Can you recommend any good books about rural church ministry?
September 15, 2010
Updated November 23, 2011
15 comments 619 views
I just recently went from a very urban area doing ministry to a more rural area. I'm looking for some good book ideas for doing rural ministry. Suggestions please?
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I dont have any good books on this topic, just my experience of ministry in a rural setting for the last 3 years. I am wondering how you would see differences in ministry? If you get to know the people and love the people, I would hope it wouldnt change from a urban to rural setting. For myself, I have tried to get to know what the people do. Even getting involved as much as I possibly can in their work as well. That is my approach. Learn a lot. I have learned a lot in three years. For me, I dont know if a book would be able to tell me how to do this, I just get out there and learn from the people. just my humble opinion.
One interesting one might be "Entering the World of the Small Church" by Anthony G. Pappas, put out by Alban Institute. This would be helpful whether your rural church is small or not. Pappas makes the point that entering into a rural church can be somewhat like a missionary or anthropologist entering a tribally structured society. It's a little out of the box--makes you look at things with fresh eyes.
I picked up a book just recently called Transforming church in Rural America by Shannon O'Dell.. haven't had a chance to read it just yet but I'm looking forward to it. I've added Pappas' book on my wishlist on Amazon.com. It sounds interesting. I'll try to repost here later after I read O'Dell's book. Thanks for the suggestion and adding to the conversation. I hope more people post discussions here on rural church ministry.
Kind of quick book review on Transforming Church in Rural America by Shannon O'Dell
The reason why I wanted to find a good book on rural ministry is that much of the advice I recieved from people was very unencouraging. Many people told me to just love them, get to know them, and visit the shut ins. That was it. Some even went so far as saying that I should just go there, wait a few years and then take a real church as my next charge. This did not satisfy me at all. To be honest, if I told someone that the best way to do ministry in urban chicago was to just love them, get to know them and visit the shutins, I'd be laughed at.
This is what the appeal was for O'Dell's Transforming Church in Rural America.
In his first chapter, he lays out the unwritten rules of rural ministry. These are that if you want a thriving ministry, go to major cities and suburban areas. If you want to be successful go to the city, rural churches get leadeship left overs, rural churches are where people go when they can't go anywhere else. He expresses the thought that many see rural areas as bakcwards, behind the times and not up to speed with the rest of the world.
He uses the illustration that when he accepted the call to a rural church at the exact same time a member of his large congregation had decided to go to rural Africa to do missoins work at an established mission. People raised a large sum of money for the missionary, put him on the prayer list and even had cards made out with his picture on it and where he was going. When O'Dell said he was going to rural america, to an established church in a town smaller than the one in rural Africa, he was laughed at.
O'Dell states that there is a vast untapped mission field in rural America
O'Dell lists a way to succeed in rural ministry using the acronym VALUE--Vission, Attitude, Leadership, Undestanding and Enduring Excellence. Much of what he suggests is very good and helpful. If we come into rural ministry with the idea to just love them, get to know them then the people will not grow in their faith and the lost will not be reached. He points out the fact that a church of 1,000 in a city of a million isn't being effective in ministry but a church of 300 in a town of 250 is reaching more percentage wise than a church in the city. O'Dell points out the fact that many people in rural communities have bought into the unwritten rules of rural ministry and only go after the leftovers not thinking they can do better. Instead, he encoruages rural ministry to show how they can be effective in their towns. There are many nonchurched, dechurched and nominal Christians in rural areas that are ignored because it is assumed there is no mission field in rural America.
Pros--O'Dell gives some good solid advice on how to do rural ministry effectively. He is very encoruaging in seeing the positive in the people and using people's business smarts towards church ministry. He also gives good suggestions in reaching out to those in rural areas.
Cons--He instructs the reader to get rid of all "sacred cows" of the church--pews dedicated to people dead over 50 years ago, programs that dont' work, etc. This can do more harm that good if it isn't done pastorally. He has the idea that you need to break a few eggs to make an omlette. He also has a top down leadership diagram where he chooses the leadership and not the church. This goes against Reformed church polity. The last two chapters read more like a brochure to join his satalite church minsitry rather than inspiring final words.
