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.

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!