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    The Four Most Difficult Decisions for a Rural Pastor

    The Four Most Difficult Decisions for a Rural Pastor

    In his new book, Transforming Church in Rural America, Shannon O'Dell share his heart and passion for small-town America's thousands of churches, and the pastors who lead them.  Shannon shares a powerful vision of relevance, possibility, and excellence for small churches across the country, and it's a great read if you find yourself pastoring a small church in a tiny community.

    In the book, Shannon lists what he thinks are the Four Most Difficult Decisions for a Rural Pastor:

    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 then the church starts changing.

    3.  To equip the church with accurate and healthy structure... change bylaws, constitutions, and church policy as necessary.

    4.  To remove "Holy Cows" to be more effective... such as pews, property, and people.

    I've served in my share of small, rural churches.  I think Shannon is right on.  Many small churches are stuck.  Many are stuck in a structure that is literally a hundred years old.  Many small churches say they want to reach the lost, but when people start coming to Christ and the status quo of the church changes, all of a sudden they're not quite as excited about it.

    If you serve in a rural church, I really think this book will help you.  And, New Leaf Press has agreed to give one in every ten people who comment on this post a FREE copy of Shannon's book.  All you need to do is go here!

    If you're the pastor of a rural church, what do you think is the HARDEST part of the job?


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    1. Brian L. Howard on Mon, May 24, 2010

      Sounds like a good resource.  I find #2 is often true, especially as racial demographics of the community start to change.  “We want to reach the lost, as long as they’re just like us.”

    2. ShaneT on Mon, May 24, 2010

      each of your 4 points are right on the money.  I have served as a bi-vocational pastor for almost 20 years before one of the small country churches grew to 50 people and they hired me full time.  Currently I am serving full time and last Sunday we were up to 65.  Almost 1/2 of our church is “unchurched” people, so our ministry needs change from week to week.  Our church building is 100 years old, only has 1 room, 2 ourhouses and a cemetery.  So our facility is somewhat “limiting”.  I would not trade this ministry for all the wealth and power this world has to offer.  God is blessing and Satan ain’t happy.

    3. Dee Lauderdale on Mon, May 24, 2010

      Good points but not limited to rural churches.

    4. Peter Hamm on Mon, May 24, 2010

      We are actually in a rural environment here, as a matter of fact, and I’d be VERY interested in reading this.

      I have to say, hats off to those who try and “change” a church in rural america. Ours was planted 15 years ago, so we “cheated”. But bringing a rural church along and changing very bad in-looking habits is hard hard hard…

    5. Troy Neujahr on Mon, May 24, 2010

      THAT books sounds like a Godsend to me.  I don’t think I can wait for a free copy, I need it NOW!  Thanks for the post on it this morning, I needed a bit of encouragement for pastoring my small-town church.

    6. brian on Mon, May 24, 2010

      I am in the church planint stages for the Vineyard,and I have been really praying about small town / rual church planting.  I am a farm boy at heart and so the country is very natural for me

    7. Donnie Griggs on Mon, May 24, 2010

      I’d love to check this out. There’s not too many resources out there for guys leading/church planting outside of an urban context. Thanks for the heads up.

    8. Jeff Elliott on Mon, May 24, 2010

      Unbelievable!  Nailed it right on the head.  My comment after reading these four was, “Wow!’  It was as if he was describing my church.  Can’t wait to read the book!

    9. David on Mon, May 24, 2010

      There are different dynamics of pastoring in a small community.  I am currently pastoring a church in a community of 1,400 and we just don’t have the resources that are available in a city or suburban context.  The biggest thing that I have learned about serving in a rural church is that the people must know that you love them regardless and then and only then will they trust and follow your leadership.  Too many pastors have used rural churches as a career building step and so there is an understandable lack of trust in many small rural churches as a result. 

      Do not agree to pastor a small rural church with the intent to change the church it won’t work.  You agree to pastor a small rural church because you genuinely love the people.  Once they believe that then you and the church can grow together into a healthy church that reaches out and transforms entire communities.

    10. fishon on Mon, May 24, 2010

      Rural. Well, I pastor a church in a town of 400, in a County of 1,700. Not a mistake—county, 1,700, and counties in Oregon tend to be big in land mass.

      I am full time pastor of a church of 25-35—depending on the farmers schedule. I have been pastor of this same church for 13 yrs.

      For me, the two most difficult things are:
      #1. Finding a ministry to plug a new member, when they are ready, into. As Dave said, resourses and opportunities are very limited.

      #2. Though this can apply most anywhere, it is very glarring in very small, rural churches. When giving a sermon series, the know shows can never get the full understanding of the lessons. I know that that can be a problem anywhere, but in a rural church where there are so few folks, 4-5 gone this week, a different 4-5 gone next week really shows up. Especially from the pulpit looking out.

      What keeps me going————my wife, who when I become frustrated and depressed, points out that one individual that I made a difference for——-in between times of frustration.

    11. Jay on Mon, May 24, 2010

      These are good but not limited to churches in rural america.

    12. Michael C on Mon, May 24, 2010

      This is SPOT ON! I’ve pastored in rural, and ‘rural minded’ churches for 9 years since I was 20. In my experiences the ONLY way to successfully transform a rural church is to bring in new people with a different mindset. Period. Basically you have to out-vote the ‘sacred cow people.’

      The problems I’ve had is that I’ve had a lot of new people come on Sunday mornings, which was great, but the core people were the same ones who have always ‘ran’ the church and nothing gets changed without a fight.

      The biggest hindrance is mentality. I’ve found that a lot of churches in the ‘tradition belt’ resemble what the church of the Pharisees would look like vs. what the church of Jesus would look like. Don’t worry, I’m writing my first book about that! smile

    13. David Crumpler on Mon, May 24, 2010

      The hardest part of serving a rural church is that for the most part that church is the only church most of the people have ever attended; therefore, that is all they know. When you try to lead them to what church can be, it is often received with resistance. “We have been doing this way for all these years so it must be working. No need to start doing it differently.” Or they perceive changes as criticism of the way they have done church. It is frustrating at times, but I love being in a country church.

    14. David Buckham on Mon, May 24, 2010

      I’ll comment. I serve at a small church in small town in SW Virginia. I have been here two years and the DNA of the church is starting to change, I want to make sure I don’t slip up in the transition…like a butterfly stuck and dying in a cocoon.

      Hopefully I can win one of these books (not on the list is a minister’s book budget).

      all about Christ,

    15. Gary H on Mon, May 24, 2010

      4. Sacred cows is right on.  The small size of the rural church can cause the big vision pastor to over emphasize the help of certain “pillars” of the church.  When he realizes that sometimes the cost of that help is traded for growth and reaching the lost difficult decisions must be made.  When the pastor avoids making those decisions, God comes in and stirs things up - even though the devil gets blamed for it.

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