Roland Allen on why missionaries don't follow Paul's method

Roland Allen is by far one of the most repsected and name-dropped names in missions circles, but strangely his words are also constantly ignored. Many love to say they’ve read his books, but few actually want to follow his advice. After all, what he suggests–following Paul’s example–goes so strongly against fleshly desires for accomplishment and control. In Allen’s words:

“St. Paul’s method is not in harmony with the modern Western spirit. We modern teachers from the West are by nature and by training persons of restless activity and boundless self-confidence. We are accustomed to assume an attitude of superiority towards all Eastern peoples, and to point to our material progress as the justification of our attitude. We are accustomed to do things ourselves for ourselves, to find our own way, to rely upon our own exertions, and we naturally tend to be impatient with others who are less restless and less self-assertive than we are. We are accustomed by long usage to an elaborate system of Church organization, and a peculiar code of morality. We cannot imagine any Christianity worthy of the name existing without the elaborate machinery which we have invented. We naturally expect our converts to adopt from us not only essentials but accidentals. We desire to impart not only the Gospel, but the Law and the Customs; With that spirit, St. Paul’s methods do not agree, because they were the natural outcome of quite another spirit, the spirit which preferred persuasion to authority.” (Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours)

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God can create connections out of nothing. An Evangelism Story.

We sometimes worry how it can be possible to connect with random people, very different than us in far away places. This story from some friends of mine shows that God can create beautiful connections instantly:

We had about 1 hour then to go out and prayer walk in the town and see if we could maybe talk to people. With that short amount of time my friend Rachel and I and her baby went for a stroll and ended up on a university campus that was quite pretty with a huge mosque on one and a beautiful tea garden in the middle. We spotted some covered girls sitting on a picnic table backwards and since there weren’t many other places to sit we asked if we could use the other side. Of course the immediately turned around when they saw our cute baby and began to chat with us.

They told us about themselves. They were both waiting to go in for their final exam that evening. They asked us what we were doing in their small town and we explained that we are going around praying for the black sea in the name of Jesus. Of course they were very interested in that so we asked them if we could pray for them. They were super friendly and sweet and eagerly wanted us to pray. One needed a job and the other blushed and said she would like a good husband. So we prayed for them.

“What sweet people you are!” they said. “We feel like we have known you for a long time.” One said, “I feel a strange feeling in my heart when I am near you. I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s like a good energy, and peacefulness. I really like this feeling. Maybe it is because you are good people. I can’t describe this special feeling!”

“Well thank you!” we said, “but that is not from us. We are not good people without Jesus.” I then explained how I was living in sin and then how God changed my heart. They were very attentive listeners and as we chatted more I explained my testimony and we explained the gospel to them. My friend then talked about how we try and try to be good and do good works but we keep failing and we are trapped in sin. But Jesus made a way and gave us hope.

They were so warm and responded soo positively to us and our message. We suddenly realized that we needed to go soon so we prayed for them again. They kept exclaiming that they had never opened their hearts this way to strangers and they felt like we were their best friends and they were experiencing a new feeling in their hearts that they never had before! They gave us big hugs and kisses, we went back to meet our friends, got in our cars and drove away!

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10 Things you do not need to do as a missionary...

Missions goes through phases where we get fixated on this or that method, expecting it to bring great fruit.

People have said different things at different times:

  • “We need to build church buildings.”
  • “We need to fund local workers.”
  • “We need to invest in the community.”
  • “We need to have really, really credible platforms.”
  • “We need to build a bridge of trust that can hold the weight of truth.”
  • “We need to plant churches.”
  • “We need to provide sustainable jobs and economic means for new believers.”
  • “We need to start a certain kind of Bible study groups.”
  • “We need to catalyze DMM movements”
  • “We need to see the gospel spread through existing community networks.”

But are there any Biblical commands that say we must do any of these things?

No. None. So if any of this has been weighing heavy on you, take a deep breath and relax. You don’t actually have to do any of this. And you don’t have to make others do it.

You just have to love and obey Jesus, and spend your life living to be his witness. You just have to love, encourage, and ‘disciple’ those he entrusts to you.

Let’s look to the gospel as the source of life and fruit, and not the latest method.

Let’s look to the power of God, and not to our human strengths or plans.

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Can we sacrifice God-given gifts for the gospel?

