Achieving the Indigenous Principle | Three

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Start Right if you want to Finish Right! 

A church that hasn’t learned to fulfill its responsibility was almost certainly started off wrong. Somehow we think that those first few early services are not that important. We think that we will change the trajectory after we get started but it just doesn’t work that way. When you start your church you need to know what it should look like when you finish. If you have no pattern in mind then you will have a church that exhibits all the thought you put into it before you started it.

 

What is a church? What does a New Testament Church look like? What do you expect from the members? What do you expect from the pastor? You need to answer all these questions or you will not be able to start right. These questions all have to be answered now not later. You cannot have time to think about it. You cannot let it develop as you go along.

What is a church? For our purposes the definition will be as follows: a baptized body of believers that have covenanted together to carry out the Lord Jesus Christ’s Commission and commands! A church is not a building. It is a group of believers. There are obviously many different definitions. Most will have the same ingredients. Regardless of your definition, if you do not know what you are aiming for you are sure to hit it every time!

What does a New Testament church look like? I think that we would all agree that the following would be included: a pastor, some deacons, Bible preaching and teaching, discipleship, a congregation, baptizing, congregational singing, taking the Lord’s supper, fellowship, prayer, giving, and more. As you have this in mind you will know how you are progressing towards getting a start on a good church.

If you know what a church looks like when you begin then you will be able to work towards that goal. Just like you know how a person grows up to be an adult and you know the responsibilities that they must learn you also know what a grown up church looks like. Get into your Bible. Develop a biblical idea of what His church should look like here on earth and go after that in every service and discipleship time.

What do you expect from the members? As you plant a church you want to get the members used to doing from the first what you will expect from them in the future. No need in surprising them later. Sometimes men like to start a Bible study in a home. They reason that the people will be less threatened. They do not take up an offering. They do not give an invitation, etc.
They do not want to scare the people off. Then one day the missionary decides to take an offering but now he has trained the people to think that church is about enjoying the fellowship, sitting around talking, and it definitely doesn’t have to cost anything. Some will resist the offering.

I would rather start the church like a church. Tell them up front what you are doing. Explain why. We will, for example, start on time. We will take an offering. We will have preaching not just chew the fat. We will have an order of service and you can’t just decide to sing a special this week. Everything you can do like you want it to be will help them understand how serious it is.

Give out responsibilities. People to be ushers, clean, welcome, teach, counsel, lead singing, sing specials, etc. It is a church and there is a lot to do. Have a time of visitation and get them involved. Have prayer time and get them involved. It is a church from day one and you know that.

Do you expect the members to take care of their pastor? I Timothy 5:17-18, I Corinthians 9:1-14,
What do you expect from the pastor? Teach them by example how the pastor will be. Studying, preaching, visiting, administrating are all parts of the job and they need to see you do that. Make sure that they understand the importance of the pastor. Make sure that you get men around you that are learning what it means to be a pastor and to lead a church.

 

Do not set their future leader up to fail!

Each Sunday the missionary alternated between a kilo of rice and a kilo of beans. Each family received at least one package. The people grew accustomed to receiving their rice and beans. When the missionary left he turned the church over to a national pastor. The people immediately began to question the pastor about what had happened to their beans and rice. When he told them that the missionary was no longer giving the money the people did not believe him. They accused the pastor of stealing the bean and rice money.

That pastor was set up to fail by the missionary. The pastor simply did not have enough money to give every family a kilo of rice or beans. The missionary had obviously meant well. He was simply loving the people in their poverty and need. I am not even accusing him of using the rice and beans as a pragmatic means of building the church. He simply didn’t think through the end result of giving to the people what the pastor would not be able to continue.

Please remember that the national pastor is our friend. We want him to be a success. If he is not a success then we will not really be a success. There is no real joy or success in being able to show that the missionary had great attendance and the national wasn’t able to maintain the numbers. Remember he is a result of your training. We are to love him like we love our son.

