The Lord Does Not Despise the Day of Small Things

This article originally appeared at Small Town Summits Articles. I serve as the Content Manager for STS Articles.

“Oh, that’s good that you’ll be in a small church for your first Lead Pastorate,” the well-meaning former church member commented. “It will be a great opportunity before God expands your ministry.” In the context of our conversation, the idea was that a small church would be a place of growth until God called me on to bigger and better things. They weren’t trying to be rude or demeaning, but the insinuation was that a small church in a small town was a good place for a pastor in his mid-thirties, so that God could use him in a bigger place when he was older and wiser and could handle more responsibility.

My friend did not seem to know that being a pastor of a small church means that you have to wear more hats and be more of a “Renaissance man” than you usually have to be in a larger church. I was going from an Associate Pastor role with five full-time or part-time support staff members who partly helped my ministry through administration, copying, scheduling or helping with e-mails, to being the only staff member. My first week in the new church office, my first week preparing and copying the bulletin on my own, my first week sending out the Children’s Church volunteer e-mail and checking the church post office box, my respect grew exponentially for all of the small-town pastors who have to broaden their skills and manage their schedules to handle a more diverse set of responsibilities. No matter how much you delegate, the rubber-meets-the-road reality of being a small-town pastor will sometimes mean that the joke I once heard is true: “Happy ‘Small-Church Pastor Day.’ Here’s a plunger.” 

Most days I don’t mind this reality, and today I am helped in some of those responsibilities by volunteers or part-time staff. But other days I need God’s help to see that not only does God not want me to despise the day of small things, but he does not despise it either.

This glorious reality became fresh to me again in a recent Men’s Bible Study through the minor prophets. We were studying Zechariah and we came to chapter 4. I was floored by this verse: “For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice…(Zechariah 4:10a)

Zechariah was a prophet to the nation of Israel during a difficult time. About 50,000 Israelites had returned from exile in Babylon to rebuild the country that had fallen into ruin for 70 years. But opposition from enemies and apathy from within God’s own people had caused the work to be abandoned for 16 years. When the foundation of the temple had been completed, the young men who had never seen it in its former glory rejoiced greatly, but the older men who remembered its prior greatness wept out loud. Now, years later, the faithful were hopeless, having seen God start to work but wondering if they would ever see the completion. And many of God’s chosen people were there in person but just didn’t seem to care in spirit.

God sent both Zechariah and Haggai to stir up his people. Part of their mission, like the mission of any faithful preacher today, was to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. God promised that what was started with the temple would be completed, even soon. What seemed impossible would happen because the Lord of all the earth would accomplish it: “Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.” (Zechariah 4:7-10)

What seemed impossible would happen because the Lord of hosts would accomplish it. Those who had despised the day of small things would rejoice. But here is the truth that you and I need to see, fellow small-town pastor or ministry leader: even though God promised that a day of rejoicing would come when the work on the temple would be accomplished, that temple was so much smaller than the temple during Solomon’s splendor. It would be a great work, but it would be a small work.

It would bring rejoicing even from those who had despised the small beginnings before, but it would still be small. And God was pleased with it.

God was saying in effect, “Don’t despise what I am pleased with.”

This call to both long for God to do great things and yet to be content with where God has our church and our work in our small places today can seem impossible sometimes. How can we both want revival more and yet need it less, as Small Town Summits co-founder Stephen Witmer calls us to?  

The secret is in Zechariah 4:6: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.”

Fellow laborers in small places, you have an even better word than Zechariah received because you are a minister of the New Covenant. You not only have the promise that God will accomplish his work in small places because of his Spirit’s work, you actually have the Holy Spirit living in you to bring you God’s power and strength and joy for each new day.

And if you have ever despised the day of small things, be still before the Lord and seek his heart for your small-place ministry. Hear him say to you, “Whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice.”

That rejoicing can begin today. God’s Spirit guarantees it.

5 Reasons I Love Being a Pastor

My article first appeared on the Baptist Convention of New England’s blog.

Being a pastor is difficult. I remember my mentor in ministry telling me when I was in my early twenties that if I could do anything else, I should do that. He warned me there would be days that I wished I was working in any other sort of job. He was right. I can tend towards dwelling on the difficult and the negative some days because they are what so often are calling for our attention: solving problems, considering the next step in loosening or tightening COVID restrictions, wondering how this next phone call or meeting will go, remembering that I forgot to check in with somebody undergoing a trial. The list goes on.

