Proximity Matters

imagesMy friend Blair Humphreys said, “Proximity matters.” He said this in a speakers forum [that happen once a month in downtown OKC] as it pertains to cities. His point was that when we’re working to create policies or rules or even to create something we all want – it matters how close you are to the situation and how close you are to the physical space itself. There’s a big difference between that street over there and my street.

Blair’s takeaway from this was that we should think about this as we make choices in our lives, and we in fact should perhaps consider orienting ourselves to what matters especially in where we live. He said that the thousands of micro interactions that take place because you just run into people near where you live help form your identity far more than we realize. A commuter culture and a cul de sac culture cut against this but it’s still true. Hm.

It just makes me wonder how that proximity matters to church and church planting. What Blair’s saying feels so old school. It sounds like a parish model, boundaries for care. Walking to church.

Is that even viable in a day when we drive 30 minutes to work? When we barely know our neighbor? When we live in gated communities, the very design of which is to negate anyone ever driving through? When we couldn’t even imagine biking to school or walking to get groceries or living anywhere close to where we might go out to eat? Church?

One of my friends wants to start a church in the middle of his town. But he doesn’t want to move there. He likes where he lives and says that everyone else commutes to church anyway. Why shouldn’t he? Should the pastor live close to his church? How close is close enough?

Churches have recently been more and more built on a model of showing the pastor’s sermons on screen. The pastor may be preaching it live – but he’s somewhere else. He might be in a different venue in the same location, or he might be in a different location altogether or he might be in a different city. No matter! He is awesome and an effective communicator, so people gather in a room to watch a person deliver the sermon. Does he need to live there? Does he need to know any of these people in order to give them God’s word? Is the sermon connected at all to pastoring those people? Does his actual physical presence matter in any way?

And if he doesn’t need to be there – do I need to be there?

Recently I sat down with my friend Lee Rowland, the principal of Tulakes Elementary in Oklahoma City. It’s a rough place and the neighborhood is filled with government subsidized apartments. Lee loves people. He’s a pastor who’s a principal. He’s investing in the lives of these kids, parents and teachers. He told me that one of the reasons he knows “it’s working” isn’t because of the tremendous success he’s having against all odds. Or the recognition he’s received. It’s because the teachers want to have their kids in that school. He said it’s a testimony to them that when they look around what has happened and who is there, they don’t want to send their own kids anywhere else. So they move in. They enroll. They show up. They’re there. They’re in.

These things mess with my brain, my heart, my life. I wonder what I should do and how I should live. I wonder where I should shop and where my kids should go to school and where I should eat dinner and then I wonder about how all of that matters to church. It feels like I should be able to walk around this neighborhood and get to know the people who also walk around this neighborhood, this park, this apartment, this business. It feels like I should be able to come here for lunch even for 30 minutes. It feels like I should know the rhythms of this place, these people, this community. And that I should invite people to do the same thing. But I haven’t been trained to do this or think this way. I’ve been trained to do the opposite. I have been trained to consume even proximity. As I lean into this, I wonder if I can do it. I know that video preacher is better than me – except he’s not here so I have that going for me if anyone notices and I think they do or they should or they will.

I love to give advice and I hate it.

It’s not like if you live far away you cannot be involved in your church. And it’s not like if you can walk to church you will. Those are only a part of how we make choices. Right now, it’s the part I’m talking about.

I had a couple who moved to town and they moved to Edmond because everyone said it was nice. It is nice by the way. They ended up feeling called to City Pres, and now want to join us in our vision and mission. They said, “That makes us think maybe we should move closer if that’s where we say we want our community to be and our friends to be and our church to be.”

Can I say I agree with that? Without saying everyone has to move right away or that if you don’t move you’re in sin or that this is the only way we make choices or that if you move all of your problems will be cleared up?

Blair says that studies show that people think that experts say… that one of the easiest ways to increase our standard of life is to commute less. Less time in cars helps a ton of social problems, even ones like obesity.

This has turned into a rambling 1000 word post and for that I’m sorry. Proximity matters is all I’m trying to say and what I’m trying to figure out how that matters to me and what to say about that for others.