Senior Adult, You Are Loved and Needed

This article was featured on The Gospel Coalition.

In our world that so often prizes and idolizes youth, it can be hard to sense that “Gray hair is a crown of glory” (Prov. 16:31). As I’ve talked over the years with those who are retired and beyond, I’ve noticed that many think they’ve lost their place in society and the church.

But God places no expiration date on serving him. There is no moment until our last breath that we aren’t to live our lives for his glory. Your church body needs you. We need the gifts and unique life experience of all generations. And there is something particularly helpful to your church family that points to God’s faithfulness when you continue to serve—even if the ways you serve may change across the years.

As Psalm 92:14–15 expresses it, “They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”

Sometimes you may not feel that your church wants you to serve. I will tell you, as a pastor in his early 40s, that you are loved and needed. We may not always be good at expressing this, but most of us want to grow in communicating our love for you and in helping you find ways to serve in the church body. What a blessing it has been to me when a senior has taken the initiative to ask me how to serve. Maybe it is time for you to take that initiative, or maybe you need encouragement to continue what you’re already doing.

Six Ways to Serve

I want to cheer you on with six ways you can serve your church. There are more, but I hope this will give you several ways to pray and consider. I hope they give you the boldness you may need to continue to serve God all your days.

1. Pray

The ways you can serve God through serving your church will change as you change across the years. You may need to change from serving in the music ministry to serving on the greeting team. You may find you don’t have the energy to teach the children’s class anymore, but you can still serve in the nursery.

But one thing that will never change is the gift of serving your church through prayer. I have often seen the gospel advance and then heard from a senior that she was praying. It doesn’t matter if you’re fresh out of retirement or homebound. You can make an eternal difference through prayer. Sometimes, contrary to all appearances, it’s a bent-over little old lady who makes the gates of hell tremble as Jesus uses her prayers to build his church.

2. Encourage and Love

Recently I listened with a smile and praised God as a lady in her 80s told me she was bringing soup to a man in our church who’s in a wheelchair and has been sick. Could you thank young moms for bringing their babies to church, as you remember how hard it was to attend church with a baby? Ladies, is there a single lady or a recent empty-nester you could call, asking her how you could pray for her? Men, is there a young man in the church you could talk to this Sunday about his job and family, asking how you could pray for him? Could you send a note to someone in the church body this week or visit someone in the hospital or someone who is lonely?

3. Be Present

Once I invited an elderly member of our congregation to come over for our coffee after the worship service. She held onto her walker in the foyer with both hands and said she would love to, but she has to go home immediately after worship because of her strength and health. That conversation has stuck with me. She hardly misses a Sunday, but her presence during the worship service is her sacrificial way to serve God and love others. Each Sunday I see her hugging someone in the congregation and shaking her head in agreement as I preach God’s Word. We need her. The day will come when we will need to go to her rather than her coming to us, but until then her ministry is to be present for one service a week. God sees that effort and is pleased. And he is using it to bless me and others.

4. Talk About God’s Faithfulness

“One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (Ps. 145:4). We need to hear your stories of God’s provision, of him helping you through the loss of your child, of him saving the hard relative that you prayed for across years. We need to hear of your marriage struggles and triumphs, and of what God is teaching you right now through your cancer fight.

This may happen through a phone call or a note, through a comment in Bible study, or through a conversation after church. There are things God has taught you that only come through marinating in his Word for decades, experiencing some of the disappointments of life, and realizing that he is your greatest treasure and joy. Don’t hesitate to share with us what God has taught you. We need to hear it.

5. Look for Ways to Help

My grandmother, who is turning 90 this summer, goes into her church office weekly and folds the bulletin. This not only saves the office manager time, but my grandmother blesses her each week. (The office manager went out of her way to tell me this.) Our church has recently been helped by church members in their 70s who have used their knowledge of home repair and construction to do things from installing new light fixtures to overseeing a remodel on our sanctuary.

They’ve saved us thousands of dollars that we can devote to ministry and missions because they were willing to use daytime hours to help with a project when others were at work. Would you serve your church body by praying about how you could help, and then ask your pastor or ministry leaders if you could serve in specific ways?

6. Ask Us For Help

One of the ways that you can best serve us is sometimes in not meeting a need, but in allowing us to meet your need. I have found the body of Christ is resilient and responsive when needs are known, whether it is helping with meals during a sickness or giving a ride to the doctor or a Bible study, or helping with a needed home repair. One of the ways that seniors have blessed me the most as a pastor is by being open with me about what their needs are, giving others an opportunity to serve them. We are at our best when we look like the family of God that we are, and you can help us by letting us know if there’s a specific way we can serve you.

