“How are you doing?” “Busy,” we reply over our shoulder as we rush to our next appointment, without even acknowledging that we have failed to honestly reveal the state of our soul for the sake of our crowded schedule.
We often carry that same sense of hurriedness into our drive for mission. We so desperately want to see our church pews fill up with people who need to know Jesus that we scramble to approve our newest idea for outreach, in hopes that by next Sunday we’ll see results. Our drive to hurry is part of our ingrained behavior, especially in a culture with a “strong work ethic.”
But I was recently reminded at the Classis Grand Rapids South Pastor’s Prayer retreat that our God is not a God who works speedily. As 2 Peter 3 says, “A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent." (8b-9) Maybe we need to resurrect a theology of slowness when it comes to our missional practices, in order to become more like God’s character.
Henry Nouwen encourages us to counteract the hurry-up behaviors by adopting a “ministry of presence” instead. What if this year, in 2018, your congregation learned to practice this missional behavior in your community?
More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them. (Gracias!: A Latin American Journal 147-148)