A Short Review of Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?

Here is a short review of Roland Allen’s classic book, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (Paternoster, 1912). (You can find it for free on archive.org.)

Allen (1868-1947) was an Anglican missionary to China who was forced to leave because of the Boxer Rebellion. He subsequently wrote several books on the topic of missions, including Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?, and The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes which Hinder It (1927). In both of these books he looks to the church in the book of Acts for inspiration for modern missions.

In Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?, Allen asks, what is the secret to Paul’s success as a church planter? In the ten years between 47 and 57 AD, Paul established churches in four provinces of the Roman Empire: Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia. They were not simply handfuls of converts, but true churches with leaders that were carrying on true Christian ministry.

He first asks if perhaps the conditions that Paul found were substantively different than those that we find on the mission field, and he concludes that this is not the case. He then looks at how Paul presented the gospel, how he trained converts, and how he dealt with the churches he started, and in each of these categories explores how Paul’s methods were different than the methods of European missionaries of Allen’s time. If I had to identify the most important principles identified by Allen, I would say that they are the following: (1) Paul enabled Christians and local churches to take responsibility for their own affairs, and (2) he trusted the Holy Spirit to work in the people and therefore gave them “freedom to fail.” Allen proposes that giving the churches responsibility and freedom was the key to Paul’s success (under the grace of God), and that missionaries of his time should follow Paul’s example and learn from his approach to missions.

One thing you need to know to understand this work is that in Allen’s time missionary work was often done by importing European church culture into foreign contexts, and that the Europeans generally kept control over the institutions and dictated what the national leaders had to do until the leaders were thoroughly Europeanized. Something I found interesting was that it seems to me that Allen advocates for a kind of “bottom-up” ministry that lends itself more to Baptist polity than Anglican polity.

I found this book helpful in my thinking on local church ministry and discipleship. I’ve never served as a pastor of a church, but if I ever did, I could see myself drawing on these principles in fulfilling the role of “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph 4:12). It is a classic study of how Paul carried out his ministry and definitely worth reading.

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