About a year ago I was sitting in my last Personal Evangelism class at Southern Adventist University. The professor, a traditional Hispanic evangelism-guru, surprised the entire class with a paradigm shift on city evangelism. "People must live in the cities in order to evangelize them" he proposed. No sooner had the proposition hit the air than one of the students pulled out his phone, loaded the Ellen White app, and read the following quote:
He [Enoch] did not make his abode with the wicked. ... He placed himself and his family where the atmosphere would be as pure as possible. Then at times he went forth to the inhabitants of the world with his God- given message. ... After proclaiming his message, he always took back with him to his place of retirement some who had received the warning. —Manuscript 42, 1900When the student was done he looked up and added, "that's how we should do it." The professor did not skip a beat. "Every time?" he asked, and without waiting for an answer he added, "It doesn't work!" He then proceeded to explain that with the size of cities today working from a country outpost can, at times, mean one would have to drive for hours and hours in heavy traffic just to get to the area where one wants to do ministry. And when the day is done one would have to endure the same torture in order to get back to the "outpost." Such a strategy is extremely unpractical he argued. And I would have to agree. But the question is, Why is the outpost method seen as the only method to do city evangelism? The easiest answer is “because Ellen White said so.” However, our professor argued that she did not. Was he right?
Before I dig into that question allow me say right off the bat that there is absolutely no doubt that Ellen White favored the outpost method. Having grown up in the city I can see why. I would never want to raise my kids in the environment I was raised in. The crime, gangs, drugs, violence, and corruption were intense. I know kids I went to school with who turned out to be drug dealers, drug addicts, and gangsters. I hated living in an environment where I always had to be paranoid about getting mugged (I was mugged twice and nearly mugged two other times) or assaulted (I was nearly assaulted by a gang of 20+ one night). My high school was harder to get into than an airport. Metal detectors, pat downs, wands, and book-bag inspections were all part of my morning routine. Drugs were sold right outside the front entrance, shoot outs and stabbings were common, and God forbid if you wore the wrong colors to school. Since certain gangs laid claim to certain colors I would always be anxious when getting my clothes ready in the morning. Am I wearing too much blue and grey? I would wonder. Is there too much red in this outfit? This was my life year after year.
In contrast, my country friends tell me of how they spent their teenage years – mud hoping, horse riding, camping, and taking care of the farm. They enjoyed the benefits of an outdoors life while I and my non-criminal friends hid in our apartments from all the garbage outside. I envy them.
Ellen White recognized that this was city life and as such, the consistent pattern of her counsel was anti-city living. She recommended the outpost method, a method in which city workers set up camp outside the city and then enter the city for ministry and exit when done. The idea was to minister to the people living in the city without becoming “city dwellers.”
So was my professor wrong in saying that the outpost method doesn’t always work? Just to be fair, he did not say it never works or that it should be abandoned. His contention was that it is not always the best method and it should not be viewed as the only method to do city evangelism. But again I ask, was he wrong? Rather than answer the barrage of questions being hurled at him he directed us to a newly published book called Ministry to the Cities – a compilation of Ellen Whites views on how to do this whole “city thing.” Just last week I finally got my hands on the book and devoured it within a few days. When I was done it was clear to me that Ellen White was a lot more sensible and rational than many of us make her out to be. She was, as Leroy Moore says, “a paradoxical thinker.” And while there is no mistaking her preference for the outpost method she in no way advocated that it was the only way.
For example, in page 17 of Ministry to the Cities we read, “The example of the followers of Christ at Antioch should be an inspiration to every believer living in the great cities of the world today. While it is in the order of God that chosen workers of consecration and talent should be stationed in important centers of population to lead out in public efforts, it is also His purpose that the church members living in these cities shall use their God-given talents in working for souls.” Here Ellen White clearly states that it is God's will that chosen workers be stationed in the cities (important centers of population) and that the lay-men living in those same cities work for souls as well. In page 95 we read, “The Lord has presented before me the work that must be done in our cities. The believers in these cities can work for God in the neighborhood of their homes.” In page 95 she speaks directly to Adventist “city dwellers” when she writes, “I address Christians who live in our large cities: God has made you depositaries of truth, not that you may retain it, but that you may impart it to others. You should visit from house to house as faithful stewards of the grace of Christ.” Interestingly enough, in none of these statements does she tell the “city dwellers” that they are wrong for living in the city and neither does she instruct them to leave but to remain and reach their neighbors for Christ.
In page 112 we read that “Some must remain in the cities to give the last note of warning…” and while this statement is followed by the admonition that this will become more dangerous, it nevertheless captures her paradoxical thinking on the matter. The fact that “some must remain” is clear evidence that she did not view the outpost method as the only viable method and in fact, viewed it as limited. If “some must remain” in the cities to give the final warning, it is clear that the final warning cannot be adequately given via the outpost method. Instead, it must be given by “city dwellers.” The most shocking statement comes in page 113 where she actually encourages Adventists to move to the city. She writes, “Close around us are cities and towns in which no efforts are made to save souls. Why should not families who know the present truth settle in these cities and villages, to set up there the standard of Christ, working in humility, not in their own way, but in God’s way, to bring the light before those who have no knowledge of it? ... There will be laymen who will move into towns and cities, and into apparently out-of-the-way places, that they may let the light which God has given them shine forth to others.”
