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?