Rufus Anderson was one of the American Board's most innovative leaders. As its Secretary for most of the early nineteenth century, he began to raise hard questions about the spread of schools and hospitals. no one could dispute their popularity – but were they too successful? The real task of the missionary, Anderson, insisted, was to plant the gospel, build a native church, and then go home. Anything else was a distraction.
In 1854-55 Anderson embarked on a lengthy tour of the American Board missions and returned calling for a major shift in strategy. Over the next years, many schools closed or were forced to continue without Board sponsorship; fewer farmers and mechanics and more evangelists and preachers went to the mission field.
But the tension between what used to be called the "civilizing" and evangelizing work of the missionaries – offering humanitarian aid as well as the Christian gospel – would not be so easily resolved. Schools and hospitals continued to be central to American Board work. In the end, Anderson was most successful in identifying questions that would follow the missionary movement throughout most of its history.
"In a word, the missionary prepares new fields for pastors; and when they are thus prepared, and competent pastors are on the ground, he ought himself to move onward, ... an ambassador for Christ, to preach the gospel where it has not been preached."
--Rufus Anderson, Theory of Missions to the Heathen, 1845