By President for Vision LA, Austin Gardner

Achieving the Indigenous Principle | Three
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Achieving the Indigenous Principle | Three

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.

About the Author

Austin Gardner is the founding Pastor of Vision Baptist Church and a veteran missionary to the country of Peru, South America for over 20 years. The Lord blessed his ministry and allowed him to train pastors and leaders in the ministry that have started 80+ churches all over the world. He is a sought-after speaker on missions and travels extensively as a part of his continuing ministry of training missionaries.
He has started multiple schools for ministry including the Peru Bible College and the Our Generation Training Centerwhich continues to train young men and women pursuing a life of full-time world missions.
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Austin Gardner