Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours? (Roland Allen Library) (Allen, Roland)
I first read this book five years ago and found it very challenging and pertinent. It is hard to believe it was written over 100 years ago. Thinking and praying about the new believers we are having the privilege of caring for as a church I felt compelled to read it again. It is even more relevant to us and I feel we need to consider the biblical wisdom contained in the book.
Immediately after reading it for the first time I wrote a blog about the book, I feel it appropriate to publish it again.
This is a book I have seen quoted in numerous books on church planting but until the summer had not read. It was such a treat to finally read a book written over 100 years ago and to find to so relevant and challenging. It was probably the most relevant and challenging book I read all summer.
There were so many challenges. There was the general challenge to consider the effectiveness of our contemporary church planting.
“Is our progress commensurate with all the money and effort expended? Is that progress, if any, as rapid as the work of church-planting by the great Apostle? Are we actually planting new churches or merely perpetuating a mission?”
Then there were more specific challenges. For example my attitude towards new converts and how I approached their discipleship.
“We can more easily believe in His work in us and through us, than we can believe in His work in and through our converts: we cannot trust our converts to Him.”
“The facts are these: St Paul preached in a place for five or six months and then left behind him a church, not indeed free from the need of guidance, but capable of growth and expansion.”
“Nothing can alter or disguise the fact that St Paul did leave behind him at his first visit complete churches. Nothing can alter or disguise the fact that he succeeded in so training his converts that men who came to him absolutely ignorant of the Gospel were able to maintain their position with the help of occasional letters and visits at crises of special difficulty. “
He then talks about how Paul ensured these new converts were taught so that they were able to quickly be given responsibility. Paul taught them to teach themselves, not to rely on him.
“The meetings of the church were gatherings for mutual instruction. Anyone who had been reading the book and had discovered a passage which seemed to point to Christ, or an exhortation which seemed applicable to the circumstances of their life, or a promise which encouraged him with hope for this life or the next, produced it and explained it for the benefit of all. That was the secret, there lay the source of all the early Christian literature.”
“By teaching the simplest elements in the simplest form to the many, and by giving them the means by which they could for themselves gain further knowledge, by leaving them to meditate upon these few fundamental truths, and to teach one another what they could discover, St Paul ensured that his converts should really master the most important things.”
“There is something in the presence of a great teacher that sometimes tends to prevent smaller men from realizing themselves.”
“he scarcely ever lays down the law, preferring doubt and strife to an enforced obedience to a rule.”
As Allen says….
“It would be better, far better, that our converts should make many mistakes, and fall into many errors, and commit many offences, than that their sense of responsibility should be undermined.”
I have so much to learn about developing and releasing new converts. I came away realising I need to take far more risks, I need to be much less fearful of failure.
He speaks with a contemporary relevance and challenge regarding reaching whole provinces with the gospel by initially focusing on the main city.
“ St Paul’s theory of evangelizing a province was not to preach in every place in it himself, but to establish centres of Christian life in two or three important places from which the knowledge might spread into the country round.”
But then the challenge………….
“great cities are great prisons as well as great railway stations.” And
“We are sometimes so enamoured with the strategic beauty of a place that we spend our time in fortifying it whilst the opportunity for a great campaign passes by unheeded or neglected.”
To what extent are we locking up the people in our cities rather than sending them out? Have I got the right perspective regarding training people to go?
I found the balance, insight and depth of understanding in his treatment of the miraculous astounding considering when it was written.
“At Antioch, Derbe, Thessalonica, Beroea and Corinth no mention is made in the Acts of miracles in connection with the preaching of the Gospel. Thus it would appear that the importance of miracles in the work of St Paul may be easily exaggerated. They were not a necessary part of his mission preaching: nor was their influence in attracting converts as great as we often suppose.”
However he also observes that “His miracles attracted hearers” and “miracles prepared the way for the preaching”.
He goes further recognising
“Miracles were universally accepted as proofs of the Divine approval of the message and work of him through whom they were wrought.”
And “Miracles were illustrations of the character of the new religion. They were sermons in act. ……. St Paul’s miracles illustrated the doctrine of release, of salvation.”
I am challenged to keep this biblical perspective regarding the miraculous, not to place too high an expectation on their impact but also not to underestimate their importance either. We need to be expecting them in the same way that Paul did, and as Allen encourages to.
These insights from 100 years ago regarding our attitude towards new converts and how we help them grow; our willingness to see our church as a railway station rather than a prison and the import place of the miraculous all speak to me and I believe the 21 Century church.
Written by Tony Thompson