Uniqueness & Unity

Note from Tim: Over the next eight days I will be publishing a short devotional each morning. I originally wrote these devotions for the Winter 2018-2019 issue of Open Windows and I have permission to republish them. I pray they are an encouragement to you in your walk with Christ!

Devotional passage: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. – 1 Corinthians 12:11

The body of Christ is beautiful when both its uniqueness and unity are on display. We have great unity because we have one Spirit. Yet we have great uniqueness because the Spirit delights in giving us different gifts.

When my wife and I pick out Christmas presents for our children each year, we don’t give them all the same thing. Each child is different, and we delight in thinking about what will uniquely bring him or her joy. We also think about the big picture of what toys the other kids already have. We don’t do this because one child is better than the other. Rather, we pick different gifts for each child, because we can see each child’s unique makeup and how he or she fits into the whole family.

In considering how the Spirit has given gifts within the church, the apostle Paul wanted the Corinthians to see wisdom rather than competition. Instead of comparing your spiritual gifts with the spiritual gifts of another Christian, rejoice in how God has uniquely designed you to serve and glorify Him.

Father, show me the beauty of both uniqueness and unity in the body of Christ.

Finding Hope and Taking Action in the Darkness as Ordinary Pro-Lifers

I had the privilege and joy of being the speaker at First Step Pregnancy Clinic’s Annual Banquet in Rutland, Vermont. Below is the manuscript of my talk, including some parts that I was unable to share at the banquet due to the length. May the Lord use it to help us to face the darkness, find hope in God, and take action for life!

When David asked me if I would consider speaking tonight, I had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand my heart leapt at the opportunity because I am passionate about being pro-life and the thought of being able to encourage pro-lifers in my region was exciting. But on the other hand, I thought, who am I to do this? Yes, I am a pastor, but I am an ordinary Christian. 

That is when I realized I had to say yes. We need more and more people to give the primary work of their lives towards the pro-life cause, but we also need ordinary Christians, we need ordinary people, to all do our part in taking a stand for life. Tonight I want us to consider “Finding Hope and Taking Action in the Darkness as Ordinary Pro-Lifers.”

People have sometimes asked me why I care so much about the pro-life cause. We each have a story that has brought us to our understanding, and my story began and has been up to this point in an America that has been under Roe v Wade. I was born in 1979 and for people in my generation abortion can become white noise because abortion is something that has always been accepted and even promoted by the government and society at large. It can just be there in the background and we can tend to forget about it. I have had many times in my life that that has been the case.

I remember the very first time that I heard about abortion, it was unthinkable because I knew that every baby is made in the image of God. Then I began to read specific Scriptures about God’s view of children and babies, not to mention babies in the womb, and that confirmed what my conscience already told me. Then I began to study the science of life and what I studied confirmed what Scripture already told me. Then I began to think about the philosophical pro-life arguments as well as pro-choice arguments and it became obvious that pro-choice arguments really come down to convenience or fear, not truth and hope.

But the moment that I became a pro-lifer who wanted to do more than be against abortion and who wanted to help stop abortion is when I met and interacted with girls who were making decisions about the future of the baby inside of them, not to mention their own future.

I was a youth pastor for almost 9 years, and I will never forget the night that my wife and I received a call from a high schooler, a girl we will call Meghan, who had recently begun to attend our youth group. She was a believer in Jesus who was dealing with a difficult home life and some things that had come up recently had brought up the guilt of the time that she had walked across the street from her local high school and had an abortion. 

My wife and I both listened to her and cried with her and shared the love and forgiveness of Christ with her. It was so good be able to remind Meghan of the promises of the gospel, which were and are for her with an abortion in her past. We reminded her of Romans 8:38, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [and that includes abortion!] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Just a few weeks later Meghan brought a friend with her to youth group who had just recently found out she was pregnant and was considering getting an abortion. We embraced her, shared the gospel with her, invited her to go to the local pregnancy center with us which she refused, and then a couple of weeks later found out that she had also walked across the street from her local high school and received an abortion. 

I tell you these stories tonight because we have to remind ourselves that we are not just talking about an issue called abortion, we are talking about real women with real lives with real stories and real hopes and dreams and fears. 

I share this because tonight I want us to see how each of us have opportunities to be involved with finding hope and taking action. I believe that every one of us has some part to play in not only stopping abortion, but also loving the women and children and fathers who are affected by abortion and in the middle of their decisions.  

The reason that it is such an honor to speak at tonight’s banquet is because what First Step does is face the darkness and reach out as a lighthouse for women facing an unplanned pregnancy. They give them hope both of the gospel and of physical help, and they take action as God allows by giving them a first look at their baby through ultrasound, through counsel, prayer, assisting them directly with resources, and pointing them to other resources. 

We are here tonight because we want to say thank you for that work, we are here tonight because we want to say continue in that hard work, and we are here tonight because we want to say we will give to this work and be partners with you through volunteering or helping financially.

We are going to use the Hebrew midwives in Exodus chapter 1 as a model, as a paradigm for us, of ordinary believers who stood up for life and made a huge difference. They will be a model for each of us as we think about what God is calling us to do.

As we look at the Hebrew midwives, I want us to see 3 steps that we need to work through in order to make a difference for life in our time and place:

  1. Darkness
  2. Hope
  3. Action

Darkness – Exodus 1:15 “Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.

Here we see the worst kind of oppression of a government, not just allowing the killing of the most vulnerable, but actually commanding it. 

It is hard for us to accept that there are nations that have been darker places for babies than ours. The latest facts that I have seen say that there is no country more dangerous for a 3rd trimester baby in the world than in China, North Korea, Canada, and the United States.

Yet here we have darkness that is beyond where we currently are as a nation. Remember we even see at the end of Exodus 1 that when telling the midwives to kill the Hebrew children doesn’t work, the king will then tell the people of his own nation to go looking for Hebrew male babies and to throw them in the Nile. That is why Moses’ family takes that idea and innovates it and uses it to save the life of their child by God’s grace. They threw him in the Nile when they couldn’t save him any other way, but they made sure he was inside of a floating basket they had made and prayed for him, and he was rescued by Pharaoh’s own daughter.

We don’t know how much this was carried out, but we know that it was dark enough that Moses’ parents couldn’t keep him any longer after 3 months and took desperate measures to try to save his life. What that tells me is that some babies were being forcefully taken from their parents and killed by the Egyptians, with the full support and command of the government. It was a time of darkness.

