If you’ve had a chance to check out the Small Town USA partnership, you’ll notice that Multiply Vineyard is committed to resourcing churches to plant churches in rural America. In fact, our hope is to work together to effectively plant healthy churches and to equip, empower, and resource church planters heading into rural communities.
Many of the books that I’ve read on missiology tend to focus on one of two contexts: (1) large cities or (2) foreign countries. This tends to be true about most of the discussions related to missional theology too. So after I finished my stint in seminary and found myself in a small town in the middle of WI (go Packers!), I felt pretty alone because almost all of the books I read were about how to contextualize in large cities or in mission fields like Africa. The problem I faced was that missional outreaches like hosting a slam poetry night at the local coffee shop just weren’t going to work. Why? Because no one knew what slam poetry was and there wasn’t a coffee shop. We had to drive to the city for that!
Healthy and effective missiology demands that we contextualize the message of Jesus and the kingdom of God in a way that people/communities will best understand. Tim Keller writes a helpful explanation of contextualization when he states:
“Sound contextualization means translating and adapting the communication and ministry of the gospel to a particular culture without compromising the essence and particulars of the gospel itself. The great missionary task is to express the gospel message to a new culture in a way that avoids making the message unnecessarily alien to that culture, yet without removing or obscuring the scandal and offense of biblical truth. A contextualized gospel is marked by clarity and attractiveness, and yet it still challenges sinners’ self-sufficiency and calls them to repentance. It adapts and connects to the culture, yet at the same time challenges and confronts it.” (Center Church).
Our Vineyard framework demands that we participate in missional outreach that is concerned with contextualizing the message of King Jesus and his inaugurated kingdom, the “now and not yet.” If you are in a rural community or sensing the Spirit calling you to a rural community, here are a few questions to ask yourself that will start you thinking about contextualization and missional outreach:
(1) What is the Father already doing in the rural community that we can bless and join in? Far too many of us are a bit more arrogant than we should be. Sometimes we think that God hasn’t been working in a community until we have showed up and this causes us to overlook some great opportunities. Rural communities are generally much more relational than other contexts. If you go to the grocery store, people are much more likely to go into detail when they respond to your question about how they are doing. Keep your eyes and ears open! If someone opens up to you and shares a need in their life, perhaps the Holy Spirit has been softening their heart!
(2) Are there community events that you can bless and join in? There’s no need for you to assume that you have to create, plan, and host all missional activities in rural communities. The simple fact of the matter is that church planters generally don’t have enough money to spend or a building so that an event can be done well. But I’d bet that the rural community probably has a local event that could use the love of the Father! For example, a rural community might have big 4th of July celebration that includes a parade and picnic at the park. Why not spend the little money you have on bottles of water and hand them out? Or contact the event planner and ask how you and your team can get involved. When people in a small town see new people making an effort to become a ‘local,’ walls come down and bridges are built. This is incarnational ministry 101!
(3) Where are those who are marginalized, oppressed, or overlooked? I don’t care where you go, you’ll find people who have needs. Who are the people in the rural community that are treated like “outsiders”? In rural communities there are often a few places to start looking. First, many small towns happen to be agricultural communities so there are often migrant workers from other countries. Sadly, these people are often treated poorly, which provides an excellent opportunity for followers of Jesus. Second, small towns often have nursing homes that are rarely visited by people. This is a great opportunity to visit, love, pray for, and share Christ with people because they are generally longing for visits! Plus, the people who tend to work in nursing homes caring for the elderly have a soft spot for people who have the same concerns. Third, there are likely some “latchkey kids” in a rural community because most small towns are full of working class poor. There may be opportunities to participate in afterschool programs, etc. Keep your eyes and ears open!
Look at that, you just connected with some people who’d like to check out your church plant because your deeds are matching up with your words! After all, pure and undefiled religion is helping orphans and widows (James 1:27) and people are looking for you to put your words into action…
What questions would you add?
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.