The second session of the Small Town Summit on October 19 was given by David Pinckney, pastor of River of Grace Church in Concord, NH and co-director of the Acts 29 Rural Collective. He also works with The Gospel Coalition New England (who oversee the summits) and Acts 29 New England. His presentation focused on some key assumptions and strategies for viewing the church itself as being an active mission and carrying that work out. His presentation came almost entirely from the Gospel of Matthew.
Pinckney had us turn to Peter's famous confession of faith and then rapid descent into being reprimanded by Christ. And of course, we hear a lot in churches about how Christ will build His church and we can trust that it will endure, but we were challenged about whether or not we believe that. Whether or not we operate with the foundational understanding that it is Christ that works to advance the cause of the gospel, and we are being invited to participate in that.
Ultimately, when Peter tries to tell Jesus that the mission isn't going to happen the way He said, Pinckney points out that the disciple is thinking in purely human terms. And, like Peter, even if we have some understanding of God's role as the One who operates in our lives, we can still fall into the trap of judging that operation by human understanding. We filter our expectations through things like pragmatism, or tradition, or our own ego. We only recognize God working if He works according to our models, rather than really getting to know Him and learning to see His hand even in places we don't expect it. And when we do that, we can convince ourselves that we know how to do the job better than God does, and try to force things to go our way. But this will never yield the results God is seeking.
So what shall we do instead?
More will be discussed about this in tomorrow's post on the breakout sessions, but the first principle Pinckney noted was to be specific about geography. Jesus knew where He was called to work, and He focused all His efforts on that place. It was more important to Him to be where God wanted Him to be than to be in the centers of power in His day, whether Rome or Alexandria or even, often, Jerusalem. He was faithful to work where He was called, and we should be the same.
There are some great things that can only really happen in a small ministry that stays in one place for a very long time. Pinckney used the example of one pastor who had been present at the birth of one woman and then, much later, that woman's son. The impact someone like that has on the lives of the people they serve, if they serve well, is difficult to measure. So we need to invest where we are, dig in for the long haul, and not worry about being somewhere else unless God calls us somewhere else. After all, he warned, "we think the grass is greener on the other side, but really it's just a septic problem."
It also reminds us that the gospel is going places we may not expect it to go. The story immediately following that one in Matthew's account is how the author became a disciple of Christ. Jesus went to someone that no one else would have wanted to talk to, and welcomed him in. He ate with sinners and tax collectors and showed them the way of salvation. Pinckney notes that we should be in places that make people wonder what we're doing there, because we are called to sinners. The core of our mission is to see people become disciples of Christ, and that will require us to go where the people who are not disciples gather. Having the gospel saturate all of our work means that all of our work will be aimed at making that gospel known.
Do Good Intentionally
Jesus sought to know where people were hurting, and served them. One way we emulate Him and focus on doing the work He has for us is serving others. It is harder to think that we're in charge when we're doing things specifically for other people rather than ourselves, and we show the servant heart of Christ to those we reach out to.
Shaped by Compassion
One of the things that helps us remember the importance of the people in small places, and keeps our focus on doing the work of God rather than our own plans, is the function of compassion. What drives God to put us where He has is that He loves the people there, and as was addressed in the previous post, so must we.
Matthew 9 closes with Christ telling His disciples to pray eagerly for workers. All of our work in Christ's name relies on an ongoing practice of prayer, and this specific prayer reminds us that we are not alone and that God is the one who sends workers. Maybe He'll send new people from outside, or maybe He'll raise up new gospel workers from among those who receive the gospel by our witness--probably both. But going to Him constantly reminds us of our need for Him, and asking Him for the workers to see the gospel spread reminds us that we operate by His design, on His schedule, and with the people He has ordained to the task. And as long as we ground ourselves on that knowledge, we will have much greater resistance against the temptation to do things our way.
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