Our state is trying to put abortion in the constitution. It is a time of darkness.

As I have interacted with members of our legislature they often simply parrot back bullet points that Planned Parenthood has handed to them. It is a time of darkness.

We are in a time of darkness when you have a woman in her 70s complaining at a public hearing in our state house that the law when she was pregnant in her 20s forced her to have her daughter.  It is a time of darkness when mothers brag at public hearings that they wish they had aborted their children who are now adults.

It is a time of darkness when we see so many fathers unwilling to take responsibility and to help their girlfriend or even wife through the difficult decision to choose life or adoption rather than abortion.

It is a time of darkness when one of the talking points that I have heard multiple times for the need to have unrestricted, unregulated abortion in our state is because no family should have to bear the burden of a disabled child if they choose not to. These are children that Jesus said were born to bring glory to God. It is a time of darkness.

We have to face the darkness or we will never be moved to have hope, which means we will never be moved to action.

But we don’t sit in the darkness, we find hope in God. 

Hope While it is a dark time in our state to be pro-life, it is also a very hopeful time. The state house in February proved that as almost 1,000 pro-lifers packed the state house for the hearing on the H57 abortion bill.  

  • It is a great time to be pro-life because science is so clearly on our side.
  • It is a great time to be pro-life because true compassion is so clearly on our side.
  • It is a great time to be pro-life because the fact that the issue of abortion is being openly discussed again in our country is on our side.
  • But mostly, it is a great time to be pro-life because God is on our side.

Our friends the Hebrew midwives help us with this again. Exodus 1:17 explains, “But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.

Why did they not do as the king of Egypt commanded them? Because they feared God. The fear of God is what gives us hope in God. 

We will come back to their story as we take a look at action, but I want you to notice in Exodus 1:20 what God did because the midwives feared Him and found hope in Him:

So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, He gave them families.

You see, they feared God so they refused to be involved in the killing of innocent children. They feared God, so these ordinary believers, you could say people like you and I, faced with a darkness they never wanted to face, put their careers and even their lives on the line. They defied what the culture around them told them was right because their king was God. 

Do you remember what we read earlier in Exodus? God gives us their names. Shiphrah and Puah. We honor and remember Shiphrah and Puah tonight because God remembered their names and wanted us to remember them when the book of Exodus was written. 

And as we just saw in Exodus 1:20, because they feared God, He dealt well with them.

We must not only face the darkness, we must find hope in God. And we have the good news to remind ourselves, and to share with those who have no hope, that there is always hope available. 

Matthew quotes Isaiah to remind us that where Jesus is, there is light in the darkness. …the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned. (Matthew 4:16)

If you are having a hard time finding hope and you want to give up the fight for life because it seems so hopeless in our time and place, look to Jesus. John 1:5 talking about Jesus says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

I want to encourage you towards two ways you can find that kind of hope:

Soaking ourselves in the Scriptures.
Earlier this year when I was planning and writing to be able to speak out against unrestricted and unregulated abortion in our state, I made a list of 15 sections of Scripture especially relevant to the pro-life cause to help me be better attuned with God’s heart on this subject before I would speak out on it. I had not looked up and studied that many Scriptures about God’s heart for the unborn in a long time. I found myself in tears as God used it in my heart. Let’s go deep in the Scriptures before we go wide in sharing our beliefs. 

Just to share two with you: in Job 31:15, Job is talking about the rights of servants. They were the lowest of the low in Job’s day, but he points out how we are made in the image of God no matter what our place in life is, because God is intricately involved with making us in the womb: “Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb?

Isaiah 45:10 hit me especially in a fresh way in light of many who say that a fetus is not a human baby until he or she begins to breathe—or even later. “Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ Or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’” God says, look, you can call a baby in the womb what you want to call them, but it doesn’t change who they are. We all know it is a baby and God reminds us of that in His Word.

Remembering & reminding others that babies in the womb are human. The only way our culture has arrived at where we are, the only way this can happen, is they dehumanize unborn babies. So as pro-lifers we have the opportunity to humanize. To remember and to remind others that babies in the womb are human. 

Just last Sunday we had a baby shower at our church. It was a baby shower, not a fetus shower! Don’t be afraid to take that a step further and talk about babies any chance you get and remind people of the humanity of babies in the womb. This is one reason that First Step does ultrasounds. 

When I was a youth pastor in a different church, we had a grandma who was newly attending our church who called the church office in a panic. Her 16 year-old granddaughter had just found out she was pregnant and her father was threatening to kick her out of the house. Because of his sinful threats, the girl was considering having an abortion. The grandma said, look, don’t worry about the dad, who I didn’t know. She said my daughter and I are taking care of him. He is out of the house right now and he’ll be coming back to apologize to his daughter tonight. But then she said, will you come share with my granddaughter that the baby inside of her is a human? Will you pray with her? She needs to hear it from someone outside of our family.

When I arrived a few days later as that was the only time that worked for them, I sat with her and her mom and grandma and I gave her some pictures that I had printed off the local pregnancy center’s website. The pictures showed the stage of development that her baby was at. I explained to her that her baby had had a beating heart for about a month at that point and that the baby’s fingernails were beginning to form. 

Then I read Psalm 139 to her and she stared at the picture of where her baby’s development was and she touched her womb area and began to smile. By the time I finished Psalm 139 she had a huge smile on her face.

The family ended up going to another church even though the grandma continued to attend our church, and the grandma kept giving me updates so we could pray for her granddaughter and the baby. But I had an unexpected blessing when I officiated a graveside service for the family about 9 months later. 

The granddaughter was there, and she was holding her baby who was a few months old at that point. They came a few minutes late, and I had to focus on the graveside service, but afterwards the grandma and mother and granddaughter came up to me and said they wanted me to meet the baby. The new mom held him with such joy and he smiled at me. It was a moment I will never forget.

  • When you have looked a baby in the eyes who was in danger of being aborted less than a year ago, you can’t help but be willing to face the darkness. 
  • When you have looked a baby in the eyes who was in danger of being aborted, you can’t help but have hope and choose to continue to take action. 
  • When you have looked a baby in the eyes who was in danger of being aborted, abortion can never be white noise to you again.

