Adjusting Missionary Methods to Today’s Realities

by Marvin J. Newell


As human beings living in a mechanized world, we embrace the processes
of calibrating and recalibrating on a daily basis. Recalibrating implies
that somewhere along the way we have either gotten something wrong,
have lost our way, or don’t quite have it right. That in itself is
difficult for mission leaders to admit. Or perhaps the reality has
changed. Whatever the case, it cannot be disputed that when it comes to
mission field practices and methodologies, adjustments are in order so
that we are both faithful to scripture and experience fruitfulness in

One Hundred Years since Roland Allen
It is appropriate that 2012 be a year focused on missionary methodology.
It was one hundred years ago that Roland Allen published his seminal
book, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours. That book created quite a
stir in the mission community on both sides of the Atlantic. Reading
through Allen’s book it is interesting to note, on the one hand, how
mission issues that were pressing a hundred years ago continue to be so
today; and, on the other hand, how many current issues are quite

This year’s North American Mission Leaders Conference (NAMLC) aims to
build upon Allen and those who over this past century followed in his
train. Discussion will not be “arm chair missiology,” but rather focus
on practical field-level missionary methods.

That being said, we dare not arbitrarily engage in recalibrating
missionary methods without due consideration to the greater context of
missiological processes. If we don’t take these into account, we are in
danger of ending up with false conclusions, faulty methods, and deviant
directions. Therefore, it is imperative that all discussion of
methodology be aligned with what can be called the “Pyramid of Practice
(see figure 1).” 

Pyramid of Practice
Mission methodologies are not conceived or developed in a vacuum. They
are forged in a broad crucible that informs the process throughout. The
important elements of that process are interdependent, sequential, and
build one upon another. But this process need not be complicated. Simply
put, the four essential elements needed to craft legitimate mission
methodology/practice are: first scripture, then theology, followed by a
missiology that results in appropriate methodologies. The
interdependence of the four are illustrated by way of the pyramid (see
figure 1).1

Figure 1: Pyramid of Practice

Good missionary methodology results from starting at the foundation and
then building in ascending order from one tier to the next until the
apex is reached. However, it has been observed that the tendency when
promoting new mission methodology is to begin at the top and either work
one’s way down, or worse, to ignore the other tiers altogether. The
following is a brief description of these essential tiers.

Tier #1: Scripture
The Christian mission must be rooted in scripture—the sixty-six books
that comprise our Bible—nothing more, nothing less. From these books we
derive our message, our mandate, our motivation, and our methodology
(Kane 1979, 15). Apart from the word of God, missionary methods have
neither justification nor direction. Subtract any part of scripture and
the pyramid tumbles. Add anything to scripture and we get an unbiblical
elongated theology, adulterated missiology, and deviant missionary
practices and methods. The word of God must be the sole underpinning to
the larger discussion of missionary practices. The correctness of a
mission methodology is not defined by results, but by fidelity to

Tier #2: Theology
Before advocating a missiology that leads to methodology, a developed
theology must precede it. Scottish missiologist Rose Dowsett has
correctly observed, “Mission must be profoundly theological, and
theology must be profoundly missional.”2 To be on the correct path that leads to legitimate missionary methods, a theology derived from scripture is imperative.

Tier #3: Missiology
One last preliminary step before developing credible missionary methods
and practices is that of missiology. Missiology is the art of weaving
together what is known and believed from scripture and theology with
other disciplines that inform mission practices (e.g., anthropology,
history, sociology, comparative religions, culture, and communications).
It entails conscious, ongoing reflection that guides as one responds to
current trends in missions and the world. Once a biblically and
theologically-based missiology is in place, one can be confident when
expounding or promoting new or “recalibrated” approaches to field
methodologies and practices.

Tier #4: Missionary Methods and Practice
Put simply, a method is a procedure or way to do something. Biblically
sound, contextualized field methods and practices are the outcome of
engaging in the three previous stages. A mission agency, church, and
individual missionaries can feel confident their field methods are
biblically sound and culturally relevant when they take the time to go
through the pyramid process. Not one step can be omitted in ensuring
proper mission methodology.

Recalibrating Missionary Methods at NAMLC
The centennial remembrance of Allen’s book on missionary methods affords
the North American mission community the opportunity to critically
consider and engage in “recalibrating” some of the more pressing field
methodologies currently being undertaken. Topics to be discussed
include: the Insider Movement, finances in light of global economic
turmoil, missional business, international partnerships, and more. We
dare not ignore the larger world outside of North America in these
crucial discussions. Majority World leaders will be present to give

The goal of NAMLC is to facilitate discussions that will help shape and
reshape relevant methodologies for today as we set our sights on
completing the Great Commission. We are not so naïve as to think that
there will be unanimity in thought. But seeking
to end up within agreed upon recalibrated “tolerances” for our
methodologies going forward in a context of rapid change is, we believe,
both a worthy and an achievable goal. To learn more about NAMLC 2012,
go to

1. This graphic is updated and “recalibrated” to simplify Arthur P. Johnstone’s original seven-tiered triangle.
2. Statement at the WEA-Mission Commission meeting in Stuttgart, Germany, November 6-10, 2011.

Kane, J. Herbert. 1979. Christian Missions in Biblical Perspective. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.


Dr. Marvin J. Newell is senior vice president of Missio Nexus,
a network of evangelical mission agencies, churches, and training
centers in North America. Previously, he served as a missionary to
Indonesia, a mission administrator, a professor of missions, and
director of a mission association.

EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 3, pp. 365-367. Copyright  © 2012 Evangelism and
Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be
reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

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