Why an indigenous church?

Chinese pastors

The indigenous church is also the only way we will have any permanence in our work. I can only live so long. I can preach and do the work of a missionary only so long and can reach only so far with my ministry. However if I can plant a local, indigenous church, when I am dead and gone they can still be preaching the gospel to others. While I can only reach a handful, the church can reach more and can train others to do the same. If they kick us out of the country, as has happened in so many communist countries in the past, the way we will continue to have a ministry is by having people trained to do the work.

The indigenous church can exist without outside help or influence. The indigenous church will support itself and does not depend on the missionary for its existence. The indigenous church will continue to plant other churches in her own country and even around the world. The daughter church many times will do more than the mother. Consider that the church in the United States that came from Europe is now carrying the gospel back to the land of the mother church.

Finally it should be noted that the church must be indigenous because that is a peculiarity of the Baptist distinctive. As Baptists we believe in local autonomous churches. It has been our history to establish local churches that governed themselves. We have never had a headquarters that made the rules, supported our pastor, or received our money. How can the missionary go to the field as a Baptist and do anything less than a Baptist? As Baptists, no one pays our bills, calls our pastor or makes our decisions. As Baptists, we do things differently because we have that right and privilege as an independent group. We are autonomous. We are indigenous. Make it your priority on the field to establish an indigenous church, just like you have here in your home church.

The indigenous church depends on its leadership. It has been said, “everything rises and falls on leadership.” If we win people, baptize them and help them get a building, what will happen when we leave? Think of what would happen in America if the church were to lose its pastor and were unable to get a pastor. We all know what would be the results and have even seen it with our own eyes. It will surely happen on the mission field and to worse ends.


Explaining the Indigenous Principle
The successful missionary is one who has done his work so well that he is no longer needed in that area. Melvin Hodges

The true measure of success is not that which the missionary accomplishes while on the field, but the work that still stands after be has gone. Melvin Hodges

Kudzu arrived in the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia! The first recorded “Kudzu Planting” missionaries were Charles and Lillie Pleas. They have a historical marker in front of their Glen Arden Nursery in Chipley, Florida that states; “Kudzu Developed Here!” When the Pleas discovered that animals would eat the plant they began to promote its use for forage in the 1920s.

During the Great Depression the Soil Conservation Service promoted kudzu for erosion control. They gave hundreds of young men the job of planting kudzu through the Civilian Conservation Corps. Farmers were paid an incentive to plant kudzu in the 1940s.
Channing Cope of Covington, Georgia promoted the use of kudzu to control erosion. He wrote articles in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and spoke on WSB-AM radio. He was very disappointed when in 1953 the US government no longer promoted the use of kudzu.

The problem was that kudzu grows too well. It can grow up to a foot a day (or so they say). In 1972 the USDA declared kudzu to be a weed. The southeastern US has near perfect conditions for kudzu to grow out of control; hot, humid summers, frequent rainfall, temperate winters with few hard freezes, and no natural predators.

Kudzu is fully indigenous to Georgia, the Southeast, and many others parts of the US. The word indigenous means according to Webster’s Online dictionary; “having originated in and being produced, growing, living, or occurring naturally in a particular region or environment.” A synonym is native. If you will go back over this paragraph and consider what you read then you will have an idea of what our goal is as “church planting” missionaries. Today, kudzu is nearly considered a curse. You can’t kill it, you can only try to control it. The pictures should let you see that kudzu is really “native” to Georgia.

As we plant churches we want churches that will be indigenous or native to the area. The term indigenous church has been defined by three characteristics; self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating. Though these are not biblical terms you will see their necessity when you begin planting churches and we see them illustrated in the Bible. As you travel, research, and see churches on the mission field you may be shocked. A great number of them will not be able to support their own pastors even though they have been an organized church for many years.


