Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Cost of Commuting: Finally an Upgrade

Once I believed commuting was cool. There was my work life. There was my home life. There was the open road in between. I loved them all.

I still love all of these things, but the cost of maintaining them all with their distance apart cost sleep, health, and relationships (there's money in there, I'm sure). After the better part of 10 years commuting long distances for work and education, my family is together in one county. We moved for the third time in 3 years to make it happen, and there's a substantial chance we can stay here for many years. We aren't fooled about a false sense of security, we know life can change quickly. But we've never been in a position to stay in a particular place for work and life for a long period of time.

The magnitude of altered thinking hit me as Kendall and I rode our bicycles to her new school the other day. An evolution of thinking spans years (a good thing to keep in mind in ministry). I believe this renewal is inspired by a text like Romans 12: 1-2. What is part of the ongoing renewal of my mind?

1. Raising two children with my wife. All gifts from God.
2. Bowling Alone. Robert Putnam's examination of social capital forced me to consider a congregation's connection with its community, and changed how I did ministry. In ten years of interim ministry, my driving question was "why has God placed this community of faith in this particular place at this particular time?" What developed for me was a local consideration of ministry, when the model that was lifted on the conference circuit was regional and niche oriented. What would a new neighborhood church look like?
3. The Flying Fish is a Seattle restaurant that specializes in local seafood and ingredients for its unique menu items. Chef Christine Keff was profiled on NPR about 10 years ago, and her relationships with local growers and merchants inspired me to think "fresh and local" for ministry as well as food (the restaurant is amazing, highly recommended).
4. Richard Florida, The Great Reset. This more recent publication sold me on the challenges presented by our industrial past for our societal future. Florida covers big picture items such as world migration, to day to day issues such as the costs of commuting for personal health. What I realized after reading Florida is that I don't want to spend the rest of my life in a car, detached from my neighbors.

It's easy to blame our detached and isolated lives on things like social media, television and computers. What is often ignored is commuting. Time spent in traffic or traveling long distances to work comes at a great cost to relationships. Though I am thankful for the experience in the past season of life and ministry, I have commuted long distances for 10 years. People go where the jobs are. However, the time came for me when I could make a choice to invest my family's life into a community. Sometimes it scares me, the newness of it all. I also know that ministry doesn't thrive in isolation. I may have learned a lot over the years from books, seminars and classes. Without relationships, they mean nothing. I pray that I am up to the challenges of being in the presences of sharing lives with God and neighbor.


  1. This is an excellent post! I've consciously avoided long commutes for just the reasons you've stated (although we are getting ready to move to a bigger city and I'm not sure how much longer I can avoid the long commute). I like your thoughts on focusing on a neighborhood church--that seems to be a much better model for really connecting with people on a deep level. I hope all works out for you! Blessings!

  2. Here I am spouse of pastor emerita. We chose to live fairly close to the church building where she served 27 years - close enough to ride a bicycle less than three miles to get there. Thank you for this very thoughtful posting.

  3. Thank you for your comments! What I find interesting is how the view of the neighborhood church has evolved. I'm looking forward to reading Diana Butler Bass' latest book on the topic of the neighborhood church. The neighborhood church began to fail in the first place because it was too insular. There is some wisdom in the eras of both the regional/niche corporate church and the neighborhood church. I hope I'm wise enough to recognize both.

  4. "Ours" was in between - a "program" church having about 650 members give or take. For a time I worked as a tech support person at seminary where Diana was doing her writing (Alexandria, VA).