This was the only book I could find on Amazon.com that was about rural ministry in a serious way. Why is that?
I appreciate your comment on my post. I think it is very important to understand the dire need for good solid ministry in rural churches. Though there are some failings with the book (as there will be with all books on ministry) I feel the pros out weigh the cons.
I think there needs to be more books about good quality rural ministry. Rural churches are in need of great financial support, great encouragement from other churches and should be treated as a missoin field. There is a great mission field out in rural America that is being passed over.
This, I think, is to all who might read this: How can you support rural ministry with the same fervor you support missoinaries both home and abroad?
There are not many books on specifically rural ministry, however, if you do a search on amazon for smaller churches, you would come across many books which are applicable to rural ministry, whatever the size of your own church may be. A very good one along these lines is "Small, Strong Congregations" by Kennon Callahan.
The Natural Church Development process, in which many of our home missions representatives would be familar with, is also helpful, and doesn't differentiate between rural/urban large/small churches. Instead, it simply focuses on improving several "quality characteristics" of healthy churches.
Also, I can't think of it's exact title now, but there is a good conference in Illinois for "Town and Country" churches and pastors, focusing specifically on the challenges and opportunities of rural ministry.
Found the link. Do a search for "Rural Home Missionary Association". The keynote speaker at their conference this year is Mark Dever. Previous years keynotes have been Calvin Miller, HB London and Henry Blackaby. They also offer certification and specific training in town and country ministry. Hope this helps.
Ken, Jeff Thank you
Sorry for not responding earlier, been busier than a one armed paper hanger as of late. There are many challenges to rural ministry that not many books nor people have brought up (or I think are willing to bring up) and I'm a bit hesitant to bring up here on the open forum. Sufice it to say, I did come across a great book called Dakota: A Spiritual Geography which looks at the history of North and South Dakota through a spiritual lense and helps unpack the culture out this way.
Working in small churches throughout my seminary career and after seminary, I've learned that small suburban/urban churches are MUCH different than small rural churches. To simply state that the principles in using small church minstry ideas may be used in rural churches is a misnomer I believe. For example, in many small church books, they talk about how each person finds their niche in the church and usually defends it (which I've experienced persoanlly and have worked with). You step on some toes, you get some hurt feelings. In a rural church in a small town, you step on some toes, you can have half the town mad at you.
Many times in Rural towns, you're not just the pastor of the church, you're the pastor of the whole town. In towns that are the same size or smaller than moderately sized congregations in suburban/urban areas, it is not surprising that this is so.
Thank you for your prayers and suggestions.
Hi Josh and others.
I just sort of stumbled on these forums and as a pastor of a small church for the last 15 years, I thought I'd jump in here. Maybe you're not paying attention to this thread anymore, but at least I'll have a place to gather some thoughts.
First, you're right that a small rural church is vastly different from a small urban or suburban church. I would also submit that a small midwestern church will be vastly different from a small west coast or east coast church (etc.). Finally, I'd suggest that a small rural farming community church will be different from a small rural working class church. This is all about culture, and we have to minister within the context of the culture we're in.
It might surprise some that not all rural churches are made up of farmers. My church has a few dairymen, but the vast majority work in or are retired from other area industries. It's very much a blue collar church.
One thing I'd suggest for a small town church or rural church pastor is to get involved with a community agency of some kind. I joined our local volunteer fire department and have found it to be a great way to hang around with people who, while not all Christian, enjoy helping people and playing with big-boy toys. ;-) This has opened a lot of doors into the community for me, given me credibility with the unchurched, and has given our church a reputation of being with the community (not just in it - if you know what I mean).
