Resolutions of a Small-Town Pastor

This article first appeared on Small Town Summits Articles. I serve on the Leadership Team for Small Town Summits.

Note from Tim: I would like to thank the other members of the Small Town Summits Leadership Team for their help thinking through resolutions.


There can be a healthy way to consider New Year’s resolutions as it is a natural time for us to look ahead to the coming year. Jonathan Edwards even famously showed us that resolving to live life for the glory of God can be a helpful way to take stock of our life and goals. As a small-town pastor, here are specific resolutions that I have as I think about ministry in 2020.

Resolved: to “watch my life and doctrine carefully.” Paul instructed Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:16) This means that I am resolving to exercise more in the coming year as I need the discipline, better health, and energy for ministry that regular exercise will cultivate (1 Timothy 4:8). But it also means that I will take the same care to guard my mind and doctrine by reading one theological book that will challenge me. For me, this means Owen’s The Holy Spirit that has been sitting on my shelf for a few years.

Resolved: to preach with all the passion & preparation the Word deserves regardless of how many are in the pews any given Sunday. The sheep need to be fed well. As pastors we are to preach the word and be ready “in season and out of season.” (2 Timothy 4:2) For a small-town pastor like me, that may mean putting just as much preparation and passion into a Sunday sermon when I know that it will be a smaller Sunday. One of the realities of small-town ministry is that several families all gone the same weekend can put a damper on the excitement of Sunday morning. But my call to preach the Word is not dependent on how many are in the pews, but on the unchanging Savior I am called to proclaim.

Resolved: to read one biography of someone who had a fruitful small-place ministry, to readjust my vision of success. Our heroes of today are so often the large-place pastors and big conference speakers. Our heroes of the past are so often the Spurgeons who preached the gospel to thousands week in and week out. But sometimes we need to be reminded of lives perhaps not as well known but just as well spent, ministering in smaller and lesser-known places (our Small Town Summits Resource Page provides some ideas).

Resolved: to believe that Jesus is enough, and that he is worthy of all my labors, regardless of the fruit I’m seeing or not seeing through my ministry. As I look ahead to 2020, I long for God to work in big ways in our church and community as I see the gospel advance for God’s glory. There are so many within miles of our church building who hardly know the name of Jesus beyond perhaps a curse word. While I want to pray for revival and ministry fruitfulness more, I am also seeking by God’s grace to need it less. I resolve to be content with the pace of ministry that God grants by his grace.

Resolved: to be a husband who better reflects the love of Christ to my wife, and to be a dad who disciples his children and has fun with them. Ministry is serious business. In the same day we could go from visiting a member moments from eternity to visiting a newborn baby in the hospital. In the same week we could go from counseling a marriage that is on the verge of divorce to the joy of officiating a wedding. And there is always more to do. But I am resolving to remember in 2020 that I will never regret spending time with my wife and focusing on growing in better reflecting the gospel through my relationship with her. Sometimes date night may be more fruitful in my ministry than a couple more hours put into the sermon or visitation. I resolve to continue to join my wife in discipling our kids and to remember to have fun with them. They may struggle with believing in a Jesus who became like one of us if I never “stoop” to speak their language of fun and play.

Resolved: to joyfully embrace the place that God has sovereignly assigned to me. Missionary Jim Elliot once wisely remarked, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” God sovereignly placed you in the small town that you are ministering in today. There are people there that he means to reach with the gospel through your unique gifting. We have the privilege of shepherding some of God’s people in the specific context he has assigned to us. I resolve to remember what Peter instructed: “shepherd the flock of God that is among you…” (1 Peter 5:2) There is joy in serving in the place that God has placed me in.

As I look ahead to ministry in my small town in 2020, I know that these resolves will never happen by my own strength or resolve. But I know that the Spirit loves to fulfill what God commands. So, fellow small-town pastor, know that this is being prayed for you today and into the new year: “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you… (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12a)

“Always Winter But Never Christmas?”: Finding Joy This Season

This article appeared in the December 20, 2019 edition of our local paper, The Manchester Journal.