The enemy wants you to believe that you’re rejected and useless. But God speaks a better word over your life: “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you” (Isa. 46:4). Let’s believe this together.

Celebrating the Years Together: A Husband Shares Christ-Centered Insights Gleaned From Sixteen Years of Marriage

Note from Tim: I originally wrote this article for Lifeway’s HomeLife Magazine. It is republished here with permission & this blog post may be shared. By God’s grace we have now celebrated 17 years of marriage!

MY WIFE, MELANIE, AND I recently celebrated 16 years of marriage. Sometimes it seems people think that because our marriage is sweet that it must be easy. I’m actually skeptical of people who proclaim that marriage is easy. Joyful, yes. Easy, most days. A Christ-honoring marriage requires commitment, sacrifice, and a willingness to grow. We’re both sinners, but God in His great grace loves to empower, redeem, and bless couples that are committed to growing in love for Him and for each other.

Knowing that Jesus should make a difference in our marriage and yours, here are 16 Christ-centered insights gleaned from 16 years of marriage.

Hold onto hope & onto each other, no matter what kind of season you’re in right now.

  1. Stay Close to God
    When I’m reading my Bible daily and talking regularly to the Lord in prayer, my relationship with my wife is usually improved greatly. Why? Your spouse was never designed by the Creator to fulfill for you what only He can.

  2. Don’t Forget Your Covenant Vows 
    Love is a wonderful gift from God, but feelings or even acts of love in and of themselves will not sustain a marriage. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison to an engaged couple in his church, “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but … the marriage that sustains your love.” When you said I do, you entered into a covenant before God and witnesses. Remember that the vows you said at your marriage can sustain and even strengthen your love.

  3. Embrace Love as a Sweet Gift of God
    Enjoy every moment of wedded bliss. Life in a fallen world will throw curve balls at you. Sickness and stress will remind you often enough that you don’t live together in Eden. So relish those moments that are echoes of Eden! There is a Bible verse that reminds me to enjoy life with my wife, and that not everybody is given even 16 years together: “Enjoy life with the wife you love all the days of your fleeting life, which has been given to you under the sun, all your fleeting days. For that is your portion in life and in your struggle under the sun” (Eccl. 9:9). Life is a vapor. Enjoy your spouse’s love and love your spouse back with all that you have.

  4. Help Each Other Grow in Christ-likeness 
    Encourage your spouse to take advantage of opportunities to grow in Christ. Make it easy for him or her to be involved in a Bible study. Talk about what God is doing in your life and what you’re learning about Him. Get deeply involved in a local church where you can worship, learn, and serve together.

  5. Have Fun Together
    My grandparents, who were married for 64 years, used to say that one of their secrets for a happy marriage was laughing together. They were right. If your marriage seems more like a roommate situation than friends and lovers, maybe it’s time to plan a fun outing together that you will both enjoy. The happiest part of any of my days is seeing my bride laugh.

  6. Grow in Communication
    Anyone married for more than a few weeks knows that we don’t automatically communicate in God-glorifying ways that lift each other up. God has put you on the same team to help each other out as you work, serve Him, create a home, and grow together. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11).

  7. Always Look to Christ
    We, as married couples, have the awesome job of reflecting the relationship between Christ and the church to the world, our families, and other believers. Our marriage is to be a picture of the gospel to others. “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband” (Eph. 5:22-33). When we look to Jesus for how to treat our spouse, He also gives us strength to do so.

  8. Plan Time Together
    Work and life responsibilities can be consuming. I’m so thankful for the pastor I worked with when Melanie and I were married. He brought me to Deuteronomy 24:5 and taught me how the Israelite men would stay home from war for one year after getting married so they could focus on their new marriage. He taught me that spending time with my wife was never wasted time. God makes it a priority and so should we. Don’t coast in your marriage.

  9. Pursue and Embrace Forgiveness
    Melanie has taught me more about how Jesus loves me than anyone else because she has lived with me point blank for 16 years and yet she continues to love me and forgive me when I sin against her. “And be kind and compas- sionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ” (Eph. 4:32).

  10. Remember That You’re on the Same Team
    We clear up conflict much quicker than we did when we were first married 16 years ago. Why? Partly because we know that we’re on the same team. There is only one who is our enemy and that’s Satan. When you know deep down that you’re on the same team, it goes a long way to building the “one flesh” kind of unity that God calls us to in Genesis 2:24.

  11. Love With a Serving Love
    The Savior wants me to love my wife like He loves her. One of the best ways I can do that is by learning to serve her. Jesus showed His love to His disciples with a basin and towel as He washed their feet. There is nothing God can call me to do for my wife that is too great of a sacrifice. “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Your Savior laid down His very life for His bride.