I want to remind you, that whether or not you are given the gift of looking a baby in the eyes who was in danger of being aborted, you do that all of the time through the ministry of First Step when you support them.

Not only do we face the darkness rather than sit in the darkness, not only do we find hope and ultimately find hope in God. We also take action. Hope doesn’t sit on its hands, it must take action!

There are many ways to take action for the unborn. We must each find the way God has prepared for us, and be diligent in it. The way we can take action may even change with each season of life. But if we have hope, we must take action.

Action –  “…they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) You see here that finding hope in the Lord results in running!

So it starts with facing the darkness, then moves to finding hope in God, and then taking action. See, hope doesn’t sit on its hands. 

  • Hope uses its hands to help the innocent and the vulnerable.
  • Hope doesn’t sit still in the darkness of despair. Hope prays even if that is the only action you can take right now.

In Exodus 1:17 we visit our friends Shiphrah and Puah again, “But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.

They took action. Every single one of us here today I believe in this time and place that God has called us to, has a responsibility to always be doing something against abortion and for life. Do we fear God and find hope in him so that it will express itself in action? 

This will often change with different seasons of life, but find your one thing that you can do and do it. Maybe you are in a season of life where you can do 2 or 3 things, not just one. Here are a few ideas, and you may come up with many more.

  • Pray – This is first and foremost and must never be dismissed. We must pray for the unborn and for mothers and fathers who are considering abortion, and for our state and our country.
  • Study the Scriptures – As I shared earlier, this is the foundation for your hope.
  • Share your story! – The pro-life cause is strongest when we all take our backgrounds and expertise and each share where God has given us stories. I and many others have been greatly impacted by women who have regretted their abortion and found forgiveness in Christ, by fathers who have asked forgiveness to their spouse and even older children due to their involvement in an abortion, by nurses and doctors who are willing to risk their career advancement by explaining professional concerns even to legislators, and by social workers who speak out about why women in poverty need to be encouraged toward the hope of adoption and motherhood. God has given you a unique story to share. 
  • Go testify, write, and visit your legislators – As we come up to the debate of being the first state that would enshrine abortion in the constitution, we may feel like our voice makes no difference, but it does. One of our local legislators has publicly said that although she won’t budge on this, she has been impacted greatly by pro-lifers. Another local legislator who voted for H57 voted against the constitutional amendment as her duty to protect her pro-life neighbors, after hearing from them.
  • Right to Life Vermont has a southern Vermont chapter that just began. The next meeting is actually November 2 at our church building in Manchester.
  • Get involved with foster care and adoption – When I wrote my article, “Ordinary Christians Will End Abortion,” this was one of my shorter points because I knew that this was part of the solution, but I knew that God was calling my wife and I to do more. Since then, we have been in touch with the foster care office in our county and will be hosting a foster care information night at our church building soon. When the Romans would leave unwanted newborns out to die, it was the Christians who would rescue and raise them. The only way our history will become our legacy is if Christians continue to rise up and be involved in foster care and adoption in the U.S.
  • Minister to women who have had abortions – This is one large and important aspect of First Step’s ministry. As a pastor, I can tell you it has been especially helpful to have women in the church who can be an additional listening ear and a reminder of Christ’s forgiveness to these women who need our love and support.
  • Remember our duty to love – Protecting the unborn is one way we can love our neighbor as ourselves. But this also includes loving those we disagree with. Abortion is an emotional issue, and we need to confront those we disagree with and not back down, but always love them as people. We must never forget that the gospel ultimately is what changes hearts and minds.
  • Give to First Step – We are here tonight not just to hear about what First Step is doing, we are here tonight not just to tell them that we are thankful for them and to encourage them to continue in what they are doing, we are also here to tell them that we will lock arms with them. In a few moments you will have a chance to give, and I pray that you will be generous. It may be that God is tugging your heart tonight to begin volunteering at First Step.

I had the privilege of speaking to the House committee in February and I ended by telling them, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor during the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer pastored during a time that his government, the Nazis, claimed that an entire segment of humanity had no personhood. Bonhoeffer audaciously declared, ‘Not to speak it to speak. Not to act is to act.’”

I told the legislators that day, “We are speaking, and we are acting today, and we will continue to do so for those you are saying are non-people. You will continue to hear from us until every baby is not just given their rights back, but has an opportunity to have a birthday.”

The question for us today is, will we continue to face the darkness? Will we continue to find hope in God, a hope that doesn’t give up? Will we continue to act?

Meghan, the girl in our youth group who I shared about earlier who my wife and I were able to pray with and help her accept the forgiveness of Christ for a past abortion, went through a difficult time again after high school, and she got pregnant at 20 years old. 

This time, she was attending a different church so we were not involved in her life but we also were so proud of her when she chose to have her baby. He is just a few months older than our first son, and every time I see a picture of him on Facebook I get a huge grin because he is a boy who brings so much joy to his mom and we know that she went against the world, our culture, and Satan to have him. 

It wasn’t always easy for her. She went to nursing school as a single mother. She had some difficult years in her relationship with her boyfriend and then husband. But she made the difficult decision of choosing life, and she has never regretted it.

She also kept pursuing Jesus. Just a few years ago Meghan shared on social media pictures of her son being baptized. Stories like Meghan’s story need to be told because there are countless women like her making heroic choices.

Meghan and her son are two reasons to face the darkness. Meghan and her son are two reasons to have hope. Meghan and her son are two reasons to take action.

There are hundreds of millions of other reasons. Each of them has a name, even if that name is known only to God. But two reasons are enough.

Let’s face the darkness, let’s find hope in God, and let’s take action out of the love of Christ, together!

Love Your Wife Like Jesus Loves Her: Ten Great Loves for Every Husband

 

My article originally appeared at DesiringGod.org.

Some days, you go to Bible study and your life is slowly but imperceptibly changed. Other days, you go to Bible study and something in God’s word changes the trajectory of the rest of your life.

One spring day in 1998, as an 18-year-old college freshman, I understood marriage in a way I never had before. I had signed up for a Bible study taught by my college pastor, “Preparing for Marriage.” That day, Pastor Doug Busby gave me and all of the young men in the room an assignment that I have been working on for the last 22 years. I will continue to work on this homework until, for my wife and me, “death do us part.”

My pastor read to us, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25). Then he asked us the obvious question (the question we husbands so often fail to ask in the daily grind of work and family life): How does Jesus love the church?

