For some, there has been no impetus quite like a pandemic and sky-rocketing urban housing prices, to consider a tree change. In this blog AMY BUTLER* praises the merits, and ministry opportunities, of rural living.
This Covid pandemic has made people consider a tree-change. Now might be an opportune time to make the shift from expensive, busy and crowded cities, for a different pace of living. The upsides are many, and improved technology has made remote work, and staying in touch with friends and family, realistic options.
Before I begin my praise of country living, I have to confess that I am biased. I have spent most of my life in the country and I love living in a rural community.
I also have to confess that we country folk are fussy. We hope that enough people consider rural living to keep our towns viable, but not so many that the nature and character of our communities change too much.
However, my observation over many years is that country people are desperate, although they often do not realise it, to hear the good news of Jesus. Country churches are often struggling and even just one new member or family can provide a much-needed boost.
As Christians, sociological factors are not the only thing that influence us about where we live. If you, like many other Australians, have been considering a tree change, here are some gospel-centred reasons you might consider country living.
- Country Australia is often an overlooked mission field.
People in the country need to know Jesus, just like anybody else around the globe. Being committed to a community for the long haul, or even just for a time, can make the world of difference to lives of those otherwise bound for destruction. And there are truly marvelous opportunities to do just this.
Country living is not always idyllic. It’s not for everyone. We have been ravaged in recent years by drought and this year by the mouse plague. In some cases, we lack a number of important services. But out of this need comes opportunity. For example, Christian GPs and psychologists would be dearly embraced if they made the tree change. Their impact on people’s lives would be profound at all levels. As would anyone interested in assisting with youth work. We still lose many of our young people when they leave school. Towns need young adults to do things like help youth group and provide mentoring relationships for teens.
We also need mission-minded people to help keep church communities a vibrant witness to Jesus. The population shift to cities and coast over many years has forced churches to close. Christians have been ‘stranded’, having to change denomination or travel to other towns for Christian community. One person or one family’s presence may make a difference. But be warned – it won’t be a journey for the faint-hearted.
- In the country you are naturally and intimately part of a community.
Cities tend to be anonymous. When I lived in Sydney, there were people in my neighbourhood who I saw regularly – on a bus route, or neighbours, who I’d pass in a stairwell. I knew these people by sight but not by name.
In contrast, people in the country often tend towards friendliness and, because you are likely to cross paths with the same people in different contexts, you build a web of connections out of which, over time, deep and genuine friendships form. For example, the person who owns a local business hardware shop, is also a member of Rotary with whom you barbecue sausages once a year at a fundraiser for the local Scripture teacher. By association, you are known to attend church and so you know that, as you spend time with people, you have a direct opportunity to display the character of Christ.
- Your presence will be a huge boost and encouragement to a local church.
There is nothing more encouraging in a small country church than when someone new walks through the door. Year in and year out we fellowship together and seek to bring God’s word to our community through programs, funerals, community involvement in clubs and most significantly – relationships.
So having new people join us is like a breath of fresh air – to share their lives and stories and to get different perspective in our Bible studies and other church activities because of the unique life experience each person brings.
This pandemic has made many people consider a tree-change – moving out of the city into the countryside. There are many sociological reasons to move. But there are even better ministry, mission-related reasons to make that move. If you are seriously considering a tree change, the Presbyterian Church of NSW has great networks in regional and rural communities. When lockdown has ended, it may be worth your while to pay a visit and see for yourself what sort of opportunities, blessings and challenges a tree-change may have in store.
*AMY BUTLER lives in rural NSW. She home schools her children and has written about her experience on this website. Other blogs include people’s need for a ‘soul vaccination’. Amy is a member of the Gospel, Culture and Society committee of the Presbyterian Church in NSW.