I love living in Small Town USA because things seem to move at a different pace. We still have 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, and 365 days in a year. But there’s something unique in the way that those days are lived out. Things take time and for a family of seven in a small church of under 200, I’ve found that rural America fits me well.
This wasn’t always the case. I spent a number of years living in cities (San Diego, San Francisco, and the Twin Cities). I enjoyed the fast pace, constant movement, and opportunities to always be doing something. So when the Lord called me to Small Town USA, most notably Northern WI, I had somewhat of a challenge. On the first night of moving from a city of 75K to a “city” (village? town?) of 1600, my wife and I finished dinner and decided to go out and do something. So we packed our two kids in the car and headed into town… which took literally 1 minute to arrive in. And guess what? Nothing was open! The entire town was shut down!
This was the beginning of some major changes for us, changes that Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon address well in The Art of Neighboring. In today’s installment of our series The Small Town “Art of Neighboring,” we’re looking at chapter six, “Baby Steps.”
The authors note that our culture tends to start with a wrong-headed approach to neighboring because, “we don’t value consistency” and “we are convinced that we need to make a big splash to make a difference,” which equates to “being a good neighbor isn’t that big a deal.” While this is the challenge of our culture, these values are juxtaposed by the values of Jesus:
“But Jesus says being a good neighbor is exactly the kind of life that can change the world. This simple truth can change everything: small things matter. They really do.”
Would all small town church planters and pastors please stand up and say, “Amen!”? This is one of the foundational beliefs that we have here in the Small Town USA partnership! And it’s really exciting to see that our passion for small towns is something that matters and, quite frankly, makes a difference!
The point of this chapter, “Baby Steps,” is to remind you that the little things that we do, for the cause of the kingdom, make a difference. They matter. In a small town, those little things make a big difference. It’s in the daily routine of consistently living out the missional lifestyle that opens doors and increases our influence in the lives of people around us.
And that’s the challenge. We need to constantly be focused on “doing the stuff” in our small towns. And if we want to constantly be involved in serving those around us, we need to also remember that we need to abide in the Vine. Why? Read this powerful reminder from The Art of Neighboring:
“When you give away what you have, Jesus will give you more to give. Even if what you have isn’t enough to solve the whole problem, just do what you can in the moment— give it anyway. Trust that God will fill you up with enough to supply the need that’s right in front of you, and assume he will do it again for the next need as well. If you don’t give, you don’t get a chance to see God do a miracle.”
As you go out and do something, remember not to give up. Those small things make a huge difference. Each time you go to a local school’s athletic event or attend a community cause or shop local, you are being a good neighbor. You are living out a missional life. Those little things add up.
For nearly a decade I have been trying to live out a consistent missional lifestyle, which isn’t always easy. There have been many times where I’ve wondered if anything I did was making a difference. In fact, after six years of “doing the stuff,” I started to get pretty frustrated. But the Lord would encourage me to keep pressing on and I was encouraged by many wise people to stay the course. Guess what? In the past two years, I’ve begun to see some serious fruit from all of those little things. There’s no doubt that momentum is happening and it’s exciting to think what will happen in ten more years with nearly twenty years of consistently doing the small things.
And that’s what the art of neighboring in a small town looks like…
What do you think? What “little things” have been effective where you are?
About the author
Luke Geraty is a young budding pastor/theologian who serves at Trinity Christian Fellowship. Husband of one, father of five, and deeply committed to proclaiming Jesus and the kingdom, Luke contributes regularly to ThinkTheology.org and Multiply Vineyard. Follow Luke on Twitter, Facebook, or send him an email.