In such a mobile society, lots of folks go to churches they aren’t geographically close to. I’ve met many who drive 45 minutes to get to church on Sunday. Recently, I heard about a brother who live 2 hours away from his local church! Living far away from one’s local church is not sinful or evil or blasphemous, but, I would like to ask the question, “Does living far away from your local church help or hinder you from loving your church?”
Over at Ligonier, Jonathan Leeman humbly and graciously encourages believers that, although they are free in Christ to live wherever they like, they would be wise to live geographically close to their local church as one way to love them well.
Philippians 2:1–11 says to “consider others better than [ourselves]” and to “look to the interests of others.” Then it tells us to have the same attitude as Christ, who became man, made Himself a servant, and went to die on the cross. Let me see if I can apply these verses by fleshing out one example of a big life decision: which home to buy or apartment to rent.
If you are able, “consider others better than yourselves” and “look to the interests of others” by living geographically close to the church. When a person lives within walking distance of a church or clumps of members, it is easier to invite people to one’s house for dinner, to watch one another’s children while running errands, and to pick up bread or milk at the store for one another. In other words, it is just plain easier to integrate daily life when there is relative — even walkable — geographic proximity.
When choosing a place to live, Christians do well to ask some of the same questions that non-Christians ask: What are the costs? Are there good schools nearby? But a Christian also does well to ask additional questions like these: Will the mortgage or rent payment allow for generosity to others? Will it give other church members quick access to me for discipleship and hospitality?
During my family’s last move, the question of living near the church came down to a choice between two houses, both of which were affordable but very different otherwise. House 1 was newer, better designed, more attractive, did not need repairs, and was less expensive. But it was a thirty-minute drive from the church building and near no other church members. House 2 was older, draftier, in need of several repairs (such as a rotting front porch and an occasionally flooding basement), and it was more expensive. But it was only a fifteen-minute drive from the church building and, more important, within walkable proximity of a dozen (now two dozen) church families. I sought the counsel of several elders, all of whom advised me to prioritize church relationships. This actually meant choosing the older, less attractive, more expensive house.
Thankfully, we did, and it has been enriching for our whole family. My wife interacts with the other mothers almost daily, and our children with their children. I met with one brother every weekday morning to pray and read Scripture for a year and a half. And our church families can work together in serving and evangelizing our neighbors.
Must a Christian move close to other members of his or her church? No, the Bible doesn’t command this. We’re free in Christ to live wherever we want. But this is one concrete way to love your church — to consider others better than yourself and look to their interests.
Did the Son of God submit Himself geographically for the church’s good? He left heaven. Now, let’s put on the same attitude our Savior put on for us.
Now, again, I want to restate, I am not saying believers are sinning if they live far away from their churches (nor is Leeman). For some, driving long distances to get to church may actually be a sacrifice of love and loyalty to their local church (shout out to my grandparents on this one!). Other may be interning for a time at a specific church that is a bit further away from where you presently live, but God is training and equipping you for future ministry through that specific church. There are lots of scenarios that could make driving a bit further be an understandable choice for now. However, for all of us, the question is still worth asking and reflecting on: How does the location of my home affect my love and ministry for my church? Does it help or hinder?
I highly encourage you to read the whole piece here.