Two big surprises for me are two ministries that I never thought would be anything but hobbies for those involved. The first is a theatre group started by a former Christian school teacher. We have an annual play, with a positive message, no foul language (etc.). It's become a ministry to actors and a way to meet more people in our community who come to see the plays. The second is a 7 1/2" guage train club. We have a few hundred feet of track and a train just the right size for giving rides to kids (of all ages). It was begun by a guy who loves trains and saw an unused area of property and asked if he could put a train there. This has become a train ministry, touching the lives of hundreds of people (when they go out to county fairs), and dozens here in our small town.
I was in another small church in Plain, WA (not CRC), who had a fishing ministry called "Family Lines." It was started by a guy who loved fishing and wanted to leverage his knowledge and experience into a ministry targetting family relationships (mostly father & son/daughter).
My point is that rural churches can do somethings urban & suburban churches can't do, but that these things are usually dependent on the interests of the folks who live there, and the willingness of the church to try something different, something that doesn't look very 'churchy.'
So another suggestion is to look at the hobbies of the folks in the church and brainstorm about ways to transform a mere hobby into a way to meet and interact with people. In a rural setting the best evangelism happens while doing something else (IMHO), letting the light of the Lord shine through in our everyday lives.
Another observation I have that distinguishes blue-collar communities from white-collar or college educated is this: college educated want to understand why it would work before trying it, blue collar folks just want to know if it will work or not, why is secondary (if not irrelevant). So, in my church, I don't need to explain social dynamics, psycho-social relationships and discuss trust-building before lauching a ministry designed primarily to interact with people. But I do need to convince them that just being a believer and living like one, while hanging around unchurched people, will make a difference in the lives of those unchurched folks, and that some of them will become believers because we've made friends with them.
It's also very helpful to create or nurture an atmosphere where it's okay to fail. One of my most helful phrases has become "Let's try it for a month and see what happens." Sometimes it doesn't work -- great! What did we learn? Sometimes it does -- great! Can we do it even better?
As far as teaching/preaching goes, in my experience and study, the NT was written by and for working-class folks, and they get it (if we don't muck it up too much with overly-subtle theological points). Don't underestimate their ability to grasp and live out the grand and glorious themes of Scripture. And when they get it, they're "all in." It's amazing.
Finally, I've found that it takes more than 10 years to be seen as part of the community, especially in small rural churches. Most pastors view a small rural church as a stepping stone in their career (I did too). So most members have learned to view their pastors as just passing through, not really invested in their church nor their community -- at least not as much as they are. Settling in for the long-haul with them is something they're not used to (usually). Some amazing things have happened here after 15 years, when my wife & I decided to buy land and build a house. "I guess you're planning to stay a while," folks said with a broad smile; and ministry has taken on a new depth. I wish I would have known earlier.
Hmm, this got longer than I first envisioned. Hopefully, it's helpful to someone.
Hey Rich... welcome... good to see you on here... if you don't remember, I met you a prayer summit @ Cedar Springs a few years back... great thoughts and insight... thx. for sharing...
I think you have some great observations here. This goes way beyond what I was instructed to do which was just to love them and visit them. Thank you.
And you're right about the difference between towns. We have a number of business owners, teachers and blue collar workers in our church which greatly outnumber the farmers. And even the farmers aren't "simple dutch farmers" as they want you to believe but very savy business men who understand how the world works.
You're welcome. I'm glad something, at least, in my 'shot-gun' response stuck. (Oops mixed a metaphor there.)
BTW, last Sunday we had 11 people join our congregation including 5 baptisms: one infant, one 5 y/o, 3 adults (including one retired couple)! Two of the families got connected with us because of the train ministry. The retired couple came in part because of my work with the fire department, and in part because of my participation in a community response to a tragedy in our area (4 people murdered, 6 wounded by a mentally-ill, local man). Folks (locals, law enforcement, and others) came because they knew me in the community, or knew our church as a place that cares for our community.
It was an awesome service!
That is awesome!!! Thank You Jesus...
You could check out a book called "The Rural Pastor: Ten Things I Wish I had Known Before I Began Rural Ministry" by H. Andy Wiebe. You can find it at www.lulu.com.
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