When Paul wrote the great “love chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13, he probably never realized how much it would be quoted in weddings. (And perhaps how much it would stay relegated to weddings alone, and ignored otherwise!). But I love the imagery he uses:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and know all the mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I give over my body in order to boast, but do not have love, I receive no benefit.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NET).
It comes as no surprise to most of us that love takes time, and in many ways, people know you love them by how much time you spend with them. If I give my wife only a few minutes a day, it’s obvious that there is a problem – or going to be one very soon. To be honest, I often love my news feed and my Instagram more than others, given how much time I spend with those things. But the point is that you ‘can’t hurry love’ (as Phil Collins once sang).
Yet when we look at the life of our churches sometimes, you would think we think you can – because instead of creating environments that slow things down enough for us to truly love each other, we create fast environments filled with things to do. And we call it Kingdom.
I think, if I were to make this scripture above a little more contextual for today, we could say: “if I build churches with the most amazing outreach events and evangelism projects, and am constantly making sure I am busy doing the work of God and at every meeting, but have not love, I am nothing.” Many leaders will nod their heads at all this. Many of us will insist that we must spend lives with personal devotion times with Jesus that take time. No 15 minutes with Jesus stuff. But if you are creating a church environment, as a leader, where you’re always keeping people busy, can you lament that they’re always too busy for Jesus and community?
It’s not always about time, but space. We often don’t give ourselves, and those we lead, time to even think. Sure, I know that many of us are our own worst enemies, filling up any free time with other things and clogging up our thoughts with social media feeds… but still, there is something about many of our city churches where we seem to have adopted the driven nature of our city.
In Tim Keller’s book, Center Church, he speaks of how a church can often either over-adapt to its city culture or under-adapt. If it under-adapts it is frequently misunderstood. For example, a charismatic church that waves flags and has corny dancing teams to trumpet-led 90’s worship music in an American mega city might be under-adapting. I think a church can sometimes over-adapt in some things and under-adapt in others. For many of our churches in cities today, we over-adapt to our city culture when we become places of busyness. The city is busy enough. Where will people find rest? The home is frequently not the place. They’re supposed to find rest in Jesus and find Jesus in their church community, and that rest then goes into their home.
There are times when we embrace a culture and times when we are to be counter-cultural. In the case of being busy, city churches need to be counter-cultural. But people are often finding communities of busy people that have little head-space and consequently heart-space for depth and relationship, because that community is too busy trying to do ‘good things’ and be ‘missional’ through event after event and church service after church service. Look, I really love you, but I committed to pouring tea tonight and leading the prayer meeting, so no time to chat about what’s going on in your life and your heart, and no time to hear what’s on mine. We’ve got a job to do, don’t we?
Little space in our lives makes for little hearts. Love slows down. Perhaps in rural churches they need to speed things up a bit (I imagine it takes quite a bit of work to get people to do new things in those contexts). But in city churches, we need to really slow down. Otherwise, all we become are communities of noisy gongs and clashing cymbals, and pretty much nothing else.