Sometimes, you just need a little encouragement.
On October 26, 2019 thirty-five pastors and church leaders gathered in Salem NH for the second annual Kindle the Fire Conference (KTF). KTF exists to provide tools, training, and support for church leaders working to bring new life to old churches. Those who attended were not disappointed.
The theme of this year’s conference was Big Gospel in Small Places. The keynote speaker was Steve Witmer PhD, pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell MA, and author of a book by the same name. Steve is also the co-creator of Small Town Summits, small, local, affordable gatherings of church leaders that provide support, training, encouragement, and connection for New England churches in the small places of New England.
Steve started by explaining his purpose: to bring encouragement to those laboring for the gospel in small places. Many conferences are designed for large numbers of people serving in large places with large amounts of instruction. “Yet, we need encouragement as much as we need instruction, don’t we?” said Witmer.
New England is full of communities that are largely unknown, and that lack economic or cultural influence. Churches in these places are often unloved, undervalued, and overlooked by the religious trends, and yet those who labor in these places need to be reminded of how God sees these churches, how God values these churches, and consider how the gospel shapes both the content and the contours of ministry in these churches.
By way of encouragement, Witmer referenced the writings of some well-known pastors, recent and not so recent. These include John Berridge, Henry Venn, Tom Carson, and George Hebert. All of these men were known for their pastoral hearts and intentionally humble mission. In the case of George Herbert in particular, he turned his back on more prestigious positions to labor in relative obscurity, faithfully shepherding a small congregation in an out of the way English village. His reflections on this experience are now some of the most beloved poetry of the English language.
The thoughts these men left behind highlight our temptation to dissatisfaction with the smallness of our ministry. We seem to grasp the value of crossing oceans to minister to small groups of people in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, we somehow think less of ministering to small groups of people on this side of the ocean.
A key to being effective in Small Place Ministry, Witmer said, is to first intentionally see people we know will not be able to give back – people who are “dead ends for grace.” Then we must stick with it, because we cannot predict how the gospel works. Sometimes it works fast, but more often it works slowly. We ought not second guess God by thinking that what he does slowly, on a small scale, in ways almost unnoticed, are any less important or worthy than when he move quickly on a large scale. Slow and small may not be better, but we cannot fall into the trap of thinking that they are worse.
This is why we need to reframe the way we view numerical growth. We need to learn to want it more, but also to need it less. Work for it, but don’t rely on growth to give us a sense of success in our work.
Finally, Witmer gave 4 ways to live within the small circle of the small places to which we have been called. Be a listening church, be a serving church, be a celebrating church, and be a proclaiming church.
Those who attended found the day greatly encouraging. Witmer is an engaging speaker who labors alongside us in New England. He gets our New England culture. He gets our context in ways that people from other regions often miss. His presentation brought stout and nourishing fare to hearts hungry for refreshment. Be sure to register for our next Kindle the Fire event in the spring. You won’t be disappointed.
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