There are advantages to growing up in a small town. Everyone knows where you live, what you drive, and what you did last night. You grow up with great trust in humanity and knowing no stranger. You truly learn to love your neighbor as yourself. Friendships are forged for life. No feud is ever worth missing your weekly burrito on Mexican Food Night at the local café.
There are also some frustrating aspects unique to growing up in a rural community. Everyone knows where you live, what you drive, and what you did last night. You grow up dreaming of moving to a big city and escaping the scrutiny of your nosy neighbors. You long for the ‘bigger and better’ where everyone does NOT know your name… and what you may or may not have done last Friday night.
While modern technology has greatly increased the rate of speed at which world news travels, it’s still got nothing on my grandma on her front porch with her rotary dial phone. Growing up, my elementary school playground sat directly across from her house and every time I was at recess, she would be out there watching me. When I got home after school, my mom would already know my big news of the day, whether it was catching a touchdown pass in football or getting in a scuffle with kids on the opposing team. Good or bad, she knew before I could tell her. That’s just how fast the word spread.
Jesus understood this well. He spent his childhood years in Nazareth, but referred to Capernaum as his hometown. Capernaum was strategically placed on the Via Maris, an ancient trade route, and was home to about 1,500 people. The Via Maris was a direct passage connecting Egypt to Syria, and whenever something happened on this route, word spread all the way from Egypt to Syria. It was from here, the small town of Capernaum, that Jesus became a household name.
Jesus was simply doing the work of His Father. People would listen in amazement as He taught in the synagogue. He cast out the demons of those who were suffering. He healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Word began to travel not only through Capernaum, but also down the Via Maris. People started coming from all over just to receive healing. With fame comes notoriety, and Jesus was not immune to heartache. He had developed deep relationships in this town and even though many had seen miracles, they were still skeptical of Him. As it’s still true today, credibility is hard won (and easily lost).
Jesus kept it simple. He loved His community, built relationships, and didn’t look for ‘greener pastures.’ He looked at His world around Him and worked to make a difference. Through that simple obedience, God used Him to make a difference in the world. If you want to be a world changer, here’s some strategies to start changing your world:
1. Pastor your community. Don’t view yourself as the pastor of only those that attend on Sunday. When you go to the football game on Friday night, let the coach know you’re praying for him. When you go to parent/teacher conferences, stop in the principal’s office to see if there’s any specific needs you can meet. When you go into the coffee shop, the waitress should know that you’re the one to talk to about her rebellious teenager. Keep a spiritual pulse of the town, not just the church. Love them all. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Even when they break your heart.
2. Build authentic relationships. Jesus built relationships with Peter, James, John, and Andrew in Capernaum. They were His crew. Everyone in town knew those boys ran around together. From skipping rocks, fishing, and perhaps political or theological debates, they were friends. They knew who He was. They knew everything about Him as He was transparent with them.
Ministry can be very lonely, especially as we feel the need to conceal faults out of fear. If you expect people to open up their lives to you, you must be willing to be authentic with them.
3. Recognize you’re strategically placed. Capernaum seemed insignificant in light of global influence, yet God had a master plan that only Jesus could fulfill. God has placed you in the small town for a reason. To the farmer who just got hailed out, the widow who just buried her husband, or the young couple on the verge of divorce, you can show Jesus to them. God loves that community so much, He sent YOU there to represent Him.
Every small town has a Via Maris, and your name is being whispered along it. How you live and what you do will determine what is said.
Tyson Lambertson is the Founder and Lead Pastor of The Rock Church in Western Nebraska. Born and raised in northeastern Colorado, Tyson was wired for rural ministry from the beginning. Answering the call of God on his life, in 2006 he and his wife launched The Rock. From a small beginning of just six people, the Rock has blossomed into two locations providing five worship service opportunities on Sunday mornings. While balancing family and ministry life, he is also pursuing his Doctoral Education in Organizational Leadership. His heart is to equip leaders and pastors to fulfill the God-given call on their lives to reach “One More!” for the gospel of Jesus Christ.