Rice and beans aren’t the only way to set the national pastor up to fail. Everything we do runs the risk of preparing him to fail. In my first mission field church I printed a weekly bulletin. It was nothing fancy but as an American I had always had a bulletin. To me it made sense that the people would want one as well. The cost was very minor but when I went on furlough the national pastor when from a weekly bulletin to a monthly bulletin. That made it much for cost effective for the church without my offerings or financial support. It was a small thing but I had set him up to fail.

 

We do that when we bring in computers, projectors, even music that we can’t help them get, use, and maintain. When I first started on the field I took a flannel graph set that cost about $200 back in 1988. The minimum wage in my country was about $25 to $30 at the time. My wife meticulously cut out the pieces. Back then it was a great tool for working with children. There was only one problem. No church could afford anything like that. Since we knew that we did not want to keep back anything from them we allow the Sunday School teachers to use the flannel graph. It wasn’t long until we had more and more classes. We needed more flannel graph sets. Now the question comes up, what will they do when we aren’t here to purchase a set for them.

When we left on furlough we left the flannel graph set. By the end of furlough it was largely gone, pieces lost, everything dirty, etc. I was aggravated that they did not appreciate what we had left as a tool to do the ministry. They had used it a great deal. They had divided out the pieces each week between different classes but now it was gone. What were we to do? If we buy another set, how many do we buy? What will they do when we are gone?

Then came the issue of what happens when we start more churches? One set may only cost $200 but as you train men and start more churches the price of a flannel graph begins to multiply. Now instead of $200, five churches is going to cost $1,000. That is not taking into consideration the need for several per church as they grow in attendance and number of Sunday School classes.

Should we take into consideration what is going to happen when we leave? Should we not use everything we have at our disposal immediately to reach the greatest possible number of people and souls saved? Why should the missionary not be able to finance the work and build a church? It is no different than what happens when an American pastor has the ability to have all of these tools?! Maybe a key question is, Is what I am doing reproducible?

That brings us to the really important decision that we must make. Are we pastors or missionaries? What is the goal of our ministry? The Bible isn’t clear about these positions. We see an example in Paul but not a mandate. What we learn about the indigenous church is based on experience and research. But, you will still need to decide.

As I started working as a missionary all I knew was that I wanted to plant churches. I had been taught to plant an indigenous church. Before I became a missionary I hardly knew what that term meant, if at all. I did know that I planned on taking a furlough, etc. When we started the first church and got some people, a building, and a pastor I felt like I had accomplished my job. I knew that the work wasn’t ready to leave yet but I thought that I was doing what I had to do.

Then after traveling, meeting lots of pastors, feeling pressure to report different “successes,” getting questionnaires, etc. I began to try and explain the ministry I felt that God would have me to have. In the beginning, I had diligently tried to be a soul winner and train the men to be soul winners. We won or got many decisions but very few would ever come to church. In my first few prayer letters I reported all the salvation decisions but then I began to fear what would happen if anyone visited me. It was one thing to report dozens of people getting saved and quite another to get people to church. What if someone came to visit my ministry and saw the disparity? It was time to evaluate.

One day I sat down and tried to determine what I should do in the ministry. God had allowed me to begin discipling. I had spent hundreds of hours with five different young men. They were leading all of our ministries. We together had started or worked in five different churches. Many were being saved, baptized, and attending. How could I explain why I had taught these men for so many hours each week? I believe God gave me the following idea. I, obviously, do not believe that it is inspired or anything but it has worked for us.

 

I believe that training leaders is the most important aspect of the ministry. I had quit giving answers as to how many we were seeing saved. I had determined that we would count attendance and baptisms and that baptisms would only come after discipleship. So I began to call training leaders my priority ministry. I felt that if I could train leaders meaning future pastors and missionaries that I could impact the world through them.

