Archive for February 2012

John L. Nevius: Missionary Voice From The Past – Indigenous Church Planting Principles And Lessons

February 29, 2012

If you have been following my blog, you know that I have been writing articles on John L. Nevius, an American Presbyterian missionary who served the LORD in China for forty years in the 180o’s. His ministry and writings on indigenous church planting greatly influenced Presbyterian missionary work in Korea during his lifetime and after. The primary writing that influenced missionaries in Korea was The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches (1886). It is this booklet that my articles have been written about.

The Nevius articles have essentially been composed of quotes from the book that have I have been struck by or that I thought have, in some way, related or been similar to statements or writings of contemporary missiologists who are Church Planting Movement practitioners.

With this post I conclude my Nevius series. I trust that these posts have, or will, acquaint you with John L. Nevius as well as provoke your thinking about Church Planting Movements and how we might more effectively reach our networks and communities for Christ through the start and multiplication of simple churches.


In the chapter, “Organization Of Stations, Present And Prospective,” Nevius writes …

“… present forms of church in the West are not to be, at least without some modification, our guides to the founding of infant churches in a heathen land? If it be asked, ‘What then shall be our guide?’ I answer, ‘The teachings of the New Testament.'”

Nevius is quick to say that he is not inferring that “all forms of church organization in the West are at variance with Scripture teaching.” He is simply saying that it is not a Church Planting Movement “best practice” to expect new churches in cross-cultural settings to be structured and organized as they are in Western contexts.

“… while the doctrines of Christianity, which are obviously and by common consent regarded as fundamental and essential, are taught in the Scriptures specifically, elaborately, and repeatedly, there is no portion of Scripture where a complete and detailed system of church government is presented or referred to.”

With respect to appointing and paying a single person to serve as the pastor of a church and a church member’s “obligation” to a ministry, Nevius writes …

“A church member has a quieting sense of having discharged his duty if he has contributed generously towards building a suitable church edifice and the support of a preacher, is always found in his place as a worshipper, and attends to the  prescribed rites and observances of the Church. This spirit, wherever it is found, tends to formalism both in the clergy and the laity.”

He continues,

“Let us not, by allowing our church members to think that their chief duty is to contribute money to the support of their pastor and attend religious services, reproduce here in China one of the most reprehensible features of the Church at home.”

Nevius is not necessarily opposed to compensating pastors and ministry workers for their ministry. His caution is that “paid or salaried agents  should only be added as the people want them and can support them.” With respect to the support itself, Nevius presents several compelling reasons as to why the support of the pastor should come from those he has spiritual charge over rather than from foreign missions boards and agencies. This has to do with the indigenous church planting principle that new churches should be self-supporting.

“We affirm, without fear of contradiction, that no one thing has more effectively hindered the development of independent, self-sustaining churches in many foreign fields, than the high salaries which, with mistaken wisdom, are paid to many of the native pastors and helpers from the treasuries of the home churches.”

When writing about the call of a man to missionary work, Nevius says,

“The most important work for each man is undoubtedly that for which he is best fitted and to which he is specially called.”

On “itinerating” …

“When the time comes for practically answering the question, ‘How shall I make a beginning?’ I should say, ‘Do as the Apostle did. Go everywhere preaching the Gospel. You cannot know where there may be one waiting for you and some one to whom you have been sent. Ask for direction. Christ’s sheep will hear His voice. How shall we find them? Go everywhere, and wherever Christ’s sheep are, they will respond to His call. Then you will have a beginning from which to work and one of God’s own choosing.'”

In the quote below Nevius writes about finding a Person of Peace in a community as the beginning point for ministry in a particular city or region and oikos evangelism.

“… go, make inquiries after religiously disposed persons or seekers after the truth … endeavor to influence them and through them the circle of friends or adherents always found connected to them. This plan is obviously reasonable and practical and has the special sanction of our Saviour’s teaching, Matthew x.ii.”

As the author nears the end of his book, he makes a number of statements about ministry and missionary service that it would be wise for us, who are involved in ministry and desire to be used of the LORD for His glory, to listen to. John L Nevius, “a missionary voice from the past,” that the LORD used mightily in East Asia over a century ago.

“In the spiritual work of the conversion of souls and building up of Christ’s Kingdom on earth, we of ourselves can do nothing except as instruments.”

