By Patrick Bowler
Valley Life Church (Lebanon, OR)
Sorting through the “junk drawer…”
Every home has one. The infamous catchall spot known to most as the “junk drawer.” The reason we all have one of these drawers is because we all have items in our homes that lack a particular compartment of their own. These drawers are full of old keys (for some reason, we have this innate, unexplainable fear of throwing them out), batteries (your best guess at whether they are good or not), spare shoelaces, paper clips, twist ties, plug-in air-freshener refills, lighters, clothes hangers, loose toothpicks, lots of pennies and orange-handled scissors. Where else are you going to put miscellaneous items like these? I find it interesting that nothing of considerable value ever ends up in the junk drawer. You’re not going to find Grandma’s diamond earrings in there. Why? Because items of value have a designated spot of their own. The junk drawer is for the inconsequential. It is my guess that for most of us, the entire contents of that particular drawer could be thrown out and we wouldn’t miss a thing. Am I right?
“Rural America” as a category feels a bit like a demographic “junk drawer.” Demographers and sociologists alike seem to work tirelessly studying and defining metropolitan America and its effects on American culture as a whole. But when confronted with our country’s more rural pockets, there seems to be an uncertainty as to what to do with them. Rural America ends up tossed in a drawer right next to the dried out shoe polish. Even the U.S. Census Bureau tends to define rural America by exclusion, defining it as follows, “All territory, population, and housing units not classified as urban.” Basically, rural communities are what urban communities are not. Metropolitan America remains the standard with it’s 83 percent of the country’s population, leaving the remaining 17 percent marginalized in some unspecified drawer somewhere.
Not a BIG enough vision…
The proverb, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18; KJV) presents us with a clear leadership problem. Now, before the people cry “foul!”, I should point out another translation of this same passage of scripture. The English Standard Version (ESV) offers us this slightly nuanced perspective; “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.” Though this version does not remove the leadership problem, it does remove the victim card from the deck of the people. It looks as if they perish at their own hand. But leadership nonetheless remains a clear component.
Rural America needs movement leaders just as metropolitan America do. Pastors, church planters, network coordinators and movement leaders are as much a staple in the countryside as in our cities. There is a huge need for Gospel-centered churches to be planted in rural communities across the country. There are people in smaller towns looking for good, solid, biblical teaching—centered on the cross and mobilized on mission and it is tragic if the best thing we can tell them is to get an iPod. There are churches all over the rural landscape dying for lack of a prophetic, apostolic vision. Viewing rural America as inconsequential to the broader mission and trusting that the overflow of urban ministry will make it “down river” to our rural communities is not a big enough vision. Small towns need called, qualified, and capable men to help get them out of the junk drawer and back on the shelf.
 Richard E. Wood, Survival of Rural America (Lawrence, KA: University Press of Kansas, 2008), p. xi.