As I walked to work the other morning I stopped for a few minutes to speak to a local family. The kids have been to toddlers, mum has brought them to some Christmas services in the past, we chatted about how both families have recently had members with Covid but how strangely most of us never caught it. What was unusual about this conversation? Absolutely nothing. But this lady has also taught 3 of my boys at the local high school, unusually she lives in the local community in which she teaches. The contrast with a number of recent conversations I’ve had with people about how they could never live and work in the same area struck me.
The rise of the professional is viewed as a good thing. Distance between where you work and where you live is viewed as a good thing. But I’m not sure it is, either for us as individuals or for communities. And it’s something that I think has not just infiltrated the church but undermined it. My contract contains a very specific clause that I need to live within so many miles of the church. In other words I need to live among those I minister too. I need to do life alongside of and in front of these people, both those who follow Jesus and those who do not yet know him. And yet increasingly the church minister is one of the only people who is expected to have such a community focused life especially in middle class churches. For many in our congregations commuting is the norm, in many cases for work, but in some cases for most of life including church.
I can’t help but wonder if that is one way Satan has subtly disconnected us from our communities and made reaching out with the gospel that much harder. If you commute any distance for work how will you reach your colleagues with the gospel? Will an invitation to come to church if they have to drive 30 minutes be more or less likely to be accepted? How will work colleagues meet other believers? How will they see gospel community life in practice so they don’t just write you off as an outlier? If 10 hours of your week are taken up with commuting how much time do you have to do other things?
I think the gospel calls us to connect the dots. To live in community, the expectation is that people will see your life and your witness – all of it, not just certain segmented parts which we allow them to see because of our proximity to them there – and be intrigued by the difference Jesus makes and ask. We short circuit that if people only see parts of our lives. There are issues to think through, there will be challenges of connecting community; if living alongside those you work alongside and teach or care for or manage. And I wonder if at root that’s our real fear, we like to turn off, we like to compartmentalise, but what if doing that is undermining our witness for the gospel? What if it means the community only sees the church on a Sunday and not interacting the rest of the week?
The gospel calls us to connect the dots in all of life.