By Victor Ochieng
There is a renewed drive to reach out to rural areas and small towns with the gospel of Christ Jesus. A number of organizations have set up programs to ensure that the good news reaches out to all corners of the earth. We have the Vineyard’s Small Town USA Initiative, which is going around the country planting churches. We also have Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, which has launched Rural Matters Institute. A look at the entire ministry also shows there are other initiatives, including books geared towards promoting the rural and small towns ministry. Donnie Griggs, seeing the importance of the ministry, released his book, Small Town Jesus and we also have Aaron Morrow’s Small Town Mission, not forgetting Brad Roth’s God’s Country. The internet is also filled with well written, well-researched articles on the ministry.
It’s a clear show of interest among ministers of the gospel to share the good news with the rural areas and small towns, the areas that clearly put President Donald Trump into office in 2016.
The ministry interest in these areas is a good one. However, it’s not clear whether the zeal will continue.
While there could be many approaches to making the ministry effective, Stephen Witmer, pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, Massachusetts, says he believes the best way to go about it is to have a clear theological vision.
According to Witmer, a theological vision is “a middle space between doctrine and practice,” in which we get a clear view of theology and culture and how they both impact our ministry. This isn’t a point-by-point practical view of how the ministry is going to function, but more about a ministry approach that’s easily translatable to different cultures and locations.
In coming up with a theological vision, Keller suggests we ask ourselves a couple of questions, including, “Where are we located—city, suburb, town, rural area—and how does this affect our ministry?” The place is a very important variable in this case. To have a fruitful ministry, you cannot overlook the place.
If we look at Keller’s theological vision, it has worked pretty well for the big places – urban and large cultural centers. His Redeemer City to City has resulted in the planting of hundreds of churches in major towns and cities across the globe. To have a movement that yields fruits in rural areas like that, there has to be a vision that’s tailored to those specific areas.
There are a number of reasons why ministry works in rural and small towns often don’t pick up. These include being forgotten, despised, idealized or used by the larger centers to drive their own agenda, which at the end of it all, isn’t beneficial to these areas.