I then divided my ministry based much on the questionnaires that I was receiving. The first or base level would be my private ministry, I call it the BE level. This level would deal with my personal convictions and separations. It would the level of my character and who I am when no one sees or knows. This would be the work of God in me by His grace making me what I was to be for Him.

The next level going up would be the personal level. I call this level the DO level. This would be what I believe that any good Christian would be doing. We DO because we are. We DO not do to BE! This level would simply be an outgrowth of the work of God in our hearts. This is where I would be a soul winner. I did not go to the mission field to be a soul winner that was something that I should be no matter where I lived and worked. I should tell others of my faith in Christ because I wanted to and just because He saved me and I love Him.

The next level would be the public ministry that God had given me. I call this the serve level. I was known as a missionary, a church planter, a pastor, a preacher, a discipler, a Bible teacher, etc. I did plant churches. I did preach every week. I regularly taught the Bible. But I quickly came to realize that all of this was not really why I had gone to the mission field. I did want to start churches and God allowed us to do so. I started to realize that the church was only going to be as good as the leaders that were prepared to take over as I stepped aside. So I was known as a church planting missionary but that really wasn’t why I was on the field.

I was on the field to have a ministry that was super important. It was the key to all the work that I felt that God had called me to do. I would do all the things that belonged in each level of ministry previously mentioned but most of all I would train leaders. I would give everything in me to help them become all that God had for them to be. I knew that the future of the work depended on them.

As I studied the life of Christ I came to realize that He spent His time training men. He lived with them. He taught them, corrected them, and prepared them to do the ministry once He was gone. He even told them that they would do and have a greater ministry than He had ever had! If you consider the ministry of Jesus you will soon see that though He had the big crowds they soon diminished. He would not have been considered a super successful missionary by today’s standards. He left a church that seems to have numbered at the best 500 and maybe only 120. But He had done something that would radically change the world in one generation. He had trained men.

Then I began to consider the life of Paul. He never stayed anywhere very long. He traveled with many young men that he was training. He started plenty of churches but spend a great deal of time training and working with young men who would carry on the ministry. Paul writes several “pastoral epistles!” He spends time teaching men in the book of Acts and getting them together to do the work.

So let me give you an opinion. You can go with the mentality of a pastor or a missionary. I believe there is a major difference. The pastor goes to shepherd a flock. A good pastor should and will be trying to evangelize the world. A good pastor will train leaders. But many times as a pastor we will develop our church and ministry where we do have the final say. If we aren’t careful we might fall into a trap that I have fallen into many times over the years of my ministry. I have wanted to make a name for myself. I have wanted to have a big ministry. I have wanted to build a platform for myself to get my material out.

All that sounds innocent enough but in my own life it was self serving. I do not say that it is in the life of anyone else. But, my ministry is really to make Him known and get His name lifted up. I think that I hindered the ministry of others to build my platform. Somebody needs the platform and if so then it must be me. Everyone from the national pastor to the younger missionaries should help me build that platform. I personally found myself frustrated because I couldn’t build that platform. I felt that people were attacking me or hindering me and the work God had for me when probably I had set myself up to fail.
A missionary has a different goal, I think. He goes to plant churches. His goal is an indigenous church. That means a church led by nationals, governed, supported, and propagated by them. He will start more churches because he is helping them do a ministry rather than enlisting the national to help him. I know this seems argumentative but that is not my intention. It is my intention to get you to think this through. It will make a difference in your ministry plans. It will make a difference because if you are a missionary that plans to leave a national in charge you will have to consider every action to be sure that it will not set the national pastor up to fail.

Do not do ministry and get the people used to ministry that they will not be able to carry on when you are gone and when your money dries up. If you use materials that they will not be able to replace you will have hurt them deeply in the eyes of their congregation. If you spend money that they will never be able to spend then you will accustom them to a lifestyle and ministry style that they will not be able to continue when you leave. You will have set them up to fail.

The Master Plan of Evangelism is available by clicking on the book also.