Missionaries, it seems, must stay many years before a church is able to become “native” to the land. They are unable to maintain their churches, pay their pastors, start other churches, effectively evangelize their own people. When the missionary is forced to leave, the funds are cut off, the work dries up, and dies. The only other answer is to urgently look for another source of income and another foreign missionary to prop up the church.

Is it God’s will for His churches to be so weak and dependent on outside support? Can a church be planted that will take on the characteristics of kudzu and become so “native” that it will not need outside help? Will the Bible, the church, the gospel work as well in all cultures as it has in ours?

What would happen if we were to train some national pastors who would have the attitude of Abraham when he said in Genesis 14:23 “That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich.” Abraham wanted God to get all the credit for his success and not a pagan king or anyone else for that matter.

I do not want to promote a position of boasting or pride among the national believers and churches but nor do I want to promote dependency that lasts for years. After having received so much help for so long they become bitter and demanding. They expect you to give to them and if you do not then you are wrong, selfish and bad. They demand, are not thankful, become accusing, and everyone is hurt all around.

In this short study I hope you will learn how to achieve the indigenous or “kudzu” principle. I hope you will at least learn to think, research, argue with yourself until you are convinced of your plan of action as you seek to plant churches for the kingdom and glory of God.


Q&A on the Indigenous Principle

What if a missionary says that conditions aren’t correct for kudzu in their area of the world?

Biblically, we can know that all areas are conditioned to have an indigenous church built there. The command was given to take the gospel to all the world. He would not have commanded us to take the gospel there if He weren’t going to prepare the people and build a church for His honor and glory.

There is however a truth that now is not always the best time to start a church in certain places. The apostle Paul went through many cities on his way to a town where he would preach and plant a church. Evidently the timing wasn’t right at that point. At the very beginning of their ministry notice that they went through Seleucia and Cyprus before it is mentioned that they preached in Salamis Acts 13:4-5. This happens on more than one occasion. I do not understand why he skipped those cities. I do not know how we would decide what cities to skip but I do think that it at least shows us an example of timing or some other reason to come back to a city later.

There were also places that rejected the gospel according to Jesus. He simply told them to shake the dust off their feet and move on to the next town. I am not sure that we will run into that much in today’s world because our cities today are larger than their countries were back then. The attempt had been made. They were unsuccessful and they moved on. Matthew 10:14.

There is also the truth that certain places will be more difficult and take longer. In a “creative access” country where it is against the law to openly preach and witness it is only logical to realize that things will take longer. There will be questions to answer that are not dealt with in open countries. We are not to compare ourselves among ourselves or we are not wise. II Corinthians 10:12We are however to work at doing the job that we know that God has given us of getting His gospel to the entire world.

We must remember that an indigenous church will look differently in the different areas that it is planted. When the indigenous church is planted and takes root it will maintain all of its essential characteristics. It will be the same organism in all basic make up but it will be different in many of the externals. The music style will be more appropriate to the culture, language, and people. The hours of services, the buildings, meetings, etc. will differ. It will be a church. It will follow all the Bible principles but very likely it will differ from our preconceived cultural mores. The missionary must be very careful to plant a church and not a cultural idea of a church.

How can a national church not feel like “takers” or a “welfare church” if they receive offerings to build their church from outside sources?

A plan that worked for us on the field was to teach our people that though we had been recipients of gifts from others we would never be takers. We would always pass the blessings on. We did not loan the church money because the borrower is servant to the lender and I felt that would cause unnecessary bitter feelings. Proverbs 22:7.

I felt that if instead of a loan we could as a church agree to set aside 10% of our offerings to give to other new works then we would have received but would live a lifetime of giving. Our people rejoiced at the idea. We gave away great deals of money. Not out of obligation but out of joy and abundance. Had the church been required to pay the money it could have led to bitterness. Had the church simply taken the money they would have remained weak and never felt the joy of being a giving church. There are ways that we can accomplish the work with great success by simply teaching our people to give.


Please comment!