“It is winter in Narnia, and has been for ever so long…always winter and never Christmas; think of that!” With these words, Mr. Tumnus the faun from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe captured the imagination of my children—and me. This winter, my wife and I have been reading them “The Chronicles of Narnia” for their bedtime stories. I had read the beloved classics, as perhaps you have, as a boy, but it had been decades since I last read them. This time, reading them as an adult and as a pastor, I have been amazed at the beautiful parallels with life and even the Christian life as Lewis’ allegory points to Jesus through Aslan, the lion.

But I have not been able to let that phrase go: “always winter and never Christmas.” We know that in one sense so many of us love winter or we would not live in Vermont. We love the skiing, we love the crunchy snow under our feet, we love sipping hot cocoa while watching the snowflakes gently fall. There’s nothing quite like celebrating Christmas in Vermont with snow on the ground. But if it was always winter and never Christmas, if there was no joy in the midst of the long winter, if six months of no leaves stretched into twelve months with no foliage, we would tire of the winter weather.

Lewis described our hearts without joy so well with his phrase, “always winter and never Christmas.” As we approach Christmas, I have been thinking about what we try to draw joy from around Christmastime. We see the word “joy” all over the place: in decorations for the season, in songs on the radio and in the stores. But joy can be elusive. The grandkids don’t visit. The cancer has returned. The toys were exciting for the kids for a couple of hours, but now they’ve moved on to playing with the boxes. Maybe for you the season brings back difficult childhood memories. In your soul, you feel like it is always winter, but never Christmas, even on Christmas Day.

Lift up your head. Aslan breaks the curse, and even heals our hearts. There is joy available that is outside of our circumstances, joy that can coexist with tears. It is a joy that is elastic enough that it can bring the joy of Christmas to both the young parent with the overwhelming list of things to do for the kids, and the elderly person in his or her empty home. It is a joy that stretches to magnify the best times of life and that quietly comes alongside of us to meet us during our darkest moments. This joy is a person who is so much more than a person. His name is Jesus. This is why Christians get so excited about Christmas.

The Gospel of John explains about Jesus, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.” (John 1:5, 12, 14) You see, Christians get excited about Christmas because we truly believe that we can’t work our way to God. The darkness is not only outside of us, it is even in us. But the message of Christmas is that God didn’t expect us to work our way up to him, but he came down to us to offer us free joy now and for eternity.

Before the spring thaw comes, my kids and I will be reading the seventh book in the Narnia series. We will read these words in The Last Battle that I hope will ring true to your heart this Christmas season so that for your soul it will not be always winter and never Christmas: “‘Yes,’ said Queen Lucy. ‘In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.’”

Talk about joy to the world!

Why Small-Town Ministry Matters: A Review of “A Big Gospel in Small Places”

This article first appeared on the TMS Blog.

“Because God loves people everywhere, he calls his church to be present everywhere. Thus his church must be in places big and small in order to be the church.”

Stephen Witmer, ABig Gospel in Small Places


I grew up in a town of 350 people. There were no stop lights. There were no doctors. There was one convenience store and one gas station (which was really a farmer’s co-op). We once had relatives visit, and the next week my parents read in the “Prescott Party Line,” the column in the neighboring town’s paper, that last weekend the Counts family had relatives visit, “and a good time was had by all.” When my parents asked the columnist how she knew that, she explained, “I saw their car in your driveway all weekend.” Surely where we live affects our view of the world.

In-between my childhood and my current ministry, I have lived and ministered in large cities, including Los Angeles, as well as suburban contexts. I never expected that I would be a pastor in a town of 5,000 people. Small-town ministry has its own unique blessings and challenges. Many pastors like me who have been called to rural areas or small towns struggle sometimes because so much of the ministry advice we hear and even the books we read are written by big-name pastors in big-name cities. We can begin to wonder, does my ministry in my little corner of the world matter? Has God put me on the Junior Varsity team? Am I wasting my seminary education by pouring myself into a small community rather than a place with more people and greater influence?

