Ed is a Jewish friend of mine here in Chicago. Often what to him is a simple side comment is a profound insight to me. Recently he said in passing, “It is unthinkable for a Jew not to live within walking distance of his community.” I stopped him and said, “Ed, wait a minute! What did you mean by that last statement?” He explained that in Judaism the value of community is expressed by a commitment to live within walking distance of one another. The children can play with one another, dads gather in the local park, and wives share a cup of coffee in one another’s kitchens.
Ed’s comment resonated with me because after being involved in disciple-making for 30 years I am convinced that living in close proximity is an essential element to making followers of Jesus. It is not enough just to have a weekly meeting together whether it is a church service, a one-on-one meeting, a small group meeting, or a house church. Living life together plays an indispensable role in making disciples because it is in the “doing life together” that your disciple has the opportunity to experience what it means to belong both in a nuclear family and a spiritual family. You are also able to observe your disciple in various scenarios with different people and it gives him the opportunity to observe you among your family and friends.
Most anyone can sham love for a while whether in a service, a class, a small group meeting, or having coffee at Starbucks, but it is in the daily routine with our mates, children, siblings, parents, friends, co-workers, and neighbors where love engages with reality. I am not advocating that Christianity should stop having services, bible studies, or small groups but I am seeking to raise our awareness to the importance of living in close proximity to one another in making followers of Jesus.
Jesus did not remove his twelve disciples from their hometown of Capernaum but rather he discipled them among their family and friends in the familiar context in which they had been raised.