Transforming Church in Rural America: Breaking all the Rurals by Shannon O’Dell

There is a sense among many ministers that preaching in a country church is a lot like being on a farm league baseball team. It’s better than nothing, but they are really holding their breath until they get called up to the “big leagues” in the city, where money, resources, and people abound.

The biggest strength of this book is that it recognizes the innate value of the rural church. These congregations are not second-class citizens of God’s kingdom. They deserve attention, respect, and energy. It’s time not to think of them as second-best.

O’Dell tells how he learned to love and care for the rural church. Like many country churches, his congregation had its share of problems–people mired in the past, a shoestring church budget, and a building that wasn’t up-to-date (or codes!) when it was built 8 presidential administrations ago.  O’Dell helped lead his congregation into a more vibrant church community. The story is well-told and will resonate with anyone in ministry.

O’Dell has a strong view of pastoral leadership. I’d prefer that he would allow more for a group of elders to guide, but he does make the point well that sometimes progress in the church depends on you, and you alone. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions, stand alone, and stand for what is right.

I wish that I could offer a more positive review, but the weaknesses in this book were pretty strong. O’Dell is clearly frustrated with the status quo of rural churches, and perhaps rightly so. I don’t think he means to, but he comes across as kind of condescending in the online videos laughing at the old ugly building. It seems that his vision was basically to create a megachurch in a farm community. While he is right that sometimes people do actually intentionally stand in the way of change, he kind of paints those who disagreed with him as adversaries, and that part of the book makes me a little bit nervous. I wish a bit more humility had shown through the story.

All in all, I don’t strongly recommend that you go out and buy a copy, but if one makes it to your desk, go ahead and read through it. It will cause you to think about what you could be doing different to help transform lives–and if the book accomplishes that, it will have been well worth it.

(By the way, I’m part of the BookSneeze reviewer program. I got a free copy of this book…and as you can tell, I’m not telling you to buy it…so, they’re not making me say nice things!)