Of Balloons and Seed Planters

I read the book, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? by Roland Allen, over 40 years ago and the deep impression it made on my mind has never left. However, I have not reread the book in the intervening years. I deeply regret that neglect. As I was reading the book statements made on pages 174-176 gave me pause for meditation. The book was first published in 1902 with a second edition in 1927. My edition has a copyright of 1962.

The sentences that I quote come chapter 7, “The Substance of Paul’s Preaching.”
“St. Paul expected his hearers to be moved. . . . Simply to scatter the seed, with a sort of vague hope that some of it may come up somewhere, is not preaching the Gospel. . . . To preach the Gospel requires that the preacher should believe that he is sent to those whom he is addressing at the moment, because God has among them those whom He is at the moment calling: it requires that the speaker should expect a response” (p. 174, ¶ 1)

“Our idea of ‘sowing the seed’ seems to be rather like scattering wheat out of a balloon. . . . St. Paul did not scatter seeds, he planted. He so dealt with his hearers that he brought them speedily and directly to a point of decision, and then he demanded of them that they should make a choice and act on their choice” (p. 174, ¶ 2)

“The possibility of rejection was ever present. . . . Can there be a true teaching which does not involve the refusal to go on teaching? The teaching of the Gospel is not a mere intellectual instruction: it is a moral process, and involves a moral response. If then we go on teaching where that moral response is refused, we cease to preach the Gospel; we make the teaching a mere education of the intellect. . . . We should refuse to give intellectual teaching to a pupil if he refused to give us his attention: we might equally refuse to give religious teaching to a pupil who refused to give us religious attention” (p. 175, ¶ 1).

“We have forgotten that the same Lord who gave us the command to go, gave us the command to shake off the dust from our feet. We have lost the art of shaking the lap, we have learnt the art of steeling our hearts and shutting up the bowels of our compassion against those who cry to us for the Gospel” (p. 175 ¶ 2)

The applications are almost too obvious for me to note, but I will take the risk of the obvious. 1) Do we preach with the expectation that conversions will occur? Or have we become so use to the lack of fruit in America that we consider it normal to have only one to five conversions a year? 2) Are we content with merely scattering the seed from a balloon? This is a stinging rebuke to those who merely serve up good meals of gospel preaching that lack zeal, conviction and expectation. 3) Are we willing to move on from a place or country that is rejecting the gospel and move to a place in the world that is crying for the truth?

In regard to this last thought I wonder if we may have too many preachers in the USA. There are places that are longing for someone to learn their language to come and teach them, to help them evangelize, to help them form a church and to help them see clearly the errors of false teaching. Would it be good if some of our experienced men sacrificed and went to regions of the world to plant the seed among those are longing for a gospel ministry? I am asking the question of myself and of you. I believe these are questions that need to be answered.

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