“Well I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Prob’ly die in a small town
Oh, those small – communities”
“No I cannot forget where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be”
Lyrics from one of my favorite songs, Small Town by John Mellencamp. One of those songs that you roll the car windows down to in the summer months, and soak in the aroma of corn and beans. 🙂 For me personally, yes I grew up in a small town, in the country in fact. I went to grade school in the ‘big city’ of Congerville, and I remember going to the Middle School in Eureka, thinking this building is GIANT and there are so many kids here!
My wife, Heather, also grew up in Eureka, and God called us both not to go elsewhere, but to stay, and ‘go’ here in our own hometown to reach the lost, and to make an eternal impact. We are grateful and have found a great amount of joy serving in a small town context. Many of you might’ve grown up in a small town as well. Maybe in the Central Illinois area, or another state. Small towns sometimes have unique challenges or ‘lies’ that kind of sit out there. They may not necessarily be written down somewhere, but they can be a part of the culture. Here are a few…
Lie: You can’t change. You will always be so and so’s daughter or son. Your last name says it all. You can’t escape your past. I remember what you did, or what you were like back in the day.
Truth: Through faith in Jesus and the Good News, lives are changed. 2 Corinthians 5:17: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! After going through a list of sinful characteristics, Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6:11: And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. Notice the past tense? That is what you were, but now through faith in and obedience to Christ, that is no longer who you are. Your identity is in Christ. Don’t listen to the whispers that you can’t change. The Gospel truth says otherwise.
Lie: Gossip is OK. I mean it is just the small town rumor mill. This is how I get my news. Did you hear about…I heard they…whisper, whisper. We really need to pray for ___________ (proceed to talk about their situation for 20 minutes, and neglect to even pray).
Truth: Gossip destroys relationships, unity, and churches. Proverbs 16:28: A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends. Ephesians 4:29: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Gossip is sin. Our gossip helped nail Jesus to the cross. In no context, is it appropriate, acceptable, or honoring to the Lord. We are called to love one another, and so we must refuse to and avoid either listening to or sharing gossip.
Lie: Relational conflict is here to stay. You will never resolve that past issue you had with that person.
Truth: Jesus “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Inevitably in a small town, you will run into conflict with a family member, an actual neighbor, a co-worker, another parent, a coach, a fellow volunteer, another church member, etc. And Jesus calls us to seek reconciliation in that conflict. To be quick to forgive, and avoid focusing on the other person’s fault, and instead look at your own heart (Matthew 7:3-5). Is there unresolved conflict in your life? Is your pride holding you back from making it right? You humbling yourself and being proactive in making it right would look a lot like this verse: Ephesians 4:31-32: Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Make sure your life is centered, not on the ‘gospel of small town,’ but rather ‘the Gospel of Jesus Christ.’
Btw: You are welcome for getting Small Town stuck in your head. You can thank me when you see me.