Missionaries and the Mission Field: On Leaving

As I’ve mentioned before, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? by Roland Allen is an absolute must-read for missionaries, evangelists, church planters, and others involved in mission work.  Though it might be a bit dated, the content is more than a little valuable.  For example, near the end of the book Allen talks about how a missionary should – following the Apostle Paul’s example – prepare the way for his retirement right from the outset of his work.  “Retire” in this context means “leave a particular mission work.”  Here’s Allen:

“He [the missionary] can live his live amongst his people and deal with them as though he would have no successor.  He should remember that he is the least permanent element in the church.  He may fall sick and go home, or he may die, or he may be called elsewhere.  He disappears, the church remains.  The native Christians are the permanent element.”

How can a missionary practice this type of retirement?  Here is some of his advice (edited/abridged for the purpose of this blog).

“He can associate the people with himself in all that he does and so make them thoroughly understand the nature of the work. …He can educate the whole congregation.  What is needful is to begin from the bottom.  Leaders must be thrown up by the community, not dragged up by the missionary.  It is necessary to make the whole body realize its unity and common responsibility.”

Allen also says the missionary should teach the congregation about finances/stewardship, Christian baptism and discipleship, appointing church leaders, and administering church discipline.  The missionary should do these things so the church can carry on without him.

A missionary can train them for his retirement by retiring.  He can retire in two ways, physically or morally.  He can retire morally by leaving things more and more in their hands, by avoiding to press his opinion, by refusing to give it lest he should, as is often the case, lead them to accept his opinion simply because it is his.  He can retire physically.  He can go away on missionary tours of longer and longer duration, leaving the whole work of the station to be carried on without any foreign direction for a month or two.  He can do this openly and advisedly because he trusts his people.  Only by retirement can he prepare the way for real independence.”

Obviously there is more to the discussion – you’ll have to read the entire section for the rest of Allen’s helpful counsel (it is in chapter 13).  Again, if you are involved in missions of any sort, be sure this one is on your list of study materials: Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours?

shane lems

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