Enhancing how we see rural areas and rural ministry.
In the last month or so, I’ve been wrestling with the power of words as it concerns the conversation about rural ministry and our polarized national geography in general. Since about the middle of the last decade, rural America and rural ministry have garnered a good bit of attention thanks both to political currents as well as increasing levels of engagement from evangelical denominations, institutions, and networks committed to raising the profile of rural and small-place ministry. For many of us, it is a development long-sought and deeply appreciated.
Recently, however, I’ve been wondering whether the way we frame this conversation deserves more careful attention. In many instances, the folks who talk about these places attempt to contextualize them by highlighting things like the commercial amenities rural areas lack (the list is usually headed by favorite fast-food chains and stores) and the sense that, for most of America, small places and the churches that serve them are forgotten. I know how the conversation goes. I’ve talked about amenities and forgottenness too.
These days, I am starting to think differently about the usefulness of both categories. The first focuses on rural shortcomings in terms of our culture’s obsession with orienting our lives around consumerism; the second makes inattention to rural areas, pastors, and churches more palatable. To forget is different than to neglect, dismiss, or disdain. If I forget to pick up milk when my wife asks me on my trip to the store, it feels different than if I know I need to pick up milk at the store and choose not to simply because I decide it isn’t that important.
To claim rural places and rural churches are forgotten gets us off the …