Book Review: Transforming Church in Rural America by Shannon O’Dell

transforming-church-odell

What do you think of when you think about the rural church (if anything)?

Outdated methodology? Gradually decaying buildings? Rapidly aging congregations? Ineffective in reaching people for Christ?

This list might seem harsh, but more often than not, this is what many of us think of when we consider the rural church. And the reality is that it’s sadly true. Without a powerful revitalization of rural congregations, thousands of churches won’t make it through the next decade.

Shannon O’Dell, pastor of Brand New Church, believes that revitalization is possible—that the rural church can actually be an incredibly effective instrument for advancing the Kingdom of God. And in Transforming Church in Rural America, O’Dell shares this vision as he recounts how God did it in his own church.

O’Dell never wanted to be a rural pastor. His dreams were to pastor a big urban church, with a big urban congregation, budget and building. He didn’t want to be stuck in the sticks. But God called him there, to a small church of 31 people. In the years since he arrived, he’s seen people at their worst as he tipped a few sacred cows and at their best as God matured the men and women of this church for His glory.

When I read the first few pages, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to get. So I was quite pleased to find that the principles that O’Dell shares ultimately all center around the same thing: Making disciples.

“[The church grows] congregants rather than a congregation,” O’Dell writes (p. 105). “We build people, not organizations. If we build organizations, we will end up with buildings and programs that serve only themselves.” [Read more...]

Around the Interweb (10/10)

Can People Be Saved Apart from Hearing About Jesus?

Last week, JD Greear preached a message from Romans 10:14-17; as he anticipated, he’s been getting some pushback, specifically about whether or not people can come to faith apart from hearing about Jesus. Here’s an excerpt:

I have read just about all of the major dissenting views to the one I shared on Sunday. I just found them unconvincing, and their ideas more based on human reasoning (i.e. “this is what I think God should be like…” “this idea about God offends me,” etc) than deductive conclusions from Scriptural affirmations. I wanted(oh, how I wanted!) to believe in the escape-hatches and plan-B’s, but just could not find allowance for it in Scripture. What I preached this morning was my conscience, and the most faithful interpretation, in my judgment, of Paul’s thought in Romans. I think he builds up to a very weighty conclusion… namely, that they simply cannot believe unless they hear, and they cannot hear without a preacher, and there can be no preachers if we are not sent. Ultimately, this is what the whole argument is about. Can they believe apart from our being sent? I think Paul’s answer is unequivocally “no.”

Read the rest of JD’s response here

In Other News

Church: Tony Payne on how to think about about multi-site churches

Controversy: Albert Mohler—Yahoo, Yoga and Yours Truly

Spiritual Growth: Jared Wilson on discipleship on Christ’s terms

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A review of John MacArthur’s The Jesus You Can’t Ignore

John Newton’s hymn based on the parable of the wheat and the tares

Sermon audio from the message I preached at Gladstone Baptist Church on October 3, 2010.

Lessons I’m learning from listening to other preachers

Think Hard, Stay Humble—Francis Chan’s message from the 2010 Desiring God National Conference

I Didn't Want to Go to Church Anymore (But I was Wrong)

photo © sms2info

I was done. I’d had enough.

I didn’t want to go to church anymore.

Maybe.

At the time, we were going to a very big church that would probably be best characterized as seeker-sensitive in its ministry model. Top-notch band; comfortable setting; short topical messages; the works. Lots of people were coming, a new multi-million dollar facility was just being completed and there was a lot of excitement in the congregation.

But I was miserable.

There wasn’t anything going on that was bad per se, but… something was off.

“It’s not you, it’s me,” as they say.

Except in this case, it was me.

Every week, it was the same. I would pray that God would give me contentment. I would come, Bible open, ready to hear the message; I would listen, seeking to find that one thing that might be what I needed to hear… but there was nothing.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Eventually, I stopped caring.

And it didn’t matter if I went or not. Heck, sometimes the days when we called in “Bedside Baptist” (ie skipped) were the most fruitful for me. Not necessarily because I was spending huge amounts of time in private worship; I just wasn’t ticked off about something.

