Would Christ Go To Mayberry?
Ron Klassen (RHMA Ministry Update Winter 1995 / 96)
When it comes to Missions, reasons are often given to bypass small towns for the cities. Nothing is more compelling than the argument that more will be plucked from the brink of hell and won for heaven if we go to the cities. Targeting the masses sounds like a good strategy in an ivory tower where missiologists have gathered, but one has to wonder if it’s that kind of strategy that would pass the muster with God.
There is one significant opportunity in history for us to observe God’s mission strategy. When Christ was on the earth, where did He take the gospel? With only three years to get the job done, did he feel pressed to go to the masses while bypassing the small towns?
I decided to read through a harmony of the gospels – charting, as I did so, every recorded place that Christ took the gospel. I was curious: Would Christ go to Mayberry? The answer is that He not only would, He did. In fact even I, an advocate for small towns, was shocked to discover the percentage of time Christ devoted to small towns.
A summary verse is Matthew 9:25 – ” Jesus went through all the towns and villages . . . preaching the good news (italics mine).” Historically a “town” consisted of 5-10 acres, usually with a wall around it, with – at most – a few thousand residents. “Village” meant a country town or hamlet, generally five acres or less in size, unwalled, with only a few houses and few (if any) places of business. A “large” village might have 20 houses with 150 people. Archeologists tell us there were hundreds of villages dotting the countryside in Israel. Did Christ go to the Mayberrys of His day? Absolutely. Other verse flesh this out:
- Mark 1:38 – (Jesus speaking) “Let us go . . to the nearby villages so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
- Mark 6:6 – “Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.”
- Mark 8:27 tells us that Jesus and His disciples went to the villages around Caesarea Phillipi, but no mention is made of going into the larger city!
- In Matthew 10:11 we find that Christ sent his twelve disciples to “towns and villages.”
- In Acts 8:25, after Christ ascended, we find Peter and John following His example, preaching in villages.
Here’s a few additional noteworthy facts:
- Christ was born in Bethlehem referred to as both a “town” (Luke 2:4) and “village” (John 7:42).
- Christ grew up in the village of Nazareth (Matthew 2:23), which had maybe 500 in population.
- There were several large cities (Sepphoris, Tiberas, Samaria, and Scythopolis to name a few) located in close proximity to where Christ grew up or traveled during his ministry. Those cities are not mentioned in the gospels and, as far as we know, were not visited by Christ.
- Christ spent almost no time in Jerusalem, center of the Jewish faith. Of the half-dozen or so occasions that it was recorded that He went there, almost always it was for the purpose of celebrating a special day on the Jewish calendar – not to preach the gospel.
- If my count is correct, the gospels records about four dozen times that Christ visited a village or a town. Often the record is plural – “villages and towns,” meaning that Christ could have visited hundreds of small towns. AT the same time, besides references to Jerusalem, I find only a couple of occasions where the gospels tell us that Christ visited the larger cities (Matthew 4:25, 11:20 and possibly Mark 7:31). Admittedly my study is not scientific and I may have missed a couple of occasions, but it is obvious that Christ did not concentrate His ministry in the cities.
What can we learn from this?
Certainly not that cities are unimportant or that we shouldn’t target them. To the contrary, mission endeavors to the urban masses need to be intensified. The cities, especially inner cities, are an urgent mission field.
But aren’t people lost in the small towns too? Should ministry to the cities replace ministry to smaller towns and remote tribes? I doubt that Christ would say that. In fact, just before ascending He commanded us to be His witnesses “both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (italics mine).” It’s not either / or, it’s both.
What can we learn? First, it is individuals, not masses, that are important to God. While we might be trying to reach people by the thousands, God says, “I care about that one out near the end of the earth.” Christ Himself, lived this truth out. To what great length He went to find that one lost sheep! It ought to be of tremendous encouragement to realize that God doesn’t look at people in bunches; He looks at us as individuals.
Second, receptivity to the gospel is far more important than numbers of people presented with the gospel. A recent story in the Religion report (February 20,1995) tells about a city of 140,000 in Russia which missionaries tried to reach, with almost no visible success. An elderly woman heard of the missionaries and invited them to preach in a nearby village. The entire village of 80 attended the meeting. After a two-hour service an invitation was given. All 80 came forward! Missionary efforts to that small town were far more fruitful than to the city. Depending on the receptivity, conversion statistics might actually prove better in smaller contexts. In Christ’s ministry, though He targeted more isolated settings, crowds often still gathered (see Matthew 9:36 for one example). One need not be in a large metropolis to reach large numbers of people.
Sure, let’s go to the cities. But let’s go to the small towns too. If Christ were here, he’d undoubtedly pay a visit to Mayberry.
by Ron Klassen : For more information on RHMA ministries, please contact: Rural Home Missionary Association Box 300, Morton, IL 61550 309) 263-2350 Fax (309) 266-6014 visit their website Rural Home Missionary Association