Gospel-Shaped Ministry to Small Places

Small Town Summit: New England

Over the past couple decades, Tim Keller and others have developed a biblically-faithful and amazingly fruitful theological vision for urban ministry. We believe it’s an opportune time to explore what a theological vision for rural/small-town ministry will look like.

Small Town Summits, in partnership with The Gospel Coalition New England, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Small Town Jesus, invites small-town/rural pastors, ministry leaders, and laypeople from around New England to join us for a one-day Summit. We’ll consider together what it looks like for our small-place ministries to be distinctively gospel-shaped. We’re eager for seminary students to attend this Summit in order to catch a vision for the excitement, challenges, and importance of rural ministry.

This New England Summit is distinct from the Summits we’ve already hosted in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, as well as the future Summits we’re planning in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. We typically gather in local regions within New England. For this New England Summit, we’re inviting folks from across the entire New England region. At our local Summits, we hear talks and breakout sessions from local pastors and leaders. For this New England Summit, we’ll hear from Rick Lints (Vice President for Academic Affairs, Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), Brad Roth (a pastor in rural Kansas and author of the award-winning God’s Country), and Donnie Griggs (a pastor in small-town North Carolina and author of the popular book Small Town Jesus). We’ll also enjoy practically-oriented breakout sessions led by small-town/rural pastors and laypeople from around New England.


Date: Monday, March 18th, 2019

Cost: $25 ($15 for students)

Time: 8.30am – 4pm

Location: Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 130 Essex St, South Hamilton, MA 01982



  • 8.30 – 9am - Arrival and registration

  • 9 – 10am - Welcome, singing, framing the current situation and introducing the vision and contribution of this conference (Stephen Witmer)

  • 10 – 10.30am - Session 1: ‘What theological vision is, and why it matters for small-place ministry’ (Richard Lints)

  • 10.30 – 11am - Coffee break

  • 11am – 12pm - Session 2: ‘Paddle Upstream: How the doctrine of God sends us to small places’ (Brad Roth, rural pastor and author of CT award-winning God’s Country)

  • 12 – 1pm - Lunch

  • 1 – 2pm - Session 3: Breakout sessions

  • 2.15 – 3.15pm - Session 4: ‘What gospel-shaped small-town ministry looks like in practice’ (Donnie Griggs, small-town pastor and author of Small Town Jesus)

  • 3.30 – 4pm - Closing panel discussion with plenary speakers

Plenary Speakers


Donnie Griggs

Donnie Griggs is lead pastor of One Harbor Church, a multi-location congregation in the small town of Morehead City, North Carolina. One of Donnie’s passions is to see churches in small towns and rural areas equipped and empowered to radically engage culture and make disciples. Donnie is the author of Small Town Jesus, and he also serves on the leadership team of the Advance Movement of churches.

Richard Lints

Richard Lints is the Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Theology and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is an author, ordained pastor, church planter, and now leads the faculty at the leading evangelical seminary in New England. He is married to Ann and father to Kate, Sarah and Lucas.

Brad Roth

Brad Roth serves as pastor at West Zion Mennonite Church in Moundridge, Kansas. He grew up baling hay, tending sheep, and shearing Christmas trees on a farm in Illinois. He is a graduate of Augustana College , Harvard Divinity School, and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. Brad has a heart for serving God and God’s people in rural communities. He’s passionate about sharing faith in word and deed and living out God’s love in the community. He and his wife, Lici, enjoy bicycling, tending a garden, keeping chickens, and playing with their two sons. He is the author of God's Country and writes about encountering God in the everyday at DoxologyProject.com.

Breakout Speakers

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Discipling Women in Small Places

Gloria Grell

God calls women in His kingdom to the rewarding adventure of discipling other women, no matter where they live or the size of their church. In this session we will discuss the essentials of discipling women and how to embrace the unique opportunities and face the unique challenges the small town places provide for women to disciple women.

For forty years Gloria has had the privilege of helping women learn to follow Jesus, in small churches and large churches, small towns and urban centers. She has served as a pastor's wife, missionary, Bible teacher, and lay leader of ministries to women. She currently is the Director of Ministry to Women for the EFCA Great Lakes District and is an adjunct professor at Moody Bible Institute teaching Discipling and Mentoring Women.

Soul Care in Small Places

Alasdair Groves

People are people whether in the heart of Manhattan or the middle of nowhere. However, common themes in soul care and pastoral counseling emerge in different places. This breakout will focus on the issues and traits that arise most frequently in small town New England, as well as the most surprising things that aren't different in a small town.

Alasdair Groves directs CCEF New England and is a faculty member at CCEF, where he currently serves as the Director of the School of Biblical Counseling. He received his Master of Divinity in counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary. Alasdair has served on the staff of several churches and has a background in campus ministry. He writes for the Journal of Biblical Counseling, and regularly teaches a variety of seminars around the New England region. Alasdair and his wife, Lauren, have three young children. Alasdair is a fiction enthusiast, plays ultimate frisbee, and loves to produce and enjoy both good food and good music.

