Rural Ministry? The Forgotten Church
I am a farm boy – my father was a beef farmer, both of my grandfathers were farmers, so were my great grandfathers. And, yes, it is true – you can take the boy from the farm, but you can never take the farmer out of the boy. That’s one reason I was so encouraged recently to read The Forgotten Church: Why Rural Ministry Matters for Every Church in America. Glenn Daman. Chicago: Moody, 2018, 255 pp., paper. ISBN 978-0-8024-1813-5.
Some in rural ministry (maybe you?) are feeling that to really be in ministry and to really be missional you must be in the urban context. Others in rural ministry are feeling left out, ignored, or marginalised. Obviously, urban ministries are not actually trying to suppress the rural gospel labours, but the global demographic shift to urbanization may make it feel that rural ministry has been left behind. The reality is that ministry and mission should be both rural and urban.
We need each other in the body of Christ, and we are all in ministry and mission together - regardless of the size of the location where the Lord has placed you or is calling you. There are certain principles that are always universals, but there are also matters of context which must not be ignored in any setting. The wise know the universals and the wise will try to discern the contextual. This is where Daman’s book can help us as we consider rural ministry.
The Forgotten Church is an American book, as the sub-tile makes clear. Readers outside of America will need to be willing to accept this. Personally, I found much of this very helpful. It was good to read about rural life, the rural church in historical perspective, poverty and rural America, racial tensions, and the church and rural community in America. One can draw some parallels beyond America, so it’s not all case-bound. But it is very much a contextual book - especially the first eight chapters.
The remaining chapters 9-13 explore broader principles for ministry: developing a theology of rural ministry, the contribution of rural ministry, developing strategic partnerships, the rural community as mission field, and the future of rural ministry. There are many good ideas and areas for reflection here at a fairly basic level. I think many pastors in rural ministry would be blessed to discuss these chapters together at a gathering of some kind and extend the conversation. The chapters are inspiring and anecdotal. There are some new terms that I was not familiar with such as “the Wal-Mart church” (p. 151) and “silo churches” (p. 188).
There are some very hard issues which denominations and churches will have to come to grips with in rural ministry. Daman addresses some of these at various points in his book but particularly on pages 227-228 he admits wisely “[i]t’s always easier to identify the problem than it is to suggest a solution”. The author opens the problems up and makes some tentative points for consideration. These hard issues must be dealt with or else we will continue on the current trajectory. The book’s forward is by Brian Weschler the executive director of Village Missions. That site is worth checking out.
If you have read Hillbilly Elegy, I recommend that you now read The Forgotten Church, and if you have not read Hillbilly Elegy, then start with The Forgotten Church. I thank the Lord for the precious saints who discipled and loved me in Christ in little country churches near our family farm. As I read this book, I said their names to the Lord in prayers of thanksgiving. Many of these churches are now closed. Many communities near my childhood home are without a Christian gospel witness. That’s probably true where you are too – if you are “out in the country” or in a small village. Rural ministry is desperately needed. Thank you, Glenn Daman, for a pastoral book (to add to the others that you have written on small church ministry). This book is basic but needed and helps to bring a balance in today’s discussions. Thank you, from a farm boy who first heard the gospel of Jesus Christ in a little rural church.
 See such books as Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard, Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture, and the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), which contrasts to this book by Daman.
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