gospel community.

I’m not totally convinced that the American dream — the house and yard in the suburbs — is the ideal environment for gospel community to happen. I’m sure it can happen in the suburbs, but isn’t kind of the whole point of the suburbs isolation? We have our own private house surrounded by our own private lawn all so we can not talk to people if we don’t want to talk to them. I am not saying there is anything inherently wrong with owning private property, because there isn’t, but let’s face it — suburban living is insular on purpose.

I don’t know if it’s just the season of life I’m in, or what, but I have been thinking a lot recently about gospel community and what that looks like, especially in a suburban context. The best example I have of gospel community is the church Tim and I were involved with in college, and right after we got married. I know that college is a time of minimal responsibility (even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time — I felt like I was so busy with classes, homework, and my part-time job, but I never knew how easy I had it!) and friendships are formed rather effortlessly because we have countless hours playing Euchre in someone’s dorm room on our side. But you know what? I am struggling with with gospel community looks like now, in the post-college, full-time-job, family-house-kids life.

The church we currently attend is a suburban church. And that’s fine — suburban people need Jesus, too. But I am really wrestling with how a suburban church like ours takes care of its people when its people live mostly far apart (i.e. a 5,10, or 15 minute drive or more) and only come together on Sundays or for various events throughout the week. How do deep friendships happen? How do we live life together? I think at it’s core, the Church — the Body of Christ — isn’t a place, a building, an event, but rather life being lived deeply with other people, but sometimes it seems like with the suburban church especially church becomes something we do rather than who we are.

I think a suburban church has to make more of an effort to build and sustain gospel community, because otherwise it won’t just happen. And in order to make more of an effort in that area, we have to make sacrifices in order to carve out the time. Maybe that means limiting evening activities like classes and sports with kids in order to make time to have people into our homes for dinner. Maybe that means forgoing the immaculate yard in order to have families and their kids over to enjoy the yard (and our company, as we’re not wiped from making said yard immaculate all day). Maybe that means we work fewer hours and make a little less money, or cut back in other ways, in order to have the time to spend investing in friendships.

Maybe it means we move. OK, I kid, I kid. But seriously.

Gospel community is not complicated, but it does require both time and proximity. Community is cultivated because we spend a lot of time together — in each others’ homes, sharing meals together, playing with each others’ kids, talking, praying together. And in order for those things to happen on a regular basis (i.e. 2-3 times a week or more), we need to live in a close proximity to each other. Unfortunately, time and proximity are two things kind of lacking in a suburban, middle-class lifestyle. I’m not saying that a suburban lifestyle is necessarily bad, because it isn’t — but it’s simply not conducive to cultivating gospel community.

I know creating the time and the proximity to other people can be difficult to do. It seems like just keeping up with my family and my house and marriage is too much some days, but I also know that gospel-based friendships are vital to my walk with the Lord . I need people in my life who can pray with and for me, who know where I am struggling, who love my kid as much as I love him, who can ask me how my marriage is. And, on the flip side, I need people for whom I can pray and encourage and take care of as I seek to serve as Christ served. It is through community that I am made more into Christ’s image.

In all honesty, I am struggling with making community happen where we are right now. And I’m pretty sure that if I am feeling this way, that others must be struggling, too.

What do you think? If you go to a suburban church and live in the suburbs, how does gospel community happen for you? Can you describe a time in your life where you experienced gospel community, whether through a Bible study, small group, or church? What do you think gospel community looks like?

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10 responses to “gospel community.

  1. In the suburbs, we all have our own castles, and the garage door is the drawbridge. It opens and closes to let us in & out, and we only have to go outside for quick trips to get the mail or take the trash to the road. “Insular” is right!

    I think gospel community has a lot to do with hospitality- allowing people in your life, and being in the lives of other people in a real way. I still say, one of the best things we did after we got married is got in a good small group. We’re still with it 3.5 years later, and having this group to our home every week or going to one of theirs. Watching their kids grow up, helping each other move, seeing jobs and crises come and go in each other’s lives has been gospel community for us. We KNOW each other. In a big church, they say it takes effort to “get connected”- but any intentional community takes effort, and, well, intentionality.

    All that said, we don’t know our neighbors where we live, and, beyond this small group, I’m no good at putting effort into lasting relationships. I’m a child of the suburbs and, too often, like my insular world.

    • Tim and Alissa Birkel

      I totally agree — hospitality and having each other in our homes is a big part of gospel community. There’s something intimate about having people over and sharing a meal.

      We’ve lived in our house for 18 months and haven’t met any of our neighbors. It’s kind of weird.