“For myself, I have learned that God’s ways are very different and infinitely wiser than mine; that it is better to follow than to take the lead; and that there is need to pray, not only that we may be used as instruments in God’s work, but that we may be kept from marring or obstructing it.”

“… I believe we have not accomplished what we might have if we had followed more closely the teachings and examples given to us for our guidance in the Scriptures. I believe that the injudicious use of money and agencies depending on money have returned and crippled our work and produced a less self-reliant and stalwart type of Christian than we otherwise should have had.”

And, finally,

“Let us, then, with unwavering faith in God’s revealed Word and an implicit trust in the efficacy of the Divine Spirit, address ourselves  to our labors with renewed zeal and earnestness; praying the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into His harvest and for the abundant outpouring of the Spirit upon us and those to whom we are sent; hoping and believing … the Church may record such signal triumphs of grace and power as have not been witnessed in any previous period of her history.”


I pray that this three-post series of articles on John L. Nevius has been an interesting, informative, and encouraging read for you. My purpose has been to introduce and acquaint you with this “missionary voice from the past” who ministered in China over one century ago and his book, The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches.

Nevius was a pioneer missionary when it came to the start and multiplication of indigenous churches. He understood that it was critical for the start, ministry, and continuance of an indigenous church planting movement that it be built on sound biblical missiological principles. Those principles – found in his own ministry and that of the Apostle Paul as recorded in the New Testament – are that the churches of the movement must be self-governing, self-financing, and self-propagating.

May we apply these principles, as well as those found in the Church Planting Movements that are occurring in the world today, if we are serious about the start and multiplication of churches that will penetrate and saturate our communities for Christ.


John L. Nevius: Missionary Voice From The Past – On Self-Propagating Missions

February 22, 2012

Many books have been written over the past several years that address the subject of Church Planting Movements, or CPMs. CPMs are defined as “a rapid and multiplicative increase of indigenous churches planting churches within a given people group or population segment”.  (David Garrison, Church Planting Movements – How God Is Redeeming A Lost World).

In books such as Garrison’s, T4T – A Re-Revolution in Discipleship by Steve Smith and Ying Kai, and Movements That Change The World by Steve Addison, Church Planting Movements that are occurring around the world, characteristics found in each, and CPM principles for application in the starting of new and established works are described.

I have read each of these books; two of them, twice. I have benefitted from and been greatly encouraged by each of them. But one thing that I have discovered lately is that the subject of church planting and Church Planting Movements is not a new subject among missions practitioners and missiologists. Men such as Roland Allen and John L. Nevius, who lived and ministered in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, were missionary and church planting movement pioneers. They wrote about their experiences and the CPM characteristics and principles they discovered that contribute to the rapid spread of the Gospel among a people through the start and multiplication of indigenous churches.

I have read and posted articles on this blog on Allen’s Missionary Methods: St Paul’s Or Ours? (1912) and will soon begin posting on his Spontaneous Expansion of the Church And The Causes That Hinder It (1927). In between the two series of posts on Allen, I am writing a few short posts on John L. Nevius’ The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches.

Below is my second Nevius installment. It consists of a number of quotes that stood out to me as I read his short booklet. (See the immediately preceding post for the first article.)


The following quotes are from the second chapter of The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches, “Origin And Growth Of Stations In Central Shan-Tung”.

“It is our aim that each man, woman, and child shall be both a learner from some one more advanced, and a teacher of some one less advanced.”

The quote suggests Nevius’ emphasis on the mentoring and reproduction of disciples.

In his ministry in China, Nevius and his missionary associates …

“… emphasize(d) teaching rather than preaching. I here use the word ‘preaching’ in its specific sense of logical and more or less elaborate dissertation … carefully prepared sermon(s) … instruction by lectures and sermons …. This kind of preaching gives rise in the Church from its very infancy to a kind of formalism, which is almost always fatal to growth and progress.”

The teaching that Nevius and his associates conducted included oral instruction in doctrine, prayer, and Scripture, the reading and memorization of Scripture, the telling of Scripture stories, and review of former exercises. I interpret this to mean that much of the teaching and training in the new churches was more interactive and participatory than formal and rigid.