So yeah, I was done.

But I was wrong.

See, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to church anymore—it’s that I couldn’t be a part of the church I was attending anymore. [Read more...]

Around the Interweb (09/12)

What’s Next For Church Planting?

Church planting is the hot thing to be a part of right now. The Acts 29 Network, PLNTD, Redeemer Presbyterian’s planting movement, Harvest Bible Fellowship… over the last decade more and more churches have been captivated by a growing understanding of the need to multiply. The folks at the Gospel Coalition ask, “What’s next for church planting?” Darrin Patrick shares some ideas in the following video:

Head over to the Gospel Coalition blog and see responses from Tim Brister and Ed Stetzer.

In Other News

Theology: Denny Burk writes Why Evangelicals Should Ignore Brian McLaren: How the New Testament Requires Evangelicals to Render a Judgment on the Moral Status of Homosexuality in the latest issue of Themelios.

Culture: Albert Mohler asks, “why aren’t “emerging adults” emerging as adults?”

On Evangelism Fails: Burning the Koran and Shooting Yourself in the Foot

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Book reviews! Anne Jackson’s Permission to Speak Freely, Andy Andrews’ The Boy Who Changed the World, and Max Lucado’s Outlive Your Life

Can a results only work environment strengthen your faith? A few thoughts on how it’s helping me.

Book Review: Permission to Speak Freely by Anne Jackson

Title: Permission to Speak Freely
Author: Anne Jackson
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2010)

“What is one thing you feel you can’t say in church?”

When Anne Jackson published that question on her blog in May, 2008, she wasn’t prepared for the response. 497 comments (and counting) later, she knew she’d hit on something significant: A large number of people feel like they can’t be open and honest about their struggles with their church.

Jackson knows something about this. As the daughter of a Southern Baptist pastor, Jackson struggled with pornography addiction, sexual promiscuity, substance abuse, sexual abuse at the hands of a youth pastor and depression. For years, she never felt the freedom to share these things with anyone but those closest to her (including her husband). In Permission to Speak Freely, Jackson shares her struggles and what she’s learned about the healing & freedom that comes from opening up about our sins, temptations and abuses we may have faced.

This book is messy. Jackson’s writing is alternatingly funny, raw, and at times all-together heartbreaking. Reading her struggles with depression and attempts to push away her husband… this really hit me hard as a man whose wife struggles with depression.

In all honesty, the fact that she could even gather up the courage to share her struggles the way she has in Permission to Speak Freely is to be applauded. It’s extremely helpful for others to know they’re not alone in facing depression, sexual temptation, pornography addictions… The worst thing we can do to ourselves in our sin is to convince ourselves that we’re the only ones who face whatever it is that tempts or has power over us. Sharing her experiences with pornography, drugs and depression shows others that they too can overcome. They can speak up. They can be healed. They can have hope.

This—what she refers to in the book as “the gift of going second”—is a great gift indeed.

There were, however, a some things in the pages of Permission to Speak Freely that didn’t sit quite right. [Read more...]

Around the Interweb (08/15)

Prop 8 Got Struck Down – Now What?

In light of the recent ruling in California over Proposition 8, Kevin DeYoung offers some helpful next steps to Evangelicals Here’s an excerpt:

We should not disengage. It’s tempting to say “We’re going to lose this one. So let’s just try to love people and not put up a fight” But laws do have consequences. Seeking the peace of the city means we defend marriage because we believe it is for the common good. We need thoughtful, winsome Christians engaging with this issue on television, in print, in the academy, in the arts, and in politics and law. . . .

We must not be afraid to talk about homosexuality.  Don’t be silenced by Christians calling for umpteen more years of dialogue or those who say you need at least one gay friend before you can open your mouth. The Bible speaks openly about sexuality and we must not be embarrassed to open God’s word. BUT when we do speak we must do so with broken hearts not bulging veins. A calm spirit and a broken heart are keys to not being tuned out immediately. . . .

