W. Austin Gardner
How to plant an indigenous church 6
The dictionary says the word indigenous means "produced, growing, or living naturally in a country or climate native to the location. That means a church that is (1) self-governing, (2) self-supporting, and (3) self-propagating.
By "self-governing," we mean a church that can govern itself and make its own decisions. As a missionary, you win people to Christ, baptize them and then teach them to do so the work that they will be able to win souls, baptize them, and carry on all the functions of a local New Testament church without outside intervention. They must learn how to do all the work. They will call their pastor. They will baptize. They will have Sunday School. They will send missionaries.
When the missionary has finished his job in a local church, they will be able to carry on in a manner that is pleasing to our Lord, and they will be able to carry on the work of God as well as any church in the United States. They will reach maturity when they become a living, breathing, reproducing, understanding organism like any other mature church.
At first, they will depend on the missionary for many things. The missionary tells them how to do things and also when to do them. As they mature, they will learn how to find out from God's word what He wants. They will begin looking for ways to do the work of God. They will then learn how to walk in the Spirit and teach others how to do so also.
The danger here is, if and when the church decides to be self-governing, it does not know how to do so. The church is not to be, in all honesty, even a democracy. Decisions have to be made based on what the Bible teaches and not necessarily what the people want. However, the church will need to learn to make decisions without looking to any outside source for its leadership.
The Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the local body will make the decision. Too often, the church on the field has had to obey the missionaries. We believe in the local church. They must know how to take the word of God and find the leadership of the Lord for their church. That means they must be taught how to make spiritual decisions as they follow the leadership of the Lord.
They must not be under pressure to obey the missionary or mission agency. Many mission boards choose to own the property to force the church to do what the mission says.
To be genuinely indigenous, they will have to reach the point that they can decide for their church. There is always the risk that they will do something we do not want them to do. Consider Paul in the book of Acts as he finishes his first missionary journey. He ordains elders and then commends them to the Lord. Acts 14:23