Can INefficiency be a virtue?

Currently I am in Tacoma, WA with one of my Embassy teammates, Derrick Kelsey. We are attending a great training gathering known as Soma School. We are here to process how they execute missional community and Gospel-centered gatherings because it is similar to what we are striving toward in Denver via a new church called The Embassy. I will go into more detail about what we are learning after we have completed our time here, but I had to take this moment to point out one of their cultural norms. They put a cap on the number of people that can attend; they try to limit it to about thirty people. This is in direct contrast to the conference practices that I am accustomed to. Usually one wants to have as many attenders as possible so more people can hear what the experts are saying. But Soma’s approach places a premium on community. They have concluded that living in community during Soma School is essential to appreciating what they mean when they discuss “missional community.” In fact, they arranged for us to stay in the home of two young men that are members of the church (Soma Communities) instead of a hotel because they want for us to experience community while we are here. I also want to point out that the conference is 7 days long! Instead of having the typical plenary sessions with star preachers for 2-3 days, we are involved in dialogical teaching that requires our involvement and interaction. I do not want you to read this and think I am arguing against large conference gatherings; that is not my intention. I am trying to emphasize the fact that Soma School is slow, intentional, long, meticulous, and unrushed. If I had to give their approach a label, it would be Virtuously Inefficient. They are executing what we believe to be the sole approach to biblical discipleship. By definition, discipleship is INefficient.

Is it a bad word?

In our culture the words “INefficient” and “INefficiency” are considered pejorative terms. We are taught to drive toward the achievement of a goal without distraction. To not approach a process efficiently is considered unwise, lazy, or even shiftless. But we want to challenge that idea. What if a process is inherently INefficient? Wouldn’t approaching it in an efficient manner in fact undermine the process and cause one to miss the benefits of moving slowly? Under such circumstances wouldn’t INefficiency become a virtue and efficiency becomes a vice?

But what if…?

I once heard a friend reflect back on the vacations he would take with his family. Every summer they chose to drive from Texas to the North-East United States so they could visit the grandparents. They chose to drive, instead of flying, because it would allow the family to see the country and spend quality time together while on their way to the destination. But the father had a competitive streak in him so he had a secondary, hidden goal. He was racing against himself; he wanted to get to the grandparent’s house in a time that was faster than that of previous years. And in spite of the steps that were taken to allow his family to see the country, the father allowed the secondary goal, a fast travel time, to become the primary goal. Because of this, he would not stop along the way! He would simply point out the sites and landscape as he drove by. He would choose the shortest route as to avoid wasting too much time. This did not allow for detours to show his children the historic landmarks that were a few miles off the ordained path. In addition to that, he would drive 10-12 hours a day. This exhausted him and made him irritable; unpleasant to be around. When they stopped for the day he would only want to sleep so he could recover and get ready for tomorrow’s drive. One can say that his plan was efficient, but was it virtuous? One must only look at the primary goal to get the answer to that question. If it was to spend quality time with his family while traveling, then his approach, while efficient, was unwise.

But what if the father had chosen the INefficient route? What if he gave little or no regard to the strict timing of the trip? What if he stopped along the way to rest and enjoy the sites with his family? If he had done this it would have taken longer to arrive at his destination but his children would have been blessed by the trip and they would have celebrated the process. This would be INefficient, but it would have been the virtuous approach. Since the primary objective is to show them the sights and spend time with them, the trip is inherently INefficient. To deviate from the inherent nature of the trip would undermine the trip entirely.

Focussing on and celebrating the process

Culturally, the western church has adopted a quick achiever mentality. We focus on the destination at the expense of the process. Sadly, this has become our approach to discipleship. But if we were to pause and assess the discipleship process we would appreciate the fact that it is inherently INefficient. There is no end to it; it is always in the present tense. Paul asserts this when he says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2nd Cor. 3:18) Paul says that we are BEING transformed. No one can look back at the day it happened and we can’t look forward to the day when it will be absolutely complete. The process of being conformed to the image of the supreme Son of God is a delightful and never ending one; never in the past, always in the present. This means that discipleship is, by definition, a virtuously INefficient process. Consequently, we don’t focus on the end; we focus on the exceedingly joyful process. Our attention should be on what God takes us through as he conforms us to the image of Christ, and we are to pause and celebrate every moment of that process. Is this the inefficient thing to do? Yes, but we contend that it is Virtuous INefficiency. For this reason, we at The Embassy celebrate Virtuous INeffficiency as one of our Rhythms.

Brandon,

Striving toward Kingdom Community and Discipleship,
The Embassadors
www.theembassy.org

About embassadors

Core Value: - In all things, God is Supreme. (Romans 11:36) Rhythms: - Biblical Truth - Inefficient Discipleship - Kingdom Community - Missional Living Distinctives: - Team - Diversity & Integration - Small Missional Community Groups - Planting Pregnant - Maximizing Resources for Kingdom Purposes
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8 Responses to Can INefficiency be a virtue?

  1. Quentin says:

    So Brandon I get the whole it’s not a destination but a journey as life is also. And that Missional communities is about sharing that journey with others; doing life together as you would say. But the question is where is that community located? Would it be at the place you worship which would be great if everyone walked to church like they did back in the day. Would it be the place you work were you spend a great amount of time( 40hours a week.) Or maybe your in neighborhood. I guess you could say all of the above, but my struggle is how to manage time spent within missional communities as to not loose time with my family or close friends who may not fit in any of the fore mention groups. Especially if the process is INefficent one might get a little frustrated.