We must accept that no matter how hard we try, some people will conclude we are bigots, homophobes, and neanderthals for thinking homosexuality is wrong. Our goal must not be to stop people from viewing us in this way. We can’t control perceptions. Our goal is that those ugly perceptions do not match reality.

Read the rest at Kevin’s blog.

In Other News

Correctives: Dustin Neeley continues his “Justification by X” series at the Resurgence with Justification by Theology

Culture: Al Mohler – Thank God for the new Atheists?

Free Audio: Did you know that Tim Keller’s Ministries of Mercy is available as Christian Audio’s free download of the month? Use download code AUG2010 if you’re so inclined.

Church Ministry: Jared Wilson offers some clarification on his recent post about the Awesomeness-Driven Church.

Housekeeping: I’m in the wilds of Northern Ontario this week enjoying a second week of vacation (last year, I got one all year, so this is progress). While I’m away, my friends Will Adair, Nate Bingham and a few others will be providing you with some terrific content.

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A review of Kevin DeYoung’s latest, The Good News We Almost Forgot

Gleaning some insights on the art of the illustration

Mark Driscoll reminds us that discernment is a good thing by looking at Twilight

Charles Spurgeon shares the joy that these words bring: “Ye are clean.”

Around the Interweb (08/08)

The Awesomeness Driven Church

Jared Wilson offers the following heart check:

It is widely repeated that a Korean pastor once visited the United States and remarked at the end of his stay, “It’s amazing what you people can do without the Holy Spirit.”

Yesterday I watched a video of a motocross bike jumping over a pastor on stage. Now, I’m not saying that church or its pastor don’t have the Holy Spirit, but I am saying that setting up a dirtbike track in your sanctuary is profoundly stupid.

What is profoundly stupid is the sheer amount of innovation, creativity, energy, ambition, and astounding levels of human wherewithal that go into crafting the most amazing worship experiences Americans have ever seen inside churches where the gospel isn’t preached. I can say this because there’s only one thing we hold that the New Testament calls “power,” and that’s the gospel.

Read the rest at Jared’s blog.

In Other News

Funny: Help Lord–The Devil Wants Me Fat!

Theology: Read the preface to Andy Naselli’s new book, Let Go and Let God? A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology

Men being Men: What I Didn’t Learn About Manhood from Esquire

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Some thoughts on being evangelistically challenged

My review of Dave Harvey’s new book, Rescuing Ambition

Matt Chandler: Because God is Good

Mark Driscoll: Stop Chasing Mountaintop Experiences – Read Your Bible Instead

Think About What You’re Reading

Around the Interweb (07/25)

5 Dangers Facing Over-Churched Kids and 9 Strategies to Reach Them

Tony Kummer explains:

These are the children who attend every service, and can’t remember anytime when they didn’t come to church. In my ministry, most of these kids also attend a Christian school. They can recite the books of the Bible, they’ve memorized countess Scripture verses, and they know details about Bible stories that I can’t even remember.

By over-churched kids, I mean children with too much religion and not enough actual interaction with Jesus…

One of the dangers that stood out for me:

They Have Learned to Pretend Pray: A real struggle for grown-ups is connecting with God through prayer. Too often it becomes routine and dry. Most younger children learn prayer as an act of imitation. Many don’t even realize that something cosmic is happening when we address our words to God. They don’t feel the presence of God or even expect that they should.

Tony’s solutions are extremely encouraging. Here are a couple:

Pray for Every Child: Sometimes the deepest problems require a spiritual solution. Ask God to make a difference for those over-churched kids. It’s great when we pray for those outside the church, but don’t forget to lift up those familiar names to the Lord. Remember, effective ministry depends on prayer.

Teach the Bad News: According to the Bible, we are all sinners who have earned the displeasure of God. Without Jesus, we would have no hope of passing God’s judgment. Over-churched kids need to realize that they too need a Savior. They need to learn about sin. Keep teaching the 10 Commandments, but also teach what Jesus said about loving your neighbor. None of us can really meet those standards on our own.

Read both posts; they’re well worth your time.