32 comments

  1. The part about setting the future pastor up to fail is something that is happening far too much! I personally have to keep this in mind every time I am buying something for the church, or starting a new tradition in the church.. Like just the other day I bought some nice chocolate candies for the people who had their birthdays in the month of July. The only thing is, each one cost 1.50. That does not seem like a lot, but if your doing this every month and it could be up to 10 people that number coud grow more and more and one day the national pastor could be paying 25 to 30 dollars a month… I will say that your teachings on this point have been a big help in the first 4 months! Thanks! What do you think about buying things for the church that could one day need replaced? Projector, other costly things ect… We already bought speakers, microphones. The other side to this I think is, once you as a missionary allow the church to use something like a water cooler, or something else that the church would use I a weekly bases, you should not take it back after your 3 or 4 years in the church. I once know a missionary that “allowed” the church to use some of his thigs and when he left the church had to go out and buy all new things for that coming Sunday…

    1. Thank you so much for your observation. I, too, have seen missionaries do the same in their churches. What is given is given and loaned usually doesn’t come across as loaned. Thanks for being so involved in the conversation.

  2. I think this line is really helpful for thinking about the ministry correctly:

    “He will start more churches because he is helping them do a ministry rather than enlisting the national to help him.”

    Definitely enjoying reading these articles!

  3. Enjoyed this article. I enjoyed the part where you shared your conviction to train men and build Christ`s name rather than build a very big ministry for yourself. Thanks for writing this. Kanon

  4. “I did not go to the mission field to be a soul winner that was something that I should be no matter where I lived and worked.” Like you said, this should be who we are, but seems many lose sight of taking the people past the point of just attending church after they are saved. Good article. Definitely a philosophy many could benefit from!

  5. Great article as usual. I have a question concerning the building at the beginning. Is it better to find a meeting place and rent it for a few months or to meet in a home of some of the converts you have discipled? I have seen both done and both seemed to have pros and cons. One pastor told the church they would have to pay the rent from the beginning and they did. The other rented a location but slowly decreased how much he gave. Which,in your opinions, would be a better model? I have other questions but i will email them. Thank you for helping shape my ministry in the right direction!

    1. I personally do not like the idea of using my home. I want to be able to go home when it is over. I do not want to have to run people out of my house. I like my privacy so I greatly prefer to rent a place. I feel the same way with other people. If you use someone’s house people may not go home. Plus you run the risk of things in the house being broken. Now the family may get upset or you end up paying for stuff. So I rent another building.

      I have seen others use their own home or that of a member and do so effectively. I simply do not like it. I want to be in charge. I feel like I lose some of that in the home of another. Can I tell people it is time to start. Can I tell people what to do about moving furniture as needed. Just lots of confusion and risking a friendship.

      I rent a building, get it set up, get the sign up and fill the building. I pay what I have to until they can pay. I teach them to give from the very beginning. I take up offerings from the very first service.

      Thank you for taking the time to discuss different things with us. If I can be any help please let me know.

      God bless

  6. Either side of this equation can be dangerous. All the way from a building to rent to something like chairs.

    Either extreme is dangerous. I think that you need to think through doing things that can be reproduced when the church is on its own.

    If you are the answer to every problem that the church has then you ought to know that it is not healthy at all.

    Work to build a healthy church that is able to continue when you are gone.

    Creating systems that are not sustainable without you there is not wise or healthy.

    In Peru the churches we don’t work in have projectors now as well.

    It is becoming something standard to have in the church.

    It used to be that the only place you would see a projector was in a church that had an american leading it up.

    Things have definitely changed. It will take time for a church to become healthy and to be able to handle all of its own issues.

    It is just like raising a child. You love them and teach them to live in a way that can be sustained when they are gone from your house.

  7. As you have said the church is the people not the building. To our supporting churches the building becomes the symbol of our work. Sad to say but buildings can burn or be filled with cattle.(saw this in Mexico) Thanks for keeping our focus on people. Men train men…..Buildings are just…buildings.

