From Monks and Bells to Apps and Notifications

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The church used to keep the tempo of life. Now Silicon Valley is pushing the pace—and pulling the church along with it.

Despite the ways in which the coronavirus pandemic has confused our concept of time and curtailed a host of plans and activities, nearly all of us—and this is certainly true of pastors—feel as if we cannot keep up with the constant motion of the modern world. Life is fast. Maybe you don’t have to “go” to work, but now you can replace that commute time with more work—at your house! And maybe you don’t need to take your kids to school, but you can replace that time with writing emails—while your kids ask you for food! Life is fast, and even a pandemic can’t seem to slow it down.

Pastoral responses to the quickened pace of modern life have often been overly simplistic and covertly pharisaical. “Take a Sabbath,” we say. Or, “Create rhythms of self-care.” Or, “Make sure your calendar has margin.” There is wisdom, of course, in such advice, but it’s important to pay attention to how and why we pursue it, not just whether. Sabbath and self-care can quickly become utilitarian. Heeding the wisdom of Scripture for selfish gain, innovative productivity, and schedule optimization will only lead us back to where we started: exhausted and confused about where the time went.

Andrew Root achieves something quite remarkable, then, in his latest volume, The Congregation in a Secular Age. Root, a ministry professor at Luther Seminary, places two issues—speed and secularism—at the center of our current cultural weariness. But the solutions he offers are anything but simplistic. Nowhere, for instance, does he encourage pastors to “rest” or “take Sabbath seriously” or cultivate “soul-forming habits.”

What …

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