We live in a world of paradoxes.
As in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, it is the best of times and somehow also the worst of times. It appears to be the age of information and knowledge, yet proves to be an age of foolishness. It is an era of belief and a time of faithlessness, a season of light in a world of complete darkness, a spring of hope amidst the winter of despair. This seems to be the narrative of many churches in America, but especially in rural America.
The story of rural America is one of grit, resourcefulness, independence, craftsmanship, and sheer determination. It is the story of community, lifelong relationships and family bonds. This image holds a nostalgic place in many hearts.
Those who live in, or have spent significant time in, rural areas may have witnessed its endurance — the warm-heartedness of neighbors, the firmness of family values, the closeness of relationships and community. There are still examples of this today throughout rural America. It is a wonderful narrative to embrace and catalyze in ministry and mission, an ideal worthy of aspiration.
But it is not the full picture.
There is another story of rural America, and it is much more troubling.
J.D. Vance called our attention to this two years ago in Hillbilly Elegy. It is a story of a struggling, aging, diminishing, and sometimes decaying culture. It is a story of limited resources in communities abandoned by a population that has clambered to its cities. It is a story of losses in industry, government, philanthropy and even the church. It is a story of growing poverty and challenges with healthcare and addiction. It is a story of dramatically disintegrating family structures. This story is also part of the picture.
Facts are our friends. And sometimes facts are hard to hear.
Statistics validate the more negative perspective, even more so in recent years. Rural churches are at a crossroads. They are facing paradigmatic shifts, which, without the Spirit’s guidance, will lead to the dying of many more churches.
After decades of near invisibility in the shadow of the urban mission enterprise, the term “rural” is rising again into the public consciousness. This was especially apparent in the last Presidential election, which seemingly gave voice to many who were largely absent from the public discourse in the media.
Generalizations and caricatures must give way to true understanding. We must see the myriad people in rural America as more than just a distant demographic. They are individuals and communities with real opportunities and challenges.
Particularly as the Church, we must look with clear eyes and with the mind of Christ. When we hear the term “rural,” we should think of a unique group of diverse individuals made in God’s image, broken as we all are by the Fall, and in need of the redemption that only Jesus offers.
It’s easy to look where we don’t live and make assumptions that are both inaccurate and dehumanizing. It’s worse when assumptions become judgments. And it’s most concerning when we develop our mission from them. Here is the first of three problematic misconceptions:
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Source: Christianity Today