Especially in these days of online services, there is a temptation for me to think the whole world is my audience! But no! my primary responsibility in a smaller sphere of relationships with people whom God has given me to love.
We quote our heroes for inspiration. Or we sometimes mis-quote them, but nevertheless, still feel inspired. Sometimes the quote of a well-known Christian helps add clarity or meaning to a sermon or Bible study. Maybe it gives us a sense of inspiration so we stick it on our wall, or on a mug, or on Facebook.
“The world is my parish” is one of these quotes. Depending on which biographer you read, the quote either comes from the 18th century evangelist, John Wesley, or from Wesley’s friend and colleague George Whitefield. Either way, the quote is intended to inspire us to see the whole world as needing to hear the proclamation of the gospel, not just our parochial ‘patch’.
For Whitefield and Wesley, this quote meant outdoor preaching, since they were not allowed to preach in established church pulpits (not only because of the chaotic emotional effects displayed by those converted in their gatherings, but because they were not licensed to other churches). So Whitefield (or Wesley’s) response was, I will preach outdoors, since the whole world is my parish.
The quote appears on memes, mugs and inspirational posters. Sometimes it’s hung on church office walls, alongside quotes from the likes of Jim Elliot, or Corrie Ten Boom, etc.
Yet, as inspiring as it sounds, I think it’s wrong. “The world is not my parish”. By all means, yes, let us be passionate for the Great Commission. By all means, let us plant new churches and ‘re-pot’ or revive established churches and ‘do the work of an evangelist’ (2 Tim. 4:5). By all means, yes! But at the same time, the world is not my parish.