Church Planting in Small Places

David Pinckney

If the knowledge of the glory of God is to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, small towns in New England will experience new gospel-fueled congregations. Church planting in New England in the days ahead will look very different from planting in recent history. Bi-vocational, multi-parish, and second career planters will be common and celebrated. This break out will discuss dynamics of the future of rural church planting in our region.

David Pinckney is a second generation New Hampshire pastor. He is an elder at River of Grace Church in Concord NH which was planted in 2002. He is co-director of Acts 29 Church Planting Network’s Rural Collective, with a goal of promoting church plants in small, remote and forgotten places. He serves with Small Town Summits and The Gospel Coalition of New England. He and Sharon recently celebrated their 30th anniversary.

Sustaining a Healthy Marriage While Ministering in Small Places

Ian and Marci Shearer

There are unique challenges, as well as special joys, when living and ministering as a married couple in a small place. In this interactive session we will discuss ways to sustain a healthy and happy marriage as well as some pitfalls to avoid. Come with questions, concerns or insights to share

Although from opposite sides of the country, God brought Ian and Marci together in marriage 20 years ago in Santa Cruz, CA. They have lived in Millinocket, Maine for the past 14 1/2 years where Ian is the Pastor of Faith Baptist Church. Marci works part-time as a Family Nurse Practitioner and homeschools their five children: Anne (17), Elliot (15), Caleb (13), Noelle, (9) and Asher (2).

Church Revitalization in Small Places

Jim Harrell

Church revitalization in New England typically means ministering to an aging congregation while being a catalyst for new growth. This session will be focused on how to lead your congregation as a patient catalyst to a place of flourishing where people are living out of their faith in the gospel and the church is being intentional about engaging the community.

Jim Harrell grew up in South Burlington, VT and is the president of Overseed, a ministry focused on coaching pastors of declining New England churches.

Community Ministry in Small Places

Jason McConnell

Many pastors (and parishioners) get so consumed by activity inside the church that they have no time or energy for service, let alone leadership, outside the church. The weekly inertia of maintaining church ministries often pulls pastoral pursuits inward, toward the parish, rather than projecting it outward, toward the community. This session will focus on understanding the importance of building credibility through community service and how to maximize these platforms for pastoral presence, prophetic witness, and gospel proclamation in small places.

Jason McConnell has served as the senior pastor of the Franklin United Church and East Franklin Union Church in Franklin, Vermont since 2004. He teaches courses on small-town ministry with the Rural Home Missionary Association and serves as the co-director of the Ockenga Fellows Program and a mentor in the Doctor of Ministry program at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. When he is not preaching or teaching, he can usually be found in the Vermont outdoors skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, cycling, fishing, or kayaking.

The Pastor as Public Theologian in Small Places

Ben Ruhl

It’s a common assumption, though often unspoken, that pastors serving in cities and urban centers have a greater responsibility to engage the culture around them at a higher intellectual and theological level than pastors serving in the small places. In this breakout session we will investigate the way our location influences our theological engagement, assess the unique challenges and responsibilities of being a theologically engaged pastor in small places and consider how we might respond to these unique challenges and responsibilities.

Ben Ruhl is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Moody Bible Institute. He is the lead pastor of BeFree Community Church in Alton, NH, a town of about 5,000, and serves on the leadership team for Small Town Summits. He is husband to Olivia and father to Davie.

On May 22, 2019, we’ll host our second summit in New Hampshire. This summit will be unique from our other summits as it will consist of four small group conversations moderated by other New Hampshire pastors.

We will meet at Christ Community Church, 727 S Stark Hwy in Weare, NH.

To register, please click below.


Rhythms for Sustained Gospel Ministry

Running the course of ministry set before us requires endurance. Beyond mere endurance, how do we minister with joy and hope even when ministry in the small places can leave us feeling isolated, frustrated, and beleaguered? Small Town Summits will be hosting a conversation on rhythms that sustain gospel ministry on May 22nd. Join with other pastors and church staff members from around New Hampshire as we come together for a time of self-examination and mutual encouragement to foster healthy, fruitful, and lasting ministry in the places to which God has called us.


  • 9 – 9.30am - Arrival and registration

  • 9:30 – 10am - Welcome, singing, and vision

  • 10 – 11am - Session #1 (participants will rotate between the four sessions)

  • 11 – 12am - Session #2

  • 12 – 1pm - Lunch

  • 1 – 2pm - Session #3

  • 2 – 3pm - Session #4

  • 3 – 3.30pm - Holding Tight to Christ




Holding Tight to Your Calling Long Term

Can you envision yourself sustained with joy for 30 years in New Hampshire ministry?  There are foundational truths and disciplines which provide motivation to endure for the long haul as happy warriors.  Part of our discussion will address the thieves of delights that rob pastors.   Ideally we’ll leave this discussion with gospel true motivations and perhaps some strategies that will feed our long term devotion.

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Investing in Family as Foundational for Ministry

Strong marriages undergird faithful ministry while untended marriages can sow the seeds of failed ministry. Whether married or not, our attentiveness to the fact that God said it was not good for Adam to be alone matters to fulfillment of our calling. This session will discuss how attentiveness to our marriages and family shape a resilient ministry.



