Welcome to Missions on Point, the propempo perspective on church and missions. Hello, this is episode 32 of Missions on Point. We're in the middle of a series on keys to effectiveness as a missionary. I'm really excited about today's topic. We're going to deal with the value for indigeneity. The missionary's valuing of indigeneity is definitely a key to effectiveness as a missionary. I know some of you right now are thinking, what in the world is indigeneity? That sounds like a foreign word to me. The word indigeneity comes from indigenous. It is the state of being indigenous, and indigenous simply means in its most basic level, rooted in the native soil. Indigenous plants are those plants which originate in the native soil and are not imported from somewhere else and planted there.
In terms of missionary work, and especially in terms of church planting, we think of an indigenous church is one that is rooted in the native soil, that is the original people that live there are the ones who are carrying out the church and doing the work and ministry and multiplication of the church. The classic description of an indigenous church is one that is self-supporting, that is financially independent of outside sources. It is self-propagating in that it grows by itself and actually plants churches on its own. It reproduces itself without outside help. And lastly is self-governing, that is the leaders of the local church are nationals. They are local people. That is an indigenous church. The missionary needs to have, from the very beginning, a heart for an indigenous church, a value for indigeneity in everything that they do in their ministry.
For the missionary, it means that discipling and empowering local Christians is at the heart of all of their ministry. They don't do ministry independently from the earliest possible stages. They're bringing others along as people come to trust Christ and take responsibility, spiritual responsibility for others who are also coming to faith in Christ. This starts in practical ways at the very beginning with insisting that national believers take part in the practical aspects of setting up chairs, hosting meetings, passing out the papers, doing the routine stuff that makes meetings happen. When I teach church planting, I teach basic principles of missiology, and I'm not thinking about fancy academic things, but really, really practical things, and we've already touched on these to some extent. The first is the missionary's first priority is enculturation and language fluency or proficiency. We've already touched on that. You use the indigenous language in order to have an indigenous church. You don't speak in English and preach in English simply because your listeners might understand it. You use their heart language as much as possible, if at all possible.
Of course, there are situations and ministries in which English may be the lingua franca, that is the common language of all of those listening from many different language groups. I understand that, but if you're talking about planning an indigenous church in the location and people group to whom you're ministering, it needs to be in whatever is their heart language.
Second principle of missiology that shows a value for indigeneity is that the missionary himself should never be the singular pastor of a foreign culture church. Again, there are exceptions. There are international churches in major cities around the world, but I'm talking about a national church that should be indigenous. The missionary should never be the singular pastor. What that means in practical terms is that the missionary grooms and trains and raises up and disciples others who have come to Christ to be church leaders with him. That way it is never solely on him as the great white father, so to speak, or the leader of the church by himself. It is a plurality which includes nationals in the mix of leadership.
Thirdly, biblical principles guide ministry decisions, not human tradition and forms. Now, we've already talked about this with regard to the missionary's theology and understanding of Bible. However, biblical principles must guide the ministry decisions so that the missionary is not seen as the sole source of authority for decisions and practices and forms of the new church or the indigenous church. You want the indigenous Christian people to look to the Bible to find the answers for their problems, their concerns, their culture, and their church.
Fourthly, cultural appropriateness and reproducibility intentionally limits the means and methodologies that are used. Now, that's a mouthful, but basically what it means, the missionary doesn't use things that the nationals can't or won't normally use. So the missionary doesn't come in with a laptop and a PowerPoint presentation for every sermon, LCD projector and a generator to produce the electricity to run it all. No, if the nationals use chalkboards, the missionary uses chalkboards. If the nationals use photocopies for notes, then that's what the missionary uses. As much as possible, you copy and use what is accessible and usable and common to the local culture, whatever that is, and don't impose something from outside that is unattainable or over expensive or beyond their reach.
