Whitefield or Spong?

A pastoral colleague made this observation in passing recently. He noted that more entrepreneurial and risk-taking congregations tended to be ones with more “conservative” theology, by which he meant theology that looked a lot more like John Wesley and George Whitefield than John Shelby Spong.

I’m sure this is not a universal truth. I’m sure there are some Spong-loving congregations that do all kinds of new and risky things to reach new people. But I do wonder how true the the observation might be.

It does seem logical that a group of people who share a mission that places a strong emphasis on evangelism — as most “conservative” churches do — would be more likely to say results matter more than the methods by which those results are achieved. You could expect that to foster a spirit that favors more risk-taking.

What has your experience been? Do congregations that make evangelism a center piece of their mission tend to be more open to risk-taking?


3 thoughts on “Whitefield or Spong?

  1. The statement made by your colleague is confirmed in the day to day experience of ministry in a variety of settings. It is the rule to which there are few if any exceptions. God takes risks that appear to many to be foolishness. Those who serve Him and His kingdom best invest themselves with an eye to those results that are expected and required. Along the lines of the servant with one talent, early primitive Christian faith showed every sign of fossilizing as a Jewish sect in Jerusalem. It was as believers responded in obedience to the leadership of God that the gospel moved beyond Jerusalem and was extended into Europe and the entire world.

    If the pastors and churches extending the gospel today ascribe to Wesley… or Whitefield, it is no matter. If some should subscribe to Spong, again it is no matter. What matters is what has always only mattered and what will ultimately only matter, what our Master says counts in the Kingdom. Though some may think it foolish, He has given us a role to play in His Kingdom, a role which is to occupy us all until His coming. When he comes, he will not be looking to see whose label we wear. He will be looking for positive productive results. Excuses will not hold water.

  2. Setting aside the “conservative” question, I think any church committed to evangelism will be more open to risk-taking. Attracting new people means doing something new, which is always a risk. If you’re happy with who you have, then there’s no need to risk.

  3. I think that statement is broadly true. But within Methodism, there’s a significant contingent of pastors (and even laity) whose historical theology resembles Wesley/Whitefield, including the evangelical fervor, but whose political/social stances are left-leaning. These congregations, in my experiences, also take significant risks for the sake of spreading the gospel.

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