Missionary Methods: Paul’s or Ours?

While reading through many different books on missions and church planting, I purchased and read this one because it was cited all over the place: Roland Allen’s Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? First published in the early 20th century, Allen revised it in 1927 and it has been reprinted over and over since then.  Allen was an Anglican missionary in China around the turn of the 20th century; this book is a result of his experiences and an in-depth study of Paul’s methods of planting churches and doing mission work.  I agree with most of the reviews – this book is profoundly insightful.  I also agree with Newbigin’s words about it: “The reader should be warned that this is a book which compels decisions!”

Allen structured the book in five main parts: 1) antecedent conditions (this is something like demographics), 2) the presentation of the gospel, 3) the training of converts, 4) Paul’s methods of dealing with organized churches, and 5) conclusions.  In each of these parts, Allen goes through Acts and Paul’s epistles to show what Paul did and how he did it.  He also spends some time deconstructing wrong-headed mission approaches, though he does write constructively as well, leading the reader to a more Pauline way of doing things.

I appreciated how Allen dealt with finances and missions; I also appreciated his discussion of “contextualization” (though he uses different terms).  Allen wrote from a robust ecclesiological position, so I was glad to see there was no “lone ranger” emphasis on missions and church planting (even when he discussed tent-making missions, for example).  His high view of the church, the word, the sacraments, and the Holy Spirit’s power, made me enjoy this book all the more.

I believe that Missionary Methods should be required reading for NT students/studies.  Pastors/teachers – if you’re going through Acts or Paul’s epistles to study the mission emphasis, you must get this book.  The language is a little dated, so it isn’t the easiest read, but it is easy enough for college level readers to “get it.” The book is only around 170 pages long and the sections are formatted well so Allen’s arguments are easy to follow.  Almost forgot: church planters and others involved in planting churches should put this on their “sooner than later” reading list (it’s only around $10!).  I certainly wish I had read this book before I began the work of church planting.  I’ll close with a few of my favorite quotes.

“He [Paul] refused to do anything from which it might appear that he came to receive, that his object was to make money.”

“Eastern people almost universally look upon Christianity as a foreign religion, and they do not want a foreign religion.  This is one of the very chiefest and most insidious of our difficulties.  We are not the preachers of a Western religion, and anything which tends to create or support that misunderstanding is a thing rather to be avoided than encouraged.  By the introduction of Western buildings and Western religious furniture we can hardly avoid strengthening that misunderstanding.”

“[The missionary should] keep ever before his mind the truth that he is there to prepare the way for the retirement of the foreign missionary.  He can live his life 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.  The permanence of the church depends upon them.  Therefore, it is of vital importance that if he is removed they should be able to carry on the work, as if he were present.”

Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999).

shane lems