Sometimes we believe that we can’t give something up because we think it’s such a part of us, something that God’s so clearly given us. It could be some gift, that gives us such life and energy, or it could be a ministry that is such a clear blessing to others.

It seems wrong to forsake or squash these good things because we can’t see how God will take these gifts and re-use them in unimaginable ways. All we see in front of us is death. The promise of resurrection can seem so far off and impossible.

One of the hardest things for me in heading overseas was to give up a wonderful opportunity to pursue a potential music career with a really good friend. The music was good. It gave life and energy to me and others. The words brought deep and important truths to many listeners. And I felt like I was alive every time we played.

Giving it up felt like I was killing a God given part of myself, and of my friend too!

But when I got to the new land, I found that the task of language learning would be just as exciting and engaging. It made me come alive and energize me in the same way. And conversations felt like jam sessions with master musicians. I began to love the music of the language that would roll out of my mouth in endless conversations with people who had never before heard the good news. The gift squandered became something used anew.

Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac, the very son that God so clearly promised him. Isaac was supposed to be the conduit for all the fruitfulness and everything he knew to be true about God’s promises.

But he still went and sacrificed him. Even though he didn’t understand and it seemed so wrong.

To follow God’s call to take the gospel to the nations, his people will have to make brutal, painful, sometimes seemingly senseless and counter-productive sacrifices. But when we look with faith, we will see him come through on his good promises.

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The sower in Mark 4: A very different kind of farmer...

Normally farmers take great care to make sure they know what kind of soil they’re putting their seed in. They’ll think about what crops were in the year before, how much the soil has been worked, and what nutrients may or may not be present. They’ll do everything they can to makes sure they’re investing in fruitful ground, so they can get the maximum yield out of their seed. These days with modern technology, things can get really precise. Based on GPS signals and various soil samples, machines can automatically adjust the amount of seed sown depending on the quality of the soil in any given location.

But the sower in Mark 4 is a very different kind of farmer. He’s not worried about efficiency, return on his seed, or carefully analyzing the land and his seeding. He just throws the seed out there, and it lands in all kinds of different places. And there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with that.

We should probably be more focused on throwing seed out there like the farmer in Mark 4, and not be so concerned about painstakingly analyzing and trying to find the perfect soil. Because, after all, this is not the kind of farming that we can figure out and optimize using GPS signals and soil samples. It’s a spiritual work of faith, sowing seeds into human hearts, and any sprouting is a miracle of God.

I’m skeptical of any teaching that says we need to find the perfect soil, or work to prepare the soil, and only then sow the seed. Who said we had to do that? And is that even possible?? Just tell people, all kinds of different people, about Jesus. Scatter your seed all over. You may be very, very surprised to see which seeds actually sprout, grow, and bear fruit.

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Ministry shouldn't burn you out.

Jesus said that his food was to do the will of one who sent him. (John 4:34)

If God’s work that he has for us to do is like food, then I think it’s pretty safe to assume that it should be good, nourishing, even enjoyable. It should give us energy, strengthen us, and put a smile on our face.

If your food’s making you weak, sick, and miserable, then you’re eating the wrong food, or something’s very wrong.

Or, it could be that you’re eating and eating and never taking breaks. That’ll make you feel terrible as well.

Yes, following God involves massive suffering, even heartache. But even as we face suffering, loneliness, and all kinds of sufferings, doing his will should bring joy to our hearts, and give us strength for endurance.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor 4:16)

If your “ministry” is consistently sucking your life away, making you “dried out”, and not giving life, maybe it’s not the will God for you.

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Oh for a single tongue to sing my great redeemer's praise

When we’re in a new land, trying to learn a language so that we can talk to people, we’re aching for a tongue to tell people about how wonderful he is.

Back in the day people used to call a language a “tongue,” and that’s a pretty accurate representation of how crucial it is.

It takes months, even years to grow this new tongue that can freely talk about his grace and good news to people who desperately need to hear it.

This hunger, this aching to praise him in conversations with these people is what drives us to learn the language. 

“Oh for just one tongue to be able to tell these people about God’s amazing gift in Jesus!!”

Imagine being in love with someone, but being unable to talk and tell them or anyone else how you feel.

Imagine being a doctor, watching some young kid die on the operating table, knowing the cure but being unable to give a single direction to save their life.

Then combine those two feelings…

That’s probably something like what it feels like to be in these unreached places, aching to know the language.

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