Shotguns, Rifles and Spiritual Service

by J. Randal Matheny
A shotgun ejects a group of pellets into an ever-widening pattern. It provides a better chance at hitting the target. A rifle shoots a single projectile that must be completely accurate in its aim.
One site describes the difference this way. “With a wider stream of potentially deadly projectiles, a shotgun is like using a can of spray paint if a rifle is like using a felt-tip pen. As long as the target is within its effective range, a shotgun will give you a much better chance of making critical contact with one pull of the trigger.”
There are other important differences; this contrast, however, serves my illustration. Basically, rifles are designed for accuracy to hit a precise point, usually at a greater distance. Shotguns send a spread of shot at moving targets at closer range. Both have their uses and advantages.
Spiritual service may also take a shotgun approach or a rifle aim.
I’ve often taken consolation and inspiration in Ecclesiastes 11:2, 6: “Divide your merchandise among seven or even eight investments, for you do not know what calamity may happen on earth. … Sow your seed in the morning, and do not stop working until the evening; for you do not know which activity will succeed — whether this one or that one, or whether both will prosper equally” (NET).
Or, as the old adage goes, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
But there’s more here than the caution against losing it all in one swoop. The multi-pronged approach sees manifold opportunities for success and positive influence.
If I could, I’d prefer being the rifleman rather than using the shotgun. I know which cartridge I’d chamber in the barrel. But time and circumstances appear to favor spreading out the spiritual efforts in a myriad of ministries.
So here in Brazil we do not only evangelism and church planting, but leadership training, youth camp ministry, children’s home board participation, seminars in congregations on various subjects, print publications including magazines, hymnals and books, writing, Internet ministry, personal counseling, lectureship speaking, among other things. (I’m sure I’m forgetting something.)
On the mission field, there are fewer people, fewer resources, fewer gifts and talents to count on.
But both approaches, rifle and shotgun, are valid, depending on the need.
Though I certainly don’t accuse them of being one-talent people, silver bullets were fired by Leroy Brownlow’s book, “Why I Am a Member of the Church of Christ;” Jule Miller’s filmstrips; William C. Hatcher’s book, “Circles of Truth;” the World Bible School correspondence courses; Gospel Advocate magazine; the “Monday Night for the Master” program; the “House to House – Heart to Heart” mailing; among a host of rifle-accurate ministries.
Point being: understand the need of your moment, find your approach, discover your gift, take aim.
And pull the trigger.


Different types of ministry may be compared to shotguns or rifles.

One thought on “Shotguns, Rifles and Spiritual Service

  1. Excellent article, Randal. You point to the manifold grace of God, of which we all are to be stewards. Working together, we’ll cover all the bases, and bring more souls to the Lord.

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