  2. Completely agree. We’re struggling with this, too, and are actively getting involved in our community. Thankfully our side of town is really being proactive with community and church-driven support, and we’re getting our feet wet. Unfortunately it takes more than just one person or ten. Aaannd, it means rethinking our involvement in the suburban church where we’re members and praying hard for direction within the community churches springing up around us.
    It’s exciting to see actually happen on the east side of Indy. I just wish it was happening all over the place. So… maybe that means you move here! πŸ™‚

    • Tim and Alissa Birkel

      I love the East Side! If Tim wasn’t working in Muncie, we’d actually very seriously consider moving to the Irvington area. Good for you guys for trying to get more involved — there’s a great church on the east side called Grace + Peace — a daughter church of the church I grew up in, and a sister church of the church we attend now.

      • Yep – we’re unofficially attending at G+P. It’s just down the street from us! We’ve made some really close relationships & reconnected with those from E91 days! There’s also a church plant moving to a theatre close by called IndyMetro (not to be confused with Jesus Metropolitan Church!). It’s great to see all these local churches filled with people our age who care about community & Christ. Still think you should move… hehe!

  3. Great post. My husband and I struggled with this for a long time. We longed for something deeper than what we were finding at Institutional church. Personally, we found that institutional church only catered to being complacent to finding a deeper community. Not that it can’t happen, but it was so easy to just show up, listen to a pastor and then go about our marry way. We wanted to get back to the way the early church worked back in Acts. We now are a part of a simple church, sometimes referred to as organic church expressions. Have you read Frank Viola’s books? Highly reccommend them. I’ve also just started reading Neil Coles ‘Church 3.0’… great insight. It’s a whole shift from a program driven, clergy led, institutional approach to a simple, relational biblical approach of ‘Church’. It’s been refreshing and we’re finding community is so easier attained in how purposefull our gatherings are.

    I have to add that my husband and I were VERY involved in our traditional churches. He was a youth pastor for years. We loved the people there, but we do feel that the way church is ‘done’ hinders how we AS the church, live. I really feel that we as believers of Christ need to remember that we ARE the Church.

    • Tim and Alissa Birkel

      I haven’t heard of Viola’s books, but I will have to check them out. I totally agree with everything you said here. πŸ™‚ I’m glad you guys have found a church body.

  4. That’s funny, we started going to your suburban church BECAUSE it had more community than our previous church! I was interested in your post because I was under the impression that the reason I don’t have more deep Christian friendships like you describe is because I am not from here and after college when people are married and living around their lifelong friends, they don’t need new friends. But maybe it’s really because I’m not working at building community with people.

    I do think that it’s easy to confuse being church-busy with being in community. Spending tons of time doing churchy things isn’t necessarily going to build community either. Being in 4 Biblestudies and volunteering on every sign up sheet won’t necessarily do anything other than burn you out or make you skimp on your responsibility to your family. I tend to overcommit in general, so I’m being more deliberate now about saying no, and sometimes that makes me uncomfortable, like people are judging my ability to juggle more.

    I agree that it’s hard to have community when you can’t walk to someone’s house, but I don’t know that being in an inner city church is that much simpler. Maybe we just need to be more deliberate about cultivating individual relationships wherever we are rather than defaulting to (or relying on) church programs to do all the work for us.

    We have some friends who believe that they should go to church in their neighborhood, so wherever they live they go to the closest church no matter what that church teaches. I think that’s a bit backwards. Maybe we ought to be more committed to finding a church that teaches soundly and then living closer to it (although that’s not an option for us right now, because we can’t afford the neighborhoods around Crossroads).

    • Tim and Alissa Birkel

      As someone who is not naturally outgoing, it is challenging for me to go out of my way to develop community, but I think I really do need to become more intentional in building those relationships. It’s hard though…it really is hard. I think you’re right — building a gospel community wouldn’t necessarily be easier in a more urban church; there would be a new set of challenges to overcome.

  5. I think you will find that regardless of location: Rural, Suburban or Urban, you will simply trade different standards of conformity that at the core are very much the same. Any social group creates “rules” or “norms” that must be more or less followed or the group will reject those who do not conform. Enforcement of “norms” can be formal: ” You must follow the rules or face the consequences.” or informal, which could be simple exclusion from group activities: ” Sorry, we forgot to invite you.”
    I have always wondered why it is that those who have a particular “belief” want to make sure everyone has that same “belief.” World and Bible History seem to say that’s the way it is and has been since the beginning of time: One group trying to enforce it’s belief system on everyone else, by simple persuasion up to and including deadly force.
    But back to your point: Urban gospel vs. Suburban gospel. Both are a state of mind, if you see your yard as a barrier that’s exactly what it will be. Or it could be a space to invite people to enjoy that might not be totally possible in an urban setting. Those well kept yards and fences provide security and privacy not possible in Urban society. I do believe it is possible to have both a sense of community, even could call it a “Gospel community.” However, the community I can site as an example might take exception to that title: In Indianapolis, on the North Side, roughly in the 75th Street and Hoover Road area, on any Friday evening, just before sundown, right in the comfortable suburban community you can see the members of the Jewish Synagogue walking to services, just as their ancestors have done for centuries in the far away communities they shared. Some how the environment they live in has not stopped the sense of community they share. And so it will be for you and those you love.

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