Traveling on country and backroads, you see many sights and many times you see a church that is old and dilapidated, what are your first thoughts that go through your mind? Maybe the sign has not been changed in months or even years. The grass and weeds are taking over the once gravel parking lot. Possibly the church hasn’t seen a coat of paint in a generation.
Do you think of the people that once had a vision for Christ’s work on that very spot? can you picture all the sacrifice and hard work to get them that far? Do you sense the passion that must have rang throughout the building at one time? Can you hear the testimonies of salvation and sanctification that must have been experienced here? Or is the only thing you see is neglect and abandonment? Or do you see anything at all?
As you drive through the countryside many times, we drive through places that are picturesque and scenic but other parts of the community you may catch a glimpse of an old broken down house with laundry on the line. There might be an old car in the driveway, what do we think about the people that live there or is it just another place that we passed by?
Some see rural America as a place to retreat from the noise and the confusion of city life. It’s a place to relax and enjoy recreation activities. Others see rural America as a decaying and dying landscape where people are stuck in the past and are as rundown as the old homes and churches that dot the landscape. Still others see rural people as closed-minded bigots who reject modern society and perpetrate longstanding racial and economic biases.
We can become so familiar and comfortable with our surroundings, that we become blind to the very community that we live in.
What do you see? Christ sees people who are without a Shepherd. To Him, these communities represent individuals who have been devastated by the ravaging effects of sin and are in desperate need of the Gospel. Too often, when driving through the countryside of rural communities, we fail to see like this.
And what do you see when you drive by a boarded-up church? We become so familiar with our surroundings that we are blind to the community around us. Do you see a church that died because it was stuck in tradition or legalism? Do you become sad, knowing that it represents a light on a Hill that has become darkened? When you pass a small church on the side of the street of a small town, do you see a vital part of the faith community providing a witness of the Gospel? Or do you see a church that drains resources and should be closed so that the resources could be utilized better elsewhere? Small rural churches are vital to the work of the Kingdom. Over 6 out of 10 churches have less than 100 in attendance any given Sunday.
Rural America is rapidly becoming a spiritual wasteland, where churches are being closed because they are overlooked and cast aside by the larger church community as a place deemed too insignificant or unworthy of our attention. – Glenn Daman, The Forgotten Church
Studies show that rural areas are quickly becoming the new ghetto, with persistent poverty, drug use among young people, and crime, all of which are becoming widespread problems. We also see incredible long standing and increased racial tension. When we see the true spiritual condition of rural America, we simply cannot ignore it. We need to ask “Why?” And “What would Christ have us to do to help?” To see with the eyes of Christ is to see rural people who are “distressed and dispirited like sheep without a Shepherd” Matthew 9:36.
When we drive through the countryside in the fall and find fields of corn and soybeans and other crops ready to be harvested, we are reminded of the spiritual harvest where the problem is never the potential for the harvest. Rather, the crisis is the availability of workers, which should drive us to our knees to pray that laborers would attend to rural America and strengthen our rural churches. We cannot ignore the need, for to do so is to undermine the very nature of the gospel.
The next time you drive past a old, rundown or closed church, pray for the loss of the community. Rural churches are crucial for the furtherance of the Kingdom. What do you see?
Pastor Rob Beckett, serving at Shepherdsville Nazarene Church since 2016 on the Kentucky District along side his wife Joanna.