I would really like to discuss this with you. What do you not understand that I am trying to say? What do you disagree with? What questions are left? What do you agree with? What more do I need to write about to explain this? I promise to answer each comment. Please get in a discussion with me!

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  • Posted September 9, 2014 3:36 pm
    by Jonathan Anderson

    Thank you for opening this discussion! Right now, the church is starting to save money for a future property or building. Right now I am not saying anything about churches in the US being able to help out with this need. I am focusing on what the church itself can do by faith. I know that churches in the states will want to give when we have a more permanent plan and place to buy. How do I handle this with the church? Also, Would it be wise to have 10% come off the top of the offering for a future church building? They already are giving to missions and some are giving for the future church building…


    Jonathan Anderson

    • Posted September 9, 2014 4:01 pm
      by wagardner

      Jonathan, Thanks so much for commenting on this post. I am glad we can open a discussion. First, I think it is fantastic how God is working in and through you there in Mexico. Saving money and having the people feel their responsibility is paramount. I would never let up on that step. Also have them invest sweat equity. They will know it is their church.

      I would let churches in the USA know about the needs there as you progress. I would always, however, keep the people in the giving mode. It is their church.

      As you get money from outside let the people know that God is blessing. Let them know that they, too, will be able to be a blessing to others in the future. They will be able to give to other works. Help them understand that they will never be like the “Dead Sea” that takes and takes until it has killed everything in it but will rather be like the “Sea of Galilee” and take but always give also.

      That is why I had our people begin giving so much away. i didn’t have them give the 10% of each offering until after we had gotten our first building but once we had the building we gave. I understand that they are still big givers everywhere 26 years later.

      I would budget as much as possible out of your current building as well as the offerings that they are giving. I would continue giving to missions.

      It sounds to me like you are doing a great job and the people are going to be much richer, spiritually, for it. By the way, God will also bless them financially.

      Thanks for commenting. I hope you will stay involved in this discussion!

      • Posted September 9, 2014 5:24 pm
        by Jonathan Anderson

        Thank you so much for your answer!
        Also, in the future when churches from the states give for land our a building, how should I share that blessing with the church? Just with the men or maybe ask the church if they would be willing to receive money from outside churches to help out?


        • Posted September 9, 2014 5:30 pm
          by wagardner

          I would just tell them that God was blessing. I would not ask them if they could accept it. I can’t imagine them not accepting the money. I would tell the whole church. There should be great rejoicing you would think.

          Just teach them that they should be willing to always be a giving church.

          • Posted September 11, 2014 12:44 am
            by Jonathan Anderson

            Thanks so much! The church is very aware of the plan to save money for a future building. We will be Lord willing taking on our first missionary this month!

          • Posted September 11, 2014 7:55 am
            by wagardner

            Taking on the first missionary is a giant step. Did you take on a Mexican Missionary so that they are giving to send one of their brothers to the work?

  • Posted September 10, 2014 9:35 am
    by ShawnandEmily Bateman

    Great article! When is part 2 coming out???

    • Posted September 10, 2014 9:43 am
      by wagardner

      Lord willing tomorrow. I was working on it yesterday and lost about 2 hours of work because of an internet glitch. Thanks for taking the time to read it. Thanks even more for stopping by to discuss it even if so briefly.

  • Posted September 11, 2014 10:50 am
    by Jonathan Anderson

    The church has already started to give some to missions and we have our first (Mexican) missionary coming this Sunday. He is going to France.

    We also had brother Fred Kindhart come by on a Sunday morning to preach and the chuch gave him a love offering of 1,300 pesos! They are learning to take care of the men of God!

    • Posted September 11, 2014 10:52 am
      by Austin Gardner

      Fantastic. Keep up the good work. God is going to use a church like that.

