Five Ways to Pray For Your Pastor at This Point in the Pandemic

This article was featured at Small Town Summits Articles.

When we had to make the decision to not meet physically as a church months ago, I thought the hardest decisions were behind us. One of my pastor friends shared a meme of Chris Farley walking down the aisle of a church building, high-fiving and chest-bumping with church members, ecstatic to be there. We all thought our first Sunday back would be something similar, thrilled to be back in church together before long.

But as I write this, many of us are still preaching online only. Others are gathering with drive-in or outdoor services, and a few are meeting indoors with precautions, including capacity limits.

 Every job has stress that has never been felt before right now, new situations that are facing us at work that we never thought we’d be thinking through. Pastors know that we are not unique in this and we are praying for you. But as a pastor, I want to ask you to pray specifically for your pastor and elders. They feel the weight of shepherding and leading the people of God. And the path ahead is foggy. They may be battling a low-grade sense of malaise, of wondering what crisis is next and how they will deal with it from a distance. Here are five ways to pray for your pastor and church leaders at this point in the pandemic.

1. For wisdom
Part of shepherding and leading a church is planning for the future. But it is hard to do that when we hardly know what next Sunday may look like. There are a multitude of decisions facing your pastor and leaders every day right now. Should there be singing in the sanctuary or not? Masks required or recommended? Virtual or in the sanctuary if the outdoor service is canceled due to rain? Should the Memorial Service be planned for mid-July or postponed indefinitely for now, or would it be best to just do it on Zoom? Should small groups begin to be planned for the Fall again?

Every one of our ministries has been affected or canceled and we often don’t know what is best. We certainly don’t know the future. Pray for wisdom for your pastor and elders. They are probably praying often for wisdom, claiming the promise of James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Can you also ask God for them?

2. For a shepherd’s heart
We want to advance the gospel. We want to disciple people. We want to fellowship. We want to encourage. But it’s hard right now. We are used to counseling people face to face and having difficult conversations looking in each other’s eyes rather than over the phone or by seeing each other in a box on our computer. We want to call everyone on the church list or go visit them in their driveway but decisions we didn’t want to make this week are forced upon us. Somebody goes into the hospital and we try to figure out whether or not we can visit them. Everything we do seems to take longer because all of our processes and routines are off, and we just can’t seem to make it through the list.

Pray that your pastor and elders will have perseverance, and continue to have the same shepherd’s hearts even if how the heart of Jesus is displayed through them looks different right now. Pray that they will know that Jesus is shepherding his sheep just fine. Pray that your pastor will have the patience to face his own shortcomings and trust that God will use his shepherding efforts during this crisis. Pray that he will rely on other church leaders and that they will give him the help that he needs.

3. For peace
Pastors are people too. And people struggle with worry, especially in a time of crisis. It could be that his wife’s job has been affected financially and nobody in the church knows. It could be that the church finances are struggling and he wonders if he will be able to continue serving there long-term even though he wants to, or if he will need to find a part-time job or cut staff. He may be worried about how this has affected his marriage, or whether or not certain new attendees who he has not seen online will come back.

He may be struggling with the right decisions about reopening. Some church members are saying none of this matters and everyone is overreacting. Others say they don’t know if they will ever come back as they have health problems or are caretakers for an elderly relative.

Pray that every day your pastor will find peace in Jesus as he leads others to peace in Jesus (John 14:27). Pray that he and your elders will ultimately care most about answering to God for how they led during this pandemic rather than what the loudest or most powerful church members think. Pray that they will run to God their Father for refuge and strength each and every day.

4. For rest
Pray for rest for your pastor. There may be the rare pastor who has somehow figured out how to pastor during this pandemic with the same workload he had before. But every pastor I know is tired. Many are struggling to take their regular day off. He may get to the end of the week every week and the demands for changing ministries and future planning that may feel futile have all just worn him out. He may be feeling inadequate for the challenges of the new week. It turns out that preaching to a computer in your pajama pants and dress shirt is exhausting.

