Rural Church

One of the books I’m reading now is Shannon O’Dell’s Transforming Church in Rural America. I figured that since I’m pastoring a church in rural America (ok, some folks describe our town as a metropolis – when compared to surrounding towns [take “town” very loosely] like Leesburg, Ebenezer & Pine) I ought to read this book.

Early on, O’Dell mentions what he calls the “Four Most Difficult Decisions for a Rural Pastor.” These are:

  1. To pastor in rural America… with low incomes, low resources, and low expectations.
  2. To reach the lost and unchurched. (Most people say they want to reach the lost… until they do and their church starts changing.
  3. To equip the church with accurate and healthy structure… changing bylaws, constitutions, and church policy as necessary.
  4. To remove “Holy Cows” to be more effective… such as pews, property, and people.

Of course, the first of these is not really relevant to my situation. It was not my “choice” that brought to rural America. It was the Cabinet’s choice. They said, “You are going,” so I went.

I am familiar with the difference between the small town rural realities and the bigger city realities. I’ve lived enough places in my life that I’m pretty flexible. Sure would be nice to have more resources, though. I think that – then I remember something Craig Groeschel said (I think it was Craig). He observed that creativity is driven by a lack of resources connected with a great vision. The block to this creativity tends to come from O’Dell’s #4. We’re a 150+ year old church. The place is teeming with cows. We’re not always sure what to do with creativity (unless it helps us do what we’ve always done).

Our county is full of sinners. While some of those sinners fill our churches, plenty more currently lack a real connection to a church. When we finally manage to bring in some non-church folks, helping them get past our oddness, we then need to make disciples of them. Unfortunately, the UMC has been more into making members than disciples for the past couple of generations. The denomination as a whole has shifted over to “disciple” language, but many local churches just figure that’s a new word for what they’ve always meant by “member.” Very few of us, whether old-timers or new-comers are really open to discipleship. We might just have to change our ways!

As to changing structures and systems… We could use more of that. Our leadership structures are mostly ok, but our discipleship structures are what they are because that’s what they’ve always been. If you don’t become a disciple by attending Sunday morning worship and a Sunday school class, well, there must be something wrong with you.

Holy Cows. I’ve already noted that we have plenty of them. It’s great to have a beautiful hundred year old sanctuary. But it can be crippling to ministry to have a hundred year old building (and a few other old buildings) that suck hundreds of thousands of dollars for upkeep. While a few seem to worship the historic sanctuary with its historic pipe organ and historic stained glass windows, I think those particular cows are less of an impediment than the lack of effective structures for discipleship.

We have a lot to learn.

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One Response to Rural Church

  1. Linda says:

    Found my way here while wandering around blogland, I think I have been here before.

    I am a member on one of those rural church. It has worn pine floors, squeaky doors, mismatched dishes in the kitchen and I love it there. I went there to visit about a year and a half ago, everyone was warm and welcoming. There is a sense of community and caring. I was far from where I grew up, but I was home.

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