But there are also many blessings in being a pastor. There are so many reasons I count it one of the greatest privileges of my life, so many reasons to thank God for being a pastor and so many reasons I love being a pastor.

In keeping with Paul’s admonition to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things,” (Phil. 4:8) I want to list five of the many reasons I love being a pastor.

1. I get to teach and study God’s Word as part of my job.

For all of the stresses that being a pastor entails, and the pressure of the Sunday morning sermon deadline, and all of the spiritual battles that come my way, every week I get to – and am expected to – spend hours studying God’s Word and preparing to teach it. This is an inestimable privilege.

I once heard an older pastor say that he couldn’t believe that he gets paid to study God’s Word. That is a perspective that I need to keep in mind and thank God for weekly. It is a joy to spend time in God’s Word and be filled up with it and challenged by it so that I can have the joy of equipping, encouraging and stretching God’s people with it. May I never take this for granted.

2. I get to be there for people’s highs and lows in life.

Some of my favorite moments in pastoring are being right there for the ups and downs of people’s lives and being used by God in those situations to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).

It is a joy to pray with new parents while holding a newborn baby, and it is a joy to see the radiance in the eyes of a couple getting married while standing right behind them. It is also a different, somber kind of joy to be able to help a couple apply God’s Word to their marriage struggles when the need for counseling comes. It is something I would never trade to have the privilege of praying with a newly bereaved relative thanking God for the life of their loved one, sometimes while the body is still in the room.

These intense times of ministry bond me with God’s people and remind me each time of some of the unique reasons I love being God’s hands and feet. It is also special to be able to often minister during these highs and lows in people’s lives with my wife as she uses her gifts with me. May I never take this for granted.

3. I get a front-row seat to God’s work.

Another benefit to being a pastor that I love is getting a front-row seat to God’s work. The average church member does not have the joy of seeing some of the mercy ministry that goes on in secret in the life of a church. It is a holy privilege to know about an act of love in Jesus’ name that only God, myself and the other person involved know about due to confidentiality. It is a distinctive joy to not only ache at marriage problems but also to rejoice with a couple who is now reaping the benefits of following God’s ways in their relationship. I alone get to “see the lightbulb come on” in the middle of a sermon for that person who has been trying to figure out what they believe about Jesus. I alone sometimes get to see tears of repentance over sin or tears of hope due to longing for Heaven and being reunited with a beloved spouse or child.

I know that God is always doing a million things and that we are usually only aware of a few of them at any given moment, but as a pastor I literally get to see God’s invisible hand working out his plan for His glory and His people’s good every week, if I have the eyes to see it. May I never take this for granted.

4. I get to see people come to know Jesus as Savior and Lord and then baptize them.

“I wasn’t sure before, but I know that I know Jesus now,” the 16-year old boy told me in the car as we drove from Subway after getting his monthly favorite sub (ham with black olives – lots of black olives!) and catching up on high school life.

“What’s the change?” I asked, excited as I had been praying for him for years as he had been coming to youth group ever since I became a youth pastor.

“I didn’t care about sin before, but now I don’t want to sin anymore because I love Jesus,” he replied.

I never would have been part of that conversation if God had not called me to be a pastor. Baptisms – whether the believer going public grew up in the church or recently began to attend – are some of the most joyous Sundays on the calendar. When you get to talk about the gospel, make disciples and baptize as part of your job, you are blessed. May I never take this for granted.

5. I get the privilege of serving Jesus as His errand boy.

Harold Senkbeil, in his book The Care of Souls, says that a sheepdog’s tail is always wagging when he is working and that he always has one eye on his master. Too often my tail is not wagging because in those moments or days I have my eyes off of the master. But some days, as I look to the day ahead and ask Jesus for strength and wisdom to serve His church that He has promised to build, it will hit me with a wave of joy: I get the privilege to serve Jesus as His errand boy today – wherever and in whatever way He may choose to take me for that day or that season. May I never take this for granted.

I don’t say it often enough – I love being a pastor.

Faithful Endurance: A Book Review of a Book Pastors Need in 2021

My article originally appeared at the Small Town Summits website as part of Small Town Summits Articles, for which I serve as Content Manager. This article was also featured on The Gospel Coalition’s “Around the Web” listing.

This past year has found me asking God now more than ever, “Help me to faithfully endure as a pastor. I need your strength. I need your wisdom. I need your grace.” It’s not that I have wanted to quit. And it’s not that we do not see God’s blessing on our church during one of the most difficult years in recent memory. In fact, in 2020 we saw God’s hand on our church in blessing and sustaining and expanding our ministry more than we have in past years. So why did I desperately pray for God’s help so often this year? Simply for the same reason that I hear from my other pastor friends: we are tired. 

