A Slow Ecclesiology or a Fast Ecclesiology?: Why There is No Fast Ecclesiology in God’s Mission

mzVJX6UHwllQb-oGPSA3BW6qeyGQvd39vKPUmU_1h2kCd7OSI-pHueEKZaKqdihTFjYu=s170I’m privileged to present at the Slow Church Conference in Indianapolis this week. I love this conference. I love this theme. The title of my talk will be “A Slow Ecclesiology or a Fast Ecclesiology?: Why There is No Fast Ecclesiology in God’s Mission.” I’m bringing together some themes I’ve been working on and speaking about alot these past two years. This week, I will explore three points with the bulk of my time spent on the third point. Here they are:

I. THE CHURCH IS A WAY OF LIFE EMBODIED (DEFINED BY) A SET OF PRACTICES. As opposed to defining the church via some static descriptors (one, holy apostolic, catholic) or creedal boundaries, it is imperative (in a state of mission) that the church understand itself as a people submitted to a set of practices, which when practiced (and in practicing a people gathers to submit to Jesus as Lord in this time and space) the Kingdom becomes manifest among a people before the watching world. Of course creedal statements are part of it and there will be adjectives that will describe Christ’s church. But in the church’s return to its call in God’s Mission, it’s central focus should be on its faithful practice from which creedal statements are refined/contextualized, and a people is sanctified by Her Lord in the Spirit to give witness to the kinds of people befitting to our call. I propose there are seven of these practices (actually 8 inckluding baptism) as given to us directly from Jesus Christ to his apostles to his church.


In these practices Jesus promises to be present.  Indeed this has always been recognized in the church. These practices became the sacraments of the Roman church. Yoder, in redescribing them , called them social sacraments. What I want to say is that Jesus promises to be “with” us in a visible reality in the midst of these practices when we gather to submit to His rule in them. These practices were given by Christ as the means to extend His presence via His people into the world. Unfortunately during certain periods of the church’s existence (most notably Christendom), these practices got sequestered into maintenance functions of the church. In so doing, we lost the wherewithal to be present to His presence and in the world.

As opposed to the ways of efficiency and control often enforced in Christendom periods of church life, these practices require a.) quietness to become present to God’s presence in Christ, b.) patience to become present to one another and “the other,” our neighbor, c.) and discernment to discern His presence, submitting to His inbreaking reign in these practices among us.


These practices can best be understood as practices “on the move” related closely to our homes, and our neighborhoods. They move slowly and take time. They move in three movements – from Close(d) –to- In the midst –to- As Guest – And Back again. I will show using the Eucharist in the New Testament how this basic core practice of the church shaped a people into the presence of Christ and the reality of His Kingdom becomes visible. I will show how other practices follow this same pattern including reconciliation, proclaiming the gospel, being ‘with’ the least of these, and the five fold ministry.

When we gather people too quickly, when we try to make church efficient, when we try to control their operations, we lose the church, and we lose Mission. It is safe to say that one the things Euro-colonialism did was bring the sequestered practices of Christendom church to other places and enforce their practice disregarding context.  The church is in danger of sequestering these practices to this day in different (and often defensive) ways. We must reclaim these practices for the slow patient local cultivation of the Kingdom as Christ church in His Mission.

What would be your biggest problem with these ideas? your biggest question? hurdle? Of course, you’ll have to come to hear how I flesh this stuff out with stories of real communities doing these things!!

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Posted in Ecclesiology, Missional Ecclesiology, Neo-Anabaptist, Post-Attractional, Post-Christendom
8 comments on “A Slow Ecclesiology or a Fast Ecclesiology?: Why There is No Fast Ecclesiology in God’s Mission
  1. Dan Jr. says:

    Love it Dave.

    I fully embrace habitus. I see the need for practices that shape and form us to be the People of God and more specifically into Kingdom families for the good of our neighborhoods. Rhythms are at the core of our localized community multiplications.

