"Unforced rhythms of grace"

Christians tend to do a lot of stuff. As a former pastor and now educator at a Christian institution, I've experienced first hand the pressure to "get things done." As Jesus followers we have a clear mandate and we'd better get to it!

And so we try really hard to have a vibrant this or a thriving that. Between church participation and everyday life, faithfulness is busyness.

And it's really tiring. And if we're honest, unsustainable.

Two recent experiences have challenged this notion of busyness for me.

Pender Island, BC
First, I had the chance to attend a 3-day retreat on beautiful Pender Island put on by the Mark Centre. A focal point of the weekend was intentional times of rest and listening to God's voice. Times of silence and inactivity forced us to accept an alternative to busyness. I'll admit, it was challenging. I gravitate more naturally towards talk of God instead of talk with God. Yet in the midst of the silence and slowing down, I began to "learn the unforced rhythms of grace" as Eugene Peterson puts it. It was deeply refreshing.

Second, I attended a discussion with the authors of a book called The New Parish, in which we were led to consider ways in which Christians are called to engage their local spaces, seeking faithful presence in the details of everyday life. The theme of busyness came up several times, one presenter suggesting that busyness is a spiritual issue. Busyness, he suggested, hinders our innate need for relationship - connection to God and to others. Busyness, in this sense, is not a badge of faithfulness, but a barrier to it. As another presenter reminded, "we are human beings, not human doings."

As I navigate the many facets of my everyday life (spouse, parent, teacher, neighbor, etc...), it's easy to become consumed by busyness. But I think there is a better way, a necessary way. We need to stop trying so hard, instead making space to join the unforced rhytms of grace in our world.


4 comments:

Kevin K said...

Hi David,

I've appreciated your reflections here as I stop by from time to time. This is slighty off point, but I know that the idea of 'parish ministry' is a growing trend amoung urban ministry theorists. A sort of practical extension of the incarnational movement I guess. Anyhow, I've spent the past few years as a small town pastor (I grew up in a suburban context), and chuckle at every day ministry life in the country being seen as cutting edge amoung contemporary urban church scholarship. My guess is our contexts have a lot more in common than we think (turns out humans are human no matter where they live... who knew?). Hope the book is helpful. If you're interested in learning more about how actual parish ministry looks in person, I suggest networking with a small town pastor. And by that, I don't mean someone from Chilliwack.

David Warkentin said...

Hello Kevin,

Thanks for the insightful comment! Good points! Too often much of the language around the missional/incarnational church movement focuses on "new." In reality, as you say, true parish ministry is very old. This is not a fad! Perhaps a language of recovery would be more appropriate. And you're not the first person to suggest small town life would be a good context to prepare and learn about urban ministry - good idea!

Kevin K said...

Hi David,

Thanks for your response. I'll risk using a word that I imagine has become fairly important to you. I think the praxis of church lies in two fundamental questions, in the name of Jesus, who do I care about, and how do I care about them? (which is another way of saying who is my neighbour?). The beauty of the parish model is that it almost entirely takes the first question out of the equation. The answer becomes simple. Who do I care about... all the people who live within this set geographical bounds. The reason it happens so organically in a rural setting is we really have no other option. Within our town and surrounding rural municipality there are about 750 people. Who is our neighbour? It's those 750 people. We then have to work out together how we will set about caring about them. The challenge in a suburban context is the fact that the number of people in our immediate community is much higher. Couple that with the fact that culturally we are able to define our own community around our own interests and demographics, and you get the challenge of building community in a suburban context. You spend a lot more time on the 'who.' I think this is why the parish model has such an appeal. It allows you to get to the practical business of faith much quicker.

David Warkentin said...

"The challenge in a suburban context is the fact that the number of people in our immediate community is much higher. Couple that with the fact that culturally we are able to define our own community around our own interests and demographics, and you get the challenge of building community in a suburban context."

Well said. You describe what comes naturally in a rural setting. Much of my frustration in urban/suburban ministry is that Christians try so hard. We attempt to create community instead of just be present in community. Again, thanks for sharing the insights from your particular context - very helpful.

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