One pastor friend explained it like this, “I get to late afternoon and I look at what I accomplished, and it seems like it should still be morning. I’m just in a fog.” I was telling someone recently that preaching has been a bit like a driving simulator that has a baby carriage, a dog, and an old lady pop out into the street at the most unexpected times. In a matter of weeks I’ve gone from preaching to a computer screen to preaching to cars to preaching to people on a lawn. I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue to preach God’s Word, but I always wonder if I did the best I could have. I didn’t realize the wind would blow my Bible pages around so much. Should we rearrange it a different direction next time due to the angle of the sun? Who was in that car over in the corner of our Drive-In Service?

Pray that your pastor will find and guard some sort of rhythm of rest during this time, both physically and spiritually. Pray that he will be able to figure out a way to take his vacation time. Pray that, contrary to all he feels, that he will realize that sometimes the most Christ-like thing he could do during this crisis is take a nap (Mark 4:37-38).

5. For his family
I have sometimes been guilty during this pandemic of caring for the needs of so many others and neglecting the needs right under my nose. Pray that your pastor would take the time to go do something outside with his family, and not feel guilty about it. Pray that he would make time in his constantly changing schedule to just be with them. Pray that his wife and children would know his love and care, and know how to support and share him during this crisis.

Pray that they would have unique opportunities to minister together as a family. Pray that they would know the joy of the Lord and the comfort of walking with him each day, step by step. Pray that by a miracle of God’s grace, that he and his family would come out on the other side of this crisis stronger in their relationships with each other.

One of the greatest gifts you can give your pastor is to faithfully pray for him, maybe even with him. At one point several weeks into the pandemic, we had an elder and deacon meeting in which we were making some decisions that could have a major impact towards gospel advance. But the decisions required courage and wisdom. I wanted both but just didn’t have it on Zoom that evening. During our prayer time, one of my brothers prayed for me out loud. Knowing what they were all dealing with at their jobs, it meant so much to hear his prayer for me. But more than that, I experienced the power of prayer for a pastor as I had more clarity of mind and strength in the rest of that meeting than I knew I had left.

 The Spirit works powerfully when his people pray. Prayer is not a ritual, but an actual tapping into the power of God. Be sure to pray for your pastor and church leaders today. They need it.

We Are All Shut-Ins Now: 3 Lessons I Don’t Want to Forget About Ministry to Shut-Ins

We are all shut-ins now. We are home but we have found just how exhausting it can be to be home all of the time. The daily grind begins to get at us mentally and socially in a way we never expected. We are restricted, but hopefully we have learned some empathy in our restrictions.

As I ask God what he wants me to learn during the crisis of COVID-19, there are multiple lessons. I’m learning to pray more, I’m being reminded of the preciousness of being with God’s people, and I’m freshly aware of “if the Lord wills, we will do this or that.” But one theme that keeps coming back to my mind is that I don’t want to forget to have more empathy with those who can’t go out when we are all out again. Here are three lessons from quarantine about ministry to shut-ins.

A Call Means a Lot
I remember the first time our small group met on Zoom about one week after stay-at-home orders. We were overjoyed to hear each other’s voices after just days into isolation. During this quarantine, when I pick up the phone and call someone, there is a connection through hearing each other’s voices again that uniquely says, “I haven’t forgotten about you.” When quarantine is over, I want to remember how much it means to hear the voice of someone I haven’t seen in weeks or months. I want to remember that for a shut-in, a call means a lot.

A Handwritten Note Means a Lot
My kids are more excited than ever to check the mail nowadays. And secretly, I am too. When we can’t gather as a church body, there is power in receiving a handwritten note from a friend. During quarantine, I can send out multiple church updates and prayer requests through e-mail. But holding a handwritten note and seeing somebody’s handwriting, knowing they took the time to mail that note of encouragement and prayer to you, means something different. The ironic thing is, seniors are primarily the ones I have received handwritten notes from during this crisis. So a handwritten note may be a key to their love language, reminding them of the church body’s love and God’s love for them.

A Visit Means a Lot
Stay-at-home orders came from our governor not long after I had major leg surgery. So quarantine for me has basically made me a shut-in with health problems who can hardly leave the house. When it has been a beautiful Spring day and my family has gone for a walk or hike, I have been on the couch icing and elevating my leg. This has made the couple of socially-distanced driveway visits we have had from church members incredibly encouraging. I have learned that when you can’t go anywhere, but people go to the trouble to come to you, it points to the love and kindness of God. I hope I never forget that.

