Paul’s Missionary Methods

Title of Work:

Paul's Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours

Author of Work:

Robert L. Plummer and John Mark Terry


Paul Janke

Page Number:

243 pages

Format Availability:

Paperback, Kindle


$26, $14


In order to gain the full benefit of reading Paul’s Missionary Methods, it’s necessary to be familiar with Roland Allen’s book, Missionary Methods:  St. Paul’s or Ours?  The latter is recommended reading for world missionaries in the WELS. Allen (1868-1947) was an Anglican priest who served as a missionary in northern China from 1895 to 1900 and then briefly again starting in 1902.  Allen contended that much of the mission work he observed was based on a colonial or patriarchal model, which had expatriate missionaries attempting to duplicate in their mission fields the church facilities, ministries, and governance they had known back home.  Allen believed it was common for missionaries from the West to withhold authority from the people they served in the mission fields due to a fear that native leaders could not be trusted to govern themselves or be good stewards of church finances or maintain doctrinal integrity. “We have allowed racial and religious pride to direct our attitude toward those whom we have been wont to call ‘poor heathen.’  We have approached them as superior beings, moved by charity to impart our wealth to destitute and perishing souls. We have used that argument at home to wring grudging and pitiful doles for the propagation of our faith, and abroad we have adopted that attitude as missionaries of a superior religion” (142).

Allen contends that the Apostle Paul’s method was to establish churches in leading cities of four provinces (Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia) which would be “strategic centres” of “evangelistic life” (17). Paul, Allen asserts, typically spent six months to a year establishing a church. During that time he taught and raised up leaders, then moved on to the next place, trusting the Holy Spirit to work through the Word to guide and develop those leaders. “Our difficulty,” Allen charges, “is that we have not yet tried St. Paul’s method anywhere…” (25)

Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours is made up of fourteen essays by various evangelical New Testament and missions scholars. The first part of the book treats Paul’s message and includes chapters on “Paul’s Gospel,” “Paul’s Ecclesiology,” “Paul’s Theology of Suffering,” and “Paul and Spiritual Warfare.” This part of the book serves as a helpful summary of the main emphases in the Apostle Paul’s message. In his essay on “Paul’s Theology of Suffering,” Don N. Howell Jr., writes, “Paul urged believers to literally, ‘be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Cor. 11:1)  His cruciform pattern of proclaiming Jesus Christ is a paradigm for the church to imitate.  In these early years of the twenty-first century, three great religiocultural bastions remain largely resistant to the missionary endeavor, the peoples that embrace Buddhism (esp. Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Tibet), Hinduism (esp. northern India) and Islam. To penetrate the hearts of those bound to these deeply rooted belief systems will require the costliest of sacrifices of Christ’s servants, just as it ultimately cost Paul his earthly life” (106).

David Hesselgrave, in his chapter in Paul’s Missionary Methods on “Paul’s Missions Strategy,” alludes to Bishop Leslie Newbigin’s foreword to the 6th edition of Allen’s book, where Newbigin wrote, “Perhaps one word in the title of the present work is unfortunate—the word ‘Methods’.  If anyone thinks he will find here a ‘method’ which can forthwith be ‘applied’, he is in for trouble” (i). This is because, Hesselgrave writes, “though readers can be expected to look for certain methods that can be applied in their own missionary ministry or in the ministry of others, they will not find any. Or, if they do, they will do so because they misunderstand what Allen has in mind” (128).  Allen himself, following a 1932 visit to missions in East Africa, wrote, “I never ask anyone to do anything and consequently I do not get a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I say what seems to me obviously true, but they do not know what to do about it. One day someone will see what action is demanded, and perhaps screw up their courage to take it… All I can say is, ‘This is the way of Christ and his apostles’” (i-ii, Missionary Methods, Foreword).

Hesselgrave, channeling Newbigin, believes that what Allen is advocating is something called “generational resubmission” (129). In his foreword to Allen’s book, Newbigin wrote, “…the essential thing that Allen was concerned about (was) the resubmission of each generation of the traditions of men to the Word and Spirit of God” (ii). This is “because Allen is thoroughly convinced that his generation of missionaries is going about the work of missions in ways that comport well with inherited colonial patterns and traditions but not at all well with the way of Paul.  These patterns need to be resubmitted to the searching scrutiny of the Spirit” (129).

The concern about misunderstanding “methods” notwithstanding, Hesselgrave cites the work of authors Kevin DeYoung and Gregory Gilbert, who “conclude that Paul is indeed the model missionary and that ‘Paul’s mission was threefold: (1) initial evangelism, (2) the nurture of existing churches by guarding against error and grounding them in the faith and (3) their firm establishment as healthy congregations through full exposition of the gospel and the appointment of local leadership” (144).

Along the way, Paul’s Missionary Methods in John Mark Terry’s chapter on “Paul and Indigenous Missions” also serves as an introduction to some key missiological terms, like “indigenous.” The missionary effort to establish indigenous churches is defined as “an effort to plant reproducing churches that fit naturally into their environment and to avoid planting churches that replicate Western patterns” (160). A related key concept is “three self” churches, that is, churches that are “self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating” (165).

Terry goes on to quote from the “Application” chapter of Allen’s book, writing, “Allen’s main principles are these: “All permanent teaching must be intelligible and so easily understood that those who receive it can retain it, use it and pass it on.”  Additionally, “All organizations should be set up in a way that the national Christians can maintain them.”  And, “Church finances should be provided and controlled by the local church members.” Plus, “Christians should be taught to provide pastoral care for each other.” And, finally, “Missionaries should give national believers the authority to exercise spiritual gifts freely and at once” (167).

Ed Stetzer’s chapter, written with Lizette Beard, “Paul and Church Planting,” reinforces all this and provides additional food for thought when he writes, “Allen notes, though it seems paradoxical, that the brevity of Paul’s time with the churches he planted is likely what helped them succeed. He believes that had Paul stayed longer, he may actually have stunted the growth and progress of maturing believers. Paul’s practice of planting a church, equipping new believers for a period of time, and then departing gave them room to grow into leadership roles in these new churches” (191).

The call to resubmit our missionary methods in this generation to the scrutiny of the Word and the Spirit is certainly in place. Without even realizing it, our methods of doing mission work may delay or even prevent the maturing of churches and their leaders in our mission fields. To be sure, much of what the book of Acts and Paul’s epistles tell us about his methods of doing mission work are descriptive in nature and not prescriptive. However, “two-thirds of the Bible is narrative in nature” (155) and Paul’s application of Old Testament narrative in 1 Corinthians 10 “implies that historical narrative in Scripture has pedagogical intent and value” (155).

It’s with good reason that Roland Allen’s Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? is recommended reading for WELS world missionaries. In addition, reading Paul’s Missionary Methods:  In His Time and Ours, is an excellent follow-up for its analysis of Allen’s book. Anyone interested in understanding current issues in missiology will not be disappointed after reading these books.

Robert Plummer and Mark Terry edited this volume, written for the centennial of the publication of Roland Allen’s 1912 missiological classic, Missionary Methods:  Saint Paul’s or Ours?  Plummer, a professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, edited the first part of the book on Paul’s message.  Terry, a professor of Missions at a seminary in the Pacific Rim and visiting professor of Missions at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, edited the second part of the book, which analyzes Paul’s missiology.