  • Posted September 11, 2014 11:36 am
    by Jonathan Anderson

    Another question… Right now I know that I will need to be here in this work for at least 3 to 4 years… My question is, when it comes time to have a national take over the work I would be also leaving the church to start a new work. How will that transition work? Like if I am training guys in the church, will I still try to be with them during the week at that church? Obviously I will try to take one or two guys with me to start the new church, but how will I continue to be a man trainer at that time? I’m also thinking of how Jason and Jeff have done it…

    Also, would it be wise for me to start another church in a year or two just because the current church really does not need my financial support anymore. The only thing that they really will need to my help to buy a building for the church.


    • Posted September 11, 2014 1:05 pm
      by Austin Gardner

      That is a great question. I would suggest that you begin training as many men as possible and take them as far as they could possibly want to go. Never train one man. If you put all your eggs in one basket then you might be in real trouble if something goes wrong and it always does.

      As you see men coming along you might even start another church before your first term is over. Never settle for one if God can let you plant multiple churches at the same time. That is why the priority ministry is training men.

      I would use every man as much as possible and as soon as possible in the ministry. Then what you will do is slowly shift responsibility to that person long before you leave.

      I use what I call “planned absences!” That is when I will be gone and put all the responsibility on them. You should tell them all you want done. You should have them doing it. They should then be tested like Jesus tested His men. Come late one day and see if they have started on time without you. Of course you will have taught them to do that long before you test them.

      Be gone one service. Come back and see how they handled it. Go over everything. Then do it again. Go preach at your second church and be in such need of help that the guys have to step up and help you. People help needy people.

      Of course I would spend all the time I could with as many II Timothy 2:2 men as I could get. Use them now. Train them. Let them be with you, watch you, do it with you, you watch them, then let them do it alone. Read Bill Hull’s book on the disciple making pastor and he explains that .

      As you work you may have several churches going because of the men you are training long before you leave even for your first term.

      God bless. Maybe Jason or Jeff will chime in and give their opinions also!

  • Posted September 11, 2014 2:51 pm
    by Jason Holt

    Hey Jonathan, I’m excited to hear about how God js blessing the ministry there! Sounds like you are on the right track!

    I would encourage you to think of a transition from the 1st church to the 2nd church as a very, very gradual process. If you start a second church soon, that would force you to miss some of the services at the first church. In those “planned absences” your guys can lead the services and preach. You can see how they do, correct their mistakes, and offer more training.

    I would start with allowing them to serve as ushers, then move them along to serving as assistant Sunday School teachers, then to preaching 3-5 minute messages, then to Sunday school teacher, then to an ‘assistant to the pastor’ position, then to an ‘assistant pastor’ level, then co-pastor, etc. I think you get the idea. Continually give them opportunities to get involved and grow while you constantly teach and train them. Ideally you will have more than one guy in each level at all times.

    As you have a couple of guys who are working up the ladder of experience, I would think about starting another church with one or two of them. During that transition period, you would be serving as lead pastor at both works while your guys lead the day-to-day operations of pastoring the people.

    To be honest, I never resigned from the first church I started. I just keep missing more and more until I quit going! Literally that’s the way it went down. I told the church people that there were too many needs in the younger churches and that Cristian (the Chilean pastor) was doing a great job and would continue to do so. I started missing once a week, then twice a week. Soon after I told them I would be glad to come back for special days or conferences if they invited me back. It was probably a 2 year process. This year, I’ve preached about 6-7 times there.

    • Posted September 11, 2014 3:07 pm
      by Austin Gardner

      This is the process we used in Peru when we left the Hunter church also. I love the discussion and hope it is helping you. Ask any questions. Keep the discussion going as long as it is helpful. Another article will come out in the AM on this same subject.

  • Posted September 11, 2014 3:10 pm
    by Jonathan Anderson

    Great help! Thank you so much! I’ll wait at least a day before my next question! 😉 I’m also trying to keep my questions centered around the indigenous principle.

    Thanks so much!