Her paradoxical thinking is also seen in her counsel for building schools in relation to the cities. In page 117 she says, “Especially should our schools… be located outside of the cities…” and yet in page 115 she writes, “Church schools are to be established for the children in the cities…” This she says even though she maintained that "'Out of the cities' is my message for the education of our children.” Thus the paradox seems clear. When it came to boarding schools Ellen White maintained that they should not be established in the cities but that did not mean that standard schools such as the church school could not. This demonstrates her practical thinking on the matter. Not everyone living in the city can afford to send their kids to a boarding school in the country. In order to minister to the city kids then, church schools should be established in the city. We see this balanced approach most clearly in Testimonies Vol. 9 page 221 which says,
So far as possible these schools should be established outside the cities. But in the cities there are many children who could not attend schools away from the cities; and for the benefit of these, schools should be opened in the cities as well as in the country.Ellen White was also clear that churches should be established in the city. In page 114 we read that “In every city there should be a city mission that should be a training school for workers.” And in the same page she clearly states that “in every city where the truth is proclaimed, churches are to be raised up. In some large cities there must be churches in various parts of the city.” If there are churches in the city, clearly there is a demand for people to live in the city as well – especially if the church fits into her vision of a vibrant training center as opposed to just a Sabbath morning club. In addition, locating churches in the city means that the city will not be reached exclusively by outposts but by established churches within the cities themselves.
Ellen White was also consistently clear that sanitariums should never be established in the cities. This makes perfect sense since Sanitariums are intended to be a type of health retreat. However, in page 120 she also said “God would have restaurants established in the cities. If properly managed, these will become missionary centers.” Again she emphasized that “Our restaurants must be in the cities; for otherwise the workers in these restaurants could not reach the people and teach them the principles of right living.” In page 121 she adds, “I have been instructed that one of the principal reasons why hygienic restaurants and treatment rooms should be established in the centers of large cities is that by this means the attention of leading men will be called to the third angel’s message.” She continues this chain of thought in regards to assisting the addicts when she says, “In every city a place should be provided where the slaves of evil habit may receive help to break the chains that bind them” (134).
So what are we to make of all this? Is Ellen White contradicting herself? How can she say that we should leave the cities and then say “Some must remain in the cities…”? How can she praise the outpost method and then encourage “families who know the present truth [to] settle in these cities”? With the size of modern cities, was she not aware that establishing churches, vegetarian restaurants, and church schools would demand that many people live in the city in order to practically operate these entities? Sure she was, and this is why she never maintained that the outpost method was the only method that God would bless. Ellen White was a paradoxical thinker. She was balanced. She was sensible. She recognized the ideal was to work from outposts and to avoid living in the cities altogether, but she also recognized the real – that it was not always practical to use the outpost method.
So if Ellen White had such a balanced approach to city evangelism, why then have Adventist’s traditionally frowned upon “city dwelling”? The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia provides a helpful answer:
…we find in Ellen White’s writings two sets of parallel counsel—one related to institutions, advocating outpost ministry; and a second dealing with local church work, advocating missionary work from within the city. Unfortunately, only one set of counsel has received much publicity. The reason for that imbalance is that statements from the one perspective have been collected and repeatedly published in compilations, while the other even though equally valid and important, has been neglected. Thus Adventist’s have traditionally highlighted only one half of Ellen White’s perspective on city mission (716).With all of this said there is one other thing I would like to highlight and that is that while Ellen White was not against city dwelling we need to be aware of our motivation when we do in fact decide to live in the city. As I mentioned before, I hated living in the city. However, I must also admit that I absolutely love the city. I am a city boy at heart and there’s nothing I enjoy more than cruising through the city at night with my wife while listening to Michael Buble. I love the café’s, the liveliness, and the vibe of Manhattan, Boston, downtown Chattanooga, Honolulu, Pearl City, and Waikiki, and currently – Perth, Western Australia where I live. And in some ways I think this type of city living is why I haven’t always liked Ellen Whites outpost method. I don’t want to be told to leave the cities because I love the city. But that’s not entirely true. I don’t actually love the city. I just love the nice parts of it – the skyscrapers glimmering against the night sky, the elegant restaurants and shopping centers, and the hustle and bustle of a busy street. If this is what a city was then I don’t think Ellen White would have ever recommended an outpost method, but that’s not all a city is. The city is also the part I hate – the gangs, the prostitution, the drugs and violence. City is the slums and the ghettos, the rough neighborhoods and the hoodlums. Anyone who lives in the city - enjoying its cafes and skyscraper while never noticing the decadence and brokenness around them - is living in a self-deluded bubble. The city is not simply the beautiful; it is also the ugly reality of poverty and crime. And for those who want to live in the city and do ministry there – don’t think you’re just there to have interesting Bible studies at Star Bucks with university students. That’s part of it yes, but you are also there for the addicts, the convicts, and the perverted who linger on its streets night after night searching for satisfaction. City ministry is dangerous, scandalous, and wild. Not everyone is designed for it. It is missionary work in every form and demands that those who engage in it not become comfortable with the pretty side of city life, but that they confront the dreadfulness of the degenerate side as well.
So is the outpost method the only viable method for city evangelism? Not according to Ellen White. In her paradoxical view God’s people should leave the cities, and God’s people should move to the cities. The church should not launch establishments within the city and the church should launch establishments within the city. Both are true at the same time and it is the context of the situation, be it corporate or personal, that determines what the best course of action is. However, Ellen White also warned that the time will come when we will have to leave the cities and those called to incarnational city ministry must always be prepared to do so. But no need to worry city lovers! The Lord has promised us a city as our eternal home.
To read the book Ministry to the Cities in PDF format click here.
 Blue and Grey are the colors used by the Crips, "one of the largest and most violent associations of street gangs in the United States" (Wiki, read more).
 Red is one of the main colors worn by the Bloods, a gang "widely known for its rivalry with the Crips" (Wiki, read more).