Jesus Loves Small, ‘Insignificant’ Places. So Should We. by Douglas Phillips for The Gospel Coalition
It’s a popular quote, commonly attributed to Charles Spurgeon: “Discernment is not simply telling the difference between right and wrong; it’s telling the difference between right and almost right.”
This maxim, I’d suggest, also applies to ministry paradigms and practices.
In his book A Big Gospel in Small Places: Why Ministry in Forgotten Communities Matters, Stephen Witmer argues that when it comes to missions and church planting today, the prevailing paradigm that focuses on reaching urban centers of size and influence is, well, almost right—but it may be missing some important things.
Methods of Ministry
Such issues, of course, aren’t new. They’ve been with us since at least the day after Pentecost.
How shall the church decide carry out its central calling of preaching the gospel and making disciples of all nations? The questions in the Book of Acts swirled around the mission beyond Jerusalem and Judea to Gentile people and places. To whom should the message be taken, what exactly should the message be (i.e., how much Moses?), and what should be the method? Answers that may seem fairly obvious can turn out to be only “almost right” after all. Trying to distinguish the things that differ and to discern what is best (Phil. 1:10) may well require biblical exegesis that pays closer attention to the difference between what’s descriptive and prescriptive—a distinction more easily affirmed than applied. It’s one thing to note that the apostle Paul ministered the gospel in major cities of the Roman Empire; it’s another thing to demonstrate that theological-philosophical perspectives were guiding those decisions.
Take the significant example of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1–2. The apostle has done his demographic study and cultural analysis. He knows what would be more strategic, in pragmatic terms at least, and he’s made crucial distinctions, differentiating between what would “work” for Jews (miraculous signs) and what would ring true to Gentiles (higher wisdom expressed in approved rhetoric). All of this, so far, is prudent and plausible.