Obviously, to some degree, you may need to teach and train them in some skills and tools which could be used, but they just don't use it. However, for the most part, cultural appropriateness and reproducibility intentionally limits the means and methodologies that the missionary uses so that it can be fully indigenous from the beginning. Another simple concept which explains these things in a big overarching view is what is called Z-to-A thinking, that is what is the end result that you want, the Z at the end of the line, and you start with A thinking that way. In other words, how can we adapt and change and move in such a way that we accomplish the goal of an indigenous church, indigenous ministry, local Christians doing the work, being discipled in the how-tos of how to do ministry so that they can carry it on and reproduce it themselves without importing something from outside or dependency upon the foreign missionary.
A value for indigeneity can be dangerous to the missionary. Obviously, lots of foreign cultures look to the Westerner or the American as being wealthy and being something of a patron to them so that they depend upon that outside Western influence far more, and the outside affluence, far more than they should. For the missionary to take a stand early on and say, "No, I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to pay people to be in ministry. I'm not going to give goodies or prizes or tangible benefits to people who become Christians just so that we can get more Christians, or so that they can be blessed by my generosity somehow, if they are not also going to be able to do that moving forward."
We had this situation arise in our ministry on the field among tribal people who had been subsidized by finances from the West before we arrived. We decided not to continue that practice and we got called all kinds of names because they felt that we were intentionally cutting them off and making it harder for them to do the work of the ministry. In God's wonderful grace and providence, months after the funds ran out, they came back to us and said, "Aha, see, you were wrong. Our churches decided to support us themselves." That was a great day for praising God and rejoicing in his goodness to our life and ministry because we saw that sticking with a value for indigeneity paid off in them having a vision to do it themselves. After that point, they continue to minister with great joy because their own people were supporting their ministry themselves.
And here's the dark side of that. When a missionary does not have a vision for indigeneity, they don't value indigeneity the way they should, often, they are raised above the level that they ought to be for the longevity of the ministry. It's almost impossible to find and train a "Timothy" if the missionary has not been thinking about that and doing it all along the way. So a missionary can end up being on the field for 5, 10, 15, 20 years and never have a colleague in partnership of leadership of the local church, and wonder why things aren't working the way they should. They have never allowed or done the work to do the discipleship and mentoring and empowering of locals enough to have locals join as partners in the leadership team of the church. That is a shame to the missionary, to the ministry and to the design of the local church.
Healthy biblical churches ought to be self-supporting, self-propagating and self-governing. Healthy local churches should multiply leaders on a regular basis, discipling from within their own members and mentoring others to grow in Christ to the level of maturity to be First Timothy 3 kind of elder leaders of the church. So many churches in our own home country failed to do this. They're not raising up leaders. They're depending on "the professionals." They're looking for outside help and resources all the time because they're not growing them from within, the way the Bible, I think, intends us to.
Whether it's in local ministry, domestically or foreign ministry internationally, the indigenous nature of the church needs to be valued. Even for us as individuals, we must take into account that we should be multiplying ourselves. We should be investing our lives and building spiritual character in people around us, empowering them, challenging them even, giving them opportunity to exercise their gifts and calling as part of the body of Christ to step up in leadership in whatever way, servanthood in whatever way, to serve the body of Christ and be a fully engaged body where every member is taking their part, as it says in Ephesians 4, and growing up into maturity.
It's so practical. I've seen ministries that depended on outside resources all the time fail in the long term because it is an unsustainable practice to always be dependent on stuff from outside. If the missionary leaves in that situation, the church is crushed and basically dissolves. If on the other hand, the church is built to be indigenous from the very beginning, there is a high value for indigeneity. Then if the missionary leaves, the church keeps on going, whether it's due to persecution or personal matters, whether it is avoidable or unavoidable, attrition, if the missionary goes home the local church continues to grow and reproduce and become stronger because they're dependent upon the word of God, not on some outside resource and dependent upon themselves stepping up to do the work. It is fully indigenous. That is our prayer.
May our missionary candidates own a value for indigeneity as a key to their long-term effectiveness. May our missionaries embrace a value for indigeneity for their ministry for the long haul from the very beginning of their ministry so that it doesn't become a problem later on. May our own churches value a sense of discipleship and mentoring and empowerment of our own people so that our churches are healthy, reproducing, indigenous, even on a local level.
Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point, the propempo perspective on church and missions. I trust that you'll find more help and resources on the website, propempo.com. Please preferably consider supporting this ministry. Now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.
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