Church Planters, Study Past Leaders!

Two Key Leaders Every Planter Should Study

I love history! I’m the guy who pulls over and reads the old roadside historical markers when I travel. I am often reading a biography of one of our nation’s heroes (I’m currently reading John Adams by David McCullough). And who doesn’t like to watch YouTube videos on 18th-century food preservation, fire starting, and using letter sealing wax? History fascinates me!

As a practitioner and consultant, I also love to read about those who have made major contributions to church planting. Two of the most influential men who have made the greatest impact on me and my philosophy of church planting are Roland Allen and John Livingston Nevius. These pioneers, along with many others, gave me an appreciation for trusting the Bible’s sufficiency for evangelism and discipleship. They helped me focus on biblical ecclesiology instead of trying to find the perfect model to follow. They also began to teach me the importance of applying the 2-2-2 principle that I share with Kentucky Baptist church planters on an almost weekly basis (2 Tim. 2:2 teaches us to look for teachable believers who can teach others as well.)

Allen was an Anglican missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Heathen. He served in China from 1895 until 1902 due to the Boxer Rebellion, and again for a very short time in 1905. Two of his books, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours; A Study of The Church In The Four Provinces and The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, have both been formative to how I view the planting of churches. Also, Dr. J.D Payne’s Roland Allen: Pioneer of Spontaneous Expansion has been a great help as I read and studied the work of Allen.

A couple of truths I have learned from Allen is to understand biblical missionary methods and to focus on indigenous church planting rather than applying one method from a particular culture or context directly into another.

Biblical Missionary Methods

According to Allen, the missionary methods of Paul were the ones to emulate. As I began to read the New Testament, particularly Acts and Paul’s letters, I saw how Paul had the support of local churches as we do today. Partnerships matter! Paul also relied upon the leading of the Holy Spirit, the preaching of the gospel, and training correct doctrine within the churches he planted. Allen noted the churches that were being planted did not need to repeat the exhortation of the Great Commission and how the believers naturally shared their faith!

Indigenous Church Planting:

Allen believed churches that are planted should be indigenous in that they are 1) self-governing, 2) self-supporting, and 3) self-extending. New churches often need the outside help a parent or sponsoring church can provide, but in the long-run, it should be able to conduct its own business, support its ministry, and multiply itself through evangelism and discipleship. Early in my seminary education and church planting journey, these ideas were groundbreaking to me!

John Livingston Nevius wrote The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches in 1886. He and his wife were Presbyterians and served in China as missionaries. Nevius is noted for his Nevius Plan/Method which, most notably, took off in Korea in the early 1900s and jump started the church there from a few hundred believers to almost 10,000 in ten years. Nevius helped me see that the bivocational ministry along with continual biblical training is a must for planter/pastors.

Bivo/Covocational Ministry Model:

Nevius believed that believers (particularly leaders and pastors) should live in their local areas and continue in their occupations. He thought that the fully-funded national leader may become a Christian mercenary, have attitudes of entitlement, promote unnatural church growth, and no longer have natural contact with the people of whom he is ministering. While this is not necessarily always the case, Nevius’ thoughts on bivocational ministry reminded me of the importance of empowering men to pastor churches while serving a role as a business owner or employee. In Kentucky, most of our church planters adopt this model out of financial necessity. This model needs to be championed within our nation! Godly men who are firemen, plumbers, teachers, bus drivers, and loggers are leading urban, suburban, and rural churches to thrive and are providing a model that is biblical to follow.

Ongoing, Available, and Intensive Biblical Training:

Nevius also taught that local leaders should receive appropriate biblical training throughout the year. As these men were put into place, they were expected to not only desire training but to receive training that would equip them to carry out the work of the Gospel within their context. He believed this training should not only include studying books and other material but through physical work, trials, and suffering! He wrote that when the church thinks they are helping a young man by relieving him of his daily worries, he receives little in the discipline of suffering. Today this training is readily available for church planters and pastors. Bible software programs offer electronic books, resources, and courses (Wordsearchbible.com). Free or low-cost classes are also available from seminaries and bible colleges (seminaries such as Southeastern Baptist http://www.sebts.edu/academics/distance_learning/free-classes.aspx and Bible Colleges such as Clear Creek Baptist ccbbc.edu/academic-programs/certificate-in-bible/).

Men like Roland Allen and John Nevius have helped me think through what I practice as a planter, pastor, and state missionary. Long after they are gone, their writings continue to encourage me as I read how they struggled, succeeded, and strove to share the Good News of the Gospel in their setting. Planter/pastor/leader, are you spending time each year reading material from past innovators and practitioners? Do you wrestle with concepts you might not agree with as well as making note of principles that challenge your current way of thinking or practice? Taking time to study men such as Allen and Nevius can provide the challenges each of us needs.

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