A Brief Bit of Housekeeping

This past week I was on vacation in Grand Bend, Ontario, enjoying some time relaxing with my family (and preparing a sermon). In my absence a number of gentlemen agreed to lend a hand and keep content coming. Matt, Chris, Gabe and Ben did a tremendous job and I know I was ministered to as I read their posts. (If you haven’t yet, keep scrolling down and you’ll find them.)

Thanks guys, I’m looking forward to having you back if you’re up for it!

In Other News

Church Life: Jason Helopoulos offers a few good reasons for changing churches (and a few bad ones, too).

Social Justice & the Bible: Kevin DeYoung wraps his Seven Passages on Social Justice series by examining Luke 4:16-21. The rest of the series includes Micah 6:8; Amos 5; Matthew 25:31-46; Jeremiah 22; Isaiah 58; and Isaiah 1.

Prayer: Rick Warren’s eyes were severely injured when he got toxic sap from his African Fire Stick plant in his eyes. His sight is gradually improving every day. Please join in praying for his full recovery.

Books and Technology: This week Amazon announced that Kindle books been selling 180 units for every 100 hardbacks for the last three months. Here’s what they didn’t say when they made that announcement.

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Matthew Svoboda tackles Eschatology and why he believes Amillenialism is the most biblically accurate view of the end times.

Gabe Posey looks at the call to ministry.

Chris Canuel examines the purpose of suffering through the eyes of Job.

Ben Reed shares the importance of the beautiful mess that is a small group.

The Call by Gabe Posey

Photo by Matthias Wuertemberger

First a word of thanks to Aaron Armstrong for the opportunity to write a guest post here for him. 

And now on to the subject at hand. 

Being called is an interesting concept when it comes to the current church. Having recently spent a considerable amount of time in a fairly traditional Presbyterian church, I’ve found that they have a nearly formal way for determining calling. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a process of their tradition, but it is definitely more exacting than the tradition I was raised in. And I can say I prefer it better. 

Since coming into reform theology (not even knowing that’s what it was until it was far too late), I came to understand that one of the most critical factors is one of proof. Not necessarily dismissing or destroying or denying the power of personal experience, the reformers seek to look harshly at what is within the Bible and decide based upon what information is at hand what is truly there and not add to it based upon such experience for fear of exalting tradition above the scripture and end up in sola ecclesia. 

As I was raised, the primary qualifier for a person going into the ministry was an ability to passionately communicate and enough wit about them to play the political church game so as not to get eviscerated by people more cunning than they. [Read more...]

Small Groups: A Beautiful Mess by Ben Reed

Today’s guest post is by Ben Reed. Ben  is the small groups pastor at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, TN. He blogs regularly at Life and Theology, wrestling through subjects such as small groups, parenting, leadership, social networking, and counseling…all from a distinctively biblical point of view. You can follow him on Twitter HERE or on Facebook HERE.


Ever been in a relationship of any kind? Then you know what I’m about to say is true: relationships are messy.

Because of the Fall (Genesis 3), try as we may, building meaningful relationships with others is one of the most difficult things we will try to do. Because it’s not just us that we have to work on.

If our problem is, let’s say, lying, we can work on that. We spend time in prayer. Read books about how lying is a sin. Write little encouraging notes to ourselves on our bathroom mirror and on sticky notes that get lost.  Read books that talk about how the Truth has set us free from lying. Bring others into our story, let them know our struggles, and have them call us to the carpet when we lie.

But building relationships isn’t all about us. You can try all you want, but the fact that you’re trying to build a relationship with a fellow sinner complicates the game. Because it’s not just you that has to deal with a sinner…the other person has to as well. Trying to line up two sinful hearts is an unbelievably difficult task.  So many of us find ourselves gravitating towards isolationism, where we run from relationships. It’s much easier than pursuing them.

But this doesn’t please Christ. For whom did Christ die?

The Church.

And who is the Church?

A body of believers. 

Which means that you, in and of yourself, are not the church. You need others. And they need you.  [Read more...]