Ten Christlike Loves

As I have scoured the Scriptures, year after year, looking for ways that Jesus loves the church, ways that he calls me to echo his love for me in my love for my wife, I have found ten great loves. As a husband, God calls you to love your wife like Jesus loves her, so meditate on his deep, complex, and unparalleled love.

1. Stubborn Love

Jesus won’t ever leave his bride. He says to her, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). His love for your wife is based not on her performance, but on his covenant love for her. When we keep our marriage covenants through all of the challenges and changes over years of married life, we reflect his kind of stubborn, delight-filled love. May our wives know the comfort of love that says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

2. Hopeful Love

When Jesus looks at your bride, he sees her as already sanctified. This hope is anchored in the power and promise of the gospel. Paul writes to believers, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). In fact, he sees her not only as already sanctified, but as already glorified (Romans 8:30). How often would your wife say that your love for her “hopes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7)? By keeping eternity in mind, you can have patience with your wife, just as Jesus does with her — and you.

3. Pursuing Love

Jesus never takes a break from pursuing your wife’s heart, not romantically but persistently. In fact, he cares not only about her devotion, but also her affection (Psalm 37:4). He is the tireless Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to seek after the one (Luke 15:4–7). In a similar way, God is glorified when a husband continually seeks a deeper relationship with his wife. A husband who has been captured by Jesus’s love is an incurable romantic toward his wife.

4. Forgiving Love

Jesus gives your wife grace when she doesn’t deserve it. It may be that the most Christlike thing you can do is offer your wife forgiveness on a daily basis, remembering that you too are in need of forgiveness. The picture of forgiving love that every husband should seek to emulate is Jesus making breakfast for Peter, who had sinned against him, denying him three times at his crucifixion (John 21:12–15). Is it you or your wife who is usually the first to begin to move toward reconciliation when it’s needed?

5. Joyful Love

Jesus doesn’t just put up with your wife or grudgingly but persistently love her — Jesus loves to love her. He delights to be with his bride. He receives joy by giving us joy (Hebrews 12:2). Wives who are loved this deeply, who know their husbands love to love them, are often an even greater blessing to others. Love your wife so joyfully that it’s obvious to her and others.

6. Serving Love

Jesus served her in life and death. There is nothing — nothing — that God can call you to do for your wife that would be too much! Jesus “gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Many husbands think of themselves as kings to be served, but you and I are called by God to be the chief servants in our homes. The way to Christlikeness in our marriages is through joining Jesus in taking up the towel and the basin (John 13:12–17).

7. Sanctifying Love

Jesus loves your wife by helping her to grow in holiness and by being her advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1). Do you encourage your wife to go to Bible study, even if it means you have to care for the kids by yourself for the evening? Do you regularly bring your wife before the Father in prayer? Work hard to help your wife blossom spiritually.

8. Leading Love

Jesus leads us to what is good for us. Jesus not only loves your wife with a leading rather than a passive love, but he also leads her toward what is good (Psalm 23:2). It is impossible to lead our wives spiritually if we ourselves are not being led by God through the word and prayer. One way you can lead her well is by seeking her input and then making big decisions (and accepting the consequences), rather than allowing the decisions and consequences to fall to her.

9. Providing Love

Jesus provides your wife with all that she needs. Do you notice your wife’s needs, even beyond physical provision, and do something about it? Christ nourishes her, providing an environment for growth and flourishing. The apostle Paul explains to us that “in the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28). It made a marked difference in my marriage when I realized that it was my responsibility to do what I could to fill my wife’s sails.

10. Knowing Love

Jesus knows your wife better than she knows herself. He has an informed love for her. He knows her strengths, her weaknesses, and he acts on her behalf (Ephesians 5:29–30). While we will never know our wives like God knows them, he wants us to know them as well as we can. Our prayers for them will always be hindered if we fail to know them (1 Peter 3:7). Our wives know they are cherished when we make an effort to really know them.

Defy the Serpent with Love

One evening, I walked down the hallway from our bedroom with bare feet when I saw something you never want to see in your hallway: a snake tail sticking out where the floor meets the wall. It turned out that there was a crack in our foundation, and a snake had made its way through the crack, and up into our home.

Brothers, we have an enemy, that ancient serpent, who desires to squirm his way into our homes and cause havoc. But praise God, we know the snake crusher, Jesus Christ, who has already defeated him and loved us with a supernatural love. Know that when you love your wife like Jesus loves her, the foundation of your marriage is strengthened, Satan is defeated again, and Christ is lifted up for more to see.

God, Help Me to See My Small-Town Church as You Do

This article first appeared at Small Town Summits Articles.

God, I confess that I can’t see anything as I should without you opening my eyes. Just as the Psalmist cried out to you so he could behold wondrous things in your law (Psalm 119:18), and just as the Apostle Paul begged you to give him clearer vision of all of the blessings of the gospel (Ephesians 1:18), I ask you now to help me see my small-town church as you do. Please change my occasional glimpses of the glory of your church and the advance of your gospel to a steady gaze. Give me the gift of seeing through your eyes.

Father, help me to see my small-town church as you do. Where I sometimes see needy people, you see your chosen and beloved ones (Ephesians 1:4) in whom is all of your delight. Help me to see your precious people as you do. Where I sometimes see the problems or concerns more than the blessings, you see the church of God, sanctified and called to be saints (1 Corinthians 1:2). Where I sometimes see people that I have grown familiar with and taken for granted, you see your sons and daughters who are heirs of no less than you yourself (Romans 8:16-17)!

Spirit, help me to see my small-town church as you do. Where I sometimes see a few people struggling but striving to make a kingdom impact, you see an outpost of your kingdom, pushing back the spiritual darkness with the light of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). Where I sometimes see a lack of ministries compared to bigger churches in larger towns, you see a church that has all of the resources it really needs because you have amply and sovereignly supplied each of the members of your church with the gifts that are needed (Romans 12:4-6). Where I sometimes see young believers who I wish were more mature in their faith at this point, you see young believers who are sealed by you (Ephesians 1:13) and who you are working in and through.

