Wednesday, August 02, 2017

The Need for Rural Ministry

In the evening glow of the setting sun, I can stand on my front step and gaze down the street, taking in the full length and width of the community I am glad to call home. Fading letters that almost spell “Winchester” on the weather-beaten water tower—the sole object in our skyline—are a fitting reflection of a small town that is modest but not altogether unattractive. This rural community does not off’er much economically. It will never be a place of significant cultural influence or worldly success. Nevertheless, I have a settled indiff’erence, because I am convinced that the gospel has much to off’er and can have a profound influence in the forgotten places of rural America. What gives me that confidence? Jesus does.

Small and rural towns were not peripheral to the life and ministry of Jesus. He was born in Bethlehem, which was not, even in His time, a booming city (Mic. 5:2). When His family returned from Egypt, He was raised in Nazareth, which was not an epicenter of potential but an obscure village nestled among the hills (Luke 4:29; John 1:46). During His ministry, He intentionally preached in towns and villages (Mark 1:38; Luke 13:22), and sent out the Twelve with the assumption that they would do the same (Matt. 10:11). He taught that the summons of the kingdom was to be heralded even to the out-of-the-way and irrelevant places in order to fill His Father’s house (Luke 14:23). In reading the Gospels, it is undeniable that Jesus had a heart for ministry in rural and small towns.

One must wonder, however, if the contemporary church shares Jesus’ heart on this matter. The rural population of the United States accounts for 15–20 percent of the general population, or between forty-five million and sixty million people. To put that in perspective, this number is greater than the populations of the vast majority of independent countries in the world, and it is a population ranking in size between the populations of Italy and France.

In the last thirty years, however, a significant movement has devoted much of the church’s resources and people to planting and growing churches in the city. Without diminishing the good this has accomplished, we can raise reflective questions. Has an enthusiasm for planting churches uprooted a devotion to the equally necessary and Apostolic work of revitalization? Has an overdependence on the economy been more formative for our ministries than the universal call of Jesus? Has the pursuit of influence produced a partiality against the least influential? Has a vision for urban centers overlooked small communities? Has the light and noise of the city blinded and deafened us to the critical and spiritual needs of rural America? Read More

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