“The church has never really come to terms with the invention of the internal combustion engine.” Carl Trueman
You can choose where you live. You can choose where you work. You can choose where you worship. Sometimes those choices converge, but usually balancing those poles of a life means commuting. Either you live close to your job and commute to church, or you live close to your church and commute to your job. Sometimes both.
The time spent commuting can easily be redeemed, but it is much more difficult to counteract the de-stabilizing impact of a commute on a lifestyle and a family. Commuting has a cost and that cost is usually paid by your community—your network of family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and fellow congregants.
Commutes necessitate wide participation in community life and limits deep participation –by covering a wider geographical area, it becomes increasingly less likely that there will be significant overlap on a Venn diagram of your community. Your neighbors are probably not your coworkers and your coworkers are probably not your fellow congregants. Commuting is not the only factor that has contributed to the fragmenting of our society, but it is not an insignificant one. In almost every case, you and your family face a choice between commuting and a deep and rich experience of community, of living life together in close proximity with the same group of people.
The “commute or community” choice is a reality that many Christians need to reckon with and the Bible does not give us one-size-fits-all instructions on how to make this choice. There is a great deal of freedom for individuals and families to make very different choices in structuring their lives and we should not judge one another in these matters. But wherever there is great freedom, there is a great need for wisdom and not all decisions are equally wise.
Some families have been so committed to a particular house that they have suffered spiritually or vocationally, settling for mediocre jobs or attending either a distant or a lousy church because of the priority they’ve placed on their home. Others have uprooted years of history with a particular neighborhood and deep, meaningful relationships in a church in order to move across the country for an amazing job offer. Even when the job meets or exceeds expectations, a real cost still has to be paid, and sometimes the relational losses are not worth the financial gain. It doesn’t happen quite as often, but sometimes a family can be so committed to a good church that they will put up with a less than ideal living situation or endure under-employment in order to keep worshiping there.
None of these choices are inherently wrong, but any of them might be the wrong choice for you and your family. Where to live, what job to take, and where to worship are all major decisions, but they are not set in stone once made, and often, certain careers or life circumstances force you to make such decisions all over again. But it’s rarely healthy for a family to have one or more of these major facets of life up for grabs every couple years. As a general principle, the integrated and simple life will serve your family best. It is wise to live where you worship, and to work where you live.
Frequently, that isn’t possible for many families in the short term, but if it is seen as a worthwhile goal to progress toward over several years, it is often more achievable than many families think. But certain decisions need to be made now, and so future posts will try to examine pros and cons of putting a priority on proximity to these different parts of life, as well as the role of personality in making these sorts of decisions, and the virtues that need to be cultivated in the different situations that result.