Jesus, help me to see my small-town church as you do. Where I sometimes see an unimpressive building and tired believers, you see your Bride as beautiful and resplendent, being prepared for that great Wedding Feast (Revelation 19:7-8). Just as I saw nothing but beauty in my bride on our wedding day as she walked down the aisle toward me, help me to see that your Bride, your church in this small town, is washed clean by your blood (Revelation 7:14) and adorned with your glorious gospel (Titus 2:10-11). You can’t take your eyes off of her because your love is constant and covenant-like, while my love is fickle and intermittent. Jesus, give me more glimpses of how beautiful your Bride is to you so that I can serve her better as I work with you to prepare her for yourself.

God, just as you opened the eyes of Elisha’s servant to see that you were working all around them when it seemed so dark (2 Kings 6:17), open my eyes to see that you are always working for the advance of your kingdom around us. Give me clearer vision so that I can see you and your work in my time and place. Help me to see this small place, with all of its blessings and even all of its quirks, through the lens of a big gospel and a big God!

The only way that I can see your church this way is if you brighten my eyes with your glory so that new light is shed on everything around me. God, help me to see my small-town church as you do.

Absolute Certainty About Jesus AND…

This article was featured on the Baptist Convention of New England blog.

To be a Christian in today’s cultural context takes courage and commitment. When we are talking with friends, relatives, and neighbors about something as personal as what will happen to them after they die, it can sound strange and offensive to them that Jesus is the only way to Heaven.

But it will help us hold firm to our convictions if we remember that they and us trust that other people in our lives have absolute certainty about life or death situations all of the time.

  • A pharmacist better have absolute certainty about the pills that he or she is dispensing. I have a severe penicillin allergy, and a pharmacist giving me the wrong medicine could not only hospitalize me, it could cost me my life.
  • An engineer must have absolute certainty about every centimeter of a bridge that he or she is planning. A bridge on an interstate over a large river near where we used to live collapsed due to an engineering error. Two cars plunged into the river, cars piled up as they slammed on their brakes to avoid going in the water, and several people almost died.
  • A surgeon must have absolute certainty of what they are doing, especially before he or she operates on a vital organ like your heart! Can you imagine going ahead with surgery if your doctor explained, “I think that I know how to do this heart surgery. It just feels right–to me, anyway.”
  • An explosives expert in the army who is deployed in the Middle East must have absolute certainty about which wires to cut!

Given that we have no problem understanding that people need to have certainty in these life or death situations, we should not be surprised that Jesus says that He is THE way, THE truth, and THE life, and no one comes to the Father but through him (John 14:6). Since Jesus claims to be the God-man come from Heaven to bring us eternal life, it makes sense that he is certain about who he is and clear that he is the only way to Heaven.

If you can trust your heart surgeon, you can have absolute certainty in the Son of God.

As Christians, we need to be clear that we have absolute certainty about who Jesus is and what he claims to have done for us if we will trust him. Of course we still love our friends and family if they reject Jesus for themselves, but may they at least always be able to say that they know we have absolute certainty about Jesus being the only Savior. It’s the very least we can do for them.

The examples I gave that everybody in our society accepts as people who need to be certain about their jobs are not even as clear of a parallel as our certainty about Jesus because we know that pharmacists, engineers, surgeons, and explosive experts do sometimes make mistakes. They are only human. But Jesus is not only human.

We can have absolute confidence in him both for our eternal salvation and as the only hope for our yet unbelieving family and friends. As John the Apostle explained, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” (1 John 5:20)

Father, Help Us To See

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This article was featured at The Baptist Convention of New England blog.

Father, help us to see.

Father, help us to see you. We are spiritually blind without your Spirit giving us eyes to see (Ephesians 1:18) and we need to see you, first and foremost. If we can see you in all of your glory, all of your power, all of your justice, and all of your grace, then we will know that you are at work in us, for us, around us, and through us.

Father, help us to see the work you are doing in us. We so often feel like we take one step forward and two steps backward in our pursuit of you. We so often end up needing to learn the same lessons again, or struggling to believe what you have promised us in your Word. Help us to see the little victories, the little inclinations of our hearts when we lean towards you more quickly than we used to. Help us to see temptations overcome hour by hour. Help us to see that you are committed to us. Help us to see that you will complete the work you have begun in us (Philippians 1:6).

Father, help us to see the work you are doing for us. In this fallen world it is often hard to believe that you are working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). Help us to adopt your definition of good, the highest goal of becoming more like Jesus (Romans 8:29). Help us to see that there is no greater love than your love that will never let us go (Romans 8:38-39). Help us to see how you are working for us in ten thousand ways, because as John Piper says, we can only see about three of them right now. Like the Israelites standing on the edge of the Red Sea in front of them with enemies coming at them from behind, help us to see that you will fight for us if we are still and will trust you (Exodus 14:14).

Father, help us to see the work you are doing around us. Just as you opened the eyes of Elisha’s servant to see that you were working all around them when it seemed so dark (2 Kings 6:17), open our eyes to see that you are always working for the advance of your Kingdom around us. We so often can’t see it, but you are working around us every day. People are reading the Word and coming to an understanding of who Jesus is. People are finding out they have cancer and coming to grips with their mortality. People are asking questions about you and your Son because of something they heard when they were children. Father, we need your help to be able to see the work you are doing around us, because without your light we only see darkness.

Father, help us to see the work you are doing through us, for the advance of the gospel. We are laboring in your vineyard but the sun is hot and we are weary. It seems that often where we plant seeds, weeds spring up. Father, help us to see that you are at work through us for the advance of the gospel. Help us to see that you are more zealous for your own glory than we are (Isaiah 48:11). Help us to see that you don’t just work in those places and those times, but you are at work among us and even through us today. Help us to see the single mom coming to church and growing in her love for Jesus. Help us to see the teenager sitting in the same pew he has been in since he was a baby, who is beginning to believe–really believe–that Jesus is his Lord and Savior. Help us to see the tired married couple beginning to love each other the way you tell them to for the first time, as they are discipled through your church. Help us to see the friend beginning to ask questions about the gospel, the friend we never expected would ever be interested in Jesus.

Father, help us to see you, and help us to see what you are doing in us, for us, around us, and through us. Just as Jesus touched Blind Bartimaeus when he called out to him and he gave him his sight (Mark 10:51-52), we are calling out to you and asking you to restore our sight, so we can see you and your work in our time and place. We await your touch. Father, help us to see.

Not Just for Attractional-Model Churches: Why “The Gospel-Driven Church” is Needed for All Pastors & Leaders

A note from Tim to my regular readers: I have decided to do a book review from time to time, to point pastors and all believers to helpful resources for ministry and the Christian life.