“We find Catechisms and Scripture question books of great use, not only for inquirers, but for the more advanced Christians. I give great prominence to learning and reciting Scripture stories and parables, and nothing has been found to produce more satisfactory results. It excites interest, develops thought, and furnishes in a simple form a compendium of Bible history and Christian duty; while a careful training in relating Bible Stories and drawing practical lessons from them is one of the best ways of developing preaching talent wherever it is found.”

Under the heading of “Bible or Training Classes”, Nevius writes of believers who were “selected and invited” to attend Bible or training classes:

“They come with the understanding that in going back to their homes they are to communicate what they have learned to others.”

Believers were expected to obey and share with others what they learned rather than simply accumulate and store the knowledge.

A common characteristic found in CPMs taking place in the world today is obedience-based discipleship.  In these CPMs, the “S.O.S.” approach to the study of God’s Word is employed. In this method three questions are asked: What does the passage of Scripture Say? What in It am I to Obey? What is the truth in this passage that I am to Share and with whom am I to Share it? Of course, we are to share the truth of God with everyone, but we must be purposeful and intentional in the sharing of that truth. Identifying friends and family members to share with will keep us accountable before God and others regarding evangelism and follow-up.

When writing about the “manner in which Stations are Propagated”, Nevius writes that “new ones” – evangelism, teaching, preaching points – were established without the assistance of paid evangelists. Common, everyday believers were the ones the Lord was using to do the work of the ministry.

Regarding the new stations …

“They radiate from self-propagating centres, reminding one of the sarmentaceous plants which propagate themselves by runners striking root and producing new plants in the vicinity of the parent stock, the new plants in their turn repeating the process.”

“When a man becomes a Christian … his home becomes a new propagating centre.”

“… those (new stations) which have been commenced on the self-propagating principle have generally maintained a healthy, vigorous growth. Instead of increasing their paid agents as the number of church members has increased, that mission has diminished them nearly one half. This self-propagating principle often results in the establishment of stations one or two days’ journey from the propagating centre.”

Another characteristic found in today’s Church Planting Movements is that churches are small, usually meet in homes or rented facilities, and reproduce rapidly.


As we read John L. Nevius’s The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches (1886) we find that he addressed many of the same issues that contemporary missions practitioners are addressing and writing about today.  Those issues have to do with how to start and facilitate Church Planting Movements, the start and rapid multiplication of indigenous churches that reach people and affinity groups for the Lord Jesus Christ, around the world.

The principles that John Nevius, Garrison, Smith and Kai, and Addison, the authors mentioned above, write about are essentially the same. While they strike us as being new and innovative, they are actually as old as the Apostle Paul.

While the application of Church Planting Movement principles to any ministry – new or established – does not automatically mean that a CPM will result, I do believe that we need to give these principles great consideration for application in our ministries today, especially in the West. When we do, and they are, I am confident that we will find ourselves in the midst of a disciple-making, church planting ministry that we would not believe, even if we were told (Habakkuk 1:5 )


John L. Nevius: Missionary Voice From The Past – On Mission Funding

February 17, 2012

Many people who are involved in missions and church planting have heard the name of Roland Allen. Allen was an Anglican missionary to China in the late 1800’s and early 19oo’s. He is best known for the writing of two books that deal with missions principles as found in the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. The books are Missionary Methods: St Paul’s Or Ours? (1912) and Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and The Causes That Hinder It (1927). Both are considered to be missions classics. (If you scroll through my blog you will find several articles that I have recently posted on Missionary Methods.)

I have recently learned about another missionary from the past whose name is not as well-known as Allen’s, but whose influence was perhaps as great with respect to missionary principles and practice. The missionary is John Livingston Nevius (1829-1893). Nevius was an American Presbyterian who served in China for forty years in the 1800’s. His book, The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches (1886), greatly influenced Presbyterian missionaries who were ministering, evangelizing, and planting churches in Korea in the late 1800’s.

I have just completed the reading of Nevius’ book. As I read through it, it was interesting to note that much of what Nevius and Allen wrote, though several years apart from one another, addressed many of the same issues that they and other missionaries were struggling with as they sought to reach their respective fields for Christ through the planting of indigenous churches.