    • Posted September 11, 2014 3:12 pm
      by Austin Gardner

      You can ask anything you want at any time. You do not have to wait either. I appreciate your interest and the discussion

  • Posted September 11, 2014 6:51 pm
    by Jonathan Anderson

    Thank you Jason! Great thoughts! Never thought about it that way. Sounds like the most important thing I have heard is, TRAIN MEN! Right now I have some young guys that are very new Christians and they are truly starting to grow and their Do level is changing with time. I’m very excited about the future days! Let me read over and think through this some and I’ll have some more questions!


    • Posted September 11, 2014 10:12 pm
      by Austin Gardner

      If only people could get that in their heads. Train men. Go for young men who will listen, learn, dream, dare, and see God do something with their lives.

  • Posted September 19, 2014 9:17 pm
    by Douglas Burton

    Bro. Gardner,

    I just made it out of the bush and had a few moments to sit and read #1 of the Indigenous Principle.

    I worked in business for just over 26 years and always grew up through business knowing that if I trained and taught others to do what I was doing it would allow me to do more, grow more and expand more.

    As God called me to be a missionary I believed the same principles if I was to be a church planting missionary I would have to make something indigenous that was never in the area before. We knew Papua New Guinea was religious, although we believed that religion was not the way to heaven and that we would come with two objectives..

    #1 Tell them the Gospel – If they did not know Christ we wanted to tell them about Him and let Him do his work on their heart.

    #2 Help their Judgement Seat – If they were Christians make teach them biblically so their Judgement Seat would be as good as it could be and that by teaching them to have a relationship with Christ.

    Paul said, he was a Masterbuilder and we can only as church planting missionaries build upon the foundation he laid – Which is Christ!

    I want to thank you for these lessons and I look forward to reading the others… and I am sure I will have questions – well I know I already do, but let me read the others lessons first as they might answer some of my questions.

    • Posted September 19, 2014 9:39 pm
      by Austin Gardner

      Glad you are out of the bush. Thanks for reading. Looking forward to your comments.

  • Posted September 19, 2014 11:30 pm
    by Kevin Page

    With the work in India do you feel this will be easier? Starting with a man to be the leader and him taking the leadership role(with guidance and teaching) rather than a missionary starting a church and then leaving for furlough. I wonder if them taking ownership early instead of it being turned over to them will help?
    I’m not saying we change how we do missions. But as a pastor leaves a church and new one follows there are bumps in the road of change. Will a national as pastor from the beginning help smooth the turn over.

    • Posted September 20, 2014 8:45 am
      by Austin Gardner

      It is definitely better if you have the leader when you start. That is what I did after I got the first few churches started. At the beginning however there was no one but me. I worked with people that I trained. That meant that getting started was the hardest part. I had to find the men, see them get saved, and then spend hundreds of hours with them training them. Slowly God began to give us leaders that were being born again in the churches. Then those men would go start new churches and I could help them.

      That works far better it just takes a long time to get to that point unless someone has paved the road for you. Which God does sometimes!

  • Posted September 21, 2014 4:55 pm
    by Jeffrey Bush

    I’m jumping in late into the game, but I have very much enjoyed reading both the article and questions/comments. Looking forward to reading on.

    Jonathan, great to hear from you man and praise the Lord for what is happening in Mexico. Just remember to keep your good spirit and attitude to ask questions and I guarantee you will continue learning. Sadly, many need help but won’t ask… that’s a horrible position to be in. And keep your eye on the ball – God didn’t send you or any other missionary to a field just to let time go by. There is a work to be done, people to be saved, churches to be planted. The key to the indigenous church is to have the trained man… and you are the one who must train him.

    God bless in your efforts and see you in article #2!

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  • Posted September 22, 2014 10:14 am
    by Emory Burch

    Great principle every missionary should take to heart. Awesome analogy with the kudzu. I’m sure it’s hard not to tie the American facets into the churches we plant by habit. Reading part 2 and 3 now.

  • Posted September 22, 2014 1:17 pm
    by Eric Elrod

    In the churches that were started in Peru, at what point did you realize that it was time for you to start the “turning over” process?