Unlike Jared Wilson, I was not trained in the attractional-driven model of ministry. I am not trying to transition my church to a gospel-driven model because we are already a gospel-driven church and are trying to “excel still more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1). Yet, I desperately needed the message in The Gospel-Driven Church: Uniting Church-Growth Dreams with the Metrics of Grace for my own soul and for my leadership as a pastor.

I enjoy reading, but it’s not often that I highlight something on almost every page of a book. There were so many solid points and wise nuances throughout the book that I found myself doing this but also often writing comments in the margin like “Wow! Yes. So true! Important.”

Here are three reasons that The Gospel-Driven Church is not just for pastors and leaders who are thinking of transitioning their church from being attractionally-driven to gospel-driven.

1. It is important to understand the differences between a church being attractionally-driven and gospel-driven.
Jared defines the attractional church as “a way of doing church ministry whose primary purpose is to make Christianity appealing.” He quickly explains that a growing church isn’t the problem. “It bears mentioning that people being attracted to church is not in itself a bad thing! But when attraction becomes the primary mission, you tend to use whatever works to attract them…the problem is that ‘doing whatever it takes to get people in the door’ can replace or undercut what we want them to be attracted to.” (25) We want them to be attracted to Jesus, who is perfectly displayed and believed in through the gospel!

Even churches and leaders who are striving to be gospel-driven can easily forget why, biblically, we do things the way we do. Wilson points out that the “operating system” of the attractional church is basically consumerism (drawing people to church primarily through what appeals to them rather than what they need), pragmatism (changing church to try to accomplish what “works” rather than what God has commanded), and legalism/moralism (“Legalism is what happens when you disconnect the Christian’s ‘do’ from Christ’s ‘done’ in the gospel.”). (28)

Wilson answers the question, “What is a gospel-driven church?” by explaining, “One that explicitly and intentionally connects its teaching, programs, ministry philosophy, and mission to the content of the gospel…A gospel-driven church knows that the gospel isn’t one feature of a church, one thing on a checklist, something useful in an evangelistic program. A gospel-driven church makes the gospel the unifying and motivating factor in everything they say and do.”

2. To not experience vision drift.
Just as a church can easily experience mission drift, forgetting why they ultimately exist, a church can also experience vision drift. It is easy to slowly but incrementally forget how the gospel shapes the way we view church, which will eventually play itself out in how we do church. As a pastor, I constantly have either well-meaning church attenders or advertisements on my browser, inbox, and mailbox that tell me, “This program will show us how to do church” or “This is what we need to help us grow.” While there are many things that churches should constantly be evaluating and growing in (such as how well they are ministering to children or married couples, or if there are factors unnecessarily driving away new visitors), it is so refreshing to read a book that reminds us that God’s Word and the gospel are enough.

“The Five Metrics That Matter Most,” Chapter 3, would be worth the price of the book just by itself. As a non-attractional church pastor, this was the chapter that I read the slowest and underlined the most. I will be returning to it to evaluate our church on a yearly basis, sharing it at our next Elder and Deacon meeting, and briefly discussing it at our next Member’s Meeting. It is that important because Wilson takes us out of the numbers game and points out that whether or not you are currently growing in numbers, the first question should be, “are we growing in grace?” He explains, “the more important a metric is the more difficult it is to quantify. This is one reason why Jesus appointed shepherds for his flock and not accountants.” (54)

In Chapter 3 Wilson basically takes Jonathan Edward’s “Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God,” and explains and applies them to churches today. The five characteristics of a genuine move of God’s Spirit that he considers are:  1) A growing esteem for Jesus Christ 2) A Discernible Spirit of Repentance 3) A Dogged Devotion to the Word of God 4) An Interest in Theology and Doctrine, and 5) An Evident Love for God and Neighbor. This chapter and others serve as a good check for how our church is doing in keeping the main things the main things.

3. To be encouraged and built up in how the gospel shapes church.
Jared Wilson has a gift for helping believers see how the gospel plays out in all of life. He also has a gift for helping pastors and church leaders see how the gospel plays out into church life. Wilson’s The Pastor’s Justification was a lifeline to me a couple of years ago. For two months, I would read a chapter on Sunday night before going to sleep peacefully, being reminded that as a pastor I need the gospel just as much as those I minister to. In Gospel-Driven Church, Jared now explains in a “textbook” but not too-technical way, how the gospel should shape how we view the church. I found the book to be deep enough to be read in seminary classes, but straight-forward enough for a church leadership team to read together.

Reading a book that is focused on helping pastors who are in attractional-model churches transition to a gospel-driven church model may seem that it has little to offer those who are already gospel-driven. However, I found the opposite to be true. As my heart rejoiced in how God has designed the church, chapter by chapter I was challenged and reminded of what is most important for my church and kept asking the question, “Are we really letting the gospel shape our church? Right now?”

I would actually love to see many church members who are not even in leadership positions read this book, because it will remind them of why the church exists and why we want the gospel to drive all we do, from preaching (Chapter 5), to how we plan our worship service (Chapter 6), to how we interact in church community (Chapter 7), to how we go and share the gospel in our communities and world (Chapter 8: Turning the corner from “Come and see” to “Go and tell.”).

If you are looking for a convicting, refreshing, biblical, practical book on what should drive our churches, I highly recommend The Gospel-Driven Church. No matter what your training and model has been, you will benefit from it. Marinating in the gospel always benefits us.

As Wilson explains, “Preach grace and grace alone–and don’t give up!–and then watch as the metrics of grace emerge to become the measurement of your church’s health over time. Preaching the gospel is the first and most important way to give your church the power it needs to bear fruit for Christ.”

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. But it’s so good, I would have bought it!

Ordinary Christians Will End Abortion: Eight Ways You Can Help

 

This article originally appeared at DesiringGod.org and was featured at Challies.

When the Romans would leave unwanted newborns out to die, it was the Christians who would rescue and raise them. May our history become our legacy.

Our nation has been shocked in recent months by extreme abortion laws that seem to be hitting us one after the other, starting with New York passing a sweeping abortion law that loosened the requirement for who can be an abortionist, removed protections for unborn babies involved in violent crimes, and allowed abortions through all nine months of pregnancy.

