When I first met my wife’s family they thought I was patient. Not true. Quiet does not equal patient.
My patience depends upon the context. I am generally patient with my children, grandchildren, wife, and the operation of tools. Standing in line, poor organization, arrogance – Not! (Although I am often brought up short by the observation that arrogant people are most annoying to those who know how it should be!)
Aside from personal relationships patience does not seem to be talked about much these days, except perhaps with young children. “Use your patience!”
Speed seems to be the order of the day. The conversation seems mesmerized by how fast the world/context/market is changing and how organizations and leaders need to be nimble and flexible. One year plans – not to mention the old “where do you imagine yourself to be in five years?” – belong to the Jurassic or the Mechanical Age, if the two differ.
So I was shocked to engage Alan Kreider’s work on the early church, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire.
Kreider maintains that patience was regarded as the quintessential, the “peculiarly Christian” virtue, the “greatest of all virtues.”
The four heavy hitters of the early church – Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Tertullian – all deemed patience central to the life and behaviour of individual Christians and the early church and wrote the first Christian treatises on this previously disregarded virtue.
Patience attained this peculiar place of privilege in contrast to the surrounding ethos where patience was deemed necessary only when there was no other choice. So it became the province of the powerless and poverty-stricken, often female. “Patience was the response of people who didn’t have the freedom to define their own goals or make choices.”
For Christians, however, patience was grounded not in a lack of options but in the patience of God and the example of Jesus.
Kreider’s thesis poked me.
For years I have been trying to introduce some sense of urgency into the story of the modern church, trying to urge, like John Kotter, the church to reclaims its power to respond to these times of fundamental change and not just drift towards the ditch.
Upon second thought I still think I am right. Patience is not the same as fatalism, however sweetly sung as Que Sera Sera.
However I do sense a caution.
Part of me continues to be tempted and, occasionally, seduced by models inherited from the industrial age where change is linear and modifications to one part yield a clear and definable result.
But a mechanical model does not fit much of life. People and congregations develop more organically.
Congregations and people are living organisms who respond to stimuli but often in unexpected ways. When healthy they grow.
Organic growth requires patience.
(Photo: Christine Chepyha)