As a small-town pastor, it is easy to get stuck looking at myself or comparing myself with others. A Big Gospel in Small Places, a book by co-founder of Small Town Summits and pastor Stephen Witmer, lifted my eyes from myself to Jesus. It gently raised my gaze from my small, self-centered dreams for myself and my church to see that in my small town, the fields are white for harvest. This book helped me to long for God to work in my small town in a big way, while needing it less (which is one of the main ideas of his book).

Strategic Isn’t Always What We Think

Witmer gives a strong apologetic for small-place ministry in the first three chapters of the book. He explains how even though the trend is for people to move towards cities, there are still billions of people—about half of the world’s population—who live in rural areas (5), and they all have souls (87). He points out that “the total population of American small towns alone is about thirty-three million people, which is more than the populations of Morocco, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Peru, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Nepal, Mozambique, Ghana, North Korea, Yemen, Australia, Madagascar, Cameroon…(the list continues with more than a hundred other countries)” (27).

 In the second section of the book, Witmer explores some of the nuances of small-town ministry. What are some of the unique challenges and opportunities that small-town ministry presents? He explains how “Strategic isn’t always what we think” (chapter 5), “Small is usually better than we think” (chapter 6), and “Slow is often wiser than we think” (chapter 7). He urges us to appreciate all that we can about the particular small town we are serving in or that we may be called to because “we can’t serve what we don’t see” (29). He explains how pastoring in a small town can be an advantage for gospel ministry because often, “the smallness of our context gives us an outsized influence” (94).

To encourage small-place pastors that their size may actually be a help to push them to Christ, Witmer quotes the Puritan pastor Richard Sibbes in The Bruised Reed,

As a mother is tenderest to the…weakest child, so does Christ most mercifully incline to the weakest…The consciousness of the church’s weakness makes her willing to lean on her beloved, and to hide herself under his wing. (98-99).

A Big Gospel in Small Places is filled with a combination of quotes from the likes of Puritans and contemporary thought and statistics on ministry. There are many pastors in small places who need to be reminded that preaching a Bible-saturated, gospel-centered sermon to forty-five people matters. This book is oozing with that kind of encouragement.

Should I minister in a small town or larger place?

In the last three chapters of the book, Witmer provides a valuable resource not only for current small-place pastors, but also for those considering a ministry switch and for seminary students praying about where they might pastor. He pushes back against some of the common reasons given to prioritize urban ministry, all the while maintaining that one is not better than the other. Witmer is not anti-city. Rather, he is pro-gospel. But the current trend in our culture as well as evangelicalism is to prioritize the cities, and Witmer gives many reasons to reconsider this trend.

As believers who hold to the sufficiency of the Word, we often push back against pragmatism in our practice of ministry. But I wonder how often we have been influenced by our evangelical culture in thinking that we must minister in a place where we can potentially reach more people rather than seeing the harvest God may be preparing in the small places. Small-town ministry is not pragmatic, but it is beautiful in that it points to a God who proclaims that he sent his only Son to the world—which includes the billions in the cities, and it also includes the billions in the small towns.


May we be willing to say with Isaiah, “Here am I, send me!” if God
calls us to a place that looks less strategic than we had hoped.


May God’s passion for his glory spread in the small places, in the cities, in the suburbs, and everywhere as his servants faithfully serve wherever God sends them.

