The difference between the foolish and wise virgins was the wise had an accompanying oil jar for their oil lamp.

SLOW Churches are LOCAL

“You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you and I have appointed and placed and purposefully planted you, so that you would go and bear fruit and keep on bearing, and that your fruit will remain and be lasting, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name [as My representative] He may give to you.”

John 15:16

  • We need a robust Theology of Place. A church needs a sense of place, we are not disembodied spirits. Jesus was 100% human. The Church is His body. We are corporeal and inhabit space and time. The church has an address.
  • Churches should be locally governed as the scripture teaches. Head offices in faraway countries do not always know how to best govern local affairs.
  • Hierarchical models and institutional and organizational setups often end in some kind of abuse or failure of over-control because God doesn’t build His Kingdom hierarchically. He builds His Kingdom from the ground up; it’s a servant King ruling a servant Kingdom. It’s not an empire; it’s a Kingdom where Christ the King is the Chief Servant of all. It’s not a top-down structure.
  • Local speaks of autonomy and self-governance. Local churches should have their own government in terms of plurality of elders leading and forming the pillars of the church.
  • It’s like a family; the husband and wife govern the family; they lead the family. Parents are best equipped to govern their own
  • A local operating leadership model enables good and effective governance because local people know better; they are in touch with what’s happening on the ground.
  • Paul planted churches, raised elders, and he moved on.
  • Local is generally better than imported. (Local honey is better than imported honey because of local conditions, the local eagle understands the local currents better than eagles from a different place).
  • Slow church needs to have a local value, local ‘prescence’.
  • You can scale well when people are autonomously self-governing. Besides scaling, a local emphasis is economical, there are savings to be made when ‘buying local’ for a community as a whole.
  • Local also is about resilience and damage mitigation. If one congregation becomes infected by some spiritual disease, the rest are protected by their self-governing design.
  • Local churches need some form of autonomy to let their particular color, light, function, gift, and uniqueness shine without being subdued, diluted or controlled by leaders far removed.

SLOW Churches are ORGANIC

  •  The word organic comes from the root word ‘organ’ and has different I apply it here in the context of below dictionary meanings. I do not apply it in the context of the common understanding of organic in food production where all pesticides and artificial fertilizers are frowned upon. I am a weekend farmer and I thank God for Glysophate poison! Weeds like Nutgrass don’t die any other way (certainly not by any natural means). Same with some artificial fertilizers derived from oil, they have their place. But these rich meanings of the word are really helpful as an ecclesial metaphor:
    • ‘relating to a bodily organ or organs’ (Oxford Languages)
    • ‘denoting or characterized by a harmonious relationship between the elements of a whole’ (Oxford Languages). Consider the word for ‘equip’ in Eph 4:12 – ‘katartismos’ which means “equipping the individual parts to work together in correct order”
    • ‘happening in a slow and natural way, rather than suddenly’ (Oxford Learner Dictionary)
    • ‘produced by or from living things’
  • Growth in slow churches is organic, natural, zig zagging and non linear. It is not artificial and not driven by large turbo charged professional ad campaigns. It is not ‘attractional’ per se. Its not a commercially driven. Its growth from the inside out. It’s organic growth where churches grow first qualitatively and then quantitatively. God weighs us, He does not count us. Quantitative growth occurs through natural lifestyle evangelism that’s sustainable. Growth is natural. Sometimes it may be through schisms – like using cuttings in vegetative reproduction but it is not growth through aggressive church takeovers such as in merger and acquisition style ‘movement growth’ that one sees happen from time to time. Here, commonly one big church finds some formula that works for them, and then they start swallowing up a bunch of other smaller churches through a corporate-like aggressive takeovers. Local ‘pleasant boundaries’ are often d sregarded. There may be some economic benefits in doing this type of growth by amalgamation because you do not duplicate resources but the opportunity cost is loss of autonomy, which is a very high price. It’s not organic growth; it’s linear growth by swallowing, growth by co-opting smaller churches, artificial growth, transfer growth and not growth through organic Spirit lead reproduction.
  • The opposite of organic churches are franchise, cookie cutter patterned churches. God uses many forms thankfully but organic Slow Churches have a distinct character difference from franchise churches: each church is unique. The ‘inorganic’ type churches follow a corporate model turbocharged with tons of artificial fertilizer, where the plants grow quickly but have weak root development through the process and conditions of life outside a The wild mountain slopes can be inhospitable but they have other benefits as a place of growth.
  • Organic food generally taste much better than genetically modified ones because growers are pushing volume and not quality, taste is lost in the You know the perfect looking tomato that tastes like nothing? Organic speaks of something relatively more tasty; it’s slowly grown, unique. It’s not grown in artificial, untested in the real world, spiritual mono-culture greenhouses with climate control AC and very soft seats. With cool highly entertaining programs.
  • “Now Isaac loved [and favored] Esau, because he enjoyed eating his game, but Rebekah loved [and favored] Jacob.” (Gen 25:28). Game is organic It grows wild, it grows under the hand of God, not by human husbandmen. Game lives free and its taste is unique as the antelope eat wild aromatic plants. There is metaphor here, Isaac, a type of the Father, loves that which He plants, He grows and He protects. It tastes different to domesticated livestock.
  • Organic church or Slow Church is a church that can survive in the bush. It has all the DNA, the spiritual, apostolic, and prophetic DNA, to survive in the jungle of a world hostile to the gospel. Organic is tougher; it’s more resilient and doesn’t quickly die. Its seeds are heirloom and keep their potency for generations.
  • Organic gardens are not known for their high volume but for their high With unique flavours, intense colours and superior medical properties, organic crops are better quality than mass-produced supermarket GMO crops.

