In addition to working together to strategically plant churches in rural America, the Small Town USA partnership helps resource rural church planters and leaders in a variety of ways, including pointing to helpful existing resources. Sometimes this requires that we “filter” them through a “Small Town USA” grid, which we enjoy doing! After all, some of the best books on missional theology and praxis are written with urban cities in mind. If it’s true that urban leaders can learn from small town leaders (which we believe), than it follows that small town leaders can learn from those in the city! Can I get a hearty “Amen!” to such an idea?
One great book for you to consider would be Jay Pathak and David Runyon’s book The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door (Baker Books, 2012). Ed Stetzer called this book a “a unique and necessary addition to any serious Christian’s missional library” and Carl Medearis, notes that if you apply what Jay and David write, “your lives and your neighborhoods will never be the same.” The Art of Neighboring is a great book and since I’ve had the pleasure of hanging with Jay, I can attest to the fact that he is the real deal (I’m sure David is too). He’s a kingdom of God kind of guy and he’s an influential leader among our Vineyard family!
So how does a Small Town USA pastor read and apply The Art of Neighboring? In the coming weeks, I want to work through their chapters in an attempt to mine for the gold that is near the surface and buried deep below (I hope that’s a nice way of saying that there’s a ton of great ideas in The Art of Neighboring!). Next Monday I’ll post on chapter 1, so I’d recommend picking up a copy and reading it if you are interested in joining this series… and feel free to share your questions and observations in the comment section!
Anyway, over the years I’ve noticed that sometimes there is a tendency on the part of small town leaders to feel overlooked. This, of course, does not describe everyone but is a feeling that develops when one feels like no one is concerned with their work. While there is some validity to the suggestion that there isn’t as much focus on rural ministry and rural church planting, I personally believe this is more of an opportunity than a threat or slight! Furthermore, as we read The Art of Neighboring, we’ll see that there are many similarities between serving people in large cities and small towns… while also seeing a few differences that make the context somewhat unique. One is not better than the other and both contexts require a listening and learning approach to leadership.
For today I want to draw the attention of you small town readers to a statement that Randy Frazee makes in the forward of he Art of Neighboring:
“The journey begins when we choose a lifestyle of conversation and community over a lifestyle of busyness and accumulation. It’s about making room for life and choosing to befriend those God has placed around us.”
For those living in small towns, attempting to live a missional life, this quote will likely summarize a great deal of what you either will discover or have discovered. If this is the ethos of what is found in The Art of Neighboring, and I think it is, than we will learn a lot!
Next Monday we’ll look at chapter one of The Art of Neighboring, “Who is My Neighbor?” I hope you pick up a copy and read along with me!
Finally, the Small Town USA partnership is putting together a list of resources (books, websites, etc.). Related to this post, I’d love to know what resources you’ve learned from that were written with an urban context in mind. What books would you recommend? What did you like about that book? How did you apply it to your small town? What helps you think “rural” when you are reading “urban”?
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, VineyardScholars.org, and Multiply Vineyard. Follow Luke on Twitter, Facebook, or send him an email.