Fast or Slow?   Ý
Copyright 2003 by William Meisheid (6-1--03)

The other day I was reading an article in the business magazine Fast Company titled, “Slowly I Turned...Step by Step...Inch by Inch...” I found that the arguments that the author was making about the best way to build a great company (steady incremental improvements that are gradual, slow, measured, and organized) also applied when considering the best way to build a great church.

God is many things, but one thing that stands out about Him, especially when you read the scriptures as historical records, is that He is not in a hurry. God seems to move in slow, measured time. For example, consider how long it took from God's promise to Abraham to the birth of Isaac, or the time from Samuel's anointing of David until David finally ascended the throne of Israel. In the New Testament it was about 40 years after Jesus' crucifixion that his prophesy concerning the temple (Matt 24:1-2) finally came to pass. The agent was the Roman General Titus, who in 70 A.D. destroyed Herod's greatest accomplishment. In a similar vein, Paul was converted about 34 A.D. but it was not until 47 A.D. that he went on his first missionary journey. God moves in measured steps, both in our lives and in the larger events of history, or to put it in the terminology of First Corinthians, He does things in decency and in order.

Now contrast that approach with our impatience, our insistent desire to see changes yesterday and radical improvements tomorrow. As I look back over my almost 27 years at St. Timothy's I see many, many changes, in clergy, in worship and congregational direction, and in the attitude toward the larger church. These changes, while often justified, demonstrate at the center of all that activity a sense of impatience, of hurry, a need to see results "right now".

There are many reasons for this attitude. Some of it relates to our embracing of the Charismatic movement with its possibility of lightning striking at any moment, such as a sudden healing or miracle. Some of it comes from human nature and our resistance to embarking on things that require long, continuously demanding efforts. I plead guilty here. I have been an advocate of the quick fix for most of my life. I wanted home runs, not a succession of singles. It is only recently that I have begun to see the wisdom in God's more measured, gradual approach to working out His will. While Paul's conversion was sudden, it took almost 13 years before he fully set out on the task that Jesus had given him, to convert the Gentiles.

On balance it must be said that there is danger in the gradual approach. It can be used as an excuse for doing nothing at all. It also true that without stable and long-term leadership most gradual efforts get lost in the turmoil of change, so that it feels like you are constantly starting over and reinventing the wheel. Still, it appears that "Slowly I Turned...Step by Step...Inch by Inch..." is true wisdom and yearns after God's own method.

What does that mean to us as a congregation? I guess the first consideration is assuring stable and long-term leadership to maintain an enduring environment for growth. This goes beyond our rector's commitment, which is as sure as anything I know; it goes to the commitment of each and every one of us. To quote the Fast Company article: "The truth is, gradual change is challenging and hard: challenging, because the people around you are demanding something great right now, and hard, because gradual requires the faith to know that your hard work is worth the investment."

The other day I ran into someone who asked me if I was still at St. Timothy's, to which I replied, "Yes." This person went on to lament the many problems that have assailed the church over the years, and I interrupted to say that I had faith that we were moving in a positive direction and that God was working in the midst of our efforts. Upon further reflection I realized that I had made a decision that my hard work was worth the investment. I also now realize that my decision was driven by faith in God and faith in what He is doing here.

That said, I now accept that it will take time and that it will require small, patient steps. The question you have to ask yourself is this:  Are you willing make the same decision and allow that choice to be driven by the faith that your hard work is worth the investment, even if it takes three to five years or longer to show real results? I have, and I encourage you to join with me.