I grew up in a small, rural community in a small, rural church. I’ve served as Pastor of small, rural churches as well. So to see that Pastor Shannon O’Dell had written a book on “breaking all the rurals,” he had my attention. Upon reading his work, I’ve been left uncomfortable and disturbed!
In Transforming Church in Rural America, Shannon actually has the gall to challenge our longstanding traditions such as voting on everything and settling for the status quo. He calls on us to throw away our golden calves and personal preferences in exchange for a rather uncomfortable challenge – the challenge to embrace a vision for actually reaching lost people.
In reality, I could not have been more blessed in reading Shannon’s work. I laughed as I identified with his story of leading a very traditional church through sometimes humorous but often painful changes. I was encouraged by his story of success and delighted to realize that his church is only a couple of hours away from my own in northwest Arkansas.
The weakness of the book, its scatter-shot approach to the subject of church leadership, is also its strength. Shannon moves from story mode to application interspersed with inspiring challenges. Its lack of order kept me interested to the very end. He devotes a middle chapter to marriage and offers doable steps for change throughout.
The story itself is pretty amazing. Shannon assumed the leadership of a church of 31 people who thought they wanted to grow (as all churches think, of course) but in reality found themselves grappling with control issues. Shannon’s naivete about the psychology of rural churches was a blessing in disguise. He plunged ahead, stayed the course, and the church is not a multi-campus body of a couple of thousand, plus those they are reaching through online outreach efforts as well.
When I say his book left me disturbed, I should probably clarify – it left me (and all of us) without excuse. Can a church grow in rural hamlets across America’s Bible belt? Absolutely, and unfortunately for those of us in our comfort zones, God has used Shannon’s example to prove Himself. So I’d say we should get moving!
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Disclosure: I did receive a free review copy of this book but was not asked to give a positive review. Further, the links to Amazon are affiliate links so I would earn a small commission on purchases.