Part II: The Misconceptions
At The Crowded House, Boroughbridge we want rural North Yorkshire to hear about Jesus. Not just that, we want to see rural areas across Western Europe flooded with the light of Christ. When talking with people about rural church-planting, though, I often come across two misconceptions:
I love the current emphasis in church-planting circles on targeting cities, the ‘upstream’ places in the culture. But I think there are great reasons for urban churches to be intentionally planting into rural areas too. Here are just two:
1. The gospel needs to be contextualised for rural people. The North Yorkshire farmers that I know simply won’t Park-and-Ride their tractors into the cities to hear the gospel—they hate cities! And even if they do, the gospel they hear and experience will be a gospel contextualised for city-dwellers, not for them. We need gospel communities declaring and living out the gospel at the heart of rural communities.
2. Rural church-planting isn’t just going to happen automatically. The language of ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ suggests that if you plant a church in the upstream, the gospel will automatically flow downstream. But what’s happening now doesn’t seem to bear this out: rural areas are massively lacking in gospel-centred churches. If our regions are to be reached with the gospel, then urban churches need to be intentionally looking to plant in their massively needy rural areas.
And that brings me to the second misconception:
I recently heard someone say, ‘I want to minister to the poor and needy. I don’t want to minister to people in the countryside who are all middle-class and posh.’
But that’s just not my experience. Drug problems, family breakdowns, alcoholism, one-parent families struggling on benefits (and, of course the odd 4×4!): that’s been my experience of rural ministry. People in rural areas need Jesus. And they struggle in all sorts of ways. But these problems often go unseen. Why? Because it exists in pockets, rural poverty doesn’t show up in national statistics. But here are a few facts that surprised me:
1. According to the State of the Countryside Report 2008, the percentage of households below the poverty line in rural areas is the same as in urban areas, and the percentage in rural areas is rising more sharply.
2. The breakdown of traditional communities and sparsity of services means that older, vulnerable and less mobile people are increasingly isolated.
3. Farmers are the fourth most likely profession to commit suicide, due to isolation, economic hardship, low status, and family and relationship problems.
Rural areas are filled with real people struggling with real problems, who really are heading for hell unless someone brings Jesus to them. And so, just like cities, they need gospel-centred communities living out the gospel among them, and bringing them the gospel in ways they can understand.
And if, while doing that, you get to enjoy the odd cream tea and the smell of manure drifting through the windows on a summer’s evening, then hey, you’ll just have to put up with that!