We are tired of walking the tightrope between government regulations and freedom of worship. We are tired of the tension of valid health concerns and wanting to do ministry boldly at a time that people need it most. We are tired of trying to shepherd some through masks and others through Zoom. We are tired of facing the stresses and constant changes and challenges of doing our job during a worldwide pandemic—as all in our church are in their work also. 

But there is gospel hope in pandemic fatigue. The same Lord who shepherds our people is the same Lord who stands with us every day as pastors (2 Timothy 4:17). We need powerful reminders of this as we look ahead to 2021 and continue to pray for God’s strength, wisdom, and grace. 

A few months ago, I had the privilege of sitting down for a long chat with a good cup of coffee with my pastoral mentor. There was something refreshing, encouraging, challenging, and strengthening in talking and praying with somebody who has “been there” and who is still in the fight, serving faithfully during a hard season. This is why I picked up Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People For a Lifetime, edited by Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson Sr. I needed more wisdom and strength and grace from God through his faithful servants. I needed what amounts to a long chat with a good cup of coffee with many different pastors on many different topics who have centuries of combined pastoral ministry experience. I would recommend that you do the same in 2021.

The book’s strength is combining well-known pastors and ministry leaders like Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, Dave Harvey and Bryan Chapell with lesser-known but equally faithful pastors and ministry leaders like Mark McCullough, Scott Patty, and Brandon Shields. They are able to speak from a variety of backgrounds on multiple pressing pastoral concerns such as, “Ministry has left me spiritually listless” (Chapter 1), “My preaching always sounds the same” (Chapter 3), “My critics are a burden for my wife” (Chapter 6), “They’ve left, and I’m crushed!” (Chapter 7), “My church has outgrown my gifts” (Chapter 10), and “How am I going to make it financially?” (Chapter 11). This is all capped off with an interview with John MacArthur on the anniversary of his fiftieth year of serving at Grace Community Church.

I had not read a specific pastoral ministry book this year, and as I read I discovered that it was just what I needed to help me faithfully endure. I needed the reminders of godly, gospel-centered pastors to help me look not to them but to the Jesus whom we serve and trust in. I needed the sharpening in some areas, such as my preaching and my practice of a day of rest. After a difficult year, I needed the reminders of how to serve with and lead my wife more faithfully (Chapter 6), and how to keep difficulties such as people leaving the church in proper perspective (Chapter 7). 

I was challenged to look at the difficulties of ministry with eternity in view: “Pastor, that pain you feel, that stinging pain in your stomach that wells up each time you remember the friend who left—convert that aching moment into a reminder that there is a day coming when you will be reconciled. There’s a day coming when closure will happen.” (Dave Harvey, p. 82) I was encouraged with practical steps to grow in my leadership, all the while being pointed to what is most important: “The wise pastor also remembers that the main goal is to lead people to Jesus. We often overemphasize organizational leadership skills and underemphasize the pastoral skills of preaching, having conversations, and praying with people. Keeping the main emphasis on leading people to Jesus doesn’t mean we accept poorly led organizations as the norm, but it does remind us that we don’t have to be able to run a massive corporation to be an effective pastor. We do, however, need to know Jesus and be able to lead others to him.” (Scott Patty, p. 108)

For small-town pastors such as myself, there are gold nuggets throughout the book that will help us to have faithful endurance in 2021 and beyond. But the most significant chapter for you, like me, will probably be Mark McCullough’s chapter (8), “Does Staying in a Small Rural Church Make Me a Failure?” I learned from Keller and Carson, but I received an arm around my shoulder as a fellow rural pastor when I read McCullough’s words of warmth and joy from a man who has served the same rural congregation for almost three decades. McCullough spurs us on to faithful endurance by focusing on three joys that would serve us well to focus on during 2021: the joy of knowing and being known by God, the joy of making God known, and the joy of knowing others.

I pray that you will have faithful endurance in ministry in 2021. We can do this not from looking to our own wisdom or strength, but from looking to the Jesus who has promised us that he is with us always (Matthew 28:20). Faithful Endurance will help you do exactly that.

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.

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)

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.

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

This article first appeared at Small Town Summits Articles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Underestimate Small-Town Ministry

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

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

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

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

You Can’t Serve What You Don’t See

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

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

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

Collaboration Rarely Seen

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

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

Large-Scale Revaluation

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

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

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