Summer is for many a time of movement. Like so many other American families this year, ours will pull up stakes and relocate. This won’t be our first big move. In fact, crossing state lines should be simple compared to taking our family halfway around the world.
But I’m finding that the way we moved overseas is influencing our current plans for putting a roof over our heads. And hopefully in a good way.
Here are a few suggestions in how Christians can be missional in any move.
1. Leave Room in Your Budget for Giving
We’ve all seen the HGTV shows where house hunters list their budget, stand firm for a while, only to cave to the desires for their dream home. Their max budget—that imaginary red line—ends up being crossed with no apparent consequence. Or maybe they stay within budget but push it to the brink, leaving no wiggle room for unforeseen expenditures or charitable giving.
Living below your means is the first step to generous giving.
In my experience as a missionary trying to raise support, one of the saddest conversations I have is with a family who’d like to give to missions but can’t due to debt. Sometimes it’s school loans. Maybe irrational spending. But often they’re individuals (and churches) cash-strapped under the burden of a heavy mortgage. So whether you rent or buy, find your max budget then aim to stay well below it. Because living below your means is the first step to generous giving.
2. Look for a Neighborhood Where You Can Serve
This forthcoming move has introduced our family to the online world of real estate. When looking for a home, sites like Zillow and Craigslist become invaluable tools. But the temptation when perusing listings is to see a house as mere amenities and features. The industry feeds on buyers identifying and demanding their “must-haves” in a property. The home then becomes nothing more than a space to meet our desires.
But instead of merely looking for a home that serves our family, we’re striving to look for a home and neighborhood where we can serve others. This doesn’t negate the fact that we’d like a certain number of bedrooms to fit our family. However, finding a house that will be a means of serving others should be a priority—and that involves more than looking for an open-concept home with room for entertaining.
So look for a home that can be a place of service by finding a neighborhood where you can live among and minister to the community.
3. Live Close to the Church You Will Attend
Church should be central to mission. Therefore, we’re convinced that it’s ideal—if possible—to live in close proximity to the church we will attend. This takes some work on the front end, especially when moving five hundred miles away . We’re not simply looking for a home, but we’re searching for a community and a church. That being said, narrowing down neighborhoods based upon prospective churches can actually be a practical way of simplifying a search for housing.
For in-town moves, I’d first encourage Christians to consider moving closer to their current church. A long commute to work can be tiresome. But living farther from your church is potentially more damaging. You’ll be less likely to attend when you don’t feel like it. You’ll also have a more difficult time missionally whenever you try to encourage neighbors to attend with you. So if your move takes you farther away from the church you want to attend, perhaps consider linking arms with a congregation nearer your new home.
4. Learn Who Your Neighbors Are Right Away
Moving is no fun. I’ve done it enough to dread it. On top of all the boxes is a mountain of logistics. In my case, I’ll be stepping into a new job and responsibilities. I’ll need to learn a new city and its public transportation. There will be utilities to set up, groceries to find, and bills to pay. But I must remind my task-oriented self that the most important part of any move is being present in our new place. It’s being a good neighbor.
If we’re not careful, the unending list of responsibilities will crowd out opportunities to meet our neighbors, and when we finally get around to it we will have to overcome the awkwardness of a welcome months after our arrival. So it’s critical in any move to learn your neighbors right away. Take time the first week to meet as many as possible. Don’t wait for them. Go to their door proactively with the expectation that God has brought you to this neighborhood for such a time as this.
5. Love the Place You Live
I’m not so ignorant as to assume that moving is always upward. Some people don’t relocate out of choice but necessity. Some aren’t going to their dream home or dream job. Even if they are, it may not be in a city or country they naturally love. And almost inevitably, every move comes with cost. The goodbyes unpleasant, the tears bitter.
Loving the place you live may be the most important step of being on mission where you’re planted.
But I can’t overemphasize the importance of this last suggestion. Learn to love the place you live. Again, this takes faith that God has brought you here for a purpose. It also flows from a perspective that his grace can be found anywhere—in dangerous and debauched neighborhoods of urban America or among the unending cornfields of the Midwest,. You can live anywhere and love it. In fact, you need to. Loving the place you live may be the most important step of being on mission where you’re planted.
As missionaries, my family always moved with purpose. Although I’m guessing many Christians may not be pondering missions when they think about a potential mortgage, relocating is actually the perfect time to do so.
Moving is a way of engaging a new area and new people with the gospel. It also allows us to hit the reset button on more than just relationships. Whether it’s taking on a lease or financing a home, these decisions are the perfect opportunity to restructure priorities for the sake of the kingdom.
Elliot Clark (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) lived in Central Asia for six years where he served as a cross-cultural church planter along with his wife and three children. He is currently working to train local church leaders overseas.