Ed Stetzer: I am glad to welcome Dr. Stephen Witmer to The Exchange today. Stephen is pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, MA, and adjunct professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the cofounder of Small Town Summits, an organization that serves rural churches and pastors. Today I talk to him about his latest book, A Big Gospel in Small Places.
Ed: Why did you write A Big Gospel in Small Places?
Stephen: I wrote this book because I believe the gospel is really big in terms of its importance, power, effects, and centrality, and because I’m very eager for that big gospel to have its full impact in small places.
By small places, I mean communities that are lacking in cultural and economic influence, small towns and rural areas (and perhaps also some communities with larger populations) that are mostly forgotten and unknown.
I’ve pastored for more than a decade in a small New England town, and this book is the overflow of my own joyful, painful, hopeful small-town ministry. At times, I’ve wrestled, struggled, and searched for answers, and I’m recording here some of the things I’ve discovered which will, I pray, be helpful for others.
Ed: Who did you write this book for?
Stephen: I’m writing for the many thousands of small town/rural laypeople and pastors around the world who are ministering for Christ, and who often feel as isolated, forgotten, and unvalued as the communities in which they minister.
They sometimes wonder whether their ministries even matter. I’m seeking to answer with a strong ‘Yes!’ – not based on my own wisdom, but on the Bible. The gospel is our clearest window into the character of God, and the gospel shows us that God often works in small ways, on a slow schedule, with lavish, inordinate, ‘unstrategic’ love.
Therefore, the gospel demonstrates that small is probably better than we think, slow is often wiser than we think, and strategic isn’t always what we think. In other words, the gospel makes room for small town ministry!
I’m also writing for those who are considering a call to future ministry. I’m not trying to persuade anyone to go to the rural areas to do ministry, but I’m zealous to help everyone be open to Godcalling them wherever he will (including the country, if that’s his good pleasure).
Finally, I’m writing for those who live in and love the city. I’m hoping to give them fresh insight into what the small places are like and into the great work currently being done by their rural brothers and sisters. We’re all on the same team.