SLOW Churches are WHOLE

  •  Similar to the word organic, which denotes churches that emphasize the whole body working together, each part doing its part, the priesthood of all believers working, wholeness speak to caring for the whole person. It’s less about membership or ticking attendance, tithing or ticking training course boxes.
  • Wholeness matters when you’re establishing spiritual families with the DNA of slow Go low and go slow because when you go fast, you miss the wholeness. (The Holy Spirit is confined to an hour to do its work in every gathering).
  • When you serve Slow Churches, you are concerned about the whole person. It’s less about membership or ticking attendance, tithing or ticking training course boxes.
  • True Slow Churches disciple the whole They are ministering to the whole man-wholeness matters.
  • The purpose of all equipping ministry is to come to the fullness of the stature of Jesus Christ-the fullness, the wholeness of Christ – Ephesians 4:13 and the unity of the faith – another form of ‘wholeness’ … oneness.
  • You disciple the whole person and not just a piece of their life. Discipleship is happening through community to the whole person, impacting their family, material, spiritual and emotional life. You don’t just bypass parts of their life because it doesn’t suit your church model. It’s about consistency in all areas of our lives.
  • It’s a slow process but very thorough because every part of our lives become changed by the gospel.
  • There are many believers and churches that are not They deal with a slither of a person’s life and not all of it. It’s about being a consistent Christian in all of your life’s expressions. Being an ambassador of Christ means that we acknowledge Him in all of our ways, in everything.
  • Your faith community affects your whole It affects your work and family life. It’s a lifestyle of Christian community.
  • A Slow Church implies a whole life involved. You cannot just have a ‘one-hour-tap-out-service’ on a Sunday and hope to be a Slow Church. It’s just never going to work. The Gospel’s demands on us aren’t that easy; the Gospel demands everything of us, and with that comes everything of Him the glory, gore, and agony and ecstasy included!

4 Responses

  1. Thank you Andre. I beĺeve this is and was always the model. To unlearn ‘church’ as we know it, is a process too. Looking forward to gleaning from you as we walk this journey together.
    Love
    Angeline

  2. Love it. Thank you for articulating this, it’s so core to what we as a family are also trying to express.

    In a life dominated by TicTok, YouTube shorts and the next new best thing each few hours, current culture hinders us to focus on what we are called for, to mull, hover, tarry in the spirit, sit at the table and slowly feast with our King, enjoying Him, and not running to the next new best thing and in so doing missing Him or what He is doing.

    Over the last few decades I have also been convinced that in traditional “church” as we know it, it’s not family (even if that’s what’s on the flyer or advertising board), larger congregations are forced to keep people entertained with good preachers or good worship, and are forced by the very nature of the beast to offer fast food, even if it’s not intentional, even if there really is a love for Jesus. Fast Food is the only way (granted of a few exceptions…), to keep traditional church sustainable. Fast food from a few who serve while everyone receives, pays and then leaves.

    Andre, you covered something here which also jumps out at me, related to the “let us tarry in spirit with the Lord as a congregation”,… Still chewing this, S. L. O. W works best in a healthy family sized, even larger extended family sized groups where true accountability and family input encourages new ways of thinking, unlearning old church wineskin, and going deeper, to cooperatively tarry with what the Holy Spirit is doing as a whole group of believers. It’s a scary reality how many pastors of churches as we know do not make it to the end, busy with too many things as they take the place of the head which should be dedicated to Christ alone, and the Christians miss Christ because of the focus on a single person or worship song.

    Andre, you have stirred things up here I believe clearly by the Spirit, calling to depth. Thank you, I will need to rather mull over and chew slowly before typing more.

  3. Thanks, Andre, for sharing such a word in season.
    The body of Christ needs to hear this so that our hearts will awaken to these kingdom realities. At the same time religion cannot survive this because it poses as God’s kingdom and persecutes what does not fit or what threatens its existence. It takes spiritual boldness to delve in such matters and how i pray that more saints will be emboldened to stand and speak what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

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