Days later, the governor of Virginia talked about a bill that was in committee, and then calmly discussed how a survivor of a late-term abortion could be killed if the mother and doctor agreed. Then Senator Ben Sasse fast-tracked a bill protecting babies born alive during late-term abortions, saying that all US senators should be able to go on record against infanticide. It was shut down and continues to be.

I’m a pastor in Vermont, where we have been facing our own bill in state government, which some have called the most radical abortion legislation in the world. It has zero restrictions on abortion. Now they are working on passing a state constitutional amendment that would enshrine abortion as a right that “shall not be denied or infringed.” If only Vermont were alone in this. Multiple states now are considering similar legislation, even as other states are trying to protect preborn babies more.

How to Fight Such Evil

As Christians, who believe that God creates each human being — born or unborn — in his image, with the right to be protected, these swift events can be overwhelming. What can an ordinary Christian do in the face of so much evil?

1. Pray.
This is first and foremost. Let’s not dismiss this as a throwaway step to get to the real change. God, in answer to our prayers, does the impossible. Let’s continually ask him to do what only he can.

2. Study the Scriptures.

Recently, I made a list of fifteen sections of Scripture especially relevant to the pro-life cause to help me be better attuned with God’s heart on this subject before I would speak out against it: Genesis 1:27; Exodus 1:16–22; 4:11; 21:22–25; Job 10:11–12; 31:15; Psalm 14:4; 22:9–10; 127:3–5; 139:13–16; Isaiah 45:9–11; 49:15; Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:41–44; Galatians 1:15. I found myself in tears as the weight and impact of Scripture built conviction, holy anger, love, and grace in my mind and heart. Let’s go deep in the Scriptures before we go wide in sharing our beliefs.

In particular, Isaiah 45:9–11 hit me in a fresh way in light of legislation being considered around the nation that acts as if a fetus is not a human baby until he or she begins to breathe — or even later. At one point, God says through the prophet, “Woe to him who says . . . to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’” (Isaiah 45:10). Everybody knows that a pregnant woman is pregnant with a baby, a human being — regardless of what some of our legislators are proclaiming. Let’s have God’s word feed our minds and hearts, move our hands and feet, and open our mouths to speak for the unborn (Proverbs 31:8).

3. Share Scripture and your story.

Recently I had the opportunity to testify before a House committee. I not only shared Scripture with them, but I focused on the implications for those scriptural principles in our time and place. There is a time for legislators — as well as friends, relatives, or your fellow church members — to be educated on what God says about life before birth.

But we need also to think about how the fact that all human beings are created in God’s image impacts principles of law: like whether or not an abused pregnant woman should be able to seek justice for her baby, and whether or not insurance companies should be required to provide life-saving medicine and procedures to babies in the womb.

The House committee hearing was so impactful not because every person who spoke was a pastor (there were many), but also because of so many others who shared their story and expertise: women who regretted their abortion and had found forgiveness in Christ, nurses and doctors explaining their professional concerns, a lady who was conceived in rape explaining that her life matters and that the law helped her birth mom to do the right thing, and another mother, a social worker, who spoke to why women in poverty need to be encouraged toward the hope of adoption and motherhood.

4. Go testify, write, and visit your legislators.

If there is a public hearing, go on record in defense of the unborn, whether by written testimony or public speaking. I had never spoken in front of a government committee until recently. I was nervous before I got up to speak at the hearing. But when I began to talk about how the unborn have value given to us by God based on being human, not based on what they can offer, I was able to look the two co-writers of the bill in the eye confidently, and publicly declare that it is wrong to say that preborn babies have no rights. God will give you strength.

It is easy to write or call your government officials when abortion legislation is on the docket. If it is state legislation, go visit your elected legislators. When abortion decisions are being made at the US Supreme Court level, we feel there is nothing we can do other than to pray. But the new territory in the fight for life is now in your own neighborhood. You can go talk to your representatives and senators in person.

5. Support your local crisis-pregnancy center.

Your local crisis-pregnancy center does not receive tax dollars as they counsel women to consider adoption, providing them hope and help. They need our support, they need our encouragement, they need our prayers, and they need our volunteer hours. They are on the frontlines. Let’s join them.

6. Get involved with foster care and adoption.

When a courageous woman does give birth to a child who was in danger of being aborted, she and the child often need our support through foster care or adoption. This is one way we care for orphans in the United States. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27).

7. Minister to women who have had abortions.

As a pastor, I have cried with women who tearfully have shared that they were deceived at some point in their life and had an abortion. It has been especially helpful to have women in the church who can be an additional listening ear and a reminder of Christ’s forgiveness to these women who need our love and support. Those who were considering abortion but made the brave decision to give birth also need our help in many practical ways.

8. Remember our duty to love.

Protecting the unborn is one way you can love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). But this also includes loving those we disagree with. Abortion is an emotional issue for both sides. But even as we confront those we disagree with, and don’t back down, we don’t call them names or ever threaten to harm them. They may be protecting the “right” to kill innocent children, but our duty to them is to tell them the truth, pray for them, and — as hard as it can be in this circumstance — to honor and love them (Romans 13:7–8). We also must never forget that the gospel ultimately is what changes hearts and minds.

Not to Act Is to Act

When I spoke to the House committee, I ended by telling them,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor during the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer pastored during a time that his government, the Nazis, claimed that an entire segment of humanity had no personhood. Bonhoeffer audaciously declared, “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

We are speaking, and we are acting today, and we will continue to do so for those you are saying are non-people. You will continue to hear from us until every baby is not just given their rights back, but has an opportunity to have a birthday.

The question for us as Christians is, Will we continue to pray? Will we continue to speak? Will we continue to act? As a result of the love of Christ poured into our lives and hearts, the killing of babies in the womb cannot become white noise to us.

 

Look to Faithful Believers, But Fix Your Eyes on Jesus

One of my heroes of the faith is a pastor 20 years older than me. He was the first pastor I had who preached expositionally verse-by-verse. His family has been an example to my wife and I for family devotions and what godly discipline and love looks like, as they often welcomed us into their home. He officiated our wedding and preached a short wedding sermon that I still remember to this day. I have called him when I didn’t know who else I could get wisdom from for certain sticky counseling or church situations. I admire his love for missions and his willingness to go build up and encourage the church where others fear to go. If you can’t tell, this mentor and friend is someone I have looked up to and benefited from for the last 24 years of my life and ministry. I look to him as an example. But I don’t look to him to give me daily strength.

