Where You Live Matters

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“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.” –Acts 16:6-8

Here we read about the kind of connection we need in order to walk in obedience. Unfortunately, we’ve come to expect only missionaries, and not regular Christ-followers, to be so in tune with the Spirit. Most Christians in the west would not fit into the story:

“Rob and Kristine left Phoenix for the Portland area because of Rob’s job transfer. Wanting to feel safe and comfortable, they were drawn to the suburbs. Because Gresham schools were notoriously bad, they moved to Beaverton, and a neighborhood where they got a great deal on a great house.”

For some reason, Christians often use the world’s criteria to make decisions about where to live. The familiar list (cost, square footage, neighborhood, good schools, low crime, return on investment, etc.) is heavily informed by the American Dream and sometimes in conflict with Kingdom values. When we adopt the world’s values, following Jesus is entirely accidental.

That’s not to say that God doesn’t direct His people to move into safe, quiet neighborhoods; He does. I’m also not trying to over-spiritualize the decision-making process. Paul seemed determined to go “where the gospel had not been proclaimed,” and it took supernatural intervention to change his plans.

When believers are faced with a decision about where to live, we need to add a few things to the list of values that go into our decision making process. Three come to mind:

Be a Blessing- Since the first covenant, God’s people are blessed in order that they may be a blessing to others. As we decide where to plant our lives, we need to ask, “Where can I be a blessing?” The truth is, we’re all exiles. Our citizenship is not of this world. Jeremiah 29:7 tells exiles to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” where we live.

Community- The world’s values push us toward isolation. It takes some intentionality to insure contact with neighbors, but our commission is to make disciples, and discipleship is a relationship. Where we live can either help or hinder our efforts to get to know people and build community.

Incarnation- Christ is our model of incarnation. Our role- our very purpose on this earth, is to be meatspace representatives of Jesus. It’s not about showing non-believers how it looks for us to follow Christ; our role as sent-out ones is to model what it would be like for our neighbors if they were to have a relationship with Him. This almost always requires us to give up some of our preferences in order to minimize the differences between us and people in our communities.

If we add these Kingdom values to our decision-making process, they may replace some of the other things on the list. We may end up in a small apartment rather than a big house. We may not get the biggest “bang for our buck.” We may have to tutor our kids to supplement their educations. We may have to learn a new language, develop new habits, or enter a new culture, but isn’t that what missionaries do?

Let’s be mindful of what goes into our decisions about where we live.

The Counterintuitive Church (pt.1)

The first will be last,” Jesus said. “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” A quick perusal of Jesus’ words will turn up all sorts of instructions that don’t seem to line up with what we’d consider “common sense.” He told his followers to “Turn the other cheek” (didn’t He know about terrorism?) and to “Walk a second mile” when forced (by the government!) to walk just one.

As He sent them out on a short-term mission trip, why did Jesus tell His disciples not to carry any extra clothes and not to greet anyone along the way? That doesn’t seem very practical, does it? What if they had a great opportunity to witness to the guy sitting next to them on a red-eye out of Denver? So much of what Jesus told His followers to do (and not to do) just doesn’t make sense in our world. It almost always runs counter to our understanding of what might be the best way to get things done.

Yet most of what we do as believers tends to be determined by our pragmatism. We justify nearly all that we do with, “Hey, it’s working.” We consider efficiency and volume to be stewardship issues. From video-venue churches to mass marketing campaigns to building programs, churches are constantly searching for ways to make the biggest impact, to reach the greatest number of people, and to get the most bang for the buck. I believe that these are human values, not Kingdom ones. What if doing what seems to “work” in the short run is hurting us in the long run? What if giving away iPods and paying people to come to church has long-term negative effects for the church? What if our methods actually change our message?

In the next few posts, I’m going to explore some of the ways that the (particularly Western) Church has traded in God’s best for “what works.” Specifically, I want to look at the way we practice being the church, our efforts at church planting, and our theology of mission.

NEXT: The Gaps