By Aaron Morrow
“And of course you two know each other.”
The school’s guidance counselor casually pointed to my 7-year-old daughter and an energetic 9-year-old boy. It was parents’ night at our neighborhood school in rural Wisconsin.
I was baffled. How does the guidance counselor know that? My daughter barely knows this boy. The only thing they have in common is that his family goes to our church.
And then I remembered … we live in a small town.
In a small town, people know who you are, where you work, and where you go to church. Like it or not, parts of your life become common knowledge. And people know you by your reputation—good or bad.
Churches in small towns can have an enormous impact by helping people understand how their reputations affect the advancement of the gospel.
Reputations matter deeply…
The reputation of the gospel is strongly tied to the reputation of our marriages, families, and businesses. This is true whether we live at the end of the cul-de-sac or at the end of the cornfield, but it’s especially true in small towns.
For example, if our kids go to public schools, our actions affect the witness of other Christians in the school. This includes our demeanor at conferences, our tone when emailing teachers, our response to a child’s bad behavior, our grumbling and yelling at sporting events, and our attitude on social media. School employees and other parents know which people go to which churches, and reputations are interconnected.
This was the situation a couple of years ago when our daughter’s kindergarten teacher became a Christian. Parents from our church volunteered faithfully at the school and consistently encouraged the school’s staff. The staff knew we all went to the same church.
This gave credibility to both our church and the gospel. It also helped the few staff at the school who were Christians to have credible evangelistic conversations with our daughter’s kindergarten teacher over several months.
Eventually, she gave her life to Christ, and now she’s on mission to reach other teachers and staff at the school.
… but don’t cherish your reputation
I have a friend who talks fluently about the kingdom value of building an awesome reputation in a small town. He intentionally organizes his life to be highly respected by non-Christians. However, he won’t risk his reputation for the sake of sharing the gospel.
My friend isn’t alone; I’ve fallen into this trap as well. Our efforts to advance the gospel fail if being loved and accepted by non-Christians is more important to us than Jesus and His mission.
In Luke 16:13, Jesus says, “No household slave can be the slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” Jesus is talking about money in this verse, but the same principle applies to missions. Jesus’ mission deserves our full allegiance.
A good reputation isn’t an end in itself. It can be a useful tool for advancing the gospel, but our deepest desire needs to be cherishing Christ and finding our identity in Him. At some point we must take a risk and speak clearly about the gospel for which we are building our reputation.
AARON MORROW is a church planter in Dubuque, Iowa. His book about ministry in small towns is being published by GCD Books in spring 2016.