If you currently serve in ministry in a small town and are struggling to see value there, Witmer has a gentle challenge for you:

Will you pray boldly with faith for God to win many souls for his glory and simultaneously see your present situation as a glorious display of the character of God and the surpassing beauty of the gospel? Rather than gazing longingly at the big places where so much ministry seems to be happening, will you see all the ministry to be done right in front of you? Will you treasure the people in your small place and pour yourself out for them? Will you prepare eternal souls for eternity? (182)

Yes, ministry in forgotten communities still matters. Nathaniel was from Cana, a prosperous city in Galilee of about one thousand people. When he heard that Jesus was from Nazareth, an insignificant village of two to four hundred people (32), he asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathaniel and the rest of the world learned that the answer was yes.

Just as God sent Jesus to a small place for much of his life and ministry, he may now be sending Jesus to a small place through you.

Thankful For Grace to Others

Note from Tim: Over the past seven days I have been publishing a short devotional each morning (I began HERE). 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 1:1-9

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus…” – 1 Corinthians 1:4

When we think about what we are thankful for, many things may come to mind. Our family. Our friends. Our job. Our home. Our country. Our church. Our salvation. But when we pause to thank God for His many blessings, how often do we thank Him for the grace given to others in salvation? In a list of things we are thankful for, it is easy to thank God for our own salvation or the salvation of a close family member. It is harder to remember to thank God for the grace He has given in the salvation of people within our own church or even people outside of our church.

Yet that is exactly the kind of prayer that the apostle Paul taught us to pray as he began his First Letter of Corinthians. May we imitate Paul’s heart by praising God for not only the grace given to us but also for the grace given to others–both near and far.

Father, I give You thanks for the grace that is salvation given to others. May my heart overflow in praise as I see Your kingdom advance.

Faith That Echoes

Note from Tim: Over the last week I have been publishing a short devotional each morning (I began HERE). 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: Romans 1:8-17

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” – Romans 1:8

The faith of the Huaorani people echoes around the world. When they first heard about Christ in the jungles of Ecuador through five missionary martyrs, including Nate Saint and Jim Elliot, it was simply the start of a chain reaction. I have personally been profoundly edified in my faith through the testimonies of Nate’s son, Steve Saint, and Jim’s wife, Elisabeth Elliot.

The apostle Paul encouraged the believers in Rome by letting them know that their faith echoed around the world. As people heard of faithful believers in Christ in the midst of pagan Rome, their faith was encouraged. As a result, they were more likely to live out their faith wherever God had placed them.

How have you been encouraged in your faith recently? How could you continue that echo of faith today by sharing Christ with a neighbor or friend or by encouraging a fellow believer? Only God knows the chain reaction your faithfulness may set off. And as Paul told the Romans, faith that echoes results in thanksgiving to God.

Father, whether it is to my neighbor or friend or around the world, may my faith echo for Your glory.

Only One Cornerstone

Note from Tim: Over the next two days I will be publishing a short devotional each morning (I began HERE). 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: Ephesians 2:18-22

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…” – Ephesians 2:19-20

If the foundation of your house is not solid, the entire house will shift. Imagine what damage this shifting would do to a building made out of stones. When a large structure, such as a temple, was built with stones in New Testament times, there was an essential stone that ensured a solid foundation: the cornerstone.

It was not a ceremonial stone with things inside of it like a time capsule. That is what a cornerstone is today. Then, it was usually the largest stone, and it was carefully cut and painstakingly laid so that it could be the basis for lining up all of the other stones.

Our faith is not built upon important people or philosophies; our faith is built upon the doctrines of the gospel passed down to us by the Holy Spirit through the apostles and prophets. Yet the unrivaled cornerstone that everything else is measured upon is not an idea or simply an important person, but the Lord of glory in the flesh. Our only cornerstone is Jesus Christ!

Father, I praise You for not only giving Your precious doctrines
but also for giving Your beloved Son.

From the Front Lines

Note from Tim: Over the next three days I will be publishing a short devotional each morning (I began HERE). 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: 2 Timothy 2:1-10

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” – 2 Timothy 2:3

My friend Bill was a soldier serving in Afghanistan when his life was forever changed. An explosion rocked their Stryker vehicle, burning him badly. I will never forget him saying that he was proud to have served his country. By definition, a soldier’s duty is often difficult.