    My one concern has to do with the sometimes blurry line between the Liturgic and Ritualistic. Years ago pastored at a church that was a Anglican/Catholic/Baptist/Presb hybrid. Our liturgies were congregationally clear and understood. We spent a lot of bandwidth on giving imagination to them and explaining their role in mission. Our struggle ended up being how they were apprehended. We had many former Contemporary Worship Church attenders who moseyed on over to us because they were “attracted” to the liturgy. It was hip and historic to them. Yet they often interfaced with it as consumers. It moved their imaginations but barley translated into transformation. I remember vividly being in staff meetings as we wondered with frustration how our liturgical M.O was being primarily consumed with very little integration.

    Not sure I’m making sense here. It is an odd nuance. I just know from experience that what we hoped would be Missional Liturgy turned into Consumer Rituals. Thoughts?

    • David Fitch says:

      I remember the same thing happening at Life on the Vine … My focus these days is how each of the practices leads God’s people into His presence (in Christ via incarnation – the extension of His presence into the world) … and forms a place from which others can see and put their toe in the water.

      • What I love about this is how true to form it is. I find that the practice of authentic sharing creates space (often tense space) to encounter God in a similar way.

        My frustration is that I am an impatient guy. I wish I could just learn about the social practices and be good. Alas, I actually have to try, fail, try differently, fail differently and find that I am growing the whole time.

    • Michael J says:

      “It was hip and historic to them. Yet they often interfaced with it as consumers. It moved their imaginations but barley translated into transformation. I remember vividly being in staff meetings as we wondered with frustration how our liturgical M.O was being primarily consumed with very little integration.”

      I was just at lunch with a former congregation member of mine (i.e. I’ve actually left ‘church’ leadership through early retirement) because of this very dilemma. We talked about how little ‘transformation’ seems to be happening. Obviously, I, or you, or we could go into much detail about this very theological caginess that has led to such a frustrating end of so called ‘church.’ The ‘apparatus’ appears to send a message that you quite clearly spell out in a very succinct way. The apparatus in the market place has simply been co-opted by market forces IMHO. I think Dave is clear that ‘embodied presence’ is crucial and that presupposes practices that shape me, us, anyone in our very encounters with the ‘other.’ It is this very ‘encounter’ with the ‘other’ that too many of current environments called ‘church’ consciously or unconsciously insulate us from. In some of my own study around the word “fulfill” in scripture there seems to be a nuance around the idea of “filling” something, like a vase with water. That Jesus comes to “fulfill” or dare I say “fill” the law with content, substance, as Dave says, give it “full body.” I’m not a beer drinker but I hear about things like a “full bodied” beer. My sense is that we’ve missed the point in church, we have a ‘hollowness’ that now permeates to often those who would call themselves by the name of the “embodied” or as I like to say, the “full bodied” one, the one who gives substance to what it means to be fully human, fully human in presence, in encounters with the other, manifesting the reality Jesus called the Kingdom of God.

  2. Chris Morton says:


    We are currently gathering people slowly. It’s great, because we get the chance to focus on each other. People have gone from strangers to really liking each other. It’s beautiful to see:

    My question is this: How slow is too slow?

    My worry is that if we don’t eventually pick up some “mass” that we will in danger of becoming an inward focused cliqué. In other words, how can we grow to a healthy size sociologically, without, as you say, loosing all sense of mission?


  3. Ted Chaffee says:

    I really like these ideas, especially number one as it pertains to some discussions we are having in a local theological society. Also, I’m not sure what you are referring to when you say the “five fold ministry” in point number three. Can you help me a little with that? I find the rhythmic flow of the third point soothing and enticing, like the way Jesus told his parables. The passing of time is nearly always pictured in this fashion and not in the panicky, hyperventilating mode of our world. Thanks for this, I’m looking forward to more of your thoughts.

  4. David Cornwell says:


    Thanks so much for your presentation at the Slow Church gathering in Indianapolis last week. You opened up for me, and for many of those attending a deepening understanding of the Eucharistic practices of Jesus, and as a result, the church. This is something that has stayed with me since that time, and I hope will through the Holy Spirit, become part of my life.

    The Old Guy at Slow Church (although the idea of “age” changes with Easter)

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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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