Living a geographically integrated life

Have you ever thought about what it would look like to geographically integrate the major spheres of your life (work, home, church)? I didn’t give it much thought until our family moved downtown roughly three years ago. We downsized to one car (and one car insurance premium). We saw our gas bills decline sharply. We started walking to get groceries. Walking to the bank. Walking to the doctor. Walking to meetings. We began to actually know our neighbors, local baristas, clerks, and Real Change sellers. We were more readily available to help. More opportunities for the gospel naturally opened up because there were more opportunities (and time) for relationship building. I got more time with my family – time that otherwise would be spent commuting. 

A foreign idea

Living a geographically integrated life is a bit of a foreign idea in our cultural context, but something I increasingly believe is beneficial to our personal discipleship. I get the term “geographically integrated life” from Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist, in Washington DC. He defines a geographically integrated life as:

The spiritual discipline of having your home, job and church (both the gathering space and where other members live) near each other.  

Ask yourself, “How would my life change if my home, job and church (both gathering space and people) were all in close – or closer – proximity to one another? How much time would I shave off my commute? How much more time would I get with my family/friends? How much money would I save (e.g. car, gas, insurance, etc)? How could it potentially improve my relationships, ability to serve others and my personal witness to Christ among my neighborhood?”

A few disclaimers

First, for one reason or another, I know that living a geographically integrated life is not always possible – financial challenges, job changes, home re-locations, specific family needs and temporary seasons of school are real variables that we all have to deal with in some form. We all have reasons for where we live and this shouldn’t cause anyone to feel shame (for living further out) or pride (for living closer in). Our righteousness is in Christ, not in where we live. 

Second, even if you desire to live a more geographically integrated life, it can take six months to two years to get everything in alignment to make that happen. Integrating your life may involve changing jobs, changing homes or changing churches - sometimes all three. My goal here is to get us intentionally thinking about how and where we’re living. It is easy to live a non-integrated life (that just happens) but it requires a measure of conviction and intentionality to integrate the major spheres of your life. 

Third, there is nothing “wrong” with living a non-geographically integrated life. Personally, I’ve done both. But, again, my goal here is for us to develop a more thoughtful approach to something that we often give very little thought to: integration of the key components of our life. Previous generations didn’t have the option of living non-integrated lives, but due to the transience of our age we must think through these things more carefully. 

Fourth, just to be clear, I’m not talking about creating a Christian ghetto or compound, but merely being intentional about where you live and how you live, where you live. 

Fifth, some will object that “its too expensive to move in closer”. This will vary context to context. In our case, our primary context is urban. It is more expensive if you want to maintain the same standard of living – big backyards, multiple bathrooms, big square footage, numerous bedrooms and a garage. But, if you're willing to sacrifice some of those things it is very probable you could live closer based on your current budget. It is true you will get less of some things, but it is also true that you get more of other things, better things. 

Questions to consider

As followers of Christ we should think about more than good school districts, big back yards, "man caves" and being close to the nearest grocery store – those who do not yet follow Jesus can do that. As Christians, we should also be thinking (1) where can I live that will do the most good, (2) where can I live that will maximize the most important relationships in my life, (3) where can I live that will minimize wasted time, (4) where are there disproportionate amounts of non-Christians and is there a group of us that could move into that area, (5) what impact would it have for a group of followers of Christ to be a faithful presence in a given neighborhood over a period of time, (6) where could I live that would give me maximum opportunity to exercise the spiritual gifts entrusted to me, (7) where and how can I live in such a way that makes it clear to my children that Jesus is the axis of our family? 

Benefits of geographical integration

There are many advantages to living a geographically integrated life, some of which I already mentioned above: 

  • Geographically integrating your life will give you more time to be relationally involved with others. For example, if you’re a dad that commutes for one hour a day, that makes for five hours a week, 20 hours a month, and 240 hours a year. Or, 15 days. That’s 15 days worth of time you could have been with your kids. If you’re not married, or don’t have kids, just imagine having 15 extra days a year to invest in something other than sitting in your car.
  • Geographically integrating your life makes it easier to help others. 
  • Geographically integrating your life reduces inconvenience on numerous levels.
  • Geographically integrating your life reduces anonymity. 
  • Geographically integrating your life increases accountability.
  • Geographically integrating your life makes our corpoate witness more of a corporate witness to those who do not yet follow Jesus. 
  • Geographically integrating your life saves you money and improves your health (as you’ll likely walk/bike more). 
  • Geographically integrating your life will give you a genuine burden for the lost in a specific local context. 

The more I think about this, the more I see all kinds of benefits to geographically integrating your life. These benefits were enjoyed by past generations, yet are virtually unknown in our day of mass transit, urban sprawl and lengthy commutes. Isn't it only wise to give careful thought to not only how we spend our days but also where we spend them - for the glory of God, our good and the good of others?