the weblog of Alan Knox

Foreigners and the church in Africa

Posted by on Feb 21, 2010 in blog links | 7 comments

Since I’m planning to travel to Ethiopia this summer with a group of believers with a goal of helping the church there (as well as learning from my Ethiopian brothers and sisters), I found this quote very timely and interesting:

“The continued presence of a foreigner seems to me to produce an evil effect. The native genius is cramped by his presence, and cannot work with him. The Christians tend to sit still and let him do everything for them, denying all responsibility…I should feel disposed to group all foreigners together in one place to avoid having them reside in more places than can be helped. A visit of two or three months stirs up the Church. Long continued residence stifles it.”
Roland Allen ‘USPG: Africa and Asia’, Vol II, 1902.

(HT: Jeff at Until All Have Heard)


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  1. 2-22-2010

    I have not read this particular work of Allen. Do you have any idea if he was making this point specifically in regard to Africa vis-a-vis other places in the world? If so, I wonder why. What makes Africa different? If not, I wonder if he is arguing against long-term missionary presence, in general. From what I remember, Allen does seem to argue, in other places, that Paul’s preferred modus operandi was to only stay in the places he planted churches for short periods of time, and then move on. As I look at Acts, however, I see a different pattern. In some cases, he moved on because he was forced by persecution to do so. Also, it seems that, as he gained more missionary experience, toward the end of his “missionary career,” he had a tendency to stay in the same place for longer periods of time (e.g. Corinth, Ephesus). It leaves me to wonder if, perhaps, Paul was learning lessons in missionary strategy along the way as he gained more experience.

    Personally, I think we must be careful, in questions of missionary strategy, to not adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. That is why, if there were particular factors in Africa at the time that Allen wrote that would seem to favor this approach, I am open to hearing about them. But, I am hesitant to jump on the bandwagon if he is suggesting this same approach for all missionary contexts.

    By the way, Schnabel’s recent book on Paul responds to and interacts with Allen’s thesis, agreeing on some points, and disagreeing on others. It is a good read related to some of these issues.

  2. 2-22-2010


    I haven’t ready this book by Allen either. The title implies that it is specifically related to Africa. I agree that Paul spent considerable time (1-2 years?) in Corinth and Ephesus.

    I’m wondering if Allen is concerned about reliance on foreign missionaries?


  3. 2-23-2010

    It is sort of an amplified clergy-laity scenario.

    An elder–especially one with exceptional gifting–should not over-function so that everyone else is intimidated to even try to contribute. How many saints, in one of the famous preacher’s churches today, are comfortable during the course of a regular meeting together standing up and sharing for 10 or fifteen minutes something they learned over the past week?

    In a much greater way, foreign mission workers often send the message that the people of another country are not fully competent to handle matters on their own, cannot run and expand the church on their own, and that they must be dependent on the West for instruction and guidance, even adopting their (foreign) practices.

    Any foreign church has all they need to take matters into their hands with their own leadership within a relatively short period of time. Any saint has all they need to fully participate in the life of a church in an equally short period of time. Unless, of course, they are told and shown continually that they cannot.

  4. 2-23-2010


    I think you hit on an important point. You said, “foreign mission workers often send the message that the people of another country are not fully competent.” If, on the other hand, the “foreign mission workers” send the message that they are in need of help from the indigenous believers as much as the indigenous believers are in need of help from the foreigners, I think the outcome would be different (same for the “famous preacher”… what would happen if he sat down and listened as much as he stood and spoke?)

    Thus, my friend and I (who are planning to go to Ethiopia this summer) are already talking about how we can come prepared to learn from our Ethiopian brothers and sisters, and communicate that desire to them, and then give them real opportunities to teach us. By “real opportunities” I mean that we actually do something to learn from them, we don’t just say that we want to learn from them.


  5. 2-23-2010

    May the tribe of “the other hand” grow and flourish…

  6. 3-19-2010

    Well, I really like the discussion here on Roland Allen’s words.

    The problem that most of us just don’t get is that when we come as westerners (white-ies!) into the poorest parts of Asia and Africa is that we cannot possibly “comes as learners” and people who need to learn the lessons, etc. We come, whether we like it or not, as the “Answer Man”! The color white = Green! It just cannot happen and is not happening. Try it and you will see what I mean. Then you might read again Roland’s writing about how “The continued presence of a foreigner seems to me to produce an evil effect.” Those are strong words yet I agree with them wholeheartedly.

    So you ask what should we do? Do what Paul did!! He is either an out-of-date example or the only biblical model we have for apostolic work in foreign lands… I greatly recommend Roland’s books such as “The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church” and “The Ministry of the Spirit.”

    Blessings. Jeff Gilbertson

  7. 3-19-2010


    I’m going to “try it” this summer. I’ll let you know how it goes here.