  12. Love With a Hopeful Love
    God calls us to not only love our spouse for who he or she is, but also to pray for him or her to grow into godliness, even as you grow in your walk with Christ. Remember that God isn’t finished with your spouse yet. Who your spouse is 16 years from now will in part be a reflection of how well you have loved him or her.

  13. Pray Together
    I’m still growing into this. Over the years, I’ve been challenged by godly men to pray every day with my wife — and more than just at meals. I’ve found that without purposeful planning, it won’t happen. Praying together will help you to pursue God as a couple. It will reveal and knit your hearts together as you come to the throne of grace as one.

  14. Hold Onto Each Other During the Changing Seasons
    Your marriage will change with the different seasons of life as you both change over the years. I’ve known my wife as a college student, young professional, pastor’s wife, new mother, and mother of a middle schooler. She has known me in a similar way. One day, Lord willing, we will know each other as grandparents and retirees who are still serving the Lord. Some seasons are more difficult than others, but when we press into Christ and toward each other, even the trying seasons can become beautiful as God matures us. Hold onto hope and onto each other, no matter what kind of season you’re in right now.

  15. Build a Legacy
    Live with each other not just for this moment, but also for the next decade and the next five decades. Having the perspective that our choices today will impact our children and grandchildren — even generations that we will never meet — will build patterns in our lives that put eternity first. The legacy of a couple that is deeply in love with God and madly in love with each other has a bigger impact than we will ever know until heaven.

  16. Expect the Best to Keep Getting Better 
    I thank God every day for Melanie. I can’t imagine life and love without her. She’s mine and mine alone. This applies to your spouse too. The pastor who married us 16 years ago looked at me during the ceremony and said, “Tim, Melanie is God’s best for you.” Then he looked at Melanie and said, “Melanie, Tim is God’s best for you.”

Continue to pursue your spouse, God’s best for you, every day. “Be lost in her love forever” (Prov. 5:19).

A Christian’s Declaration of Stability In God In an Unstable Country

2020 has been a year of instability for the United States. I–and so many others–have never felt the stresses and strains of living in what we would call an “unstable country,” until now. But that doesn’t change my stability in God.

As we see new developments each day, and new crises and controversies that can stretch our faith and test our sanctification, perhaps you can pray each of these commitments with me, daily.

Every day I will choose to:

  • Praise God regardless of how He is answering my prayers (Psalm 145:2-3). Every day, regardless of the new headlines, I will repeat the Psalmist’s declaration: “Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” God is worthy of praise because He is God, not because He has answered my prayers the way I think He should.
  • Remember that God sets up & tears down kingdoms for His purposes (Daniel 2:21, 4:34-35). My generation is not the first that He has worked mightily in through upheaval, and unless Jesus returns first, it won’t be the last. God is not wringing His hands in Heaven in despair or wishing He could do more. The “king’s” heart is in His sovereign hands (Proverbs 21:1). I will remember that God is working through generations over decades and centuries and millennia, not just today. Every day I will choose to believe and remember that my time and place is just a small part of His great tapestry of redemption.
  • Be an active and good citizen to the best of my ability, shining light where it needs to be & being involved in the political process as much as is helpful. I will do what I believe God is calling me to do to make our country a better place (Jeremiah 29:7). I will not hesitate to contact my legislators, to vote informed, and to raise awareness when appropriate. I can do this without it overtaking my witness for Christ (I want to win people to Christ, not to a political party). I will work hard to hold the tension between being involved as a citizen because decisions in government do really matter, but remembering that in the end even the country I love is not my ultimate home. I am a citizen of the Unites States, so I care, but I am a citizen of Heaven, so I trust.
  • Trust my children’s unknown future to a known God. Corrie ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God,” and I will apply this biblical principle to not only my life, but to the concerns I have for the country my children will inherit. The same God who has been my shepherd will be the same God who will shepherd them in decades to come (Genesis 48:15-16).
  • Pray that God will use this unstable time in our country to prepare hearts for another great awakening of faith in Christ. God has chosen to bring many to Christ through times of national unrest in the past, and I will pray that He will do it again, for His glory. It is often when the rug is pulled out from under people that they begin to ask questions about God or Jesus. In our own country, “The Jesus Movement” followed the tumultuous 60s. In our own time, I will pray that many will come to know Jesus as they begin to question where their trust is. I will pray that many believers will rise up to not be afraid to share the stability of knowing God in Christ, and that churches will be strengthened to be true to the Word, discipleship, and evangelism.
  • Preach the gospel to myself and others, reminding myself that I am not my own but have been bought with a price. My life is not my own. I have been placed in this time in history and this place in the world on purpose, for a purpose–which is to glorify God by knowing Christ and making Him known. It is no accident that I live here and now (Acts 17:26). I will share the hope of Jesus with all in my community who will listen. Jesus truly is our only hope. I will remember that eternity is more significant than this moment in history, and that each person I interact with–either in-person or online–is an eternal being who either needs Jesus or whom I will spend eternity with in Heaven. God will hold me accountable for each word I speak or type (Matthew 12:36-37).
  • Spend more time in the Word than reading or listening or watching politics each day. My mind will be renewed by God speaking through His Word (1 Timothy 3:16), not by being immersed in the latest political development. I can dip into the news and be informed without it becoming the driving force behind my thinking–which is the place of God’s Word alone. Charles Spurgeon is attributed with rightly observing, “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” I am not putting my head in the sand–I will be informed–but I am intentionally choosing to listen to God’s voice more than any other, which puts my feet on solid rock.
  • Remember that many of the people of God have gone through more difficult trials in their countries and have still held fast to Christ (Hebrews 10:34). From the prophets & faithful Israelites before Christ, to countless faithful believers in church history, to the persecuted church around the world today, many have gone before me in great persecution–and just plain unrest–and have continued to hold fast to Christ. Simply because I was born in the U.S., I am no better than my brothers and sisters in Christ half way around the world who are refugees worshiping in a makeshift tent with only a bag of possessions left to their name. In fact, I will look to them for examples of perseverance in the faith in the face of great political upheaval.
  • Hold fast to God in faith, rather than letting fear build in my heart. I want my actions and my words to be led by faith, not fear. Every day I will choose to remember that God is for me (Romans 8:31), that Jesus loves me (Galatians 2:20), and that the Holy Spirit empowers me and is even in me (John 14:15-20, 27).

