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God's Country: Faith, Hope, and the Future of the Rural Church Hardcover – August 25, 2017
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With the poetic force of Kathleen Norris and the pastoral warmth of Eugene Peterson, Kansas pastor Roth sets forth a vision for vibrant rural churches, for ministry in congregations that bear a profound sense of both loss and possibility, and for harvesting fruits of transformation and renewal. Rooted in stories from Scripture, his own ministry, and interviews with rural church leaders, Roth offers a sturdy theological and practical alternative to church-growth strategies that rely on success stories and flashy metrics. Reclaiming God's vision for the rural church, Roth writes, means learning how to praise, abide, watch, pray, grow, work the edges, die, befriend, and dream. In God's Country, rediscover the stunning abundance of God's presence in rural communities. Name the ways that the rural church testifies to God's glory and goodness. Learn to live and love and minister right where you are, no matter how small or unassuming it may seem.
Winner of the Award of Merit, Christianity Today 2018 Book Awards, The Church / Pastoral Leadership category.
Free downloadable study guide available here.
About the Author
- Publisher : Herald Press (VA) (August 25, 2017)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 280 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1513802399
- ISBN-13 : 978-1513802398
- Item Weight : 15.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.63 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #4,478,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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About the authors
Reviewed in the United States on October 20, 2021
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And then there are those country churches that dot the rural landscape, their steeples still pointing the way to heaven. But many – perhaps most - are mere monuments to a simpler life that has come and gone. The few descendants of the founding farm families that still gather in these sanctuaries on the Lord’s day are white haired and bent with age.
Does the rural church have a future? Many would say no. Brad Roth says yes. In his remarkable book, Pastor Roth has written a love letter to the rural church. He knows whereof he speaks. Growing up on a farm in Illinois, his ministry took him to serve among the migrant farm workers in the state of Washington, then a mission in Peru, and now small town ministry in America’s heartland.
Beautifully written, Roth’s book is Scripture-laden and people focused. He knows the fiber of American farm folk. He knows their heart language. He knows the complexities of the ties that bind them: they are both connections and obstacles. The obstacles are not insurmountable, though: fences keep people in, not just out. And fences can be crossed.
This is where Pastor Roth’s book is so helpful. He provides clear biblical direction for dealing with the realities of contemporary rural culture – the good, the bad, and the ugly. He candidly blows the whistle on those would-be saviors who see rural churches as a project to be “fixed,” rather than pastored in Jesus’ Name. It’s not as simple as getting smoke machines to amp up your Sunday worship experience. In fact, Roth suggests the first step in revitalization for rural churches is to be authentic – to know and celebrate their unique story, then extending that story into the future by inviting others to share it.
But isn’t rural America dying? Yes and no, says Pastor Roth.
Sometimes rural churches die, and that’s fine, he says. But too often shrinking and dying churches are seen as failing, rather than dying. When a human being comes to the end of his life, you don’t brand him a failure; you love him toward a “good death” – in faith and good hope. That’s the Christian way. Too often, though, dying churches are not cared for with compassion and understanding, but we berate them for not working hard enough – and finger pointing and blame are the consequence. There is a better way, and Roth highlights it: thank, bless, and mourn. (pp. 82 ff.)
But rural America is not dying everywhere. And that’s the “future” part of this book. Brad Roth pushes back hard against the accepted dogma that confidently predicts the emptying out of the heartland. In certain areas there is a resurgence of families (yes, including babies) who are searching out a better place to raise their children. And almost everywhere there are those people who are off the radar of most generational inhabitants: those “newcomers” and “misfits” who are invisible residents. They are open to invitation, if we have the will for it. And that’s where this remarkable book becomes most practical.
It’s not rocket science, Roth contends. The answer is in the genetic makeup of rural folks and in the gospel. People who for long generations were bred to be “neighborly” have the ability to be who they are by baptism into Christ. If they reach out naturally and humanly to give reason for the hope that is in them to those who live across the section or down the street, Christ Jesus will do the rest.
Do yourself a favor and read this book; you’ll not regret it.
By Philip Gardner on October 20, 2021