Cultivating Deep Relationships

“No man is an island.”  We know this to be true. We know we need gospel-centered friendships. We know we need brothers to encourage us. But pastoring in a rural setting can often leave us feeling isolated and discouraged. This doesn’t have to be our reality. One of God’s gracious gifts to us are fellow brothers laboring in rural places. Let’s talk about how we can cultivate some needed friendships and encourage one another to run our race with perseverance. 

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Cultivating Healthy Rhythms of Work and Rest

The work God has called us to is important. But from time to time, the best thing we can do for the Lord, is stop the working and rest. In this session, we will have a conversation about what our life looks like when we are not shepherding the flock and what it might look like to establish healthy rhythms of rest.

Join other women on September 21st to be encouraged and equipped in studying the Bible for yourself and helping others to do the same.

We will meet at Christ Church PCA, 146 Sheep Davis Road Pembroke, NH.

To register, please click below.


Bible Training for Women

God has chosen to reveal himself to us through the Bible. When we dive into his Word we discover the riches of God’s character and his redemptive plan for us and this world. But sometimes it's hard to know where to start. On September 21st, we will learn what it looks like to study a book of the Bible on its own. In walking through the book of Philippians, we will learn and practice tools for studying the Bible and helping others in doing the same.

Before gathering on September 21, you will have the opportunity to begin practicing study skills by completing prep work for the day. In addition to hands-on-learning, you will also be provided with various resources that will help as you continue to study the Word of God upon returning to your homes and churches. You can come to this event on your own. It’s also an ideal opportunity to bring a group of women from your church and grow together.


  • 8.30 – 9am - Arrival & Coffee

  • 9 – 9.50am - Session #1: “Welcome, Worship, and the Heart of Bible Study”

  • 9.50 – 10am - break

  • 10 – 10.50am - Session #2: “The Big Picture of Philippians”

  • 10.50 – 11.30pm - breakout groups

  • 11.30 – 12.30pm - Lunch

  • 12.30 – 1.20pm - Session #3: “The Inductive Process in Philippians”

  • 1.20 – 2pm - breakout groups

  • 2 – 2.10pm - break

  • 2.10 – 3pm - Session #4: “Leading Others through Philippians”

  • 3 – 3.30pm - Closing

(Schedule subject to change)

Main Speakers


Olivia Ruhl

Olivia Ruhl lives in Alton, NH, where she serves alongside Ben Ruhl in church ministry. Though the New England region is now home, life has taken her to the West Coast, South, Midwest, and overseas. Prior to Alton, Olivia attended Moody Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for ministry training.


Emma Witmer

Emma Witmer lives in Pepperell, MA but was born and bred in Northern Ireland. In a previous life she taught English to high school students, and worked in student ministry at a large church in Cambridge, England. Life is now full of church ministry alongside Stephen and looking after their three children.

STS Western & Central Massachusetts

On Saturday, October 19, 2019, Small Town Summits, in partnership with the Moody Center, will host a Summit in Massachusetts. Pastors and lay leaders from small places across western and central Massachusetts will unite around our love for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We will meet at The Moody Center, 206 Main Street Northfield, MA 01360

Registration coming soon.


A Big Gospel in Small Places

The mighty, enduring gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s transforming power wherever it goes, in the biggest cities and the remotest villages. The purpose of our Summit on October 19, 2019 will be to consider how we can most fruitfully obey God’s call to minister this big gospel in the small places of western and central Massachusetts. What are the unique challenges and opportunities of small-place ministry? How does God mean for the gospel to shape both the content of our preaching and the contours of our ministry? Please join us to share your experience and to be equipped and encouraged.


  • 8.30 – 9am - Arrival and registration

  • 9 – 10am - Welcome, singing, the vision of Small Town Summits

  • 10 – 11am - Session #1: ‘Gospel ministry in small places’ and group discussion (Stephen Witmer)

  • 11 – 11.30am - Coffee break

  • 11.30am – 12.30pm - Session #2: 'Preaching in small places’ and group discussion (David Pinckney)

  • 12.30 – 1.30pm - Lunch

  • 1.30 – 2.30pm - Breakout sessions (see below)

  • 2.30 – 3.30pm - Session #3: ‘Joy in small places’ and group discussion (David Pinckney and Stephen Witmer)

  • 3.30 – 4pm - Prayer

Main Sessions

In our main sessions, David Pinckney and Stephen Witmer will explore the unique privileges and challenges of preaching and gospel ministry in small towns and rural areas, and will lead us in thinking about how to fight for joy in our small-place ministries.

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Stephen Witmer is the lead pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, MA. He's a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and the University of Cambridge, and serves on the steering committee of the Gospel Coalition New England. He and his wife Emma have two sons and one daughter.

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David Pinckney is the lead pastor of River of Grace in Concord, NH, an Acts 29 church. He's a graduate of Bethel Seminary, a long-time New England pastor, and he and his wife Sharon have four sons and one daughter. He enjoys traveling, people, and history

(More info coming soon)