Many communities across rural America can truly be labeled as spiritually barren. The towns lack any known desire for the knowledge (or even respect) of God. They are pagan in both beliefs and practice. Is this a viable place to begin a ministry? And, how would one start?
Before I begin, I'll make a couple of observations:
We must be willing to call a horse a HORSE. It's easy to live in denial about the spiritual condition of a small town--even making excuses for why there are problems. We can blame the economy, lack of opportunities for the kids, bad schools, or any other excuses. Those are all just symptoms.
Understanding the PROBLEM is paramount to understanding the SOLUTION. We will never address the problem until we understand what it is, and we will never solve the problem if we become mired in the symptoms. So, what has gone wrong?
LOSS OF IDENTITY
Rural morality is a symptomatic result of men losing sight of their role as fathers in their homes. Here is the pattern: loss of identity equals loss of activity which equals loss of example. This perpetuates itself through generations. The men then find their identity in the culture and adopt the activities which will give them their masculinity. Ask yourself this question about your community: Who are the men that the community looks up to, and why? For many farming communities, people will admire the guy who farms the most land or has the nicest equipment. In others, it may be those who have many extended family members living in the same community together. These men, and their associated behavior, become the cultural role models in the community. Men, long ago, have lost sight of biblical manhood. The women resign themselves to a survivalist mentality and look for suitable food and shelter.
INFLUX OF IDEAS
Many areas of rural America, pre-1970's were culturally isolated from the rest of the country. This all changed when Taylor Howard built a satellite antenna in 1975. Within six years it was a $50 million industry--mostly rural. Worldly influence grew exponentially when internet capabilities reached the farm. Today, more than 12 million homes are served by satellite TV--most in rural areas.This influx of ideas has been positive in many ways...and negative in some others. The fact remains that the influx of ideas has brought change to the farm. Now exposed to a world's culture, the rural people continue to mimic that of people living across the globe. Traditional values and lifestyles are quickly being replaced with a 'casserole' or blended culture.
INFLUX OF IMMIGRANTS
When a new family shows up in town, the town changes. Today, the fastest growing minority of rural America are Hispanics. Numerous communities throughout the Plains states have suffered severe growing pains when the meatpacking industries opened up for business. But they're not the only ones showing up on the farm.
One of the latest arrivals on the door step of rural America are a whole new class of citizens: the New Rural Poor. Urban families are moving to rural America to extend the value of their government entitlements...and they bring their culture with them. As a law enforcement officer, I witnessed this several times as families from metropolitan areas moved to our isolated communities. They spoke another language thorugh the way they dressed, talked, and related to others in the local school and community. Needless to say, they didn't last long.
How has the church responded to these changes? Not well. I will cover that next time.