City Dwelling VS Country Living? A Brief Analysis of Ellen White's Views

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, 1900
When 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?[1] I would wonder. Is there too much red in this outfit?[2] 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 cafĂ©’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.


[1] 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).
[2] Red is one of the main colors worn by the Bloods, a gang "widely known for its rivalry with the Crips" (Wiki, read more).


  1. I have come to realize that this "paradoxical" view is not only with Country Living vs. City Dwelling but in most of her writings. If you pick a topic she writes on I bet you there is a statement that will seem to contradict it but in truth it is a balancing statement.

    Thanks brother for your approach on this topic and in your approach most every topic you write on.

    1. "I have come to realize that this "paradoxical" view is not only with Country Living vs. City Dwelling but in most of her writings. If you pick a topic she writes on I bet you there is a statement that will seem to contradict it but in truth it is a balancing statement."

      I don't see her contradictory statements as "balancing". The cognative dissonance required to try to understand EGW is too much. I'm sorry but for me she only muddies the waters. Makes the true Light less bright. For me I will just read the Word. I know I will not go wrong with that. Even Sis White would agree with me on that.
      Jesus said, "Go into all the world and make disciples..." City, country, get the idea. Just go!

    2. Anonymous, the same can be said of the Bible. Many people choose not to read it because its "too hard" to make sense of all the "contradictions" etc. But the problem isnt with the Bible but with how others use it. If we just read it for ourselves without worrying about how others use it its not complicated at all. The same is true of EGWs writings. If we just read them without worrying about how fanatics and ultra conservatives abuse her we will discover she is really quite simple and straight forward in just about everything she says. But I must agree with your final statement. You can never go wrong if you make the word your study. Blessings.

  2. Mr. Torres, I kindly ask that you read the book more carefully and also take a look at the books Last Day Events, Country Living, Evangelism, Selected Messages 2. The book you've utilized throughout your post opens with Enoch's ministry within cities with great emphasis upon the subject that he never would "...make his abode with the wicked...and...did not live in... any city polluted with ....violence and wickedness" (Ministry to the Cities, 11). It is of great import why counsel is given to God's people on leaving the cities and dwelling in rural localities (mountains and hills specifically) where we can raise our own provisions (produce) "...for in the future the problem of buying and selling will be a very serious one" (Country Living, 10).

    Unfortunately, the average SDA Christian sees this clarion call as a mere suggestion for the purpose of reducing exposure to extreme sinfulness or, to just live a hermitic life away from the "real world". It is clear from Ministry to the Cities that "...the people who are seeking to keep the commandments of God should look for retired places away from the cities" and "Some must remain in the cities to give the last note of warning, but this will become more and more dangerous to do" (112). The idea expressed here is not an either/or option but an express command to leave the cities. Those who remain in the city (to live in) are to do so for the purpose of giving the last note of warning. Do notice that there is clear warning that this would become extremely dangerous eventually and, contrary to popular belief, Christians will face some insurmountable problems especially, if they choose to dwell in cities.

    As an educator, I'm extremely displeased that your professor at Southern would knowingly inculcate such toxic and false pedagogy at an Adventist institution. Will some people work the cities by living in them, of course! But the sophistry proposed that "People must live in the cities in order to evangelize them" is entirely false and wreaks of animosity towards the inspired writings of EGW. The paradox / contradiction holds ground when one interprets those writings to support both positions when it is not at all the case that she has consistently made. The call to all Bible believing Christians who discern, and faithfully accept the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation is to circumspectly move into the country as soon as you can and work the cities from outpost centers. To assert this is an inconvenience or even "impractical" confirms the lack of understanding upon this subject, as well as how it is to be truly carried out.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts! I'm not really sure how to respond as each of your contentions have already been dealt with in the article above. It almost feels as if you did not read it, or if you did in fact read it you read it with an argumentative spirit meaning rather than taking in the information you were too busy formulating a counter argument. The only reason why I say that is because I am amazed at the contentions you bring up, each of which I dealt with already. I will say that I find your comments about my professor rather unnecessary. You accuse him and judge his motivations in a negative light which, as a human being, you have no right to do. He was not introducing toxic false pedagogy. He was challenging an imbalanced approach that has resulted from historically ignoring one half of EGWs counsel while celebrating the other. On either note, I think my entire case was made in the article already. If you disagree that is totally cool. Let the reader read, and decide.

