[This post is from Mark’s forward in the upcoming book, Replanting Rural Churches: God’s plan and call for the middle of nowhere, by Matt Henslee and Kyle Bueermann. Replanting Rural Churches will be available from Acoma Press on August 15, 2019.]
Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
Nathaniel asked that question of Phillip in the first chapter of John’s Gospel. I love Philip’s answer. He simply said, “Come and see.”
Nathaniel’s question was understandable. Nazareth was not exactly the center of the universe. In fact, it wasn’t the center of anything. It was a small, out of the way, insignificant village of less than a thousand people. In many ways, Nazareth is not unlike countless numbers of villages, communities, crossroads, and towns across North America today.
For most people who live in the cities and urban centers of this continent, these little, out-of-the-way rural places have no significance. They don’t impact the culture. With cities growing so rapidly, they don’t seem to be strategically important either.
But you and I know, nothing could be further from the truth. Every village, community, crossroad, and town in North America is a location where people need to hear the gospel. Every person in those communities is a person whom Jesus loves, and he died for.
Jesus died for the people in Spickard, Mo. There may be only 487 people in the town. You won’t find a Walmart there. You won’t find a grocery store. You won’t even find a gas station.
Unfortunately, today you won’t find a church either. My dad was born in that town 90-plus years ago. A little more than 70 years ago, the town’s First Baptist Church was my dad’s first pastorate. He preached his first-ever Easter sermon there in 1947. He met my mom for the first time there. That church is where they married.
But today, that church no longer exists. About a year and a half ago, I received a call from the local Baptist association saying they were closing it down. They asked whether I wanted to keep any of my dad’s stuff that had been left there. It’s about two hours away from where I live in Kansas, so I drove up there and spent a day in Spickard.
As I prayed over the community that day, I grieved. I love that town. More importantly, Jesus does too. But today the community has a limited gospel witness.
Spickard may not have a Walmart, a grocery store, or a gas station, but it has a school. Thirty-seven percent of that town is under the age of 15. That means a generation of children are growing up without an opportunity to hear about Jesus through a gospel-preaching church.
Many people may look at towns like Spickard as simply fly-over or drive-by country. You and I know different. We know that God is at work in every home, on every farm, in every ranch, and in every community. As our friend Henry Blackaby has reminded us in Experiencing God, we need to find out where God is at work and join him in it.