At the funeral of the Puritan Richard Sibbes, Isaak Walton remarked, “…Heaven was in him, before he was in heaven.” May heaven be more seen in us because of our longings, actions, prayers, and reflection of God’s heart. May the same be said of us in spite of–no, because of–this moment in our country’s history.

4 Ways to Honor Marriage

God commands us, “Let marriage be held in honor among all…” (Hebrews 13:4a) The word “honor” is sometimes translated “precious” in the Bible. It is used to talk of precious stones used in the Temple (1 Kings 7:9-11 in the Greek translation of the Old Testament), of the precious stones that make up the walls of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 18), and of Christ’s precious blood (1 Peter 1:19). In other words, whether married or single, young or old, Christians are called by God to prize marriage. It was created by him for blessing and to be embedded in the world as a pointer to the gospel (Ephesians 5:22-33 which quotes Genesis 2).

Here are four ways you can hold marriage in honor, as something precious & valuable. The first two are ways you can honor marriage as a married couple, and the second two are ways both singles and married couples can obey Hebrews 13:4.

1) Be faithful to your marriage covenant. The full text of Hebrews 13:4 reads, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” God declares that the first way to honor marriage is to be faithful to your marriage covenant. When you said, “I do,” you weren’t simply signing a contract. You were entering into a covenant before God and witnesses. Part of keeping that covenant is to stay sexually faithful to your spouse.

God gives a strong warning to help us be faithful in marriage: “For God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Heb. 13:4b) In the Old Covenant, the punishment for adultery was death (Leviticus 20:10). In the New Covenant, we can be thankful that Jesus took the punishment of death for us. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have God’s discipline and judgment if you are unfaithful to your wife or husband. Often “natural” consequences of adultery such as shattered trust, potential STDs (testing is needed after a confession), pregnancy outside of marriage, and the complicated relationship problems that follow are God’s judgment. King David’s life after adultery in 2 Samuel should be warning enough.

But there is also the spiritual side. Before adultery is committed, there has been a gradual falling away from God. Jesus warned about adultery and hell (Matthew 5:27-30) and the Apostle Paul includes “the sexually immoral” and “adulterers” in the list of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9). Part of repentance if you have been unfaithful to your marriage covenant is examining your heart before God. There is grace and forgiveness if we will come to Christ after any sin. Paul explains the gospel in the same passage, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified…” (1 Corinthians 6:11)

God warns us against his judgment to protect us spiritually and to protect us in our marriage relationships. He wants you to honor–to prize–marriage and that starts with being faithful to your marriage covenant.

