Where did the BIG KINGDOM go?

It is no secret that many rural communities are slowly shrinking. Young professionals move away, and an older generation begins to pass away. As the town shrinks, often, so does the church. Does it have to be this way? What causes our kingdom view to get smaller while the town does? From my experience, there seem to be three habits in our leadership that contribute to this in big ways.

  1. We are comfortable with our routine.

Each day looks the same. For example, the guys drink coffee at the same time and place every morning. The farmer passes on his tractor at nearly the same time each day. Every Thursday, the lady down the street hangs her clothes out to dry in the same order. You order the same meal at each of the two restaurants in town. The kids get out of school at the same time. Dinner is ready at five-thirty. Each day is the same. Sunday arrives, everyone sits in the same pew, someone prays nearly the exact words as last week, and you get out of service within minutes of last week. Each day is the same. Don’t get me wrong; healthy routines are a good thing. However, too much routine can back us into a corner where we forget that God is a God of change. When we see and hear the same things all the time, we don’t expect to hear from God in those places. I try to get away from the routine at least three times a year. Sometimes that is a conference, maybe a retreat with friends, or a walk through the woods. Different experiences, sights, sounds, or new voices and ideas remind me that God is still working in new and significant ways and wants the same for my town. Elijah heard the voice of God in the unexpected whisper. How can you break your routine to hear new whispers from God?

2. We have lost our passion.

I have asked my church several times in the context of worship, “If someone new walked into our building, and they watched our worship, would they know that God is a God of excitement and joy?” Whether it is hymns we have sung forever or newer songs we don’t know the words to, passion in many rural churches is lost. A desperate plea for God with every bit of our being has been silenced by repetition and normalcy. If God’s spirit showed up in exciting ways, we wouldn’t know what to do. Unfortunately, we would see passionate life change as an inconvenience that would stand in the way of getting to the buffet on time after church. As leaders, do we show up expectant of God to move? Do we worship with passion and enthusiasm? Are we excited about how God can change lives and bring hope? It wasn’t in the middle of a metropolis where God split the sea; it was in the middle of a desert. He is just as capable of making miraculous way through your small town as he was in the desert with Moses. Be the reason that others get excited about Jesus and his kingdom.

“If someone new walked into our building, and they watched our worship, would they know that God is a God of excitement and joy?”

3. We are telling a one-sided story.

Our view of God’s kingdom is lost when we look behind us at the story God has already told. Many rural churches have a rich history of great moments where God did exciting things. However, many rural churches focus on the moments behind them instead of looking for opportunities to tell God’s story in the future. As a result, the church’s story in many small towns is one-sided; it’s the story of what was and not what could be. We are grasping at splinters of the past when we are called to carry the cross forward. If you are only looking behind you, all you do is run into walls and run over people. If we sat down to read a new book, and after we read the first half, the rest of the pages were blank, we would be frustrated and take the book back. Imagine how people feel about the church when all they hear about is “back in the good ole days.” It’s like we have given up on the rest of the story. Are you spending your time telling God’s story or focusing on protecting traditions? Are you leading toward a vast kingdom of grace or gatekeeping the status quo? Is God using your church to write a new chapter filled with hope and renewal, or are you too busy just rereading the beginning chapters?  

If you are only looking behind you, all you do is run into walls and run over people.

The kingdom that Jesus calls us to serve in is so much greater than the town limits where we live. I can only imagine what would happen in rural America if our churches and church leaders saw themselves through the lens of possibility and not what they used to be. How could God’s kingdom grow if we led with a fresh passion for what God could do, no matter the size of our church or the conditions around us? Is our kingdom view big enough that there is space for others to be a part of it?

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