Those who can no longer come to church need the church to go to them. Sometimes that may look like a call, sometimes a note, and other times a visit. And in God’s economy, both the “giver” and the “recipient” are blessed. Some of the most encouraging times of ministry have been reading Scripture with a blind shut-in or hearing that they are praying for my family and the church. I am sure that I have often been more encouraged in Christ than them after a visit.

I have not always done well with this ministry although I do try my best to practice it. By God’s grace, I want to not forget these three simple lessons that God has taught me about being a shut-in during this crisis.

Shut-ins commonly feel forgotten as they go through long days with all of their health struggles and isolation. Let’s remind them that they are not forgotten by us–or by God. The God who told us to rise in the presence of the aged (Leviticus 19:32) still tells us today to honor their presence when they are at home.

We are all shut-ins now. Let’s not forget what it’s like to be encouraged by someone who expresses the love of Christ and points you to the Lord.

Together In Our Solitude: The Power of “One Spirit” During COVID-19

One faith.

One Lord.

One baptism.

One body.

One Spirit.

I never knew the power of these phrases from Ephesians 2 until we were forced to shelter in place. But these inspired words have been infused with new meaning for our local church bodies. The power of “one Spirit” bringing us together in our solitude brought a smile to my face last week.

The tone on the other end of the line sounded again and I wondered how I could get their correct phone number. But suddenly, this time, a cheery voice came through on the other end.

“Hello, Jane?” I inquired.

“Oh, Pastor Tim, how wonderful to hear your voice!”

I had been trying to get ahold of the elderly couple who had recently moved to town. I was worried they would think no one from their new church cared. I wondered about their health. Was her husband’s heart ok?

Jane assured me they were fine. “We pray regularly for the church prayer requests you have been e-mailing,” she shared. “And we pray for you and your precious wife and kids every day.”

That’s when it hit me. One Spirit.

My concern for Jane and her husband was eclipsed by their daily prayers for me and my family. Because we share the same Holy Spirit, we are together in our solitude.

We are only a prayer away from strengthening hearts and impacting eternity.

The Spirit binds us even when we are apart. The Spirit works in our lives even when we are not physically in each other’s lives. The Spirit ministers in each person when I only wish I could minister in person.

Because of the power of the Spirit’s ministry, we are together in our solitude.

One faith.

One Lord.

One baptism.

One body.

One Spirit.

Even far apart.

 

Easter Was Made For a Time Like This

This article appeared in our local paper, The Manchester Journal, and also at the Baptist Convention of New England blog.

We are living in a time in which we are desperate for good news. We are all reading this hunkered down in our homes under the looming specter of disaster. We feel the state of emergency, and we see it with our eyes. It is on the signs on every business door and on faces everywhere we look. The mood has changed in our community, as friends or neighbors who might happen to see each other outside now talk from a distance. Anyone who dares to venture out to buy groceries notices the absence of the laughter of children. We worry about our elderly relatives and neighbors, even as we try to help them, all the while hoping we are not putting them at greater risk. We wince when we check the latest statistics on confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. We wonder how long this will go on. Oh, how desperately we need good news.

Just when we think the low-grade stress of trying to hide from an invisible enemy is getting unbearable, we hear of another cancellation of an event we had looked forward to for months. We know it is the right thing to do, and we might even feel guilty for wishing it wasn’t so, but we mourn our old lives nonetheless. As a parent, I am joining moms and dads all across the world who have to explain to their kids why their favorite spring activities are canceled.

But as a pastor, I am joining pastors all across the world explaining to their congregations that Easter is not canceled.

No, we are not physically meeting. But Easter is not canceled because Easter was made to bring good news to a world that groans under the strain of more bad news. Easter was made for a time like this.

Jesus’ disciples were crushed after Jesus’ death on the cross. They were confused. But when the report of the empty tomb reached them, and when Jesus himself stood in front of them again so much alive that they could touch him and watch him eat, his earlier words flooded back. Right before he had raised Lazarus from the dead they had heard him proclaim, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) Now they understood that Jesus’ resurrection was the guarantee of their resurrection. It sealed his promise of eternal life for those who would believe in him.

Some say the resurrection is a time of celebration of new life, as if it is nothing more than a celebration of Spring. Certainly the fact that it took place during a time of new life on earth is bursting with meaning. But if that is all it means, Easter is hollow. We need something more substantial. We need a resurrection.