2) Enjoy the gift of your spouse.
Hebrews 13:4 doesn’t just give us a warning. One great way that we honor marriage is by enjoying the gift of our spouses. God also says, “…and let the marriage bed be undefiled.” This is tied into the deterrent of consequences due to adultery or other forms of sexual immorality, but it is also a reminder that the purity of sex in marriage is good and created by God. Remember when it was common in Christian jargon to say, “I’m keeping myself pure until marriage?” Those who said it had good intentions, but a better way to say it would be, “I am saving sex for the purity and enjoyment of sex in marriage.” We need to embrace the gracious reality that the marriage bed is designed by God to be a place of purity and refreshment (Proverbs 5:15-19).

Anything God has designed to be beautiful and refreshing can become stained and stagnant due to our sin. But the gospel redeems what we may have polluted by our sin. When you repent of any sexual sin, either adultery or lust in any of its forms, and embrace the gift of your spouse, God loves to transform and renew. When God speaks to a newly married couple, this is his banner over their marriage bed, his wedding gift to them and to you no matter how long you’ve been married: “Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!” (Song of Solomon 5:1)

The gift of the marriage bed is just the cherry on top of the marriage relationship. You honor marriage when you enjoy the gift of your spouse as your closest friend.  One of the reasons God created marriage was to create life-long companionship in a lonely world (Genesis 2:18). We honor marriage when we build into that one-flesh relationship and when we enjoy life with our spouses. The writer of Ecclesiastes encourages this in 9:9. Do you see the world through her eyes? Do you know what his greatest joys and deepest difficulties are right now? If not, set some intentional time aside. Go have fun together and ask a few questions–and listen. Your time on earth and your time with your husband or wife is limited, so honor marriage by enjoying the gift of your spouse.

3) Celebrate anniversaries.
I used to look at happy couples in their 70s or 80s who have been married for 50 or 60 years and think that their success in marriage is due to them being very compatible. I didn’t express it that way and I couldn’t have backed that up biblically. But it’s easy to see a couple who can now complete each other’s sentences and think that they coasted into their golden years together, always with smiles on their faces and kind words on their lips. Now that I’ve been married almost two decades myself, have counseled and talked about marriage with many couples over the years as a pastor, and have studied what the Bible says about marriage–I know that I was completely off-target.

Every anniversary is a hard-won victory. Every anniversary is a declaration to Satan and the world that God’s power and grace at the cross is greater than our sin. Every anniversary is a renewal of vows, a break in the day-to-day that says, “I still do.” Every anniversary is a reminder that our marriage is a shadow of the greater marriage between Christ and his bride (Ephesians 5:31-32), every anniversary dinner a pointer to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

We don’t coast into decades of marriage. We fight into decades of marriage. We fight our flesh and the devil and the world that tells us we will never be happy with one–while all the while God calls us into the deeper delicacies of delighting in marriage one day, one decade at a time. We can never coast in marriage because we are called to reflect the gospel in marriage, and Jesus always pursues us.

You honor marriage by celebrating your anniversaries, whether that is a carefully-planned and hard-budgeted weekend away, or take-out on the couch like we did when our youngest was only a few months old. We also honor marriage when we recognize and celebrate God’s work in a couple through honoring their anniversary–as simple as a comment on social media or in-person or as elaborate as helping to plan a party.

4) Build up other couples.
One of my favorite types of counseling to do is premarital counseling. Maybe it’s because there are not often major problems to untangle, but I think it has more to do with the fact that my wife and I usually do this together in our home. As we talk about biblical principles for communication and forgiveness and money and sex and portraying the gospel in marriage with a starry-eyed couple, there’s a joy in sharing our own mistakes and victories. The oneness we share deepens as we shock the couple with the fact that they will fight some day, and soothe them with the fact that with the love of Jesus they can overcome any argument or obstacle.

What I have just described is something that any couple can do for any other couple, whether or not they know Jesus. We often think that building up other marriages means that we need special training or an office, but so many young couples wish they had an older couple to just talk with over a cup of coffee in their home.

This is an area the entire church can link arms in. Singles can build up couples by praying for them, offering occasional childcare for date nights, or by simply sharing a word of encouragement in Christ. We often think that only marriage counseling builds other couples up, but pushing each other to Jesus as we are called to do in the church is the best thing we can do for marriage. Often elderly couples who will never know they helped somebody will be the encouragement a younger couple in the church needs. It may be just by seeing one of them help the other through getting the walker out of the car and slowly going into the Sanctuary together. Build up other couples, both intentionally and by being present in their lives.

“Let marriage by held in honor among all…” Prize marriage. Hold marriage as precious. In doing this, we point to the enduring, sacrificial love of Jesus. And we help others along their pilgrimage to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.