    • embassadors says:

      Quentin, you ask a fantastic question. “Where is community located?” You kind of answered this question with your subsequent questions. Your community is located in the areas where you live out the natural rhythms of human life. Community is located where you eat, sleep, play, gather, cheer, laugh, etc. One of the beauties of living missionally is it frees us from this false segmentation of life between “church life” and “non-church life” (work, neighborhood, etc). God created all of Denver, not just church buildings, so He should be made known through our lives everywhere we eat, sleep, play, gather, cheer, laugh, etc. Another beautiful thing about living missionally is it frees up your schedule. The burden of carving out time in your schedule to do “church stuff” is removed. You are living life in a way that allows you to make Jesus known in your normal rhythm of life. All the disparate people you are in community with “fit” because they have you as their common point of intersection. Being intentional about living the Gospel and sharing the Gospel is what is required of us who have been put on mission by God to make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples, who…(you get the picture). Changing hearts from stone to clay and transforming believers into the image of Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit. The hard work is done by God. We just have to live in light of who God has empowered to be by His Spirit. Given that God is doing the heavy lifting, we don’t have to “perform” or get “results”. We are freed up to love our neighbors and our co-workers and invite them to taste and see that the Lord is good. Our missional communities will not be “holy huddles” for only Christians. There will be missional communities where the only believers in a group of 14 people will be the 2 leaders of that missional community. Imagine your missional group consisting of 2 people that helped begin the Embassy, 8 people who live within 2 blocks of your house, 1 of your co-workers, and a parent of a kid who you coach. You all live in community, you all love on one another, you all join together to doing kingdom work in the neighborhood (teaching ESL classes at the local elementary school for example), but all of you are on various positions of the belief spectrum. Imagine some in the group may be atheists, one may be agnostic, few are new believers, and several are mature believers. The journey with a community like that is NOT one that lends itself to being efficient. But THAT’S OK. It will be frustrating at times. BUT THATS OK TOO. Giving your life away for the sake of the Gospel will not be easy. But is what we are called to do and what we at the The Embassy will equip you to do, and do right alongside of you. This is a different approach to being the body of Christ than what you have normally seen in your other exposures to “church”. However, we are fully persuaded on this approach and look forward to seeing how God will work in you and through you as we continue of this journey. Keep asking questions!!! This is a great conversation to have.

      – Derrick

  2. kestes303 says:

    What a great example of the inefficiency we are striving for; both your story of the family trip AND that you are staying at a strangers home for a week! Love it!

    Also, this concept of being inefficient reminds me of a saying I use at work a lot: it’s about quality, not quantity. When you put that in the context of discipleship, I think that it speaks to the same idea of inefficiency and also emphasizes the importance of the relationship building piece vs the number of people we disciple to.

    Can’t wait to hear more about your trip!

  3. Laura says:

    OK, next question: what distinguishes a missional community group that is realized in the name of Jesus from a fun, cool gathering? My parents are part of an awesome neighborhood and community. They call themselves the “West Endies” because they live on the west side of the town of Loveland, CO. They have soup night every other Wednesday in the winter, holiday parties, and more. They even have a website – check them out at http://westendies.com/ My parents are not Christians but I envy their community. There may be Christians in the group; I don’t know. But I can guarantee that Jesus is not the focus of the group. So, how would a missional group started by us, people from the Embassy, look different from this group? How would we build community in the name of Jesus without pulling the bait and switch – invite people over for a couple of wine and cheese nights and on night 3, whip out the Bible?! I understand that INefficiency would mean that we would have the Jesus conversation over time, but how do we commune in His name without mentioning His name?

    • embassadors says:

      Laura, these are more great questions. I’ll touch on the two topics you presented. 1) Fun, Cool Gatherings vs. Missional Communities and 2) Engaging neighbors/communities in a genuine fashion.

      1) God has wired all of humanity to desire connection with others. In our culture we see humans connecting in numerous and varied ways: affinity groups (running clubs, rock climbing groups, etc.), fans of sports teams, fraternities, sororities, even street gangs. Connecting in a missional community will have many of the same aspects of the fun, cool community your parents are connected with. Our missional communities will gather as a family, eat together, work and play together, share our stories, and be a blessing to others in the community. Going beyond just forming and living in community, the purpose of our missional communities is to make disciples who make disciples. In our context, “community” is a means to an end. The end, or objective, of our missional communities is to fulfill the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). We make disciples in the context of community because that reflects how God has wired us to live.

      2) In the very near future, we will discuss and think through with the team what it looks like to engage our neighbors and surrounding communities in an authentic fashion. We are not on the prowl for making converts. We are purposed and on mission to make disciples. This mission requires us to engage deeply and relationally with people. As these relationships develop, there will be opportunities to share the good news of Jesus. There is no need for bait and switch tactics , or “gotcha” surprises, when you are doing life with a neighbor. We are not slick salesmen, we are ambassadors! We will unpack this more going forward. Again, great questions!

      – Derrick

  4. Alisha says:

    Laura,

    Did you know that the book of Esther is a book all about God that never mentions him by name? I think that fact can speak volumes in response to your question.

    More later…baby calling.

    Alisha

  5. Pingback: Who We Are: One Missional Community « In The In Between

  6. Alisha says:

    Whoops, just realized I never came back for my “more later” promise… I had more to say than I felt would appropriately fit here, so I write a post about it on Rodney and I’s “Inbetweeners” blog. Check it out here:

    http://intheinbetween.com/2011/05/18/who-we-are-one-missional-community/

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