Faithful Christians whom we love and know can inspire us, but they cannot be our source of strength. We look to them, but we fix our eyes on Jesus.

My devotional life and pastoral ministry have been greatly shaped by the writings and lives of faithful men and women like Luther, Spurgeon, Corrie Ten Boom, Elisabeth Elliot, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I look to them as examples of great faith and faithfulness. But I don’t look to them for strength.

Although faithful Christians who have gone before us can inspire us, they cannot strengthen us. We look to them, but we fix our eyes on Jesus.

As we prepare our hearts to remember Christ’s death and ultimately his triumph over death, I have been thinking about this distinction. We gather encouragement and help from others, whether our friends and mentors or people we admire from church history, and in that sense you could say they strengthen us. But only the Spirit of Jesus lives within us (Romans 8:9). He alone is always there for us.

In Hebrews 11, we have the “Hall of Faith” in which the writer of Hebrews lays out example after example for us, 39 verses, about faithful men and women who inspire us. In fact, as he turns the corner to Hebrews 12, he uses them as motivation for godly living today: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1) He tells us, “Look–they faced incredible challenges and obstacles to their faith, but they made it. You can too.”

But in those 39 verses of chapter 11, while he holds them out as examples to look to, he never tells us to fixate on them. In fact, he never commands us to look to them. They are simply mentors, guides, brothers and sisters in Christ, who were also frail, as we are. As the saying goes, they were “beggars showing other beggars where the bread is.” But Jesus is in a different category entirely.

After wanting us to consider the lives of believers who have gone before us by explaining for an entire chapter how they were able to be faithful, in Hebrews 12:2 we see a difference between them and Jesus. We run this race of life and ministry “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

My heroes of the faith, both living and before my time, are a grace from God. They are an encouragement and I can look to their lives and gather inspiration, wisdom, and hope for whatever circumstances God has me in.

But they are not always with me. They are not seated at the right hand of the Father. They never promised, and never could promise, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Only Jesus can do that.

Look to your heroes of the faith, but fix your eyes on Jesus. He is closer than your breath. Always. “He upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:3) And at the end of the day, only he can uphold you.

Don’t Underestimate Small-Town Ministry

Note from Tim: This is an article I wrote for The Gospel Coalition about what God is doing through Small Town Summits in New England, as I was part of this excellent conference last week. It’s so encouraging to be a part of gospel renewal here. Outreach Magazine online later shared this article as well.

When evangelicals think of gospel ministry in New England, they may think of Jonathan Edwards or the Great Awakenings. They may think of the least religious states in the United States. They may think of a region many have labeled “the preacher’s graveyard.” But what may not come to mind is what happened recently: hundreds of pastors and ministry leaders gathering with eager expectation, learning how to better advance gospel work in the small places of New England.

On March 18, Small Town Summits, in partnership with The Gospel Coalition New England, held a New England regional Summit at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with the goal of developing a theological vision for small-place ministry. Previous Small Town Summits have been hosted in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine, in towns even people in those states have never heard of. And that’s the point. Our typical summits are intentionally smaller and local, as a way of embodying our message. But it felt like a good time to gather rural laypeople and pastors from around the New England region, and many responded. (The summit was sold out.)

Small-town pastors often tell us that they struggle not only with the normal stresses of pastoral ministry, but also with the extra discouragement of ministry in a small town. Ministry in small places is often slow and not regarded highly in the world’s eyes—whether the unbelieving world or the evangelical world. But on March 18, hundreds of ministry leaders were affirmed in their callings to go to the ends of the earth, including often-forgotten small towns. Rural churches need skilled, solid, vibrant gospel ministry just as much as suburbs and cities do.

You Can’t Serve What You Don’t See

Stephen Witmer, a member of the Small Town Summits leadership team and author of the forthcoming A Big Gospel in Small Places, encouraged the packed chapel: “We need to develop a theological vision for small-place ministry so we can see small towns as God sees them. You can’t serve what you don’t see.”

The plenary speakers and workshops helped us to see small-town ministry the way God does, and also to see that understanding our context enables us to be better ministers of the gospel. Richard Lints, professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell, helped us develop a theological vision for small-town ministry (just as he has helped Tim Keller cultivate a theological vision for ministry to the city). Brad Roth, author of God’s Country, explained how the doctrine of God sends us to the small places, and Donnie Griggs, author of Small Town Jesus, clarified what gospel-shaped small-town ministry looks like in practice. The workshops focused on discipling women, soul care, church planting, church revitalization, community ministry, the pastor as public theologian, and building a healthy ministry marriage. All gave careful attention to the nuances that ministering in small places brings to each of these areas.

If small-town pastors, laypeople, and ministry leaders are to serve well, we must see that God has sovereignly positioned us in our small places and sovereignly granted us a big gospel. We must see that we’re not alone, and that there are unique privileges, not just difficulties, in our ministries. We must cultivate a vision of shepherding well no matter the size of our flock, and of evangelizing well no matter the size of our town.

Collaboration Rarely Seen

One Vermont church-planting leader commented that in more than a decade of ministry in New England, he’s never seen a movement of so many gospel-centered leaders, outside of their own tribes, working together to advance God’s kingdom. There were even some city and suburban pastors who attended the March 18 summit to know how to better encourage ministry and plant churches in New England’s small towns.

David Pinckney and Ben Ruhl, who serve on the Small Town Summits leadership team, both prayed for ministry in larger places as well during the plenary sessions. We’re not anti-city or anti-suburb or anti-large church. Rather, we’re pro-big gospel.

Large-Scale Revaluation

We want to make sure that small-town pastors, laypeople, and church leaders know and are reminded that God sees and values their ministry. It’s rare for them to hear that preaching a gospel-rich, Bible-centered sermon to 60 or 16 people in a forgotten place is important—but it is.

When a currency is revalued, its value is calculated again, often with a higher value than before. The Small Town Summits team wants to be a part of a large-scale revaluation of small-town ministry. We’re grateful for the palpable excitement in the Gordon-Conwell chapel on March 18. It indicates what we’ve already seen in our state-specific summits: God isn’t the only one who values the souls in the small towns.

For future summits and other events sponsored by Small Town Summits, visit www.smalltownsummits.com.