As our church joins churches around the world during this historic Easter, celebrating the resurrection for the first time virtually and not physically gathered, our joy will be no less. We will wish it was different. We may shed tears of loss and heartbreak. But we will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection with joy because we know that in his conquering of death, he has promised to make all things new. The Bible looks forward to a day when fear and abuse and hunger and loneliness and viruses will all die, never to raise their ugly heads again. And in their demise, a new heaven and a new earth will be created, a place that believers in King Jesus were made to live in with their resurrection bodies. 

This is good news. This is why Easter was made for a time like this. And because of Easter, because of Jesus, I invite you to make this best of news your news.

The Engine That Drives a Good Marriage

This piece first appeared on The Gospel Coalition site.

“I do.” With those two words, my life was forever changed. It was a cold but sunny December afternoon. About 200 family members and friends smiled as the pastor who’d mentored me asked me if I would take Melanie as my lawfully wedded wife.

I still remember standing there in my suit, more excited than I’d ever been in my life, and experiencing something rare: a calm nervousness. I was calm because I was looking into my bride’s radiant eyes. But I was nervous because I knew I was stepping into something bigger than me. I knew my life would never be the same. My calm nervousness welled up into thrilled joy when she looked at me with a huge grin and exclaimed those two words as well.

We were married.

What I couldn’t articulate at the time, but what I’ve experienced day by day since, is that I needed the gospel to be a picture for my marriage but also the reality that supports my marriage. I wanted our marriage to point others to the gospel, but I also knew we’d need a power outside ourselves to sustain us over the long haul of covenant love.

What I needed, what I continue to need, what you need, is the gospel as a picture for marriage, resulting in marriage as a picture of the gospel, all sustained by God’s omnipotent strength.

Gospel Contemplation

God has created an incredible dynamic between the gospel and marriage. The gospel is for us to look at and emulate, but as we look at this incredible painting, an amazing thing happens. Our marriages begin to become a picture themselves that point others to the gospel.

This back and forth between the gospel and marriage is one reason that, in Ephesians 5:22–33, the apostle Paul seems to go back and forth between talking about marriage and the gospel. The two are intertwined by design.

You have to begin by looking to Jesus—to how God loves you in covenant relationship—before you can share this kind of love with your spouse. Because one aspect of the gospel is this incredible picture of the marriage relationship, we can grow in our marriages when we look to the love of Jesus for his bride.

I like to call this gospel contemplation, since basking in the rays of what Jesus has done for you and beholding the gospel in all its intricacies is helping you to better understand true covenant love. Every married person should think about questions like: How—specifically—does Jesus love the church? What is unique about the way he loves her?

Gospel Reflection

But you also need to see how your marriage is a picture of the gospel. I call this gospel reflection. A reflection in a mirror isn’t the reality, but it’s a good likeness of it. The mirror might be bright and clear, or smudged and dirty. But the reflection points to the reality just as our marriages point to the covenant relationship of God with his people. So we need to evaluate periodically what kind of picture of Jesus we are portraying in our marriages.

There is a problem I have every autumn. We live in Vermont, and I will see a mountain bursting with gold and orange and red, and try to get a photo with my iPhone 7. Invariably, it doesn’t even come close to capturing the jaw-dropping display of colored foliage. I need an upgrade to a real camera. I can see the beauty, but my equipment doesn’t have the power to reflect it.

You may feel the way I do about my smartphone camera when you think about trying to reflect the gospel in your marriage. You see its beauty, but you lack the equipment to accurately reflect it. So the problem, and the solution, is plain: you need Jesus in order to point to Jesus.

Trying to reflect God’s design for marriage without leaning into Christ is like trying to drive 75 miles an hour with your radio blaring and wipers going, but not stopping to put gas into your tank. Try loving your spouse like Jesus loves the church without returning to the source of gospel power, and your marriage will soon run out of gas. In fact, it’s like trying to drive your car without an engine at all.

I’ve noticed almost a direct parallel between my walk with Jesus and how I treat my wife. When I’m in the Word daily and talking to Christ in prayer, I tend to reflect more clearly his love for my wife. But when I’m surviving on spiritual fumes, it’s so easy for me to grow impatient, selfish, and rude.

The gospel is the engine for your marriage. So look to Jesus, and as much as possible, look to him together.

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.