  8. Great article and really enjoyed reading all the comments. We started in our home when we first planted the church and stayed there for a year. It was a mistake for several reasons: 1) It communicated the wrong message to people. It said we are a casual, relaxed, low commitment Bible study not a serious, high commitment church that has a vision for the lost and the world. 2) It was too much on my wife as people would stay for 3-4 hours at times, we had to clean and set up the house 4-5 times per week with 3 services, young club, etc., 3) It made things like taking up an offering, really preaching for a response, and welcoming visitors difficult. When we moved out of our home, we lost nearly everyone because they did not like the newer format of a church service compared to a home Bible study.

    Regarding only doing what could be reproduces or carried on after you are gone, it is important to realize that you must limit some of what you might could do or set aside some of your preferences to do that which is appropriate for the local people and what can be continued on. You really don’t want all the fun, all the extras, and all the good stuff to stop when the church-planters leaves. All it will do is create bitterness from the people and frustration the man who takes over after you.

  9. Really great stuff. I have enjoyed it. Concerning Alexander’s question I would say that we have done both renting and having meetings in homes. I would say that we have had more problems with churches in peoples home than renting. We have had some good experiences but one church in the north of Bolivia started in homes and they had to move three or four different times and almost had to start from scratch because of the distance they had to move they lost most of their people. Also when it comes to renting I would say that the best would be to try and get the church paying the rent as soon as possible. To me it is not really realistic to think that they will be able to pay everything from the beginning but should little by little. I would say to be careful of one pitfall that we experienced with that. Be careful that the church doesn’t grow in size and ministries quicker than it does spiritually. In other words we can do everything and give everything so the church will grow quickly but if the people are not growing and being responsible for the financial part it is much more difficult later to turn that back around. What happens is the church in size needs a certain amount of room but they can’t pay what it would cost for that size building because they are not giving enough etc. Just a few things to think about.

      1. Thank you all for the advice. What’s amazing tip me is my wife and i were just discussing these things last weekend and i was beginning to seek counsel when i read this article. What perfect timing!
        We really do not have the option of using our home because of distance, and the idea of someone else’s now seems like a disaster waiting to happen (I’m dealing with a very laid back, casual culture). With that in mind we will be looking for place to rent after thanksgiving and launching the church in the spring of 2015. I don’t know where i would be without all of my friends in the ministry offering advice! Well, actually I’d probably be in a mess.Thank you again!

  10. At the end of this article you lay out the “be, do, serve, train” philosophy. I am curious how you ended up at this philosophy specifically prioritizing the training of men.

  11. I have several of the large Bible picture flashcards from working with kids while at college. Would taking those to Africa to use with children be an unwise move and unfair to the pastors we train?

  12. Your opening paragraph is very sobering – that if we do not start right, we will not finish right. That is a scary thought, and it certainly motivational to receive the proper training before one leaves for the field, so we know how to start right.

  13. Lots of good info here. Being reminded that the “serve” level is built on a broader “do” level and even broader “be” level is both convicting and encouraging to always set aside plenty of time for the Word and prayer. Simply doing things missionaries do doesn’t foster one relationship with the Lord.

    Also enjoyed being reminded of doing things reproducible by the people your working with. While it may be easy for us to use our American bought gadgets and conveniences, they may lend to problems down the rode. I am reminded that my only true weapon in the fight is God’s Word.

    In the matter of closed countries a reproducing church must have some level of boldness in their witness. If the gospel is secret and kept underground then it would seem Satan has prevailed. What do you think?

    I often think about North Korea and what I would do if I were there. It doesn’t seem a foreigner like myself would last 5 minutes if they tried to be bold. A Korean national might make it a little further before they’re arrested. What are your thoughts if you were trying to train men in N. Korea?

    1. I will have a podcast coming out where I mention North Korea and I too do not know what to do there. I realize that it seems to be a very impenetrable place. I am praying God will open doors in North Korea for His gospel to enter.

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