In praise of rural pastors: Turning Over a New Leaf by Tim Beadle book review

By Marshall Eizenga

“Just beyond the boundaries of our cities is a unique lifestyle of faith and family of those who have a special connection to the land on which they live.”

Tim Beadle knows of what he speaks. He has spent the last 15 years on the road, travelling this beautiful country of Canada, checking in on rural pastors. What started out as a job turned into a burning passion to understand not just rural ministry but the pastors that God has called to minister there.

Hundreds of candid conversations ensued, and he soon realized he had what he called an “underdeveloped understanding and appreciation for rural life and ministry.” If he was going to make a difference he had to “unlearn and relearn with a new set of lenses, so as to appreciate the rural setting.” He says this was like “learning a new language.” As a result, Beadle made the conscious decision to “listen more actively, become a learner of rural life and ministry, and commit himself to walking with them in their journey.” Beadle was now all in and he went back to get his Doctor of Ministry in rural ministry to prove it.

Beadle, who now had an increasing passion for coming alongside churches in the outlying areas, realized there were very few resources that had been developed specifically for the rural context. This led him to gather three rural pastors and together they birthed the Rural Canada Pastor’s Network (RCPN). The RCPN began holding seminars in specific geographical areas in Alberta and Saskatchewan. In the early stages, Beadle wanted to not just listen but also engage rural pastors so he could learn what they needed. From these discussions the RCPN developed resources for those in rural church leadership that addressed rural church issues and were tailored to the rural pastor’s experience. Out of this initiative, pastors then began to help one another by starting a lending library of books and resources. The network was growing and doing exactly what Beadle had hoped.

One of the highlights for Beadle was finding a program for rural pastors at Duke Divinity School on rural church life. “We spent two days with the dean of the school,” Beadle says. “This was a wonderful discovery and we came back with some great material.”

All Beadle was learning was bringing greater clarity to the realization that:

1. “One can’t simply measure the essence of rural ministry through the eyes of urban comparison.”

2. “Urban comparison uses a different set of metrics than those meaningful for a rural faith community.”

“Many times, the pastor isn’t the primary influencer in the faith community,” Beadle explains. “There is likely a patriarch or a matriarch who is an important influencer or de facto leader.”

“Rural leadership,” he goes on to say, “is based on a more relational connection than a visionary posture. Leading from the middle of the pack is sometimes the best posture for the pastor to assume. It is vital to earn the trust of people relationally before trying to lead them with a new or renewed vision.”

3. “A rural pastor can have as much if not more, comparative and potential impact, relational influence and community significance than a large urban church because the pastor often sits on town council, committees, etc. and some end up being the pastor to the entire town or community. This allows them to become ‘known’ far more readily that urban pastors.”

Throughout his years of in-depth research, Beadle knew what he was learning needed to be put into book form. This would allow rural pastors across the nation to have at their disposal the same tools, metrics and strategies which were helping western churches build a blueprint for their churches to thrive.

Beadle’s relationship with rural pastors caused him to realize not all rural ministry is the same. He’s identified seven types of rural ministry, three of which are country rural, corridor rural and resort rural. He talks about the importance of asset mapping – “finding out who in the faith community has what gifts, passion, abilities and experiences.” Once these are identified then it’s time to engage in an appreciative inquiry, “so they can dream and design a preferred future based on the assets at one’s disposal.”

In his estimation, the best tool in the book is the rapid community analysis tool – where “one learns the story of the town and area which helps the pastor and the church work with the town.” He goes on to say, “It can save years of ‘guessing’ or dealing with a false perception of context.”

And if all of that wasn’t reason enough to buy the book, Beadle includes “10 Practices of a Thriving Rural Church.”

After reading the book, I realized that as Beadle listened, engaged in shared experiences and learned about rural life, the city boy or “citiot” as he calls himself, became one of them. He became an objective, valued voice whose insights are respected by the rural pastors.

In the foreword of the book, Rev. Paul Warnock writes, “In the book you are about to read, you will find enough ‘grist for the mill’ as you encounter rural ministry in all its multi-faceted glory. If you have been in rural ministry all your life, you will find information and ideas which will make you sit up and think, ‘How did I not know that?’”

Finally, I believe that Beadle’s book could be the main textbook for a seminary course on rural ministry. While it would be an invaluable read and resource for rural pastors, I, as the pastor of large urban church for almost 30 years, would have profoundly benefitted in having a better understanding of my friends in rural ministry.

Turning Over A New Leaf is worth the read for every pastor, rural or urban.


For more information about Tim Beadle and this book, visit TurningOverANewLeaf.ca.


Marshall Eizenga is one of the program directors at the Alberta Kerith Retreats location with his wife, Merrie. For more information about our retreats, visit KerithRetreats.ca.

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