Another Roland Allen Quote. Missionaries and Leadership

Roland Allen

“The secret of success in this work lies in beginning at the very beginning. It is the training of the first converts which sets the type for the future. If the first converts are taught to depend upon the missionary, if all work, evangelistic, educational, social is concentrated in his hands, the infant community learns to rest passively upon the man from whom they receive their first insight into the Gospel. Their faith having no sphere for its growth and development lies dormant. A tradition very rapidly grows up that nothing can be done without the authority and guidance of the missionary, the people wait for him to move, and, the longer they do so, the more incapable they become of any independent action. Thus the leader is confirmed in the habit of gathering all authority into his own hands, and of despising the powers of his people, until he makes their inactivity an excuse for denying their capacity. The fatal mistake has been made of teaching the converts to rely upon the wrong source of strength. Instead of seeking it in the working of the Holy Spirit in themselves, they seek it in the missionary. They put him in the place of Christ, they depend upon him.

In allowing them, or encouraging them, to do this, the missionary not only checks the spiritual growth of his converts and teaches them to rely upon a wrong source of strength; he actually robs them of the strength which they naturally possess and would naturally use. The more independent spirits amongst them can find no opportunity for exercising their gifts. All authority is concentrated in the hands of the missionary. If a native Christian feels any capacity for Christian work, he can only use his capacity under the direction, and in accordance with  the wishes, of that supreme authority. He can do little in his own way; that is, in the way which is natural to him. Consequently, if he is to do any spiritual work outside the Church the opportunity which is denied to him within her borders, or he must put aside the desire which God has implanted in his soul to do spiritual work for Christ, and content himself with secular employment. If he does the first, he works all his life as a cripple: if he takes either of the two other courses, the Church is robbed of his help.”

This was written by Roland Allen in 1908 (Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours, A Study of the Church in the Four Provinces, chapter 8). Even if the words are over 100 years old… not much has changed. There is still a tendency for many missionaries to hoard ecclesiastical power. Perhaps the only major change is that now we are finding that some of the the next generation of local leaders have finally assumed positions of power that they hoard with as grim determination as the missionaries before them. The missionaries did it due to pragmatics and (perhaps) bigotry. The new generation theologized it. Be it locals or foreigners, the accumulation of power stifles the use of God’s gifts in the church.

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