    • Posted September 22, 2014 1:21 pm
      by Austin Gardner

      After the first church I pretty well turned them over as soon as the man in charge could handle them. I continued to give money and guidance but it was his work. The first church I pastored was turned over as soon as the people started recognizing the national pastor as the pastor more than me!

  • Posted September 23, 2014 3:22 pm
    by Jesse Turpin

    Enjoyed the article and comments as well. Particularly the comment, “I would use every man as much as possible and as soon as possible in the ministry.” It seems that every thing we do in missions in relation to starting a church sets an order and pattern for the men following. This article is a reminder that we should mind our process and actions from the beginning knowing that we are always training whether intentionally and planned or through their observation. Train men at the beginning and with intention seems to be the lesson for me.

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  • Posted September 25, 2014 3:09 pm
    by Timothy Kelly

    I liked reading this it was encouraging

  • Posted September 25, 2014 4:38 pm
    by David Velasquez

    I have greatly enjoyed reading the articles and comments. I am thrilled at what God is doing through your ministry, Jonathan. I met you at the first Summit in Gatlinburg. I love seeing the man that you have become. As Jeff said, keep asking questions. I long for the day when our churches in Spain are indigenous. I have so much to learn. Thank you Jefe for these articles. I look forward to discussing these things with you.

  • Posted September 25, 2014 5:54 pm
    by Jonathan Anderson

    Hey David! I owe so much to brother Gardner, Jeff and the ministries of Vision! I do remember that first Summit at the end of 2004 and how on Friday night Jeff preached his heart out and in doing so, broke my heart for the world! I’m excited to say that I have not looked back since that day!

    Thanks for your friendship David! One day I would like to bring some guys to see your work there in Spain! Let them see other parts of the world!

    Also excited to hear about what God is doing there in the ministry!

    God Bless!

  • Posted September 25, 2014 10:14 pm
    by Ben Thomas

    Make it your priority on the field to establish an indigenous church, just like you have here in your home church. This was a concept that really opened my mind to missions. That a church and ministry on the mission field can be similar to ministries in the United States.

  • Posted September 26, 2014 7:17 am
    by Kanon Bloom

    From the Post “Think of what would happen in America if the church were to lose its pastor and were unable to get a pastor. We all know what would be the results and have even seen it with our own eyes.”

    This is something I have been through and you are right a church that doesn`t have a Pastor will soon die.

    I never thought about the same being true on the mission field, but it would be. Thanks for mentioning that.

  • Posted September 26, 2014 8:01 am
    by Jason Rishel

    Excellent article. I enjoyed the part about helping the church not to develop a welfare attitude. That is great advice especially for the African churches. Once your churches in Peru were self-supporting, would you still help them with big projects (like building expansion, special meetings) or just encourage them to save up the money from their offerings?

    • Posted September 27, 2014 7:44 pm
      by Austin Gardner

      I helped any time I could

      • Posted September 27, 2014 8:31 pm
        by Jeffrey Bush

        Jason, if we use the example of the indigenous principle being like training kids (which is an excellent parallel), it makes it pretty clear. Any parent would help their child in time of need but obviously there is a line where you can spoil your child by never letting them learn to work for what they get. It’s different with every child and every situation… and so it is on every field and circumstance, but the principle remains the same. I have seen first hand the ministry in Peru and what Pastor Gardner talks about is more than a theory. The “as raising children” principle clarified the indigenous principle a lot for me. Hope that helps. Jeff

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  • Posted October 3, 2014 4:43 pm
    by sergey kaprian

    This was very interesting to read. You said that a church depends on its leadership. But i had a question about that.. since we are training to be men trainers, how do we know when the guy we are training to take over? ANd how much confidence should we have in one guy till he could take over? Because i know as humans, it is hard to have total confidence in a work that you have started. And i was wondering how you knew to let another guy to take over and how much confidence you had in him?

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