Let’s begin with a question—Why don’t Christians think about living near their church?
Let me throw out a few suggestions:
Maybe it’s individualism: The priority of the individual over the community. Speaking as an American, we’re told that we are autonomous individuals. We do, then, what’s best for the individual, not what’s best for the community.
Maybe it’s consumerism: Do we approach the church like the YMCA? At the YMCA, you pay your dues, you use the machines, you get some other benefits. But you might just as well go to the YMCA across town because it offers more services that the one in your own neighborhood. We’re individual consumers. I wonder if that individualism affects the way we view the church.
Maybe it’s our modern way of life: Historically, members did attend a church in their community. Once upon a time, churches in our own neighborhood here in Baltimore were filled with members who actually lived on McCulloh St. and Division St. and shopped on Penn Ave. But in our modern society, we are used to driving everywhere. You might live downtown but shop up north, and go to church over east. So it’s quite possible that the thought of intentionally living near your church just never crossed your mind.
My hope in this short series is to get it to cross the minds of some. Like I’ve already stated, it is not my goal to heap guilt on anyone. But it is my goal to get you to at least consider living and remaining near your church, if and when you have the ability to do so.
The Minister But Not the Member?
Suppose a church planter was going to plant a church in a low-income neighborhood, and he were to ask you—“Do you think I should move into the neighborhood?” What would you say to him?
You might say something like, “Well, I can’t say the Bible requires it. You can be a pastor and live across town. But I’m not sure that would be wisest. It would be really hard to build rapport with the neighborhood. It would be increasingly difficult to reach the community for Jesus. It might, at worst, appear that you don’t like the neighborhood. I think, if possible, you should live in the neighborhood. You’re going to have ample opportunities to minister. The whole community will see that you not only pastor there, but you live there.”
What’s interesting to me is that most agree it would be wisest if a minister could live in his church’s neighborhood. But then we ask another question: Do you think the members of the church should also live in the community, if possible?
At this point, everyone gets defensive with a resounding, “No.” Some have even accused me of being cultish for bringing it up. Why is that?
That’s the question I’ve been wrestling with? Why do we think it wise for the minister to live in the community but not the church members?
Here’s what I want to propose for your consideration: The church has adopted an unbiblical distinction between minister and member. In the Bible, elder-pastors are certainly called to teach and protect the flock. But it’s our culture that has turned pastors into figureheads and the members into consumers. What’s remarkable is that most of the letters in the New Testament are addressed to church members, not elders. In the Bible, there is zero distinction of importance between the pastor(s) and the people. Nowhere is the office of pastor even called “the minister”.
Consider Acts 2:42:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common.
Devoted themselves to the fellowship. Fellowship is not merely the meal after church. Fellowship is not merely 10 minutes of chit-chat after Bible study. The fellowship. It’s a kind of relationship. The Greek word is koinonia, which refers to the kind of mutuality that takes place in marriage.
That means a connection to each other. A connection between each other. A connection for each other. With our rampant individualism, it’s so hard to imagine this in the church. It’s the idea of centering your entire life around this group of people. The world centers themselves around jobs, nice neighborhoods, good schools, and opportunities. The Christian centers her or his life around the church. That is koinonia.
Then there’s verse 44: “all things in common”. That’s the Greek word koina. Same root word as fellowship. The word for sharing is the word koinoneo. Same root word.
Here’s my point—The Biblical vision of the church was so much more than showing up to a service once a week. But rather it was sharing all of our lives together. Now, let’s be clear, you can live near your church and still be closed off. Simply moving into your church’s community isn’t going to be a magic pill. You’re still going to have to practice hospitality, take walks, and intentionally engage with people. But living intentionally is going to open your life up to hundreds of new opportunities to practice koinonia. To share your life with your church.
But what’s the point of this fellowship? Is it merely a tight-nit group of friends? No, the point is Jesus. The point is that we make disciples of Jesus. We’ll look at that in part three next week.
This is the second in a series of articles devoted to exploring the strategy of living and remaining near your church. You can read part one here.