An article about what I have come to see as the madness of commuting to church: about what happens when we realise that driving past our neighbours stops making missional good sense. “He wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” (Lk 10:29)
Driving to top-up our God-tanks
I’ve got friends that I’ve been at church with since we were all young guys a few years out of university. We’ve worshipped together in a city centre church for close on 20 years. Over that time there has been an increasing depth to our relationships, and for just about all of us a growing maturity in our faith. Most of us got married, most of us made progress in our careers, through promotion or changing employers, and for most of us children started to arrive. Needing homes with more space for growing families, perhaps with a garden and access to decent schooling we started to drift away from our bohemian city living towards a grown up existence in suburbia. Some of us tried to find churches near our new homes, but most of us still jumped into our (increasingly larger) cars and travelled into the city centre church where our spiritual family was centred. Indeed, quite often even those who had tried churches local to them drifted back to us, trading off the inconvenience of a 30 minute drive for the comfort of the familiar.
For some of us work took us to different towns and cities, but since our families were settled we travelled to work. As our responsibilities and obligations, to our employers and families, increased those things that we used to do ourselves to feed our souls fell away and we relied on consuming the content of a worship service to top up our God tanks. We commute for work, and we commute for worship. If I was to invent a word to describe our 21st Century journey with God it would be commuterty. Meaning committing to travel for a diminishing sense of spiritual community.’
Into this situation we have to ask “who is my neighbour?”
Scattered lives, Scattered spaces
I think we know we need to love our neighbours. Most of the believers I know would immediately say this is vital, especially when their church leaders bring up the dreaded words – outreach, mission and evangelism. And I think we all have a recognition that the context we live in scatters us like aliens and strangers in the world, so I hope I am not launching into a tirade against my friends. But having an answer to the neighbour question is crucial if we hope to fulfil our callings us witnesses and ambassadors, since most of us now don’t just live in one space, but exist in two, three or even more. There’s the place where I sleep, the place where I worship, the place where I work and the places where I play. There was a time in my life when I slept in a flat in Edinburgh, worked in Midlothian, but essentially still played and worshipped in Glasgow. It’s possible to be friendly with people in each of these spheres, but can we be friends? We might manage to witness, but can we disciple? My lifestyle may intrigue a colleague, but I may drive 30 minutes to another urban centre to work alongside her and at 5pm she may drive 30 minutes in the opposite direction to get to the place where she sleeps. I may issue invitations to social events and Alpha courses, but the logistics of her commute will probably militate against her willingness to try commuterty.
So while for years I’ve tried to support my fellow believers in the workplace, I have not seen a lot of fruit through ‘network’ witnessing, and not through a lack of effort or sincerity from my brothers and sisters. Logistics work against it. So my personal commitment is to see what happens when my family, residents of a Glasgow suburb and long term commutiteers, give up trying to work through networks and instead, by reducing the spatial separation between the places where we sleep, work, worship and play, commit to being neighbours.
369 Front Doors
I think Jesus got this, even before he became a preacher. In his Gospel Luke tells us: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” (Lk 2:52) The word for favour has shades of God’s kindness running through us and kindling faith in ourselves and in others around us, so I wonder if even as a young man Jesus was influencing those who he lived amongst. For Jesus it was a thirty year commitment amongst those who saw every aspect of his life. While we may spend the largest amount of our time with the people we work with our obligation is mainly to our employer. What if we orientated our lives to commit to being neighbours with people we could play and worship with – who could see a fully fleshed out, liberated witness amongst them? What if we committed to seeking to grow in wisdom and stature amongst those we had time to move beyond friendliness and into friendship?
We didn’t intend to become missionaries to our suburb. We moved because we could afford our house. But as we have planted roots we have discovered that we have become accidental re-locaters. As our children have moved through the education system and we have become friendly with other parents we have come to sense that the opportunity cost of commuterty is the friendships that can be built through simply being neighbours. If we believe that relationship is the best way to communicate the truths of Jesus’ message the prophetic call must be for more of us to commit to living and discipling in the sphere where we have the most freedom to do so. The other day I walked round our block and counted three hundred and sixty nine front doors. That’s a lot of people to grow in favour amongst.
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