Communal living spaces—apartments with shared living areas and great amenities—are on the rise in large cities like New York and Washington, D.C. Tenants pay a hefty price for a “curated living experience” with built-in community, made up of individuals looking for connection in an increasingly isolated society.
But the goal of communal living shouldn’t be merely to live in comfort, enjoy amenities, and connect with people just like you. True communal living is forged in shared homes where our first priority isn’t our own comfort.
One example of Christian communal living is four single men who live together in a home I affectionately call “the manastery.” Their apartment is nestled between abandoned homes in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Baltimore.
They intentionally moved here and put away their preferences, their desire for comfort, and other people’s measures of success in order to serve and learn from their neighborhood. Their home is a place for community and meals. It’s not always an easy place to live, but it prioritizes Christ’s glory.
When a neighbor was killed, the men knocked on doors, offering empathy and praying with their neighbors. Their neighbors saw them model godly mourning and grief and welcomed the men’s willingness to share in the community’s sorrows. My friends’ home became a mission station that day and has continued to shine gospel light in the community since.
Where Selfishness Dies
Not only do Christians engage those outside, we also must fight the enemy within. In co-living, we’re forced to face how easy it is to be selfish and confront our temptation to serve selectively.
This is something I’ve experienced personally. Two years ago, I traded my two-bedroom apartment for a lovely room with a family of six and a housemate. Recently, my housemate was having an extremely hard day, and I was too. I planned to eat my dinner quickly and disappear upstairs, but Romans 12:15 was ringing in my head: “Weep with those who weep.” I wanted to focus on myself, but our co-living arrangement pushed me to demonstrate concern for her instead.
The gifts of friendship and sympathy are abundant, and these are gifts I might have missed by living on my own. Living intentionally protects me from prolonged times of isolation or patterns of sinful habits. I’m less tempted to hide from others when involved in the everyday fold of family life.
Where Sin Can’t Hide
Before I moved in, the husband of the family I live with said, “You’re welcome to live here, but know that we are sinners, and you’ll see that in your time living here.” He was honest, and he was right.
Sin is uncomfortable: it separates, it divides, and it sparks conflict. When people live together, sin can’t be easily ignored. During a family dinner, the couple I live with asked me to adjust my living space. I’d had a long day, and I made some harsh remarks in response. I wanted to live my way and not care about others. My unkindness isn’t new, but co-living offers me a startling opportunity to confront it and kill it.
Christians are heralds of a gospel of peace. Our Savior reconciled us to himself by dying on the cross for our sins, giving us a new life. Communal living helps me live in light of that grace. Sharing kitchens and bathrooms forces me to reconcile with my housemates on issues I’d otherwise avoid. And in our mutual forgiveness, we model the work of Christ.
God of Grace
In the difficult moments of sharing living rooms and meals and space in the washing machine, we can be reminded of how patient Christ is. We appreciate afresh how he empathized with those who were hurting, weak, sinful, and frail. And I’m convinced that in these awkward and uncomfortable interactions we come face to face with the God of grace.
Welcoming others to live in our homes or pursuing living arrangements that forsake comfort allows us to cultivate the blessings of true gospel community.