On Saturday, October 19, I attended the Central/Western Massachusetts event for Small Town Summits. As I've started to do with sermons and other studies, I wanted to blog through my processing of the things I saw and heard there. While not officially part of this series of posts, I did also blog about some pretty personal struggling I have had that were addressed by God through the event. Before I do posts on specifics, though, I wanted to paint the big picture of the day and explain what Small Town Summits is.
I've been involved in church planting, in some capacity or another, since 2008. In that time, in my experience, the focus has been on strategic placement of new churches or revitalization efforts. If you want to get a sending network involved or a church to give money or a team to come together, you've had to sell them on how big the impact of that church could have. Talk about the millions of people that live and work and pass through the city. Talk about the colleges that bring in large numbers of students from around the world and then send them back out, hopefully (with your church's help) carrying the gospel with them. In a pinch, you can sell the town's impact to its smaller neighbors and role as a hub of commuters that work in the bigger, more important city.
There's good reason for targeting these locations, and Small Town Summits explained at the event that they recognize their importance. The problem being raised, however, is that there are millions in America, billions around the world, who do not live in nice strategic locations, and our laser focus on making a big impact has left far too many of these people without a gospel witness and so many small town pastors feeling like they have no support.
The instinct is to read the description of small places and assume they're rural, but it was explained that that isn't always true. While a great many rural communities would qualify, so can cities and regions within cities. The best definition for their target communities would seem to be a negative one; if the community cannot be described as a hub of culture, economy, influence, government, or education, and would therefore be overlooked by strategy-focused church planting efforts, they want to be there. The summits are designed to be affordable and easy to access, hosting them across New England. Their next listed event is a Bible Training for Women in March 2020.
The summit was a great time. I met people who came from southern Vermont, the Berkshires, the Worcester area, and southeastern Massachusetts. I was able to meet the new pastor of a small church I preached at during their pastoral search and get some updates on how they're doing and exchange information. I made a lot of connections and had some great conversations and picked up some ideas that we may be able to adapt in our church. I got to catch up with some friends I haven't seen in a while who came in for the event.
As will be discussed in the following posts about each session, we basically had two main speakers and they both did a great job of presenting the importance of small place ministry and some practical concerns that arise in that context. The worship was very good and, while I had only heard one song before, any confusion on my part was my own fault for forgetting to listen to the tracks I was emailed in advance. The food was great and the hour given for lunch gave us plenty of time to meet the people sitting around us.
The brevity of the event does mean that there were a small number of topics that could be handled well, but the ample time to make connections with people serving across the region should prove to make up for that over time for anyone who wants to put in a little effort to do so. All in all, I feel it was a day very well spent, I was personally impacted in a big way by the summit, and I look forward to pursuing some of these new relationships and attending more summits in the future. If you are in New England, I encourage you to go to their website and try to attend an event near you as soon as it becomes available.
The epistles are a deeply important part of the New Testament and the Bible as a whole. Where the gospels reveal the person and teaching of Jesus and the example He sets and detail His atoning death and resurrection, and Acts gives us insight into how the early church was formed and functioned in light of all of that, it is the epistles that really unpack for us what so much of this means for our daily lives, how the teachings of Jesus became the theology of the church, and how the whole story of the Bible fits together and hinges on Christ.
Of the twenty-two epistles, we can say for certain that thirteen were written by Paul. These Pauline epistles tend to be more densely packed with theological discussion, openly addressed to specific situations and therefore concerned with very concrete application, and longer than the remaining epistles. This is great for the unity of our understanding, but it does tend to mean that our preaching and study of these issues are frequently limited in scope to one man's theology--admittedly, a man writing scripture under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit and therefore trustworthy in his teaching, but still only one man--when there are nine other books that explore some of the same themes and can offer, at the very least, a different perspective.
The following three posts will each study the general epistles' handling of one major theme. The first theme will be false teachers, the second will be on redemptive history and the nature of salvation, and the final one will be the Christian life. This sequence is intentional and bears consideration when reading the following posts, because the overarching sequence will influence how they are each presented. We will begin by narrowing our focus only to that which is valid theology, and then we will explore the heart of that theology, and then how to live that theology out.
Church planter and ministry student with a bad habit of questioning authority and writing too much.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation