About 80 percent of Canadians are city-dwellers. Despite the expanse of our nation, slightly more than a third of us dwell in only three metropolitan areas: Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver. I live in one of them.
I grew up, however, in Hicksville. My backyard was an open field that provided the seasoned aroma of freshly spread manure. There was no cable TV, only bunny ears and Saturday night hockey games in a snowstorm. There was no Tim Horton’s or Starbucks within a 30-minute drive. Without such luxuries we just went to each other’s homes for Sunday dinner and coffee. Strange, I know.
Am I waxing nostalgic? Not really. Having lived and served in rural and urban Canada, I would propose that those who follow Jesus in cities could learn a few things from their rural cousins. Not only do much of the Scriptures require an agricultural lens to bring clarity, but there is an earthy wisdom found in the “sticks” that could teach us a lot about living the Word and being the church in this ever-changing world that sends ripples through all our ponds.
So, what could the city could learn from the country?
• First, seasons happen.
The push of urbanization is to never let anything rest. Produce, produce, produce is the anxiety-inducing drive of the city. I wonder how this has caused us to misread the rhythms of life in the church?
But the country teaches that there is no production without a time of fallowness. The pace of life changes with the seasons. There are full-on times to make hay when the sun shines and necessary down times to be embraced.
• Second, it takes fertilizer to grow things.
No “lilac spring” aroma therapy could adequately deal with the smell wafting from the field behind the home of my childhood. It was awful. Still, we never wrote a letter to the township asking for the establishment of a poop-patrol. Rurally, you accept that it takes fertilizer to grow things. Organic is as organic does.
Have we forgotten that the church is an organism and organisms actually require and produce fertilizer? The urban myth is that we should—without inconvenience or any bad smells—access what we need, even spiritually. When there is manure, the assumption is this church stinks and many run to the next place where the grass appears greener. I wonder how many Christians and churches have missed amazing growth opportunities through an inability to accept the gift of fertilizer?
• Third, the world is a collection of villages.
One rural area I served in had these towns near each other: Dublin, Zurich and Exeter. In this small area there is a collision of Irish, Swiss and English histories. Of course, time bleeds out some differences, but in a rural context these differences are not so quickly blended or forgotten. That can become nasty or, from a missiological perspective, be a great tutor.
If we are going to reach people for Jesus, then we have to realize the cultural DNA that shapes histories and locales. People really are not metropolitan at the end of the day. Our relational spheres and sense of place are more village-like than often assumed. Urban areas champion the “towns” within the city.
What might change if we’d see the opportunities of a little small-town thinking—rather than big-box marketing—in how we live out our mission with Jesus?
Phil Wagler (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in the town of Cloverdale, which is really Surrey, which is oft mistaken for the urban sprawl of Vancouver, B.C.