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.
Striving toward Kingdom Community and Discipleship,