Thursday, May 22, 2008

Commuting or Community Churches?

There is a crazy, dangerous, even insane conversation circulating in cyberspace at the moment that I think demands our energies now. A conversation that even the Budgetary promises of political Tax Cuts cannot fix. It goes like this: the epoch-making increases in the cost of oil, the hiking of petrol prices at the pump, and the subsequent pinch felt with food prices at the supermarket, is forcing people in the West to consider commuting less. There is nothing cuckoo or new in that someone scoffs. True. The loopier, newer, and more scandalous thinking only starts to emerge when we honestly look at the potential impact of commuting less on our commuter-centric churches and the commuter-centric dispensaries of our social services. What if people cannot get to church? What if people cannot make it to our centralized sites of professionalized help? What if we got to a point where we only went where we could walk? What could that mean for how we practice church? What would social justice look like in that context? Who is this going to impact on the most? The haves or the have-nots? Would our churches be big enough, humble enough to include and learn from people of different denominations? Would we be big enough, teachable enough to stop commuting to church, to stop passing the churches we could walk to within our own neighborhoods, even if that means we wander into and worship in churches of different denominations? Would our churches change drastically if they were truly community-centric and not commuter-centric? The emerging generation has started to grapple with these issues and just last Sunday night we had someone who intentionally strolled on foot to our church simply because we were physically closer and we were in that sense more economical than hopping in the car and commuting to a preferred church in a distant neighborhood. Imagine if that happened every Sunday in every neighborhood? See why it is a potentially scandalous conversation?

Look at this from a blog cited at empireremixed:
“The point is that very, very soon a huge number of existing churches will find themselves in the position where the economic model out of which the church has functioned is no longer viable...

We have to ask how we sustain experiments in moving back into the neighborhood. We have to start working on genuine conversations across congregations, house churches and with many who have simply given up on the church, in order to discern the things the Spirit is saying to us about the shape of Christian life in the West...”

There is hope. A scandalous hope, if we dare. The pinch of the spiraling petrol prices could be a disguised blessing that forces Christians in the West to re-examine the significance of the incarnation (John 1.14 - the story of God clothing Himself in flesh, with feet, and moving into and through the neighborhood on foot, and occasionally on a donkey), and could lead to a eco-friendlier and newer re-imagining of how we practice church in our communities. The skyrocketing cost of living could mean that Christians in the West have to forgo some of our dependence on centralized professional care-ministries, that we have to learn how to be good neighbours in our own neighbourhoods, that we learn how to practice the claims of justice exactly where we’re at.

Look at this from Shane Claiborne:
“When the church becomes a place of brokerage rather than an organic community, she ceases to be alive. She ceases to be something we are, the living bride of Christ. The Church becomes a distribution centre, a place where the poor come to get stuff and the rich come to dump stuff. Both go away satisfied (the rich feel good, the poor get clothed and fed), but no one leaves transformed. No radical new community is formed. And Jesus did not set up a programme but modeled a way of living that incarnated the reign of God, a community in which people are reconciled and our debts are forgiven just as we forgive our debtors. That reign did not spread through (commuting to church or) organizational establishments or structural systems. It spread like disease - through touch, through breath, through life. It spread through people infected by love.”
Shane Claiborne, 2006, The Irresistible Revolution.

The early church of Acts simply met everyday in the houses of neighbours. Is that past our future? There is no doubt in my mind that with a future of spiraling oil prices, and a future marked by neighbourliness and walkability, there is something truly futuristic/prophetic in the past counter-claim of Jesus: “the poor will always be with you.”
See why?


  1. This is a very good question to ask especially in the context of many congregations being wealthy enough to sustain driving out of the community the live in to attend church. What does God require of us? To love him with everything we have and are, and love your neighbour as yourself ... who is my neighbour? Surely that depends on whether I'm in my work community, my church community, my home community, my sporting community etc.

  2. I love this post. I really think that there's something to this discussion of walkability that needs to be truly and deeply considered.

    I know that there's a certain kind of evangelical theology that currently affirms the beacon church. I wonder if peak oil won't do something to right that wrong.

    There's something to the old parish system. There's something to the whole idea of knowing a place. And if we follow Brueggemann's line of thought, we understand that Israel's community life could never be distanced from its relationship to the land, and relationship to God.

    When either of those came undone, then things started to fall apart for them.

    So I guess we need to keep on fuelling this discussion. Because there is definitely something to it. I'm glad you're also on the trail!


  3. This is a really challenging point you make. I heard in an interview this guy say 'well maybe we will actually be forced to change our lifestyles', instead of just talking about it... and this is our lifestyles in a wholistic sense- spiritual, transport wise, job wise, etc.

  4. one more thing... check out Lucy and Tims story- Attempting Abandonment link...

  5. Christian community is not about Church. It is where God is. Where I live you have to travel 4 kms to the nearest church which is a Jehovah's Witness Centre. Even though I live in a new housing area, there is no social infrastructure there. We have to travel for everything! Perhaps we need to be challenging our local planners and developers,rather than our Churches. Community of any kind requires interest, care, and love for it to happen. God is already there for us to find in each other. Perhaps life isn't supposed to be lived at the hectic pace we do these days. I remember being surprised at seeing a full family walking down the street in Clendon. I assumed they were too poor to have a car, but maybe they were just walking to church!

  6. A quote from AmieB's comment ... "well maybe we will actually be forced to change our lifestyles" ... More to the point I think we (Christian's) may be forced to live in community with non-believers (think Luke 10 where Jesus sends out the 72 disciples).

    Also, AimeB ... where is the Tim and Lucy story?

  7. Yes this could be the change ion lifestyle... because we can communte- we can jsut be around christians and do church stuff/activity...

    Lucy and Tim going simple and incarnational at

    I have been pondering over shane claibornes comments about redistribution- he quotes some legends like Dorothy day ' if you have two coats, one belongs to the poor'... how actually is our thinking that'if i have two coats, i will give (thinking im very generous) to the poor'. Shifting state of mind/paradigm to think- 'if i like in a community, i am here for a reason (often we say we are 'called to things' away from our communities like a big city church for example), and therefore i invest/live/experience here where i am'. The redistribution of us as christians aye. When we say we are 'blessed' to be so privledgted and to drive cars etc. actually we are not... that is us takign what is not ours, taking more than we need, and taking from others...stealing really.