Paul exhorted Timothy to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ. The incredible thing is, the apostle Paul was not doing this while he relaxed at home in his recliner with a cup of coffee. Paul was in prison, in chains. Second Timothy is a dispatch from the front lines. Timothy needed courage and endurance because of the difficulties of taking a stand for the gospel. This encouragement from a dungeon powerfully reminded him that he was in a spiritual battle and that his captain was the Lord Jesus Christ.

How is your courage and endurance for Christ today? Consider what a privilege it is to be in His army. As Paul reminds us a few verses later, “remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead” (v. 8).

Father, may I be a good soldier for You. Help me to remember whose army I am in when difficulty comes my way.

Prayer & Encouragement

Note from Tim: Over the next four days I will be publishing a short devotional each morning (I began HERE). 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: Philemon 1-6

“I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers…” – Philemon 4

I only knew Karen in person for three years while I was an associate pastor at her church. Yet through serving in an after-school Bible club together, Karen became a prayer warrior and cheerleader for my wife and me. When the Lord called us more than 3,000 miles away to a hard ministry, little did we know that Karen would continue to minister to us. There is perhaps nothing that can bring greater encouragement than praying and letting that person know that you are doing so.

The apostle Paul knew this. Paul had a special request for Philemon, so he wrote him a letter. And at the beginning of that letter he let Philemon know that he faithfully prayed for him, and often thanked God for him.

Who has God placed in your life that you can be a “Karen” for? Maybe it’s your pastor’s family, a missionary, or someone you know who is fighting cancer. Pray for them often, and then let them know. Prayer is powerful. Encouragement is powerful. When the two are combined, watch out! You will see God at work.

Father, show me who I need to faithfully pray for and encourage.
Help me to do both.

Fully Known & Fully Loved

Note from Tim: Over the next six days I will be publishing a short devotional each morning (I began HERE). 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: Philippians 3:7-10

…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…  – Philippians 3:10

I don’t ever want to stop dating my wife, but I can’t tell you how glad I am to be out of the dating phase prior to our wedding 15 years ago. Now I know that my wife knows me and yet loves me. Before marriage we feel the need to impress. We hope that if we dress right, have the right conversation, and are fun to be around, we will be loved and accepted. If we do the right things, the relationship may continue.

Knowing Jesus is not like dating; it is more like a good marriage. The Bible even uses marriage as a picture of Christ’s relationship with His church. He loves us not based on the things we do or even who we are, but based on our covenant. Knowing Christ is not based on law, but grace.

When Paul met Jesus, he came to realize that all of his attempts at impressing God were nothing but garbage compared to knowing Christ. There is no greater pursuit. We are fully known–and fully loved–by the most important Person in the world. And He calls us to know Him deeper.

Father, may my deepest longing be to know Your Son.

In Life or in Death

Note from Tim: Over the next seven days I will be publishing a short devotional each morning (I began HERE). 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: Philippians 1:12-21

“…as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Philippians 1:20

We might expect that somebody imprisoned for nothing more than sharing the gospel would be embittered. Surely, Paul could have been spiteful toward his guards, the government, or even God. We might even make excuses for him. Yet Paul had joy, even while imprisoned and chained to a guard. His overriding concern during his greatest trial was that he honored Christ, whether it be by the way he lived his life or by his death.

Paul expected that he would be delivered. But whether that deliverance was through release from prison or release from the body, he knew that he was invincible because the Spirit of Christ indwelled him.

Because of Jesus you can face any circumstance with boldness. This honors and magnifies Christ. During difficult times, remember that Jesus is with you. Even in death, the power of the resurrection opens the door to eternal joy with Jesus.

Father, whatever I face today, help me to know that Christ is near. May this truth give me courage to honor Him.