Around the Interweb (07/18)

The Problem with Pastor as Rock Star

Ed Stetzer recently produced this challenging piece over at Challies dot com:

You can just check the headlines. When a rock star pastor falls, the church rarely recovers. When they do, it is through extricating their identity from that of the pastor’s abilities and personality. No pastor is indispensable. It’s good for pastors to remind themselves, “Others filled the role before you were born and others will fill it after you’re gone.”

But the rock star pastor constantly needs more attendees, Facebook fans, and Twitter followers. In a twisted bit of logic, they work to make the gospel well-known through their own fame.

Some have pointed to the multi-site movement as an illustration of how the church has sold out to make rock star pastors famous. Personally, I am not anti-multi-site. When partnered with church planting, it has great potential. Nevertheless, while I’m not “anti,” I do urge caution. At times, I’ve joked about “rock star celebrity pastors beaming their graven image all over the country.” If you are a rock star pastor, perhaps you believe that the church can simply not go on without you. You would be wrong.

Pride was inherent in the fall of Adam and it rears its head whenever one person deems the church’s future to ride on their shoulders or voice. Multi-site, or any program, as a necessity derived from the attention needed by a rock star pastor, is idolatry.

Read the whole thing here.

In Other News

Jared C. Wilson: Your Church might not be a Church if…

Michael Krahn: How I discovered Chris Tomlin

Don’t Waste Your Life Sentence: A new film from Desiring God. Here’s the trailer:

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

True and False Worship, the sermon I preached at Poplar Hill Christian Church on July 11, 2010

A review of Mike McKinley’s new book Church Planting is for Wimps

People are imitating you; are you worth imitating?

A Word for the Next Generation of Church Leaders

John Piper was asked the question, “If at the end of your life you could say one thing to the next generation of church leaders, what might it be?

The edited transcript follows:

This is risky, because I know how it could be misused by people who don’t like me anyway. But I think I’m going to say to them on my death bed, “Make the Bible the supreme intellectual and emotional authority in your life, for the sake of magnifying Christ in the fullness of his person and his work, so that generation after generation preserves the foundation and the capstone of the glory of God in Christ, and the grace that is the apex of that glory.”

I’m a Calvinist, and I’m not going to go there, because I believe I got my Calvinism from the Bible. If I didn’t get it from the Bible, then I don’t want people to be Calvinists. So it seems better to say, “Hold fast to the Bible. Base everything on the Bible. If you are going to criticize somebody, criticize them from the Bible. If you are going to affirm somebody, affirm them from the Bible. If you are going to do a strategy, do it from the Bible. Be a Bible saturated people.” That’s what will make for long term staying power for the gospel.

I know this is going to be called bibliolatry, and people will say, “You worship the Bible, not God.” Bologna on that. People who reject the Bible for God become idolaters. The only God worthy of knowing and loving is the one we meet in and discover through the Bible. I do want him to be everything, and the Bible is secondary compared to him; but if we try to say him or something about him without stressing the foundation of the Bible, then we will lose what we are trying to preserve after a generation.

HT: Desiring God

Book Review: Church Planting is for Wimps by Mike McKinley

Title: Church Planting Is for Wimps: How God Uses Messed-up People to Plant Ordinary Churches That Do Extraordinary Things
Author: Mike McKinley
Publisher: Crossway (2010)

Church planting is kind of the en vogue thing these days. Thanks in no small part to the efforts of the Acts 29 Network, Sovereign Grace, and Harvest Bible Fellowship (among others), church planting has never (as far as I’m aware) been more front of mind as an effective and God-honoring approach to missions.

So, how do you do it?

In Church Planting Is for Wimps: How God Uses Messed-up People to Plant Ordinary Churches That Do Extraordinary Things, Pastor Mike McKinley doesn’t exactly answer that question, but he does share what he learned while replanting Guilford Baptist Church in Sterling, VA, with a great deal of humility and more than a little sanctified sarcasm.

As a seminary student in 2004, McKinley met with his former pastor, Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Dever told him that Capitol Hill was going to start planting churches, and they wanted McKinley to be their “guinea pig church planter.” [Read more...]