    2. "Some must remain in the cities to give the last note of warning, but this will become more and more dangerous to do" (112). How close to the edge do you like to live? Wouldn't if be great to follow the counsel given by the Bible God's Word. Do you think Enoch the 7th from Adam lived in the City that his great great uncle Cane built? How can to walk together if they aren't agreed? Nature is our first book of learning that God gave us to understand righteousness. The act of giving and love. And how do you feel about the contrast between Lot and Abraham? Who lost most of his family and came up with two nations from Incest all because of the move towards a city? And who had more influence even though he wasn't living in the city? Abraham concurred the 4 kings who had taken Sodom and Gomorrah. Was God with Lot or with Abraham? What an embarrassment for Lot as his Uncle took out 4 kings with only 300 or so men. Have you thought about Elijah or John the Baptist? Are we not the 3rd Elijah? Aren't we to invite the world to get ready for the return of our Lord? Then if those two were country dwellers as they warned the cities How much more we who have the inspired testimonies from a 3rd grader who could hold a large family Bible for over half an hour should read more carefully all of the testimonies and not just pick and choose what suits our fancy. Do you know the power of God. It only works when we obey. It is better to obey than to sacrifice.

      To address the below statement "To summarize 1/4 of EGW counsel was to move to the country and 3/4 of it was to move into the cities. I have met and spoken with the author to clarify this point." Well, yea He only uses the periodicals not all of her writings. and as was mentioned above by Mr. Hunt only part is read and not all the information was given. Misleading!, as in a court of law the attorney would plead.

    3. Amittai I think you are still missing the point of this article. The objective is not to say "hey everyone, lets move to the city!" the objective is to provide a balance on Ellen Whites thoughts. Some people think she advocated 100% country living when the truth is she did not. She advocated a balance of both. Especially today with the size of cities, to move into the country and attempt to evangelize the cities would be impossible (except in small cities like Chattanooga for example). So no one is saying "ignore EGW and move to the city anyways" what we are saying is we need to consider all of EGWs counsel on the topic, not just the part that appeals to us. There are many who love the admonitions to move to the country and ignore or undermine the admonitions to move to the city, and there are many who do the opposite by focusing on the counsel to move to the city almost to the detriment of her country counsels. The best approach is a balanced one that admits the paradox and that allows each individual family to decide which side of the counsel God is calling them to adhere to. Nevertheless, I ended the article by alluding to the quote you shared above when I said (of those called to incarnational city ministry) "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." So honestly, I have no idea what you are disagreeing with or arguing about. The article fully agrees with your statements above, is built entirely on EGWs own writings and words, and calls for a balanced approach that enables the fulfillment of the great commission even in our largest cities.

    4. I must also add that debating over percentages (as in how many times she advocated country living vs city living) is completely irrelevant. The point is she advocated both. The amount of words dedicated to one in no way undermines the relevance of the other. There are many practical reasons why she may have focused on one more than another and none of them have anything to do with relevance. In addition, it is of no use to argue over periodicals vs books as if one is inherently more trustworthy than the other. Again, the point is she advocated both and we have the responsibility to hold to the same balanced thought that she advocated instead of just towing the party line that we most favor.

  3. I found it very interesting that this comment came on this day. In today's Sabbath School lesson addresses this very idea.

    To summarize 1/4 of EGW counsel was to move to the country and 3/4 of it was to move into the cities. I have met and spoken with the author to clarify this point. We just pick the point we agree with and demonize the other side. Regardless of the topic, be it city vs country living, methods of evangelism, GYC vs The One Project, WO, Musical styles or any other point of disagreement I am very bothered by the spiritual pride of the one side (Laocida much) and demonize get of the views and more importantly, the people on the other side. This happens with many people no matter what the topic or which side of it one falls. It breaks my heart when we do this to each other. How the words of Christ ring in my ears, "You will know my disciples by their love for one another." Forgive us Father for disobeying you.

    Further Thought: Read Ministry to the Cities (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald® Publishing Association, 2012). It is a collection from the Ellen G. White Estate of most of the Ellen G. White materials on urban ministry.

    A Seventh-day Adventist expert in urban ministries did a study in the Ellen G. White periodical index regarding her counsel on moving in or out of the cities. Out of 107 articles, 24 articles gave instruction on moving out or establishing institutions outside cities. But 75 articles gave specific instruction to move into the cities to reach the cities. The other eight articles were neutral. A church historian summarized Ellen G. White’s counsel on city work, showing that relating to institutions, she advocated working from outpost centers outside the city, and when dealing with local church work, she advocated working from within the city.

    What are the plans in your church to reach the cities? Where is your local church located in relationship to the nearest major metropolitan area? No church should think that reaching the cities is irrelevant to them. Every Adventist congregation needs to make some contribution toward this most important missionary goal. Ignoring the cities and focusing only on reaching the areas outside the metropolitan regions is not a faithful response to the mission that Jesus has given us.

    “Why should not families who know the present truth settle in these cities? . . . There will be laymen who will move into . . . cities . . . , that they may let the light which God has given them shine forth to others.”—Ellen G. White in Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, September 29, 1891.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Tom! Very balanced and insightful.

  4. Thanks Marcos! You mirrored my thoughts!


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