There was a time when the local church regulated the velocity of community life. Little League and town hall and school officials consulted with the clergy when scheduling or planning events. The movie Footloose was an academy nominee in our house because it depicted, perhaps a little over the top, the power of church ideals over what moved the community.
In a larger sense, the pace of moral change was slowed by the insistent voice of spiritual leaders. When towns and cities decided the zoning status of low-rent clubs, adult movie houses, gang havens, and even abortion mills, elected officials listend and responded accordingly. The church was the speed bump that slowed things down.
Not anymore. Today everything is hyper-engineered for speed. The metrics of the digital world have been superimposed over almost every operating system to permit velocity equilibrium. It's not even about setting the pace anymore. It's about keeping up. There's a book in the business department of the book store that tells the tale of this high speed world. The title? It's Not the Big that Eat the Small, but the Fast that Eat the Slow by Jason Jennings and Laurence Haughton. It's not inerrant or infallible, truth without mixture of error. But, it does ask some pretty important questions about maintaining influence in a fast-moving world. Even more, it is a reflection of what it is like to live in the real world today.
Then, there's the church, and all the layers of denominational life, moving @ 2 MPH. Restrictive governing documents, complicated organizational structures, standing rules, operating procedures, fiscal formulas, and all the other weights that inhibit movement keep the church stuck in the back-draft of speed around us. While our best and brightest lament trending declines, appoint study groups and task forces and committees, everything around us continues to zoom forward. And, it's distance that creates our disconnect from the culture of speed. They're light-years ahead while we're fumbling with the buggy whips.
When I need to ignite the retro rockets of mission I read through the Book of Mark. It is the immediate Gospel, the Gospel conditioned by the Greek word euthus, meaning "immediately". There's an urgency in Mark's writing that communicates Christ's power to heal, command the forces of nature, communicate the truth of the Word, and yes, change things. Throughout the Gospel this mind-set establishes a fresh connection that challenged the ancient, worn traditions of Jewish legalism. It was a new, pace- setting teaching, with total authority, that Mark portrayed changing the practices and ideals of the local population. Mark moves at the speed of spiritual truth, and it never lags behind the world.
Reconnecting with a fast moving world isn't rocket science, to use a popular pun. The writer of Hebrews spells it out clearly. It reads, "Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith..." (Hebrews 12:1-2). In my mind, the weights and sin that ensnares us involves the corporate baggage that has co-opted our mission. We're an institution, a large institution. And, we move slow.
As I near the end of my pastoral journey over the next couple of years, my love for our denomination grows more and more. How thankful I am for the extraordinary education I received at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. What a blessing to partner with so many great and wonderful mission enterprises. But, that love is tempered by the realization that our mission is jeopardized as the world races past us and the distance becomes greater by the day.
Today I am praying for visionary and courageous leaders to apprehend the mission opportunitites that are within our grasp right now, and leap us forward as His people for these times. You know, Issachar's people, who understand the times, and know what we should do.
Not Bill and Karolyn Slowsky, BTW.