Missionaries serving in cross-cultural settings today deal with the same issues of how best to serve as catalysts and facilitators for the planting of indigenous churches that will be self-governing, self-teaching, self-financing, and self-propagating.

Though missions philosophy, strategies, and practice has advanced since the writings of Nevius and Allen, it would do contemporary missionaries and mission strategists well if we listened to these missionary voices from the past.

Therefore, I am going to do with The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches what I did with Missionary Methods and am going to do with Spontaneous Expansion. I am going to write and post a number of articles on the book that will be composed of quotes that stood out to me as I was reading through it. Posts will also contain personal reflections and comments.

The purpose of the article series is to introduce and acquaint you with John L. Nevius and his writings and to stimulate, in some way, our thinking about the start and development of churches that are truly indigenous and relevant to the people being sought for Christ.


Nevius’ book is essentially a comparison and contrast between two missionary “systems” that were being implemented during the time and ministry of Nevius and others. One “system” was in place and dominated missions strategy; this “system” Nevius refers to as the “Old System”. The second “system” was emerging and referred to as the “New System”.

In the first chapter, “The Old System Criticised”, Nevius says …

“… the Old System strives by the use of foreign funds to foster and stimulate the growth of native churches in the first stage of their development, and then gradually to discontinue the use of such funds; while those who adopt the New System think that the desired object may be best attained by applying principles of independence and self-reliance from the beginning.”

One aspect of the “Old System” that Nevius was especially concerned about was paying new converts to serve as itinerant preachers and station workers, or what he called the “paid-agent scheme”.

  “… so long as a free use is made of new converts as paid preachers, we deprive ourselves of one of the most effective means of separating the chaff from the wheat, and assuring ourselves that the men we are employing are what we hope they are, and that we are not building, or vainly attempting to build, on a bad foundation.”

Continuing to address the subject of paying new converts to do ministry, Nevius writes in the chapter, “How To Deal With New Convert” …

“Take a man laboring on the plane of his ordinary life as an earnest Christian and make him a paid laborer, and you deprive him of half his influence.”

“Still it is a fair question … whether a man will accomplish more for good in the end by preaching, or by simply living Christianity…. Such men and women present Christianity in the concrete.”

“Even voluntary and unpaid preaching is not to be compared for wholesome influence to earnest, consistent, Christian lives. The secret of the world’s evangelization is to be found in the words of our Savior, ‘So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.’.”

“Perhaps the want of it (‘that zeal and effort in the Church at home’) is due in a great measure to a growing habit of leaving work for Christ to be done by those who are paid for it. Where such an idea prevails, whether at home or on missionary ground, it tends to paralyze the power of the Church for good.”

And, finally, to conclude this first post on John Nevius’ The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches and his thoughts and perspective on indigenous church planting and finances,

“Paul on his departure from places where he had made converts often left Timothy or Silas or others to spend days or weeks in instructing, exhorting,  and comforting them, and also sent special messengers to individual churches to correct abuses and furnish help as occasion required; but we read in the Acts of the Apostles of no case in which he left any to stay with them as their resident minister. I believe that in failing to follow this Apostolic example we have often checked the development of individual gifts, and self-reliance, and aggressive power in our Churches, making them weak, inefficient and dependent on from the first.”


Most of what John Nevius has written in the first and second chapters of The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches has pertained to the financial funding, by outside sources, of missionary churches and the financial compensation of native converts employed to do ministry. Nevius is generally opposed to pouring outside, on-going, funding into the start and maintenance of indigenous missions and the financial support of native workers. He believes that such an “Old System” practice hinders the development and growth of individual believers and churches.

Most of us in the Christian West are in complete agreement with Nevius on this subject. We believe that outside funding from foreign sources creates a sense of dependency on the part of the “native” churches and workers. The possibility of that is all too real.

But, I have a thought and question about this: If fully funding and resourcing “native” churches and ministry personnel creates a financial dependency that is unhealthy, hinders the growth and development of the work and workers, and retards expansion of the church, could not the same be said about new and established ministries on the “home” field?

If our conviction about funding new works and ministry personnel on foreign fields is such that we would reduce financial support to churches and encourage “lay” ministers as opposed to paid professionals – for the sake of promoting healthy and independent churches, the validating and empowering of an army of evangelists and church planters, and the start and multiplication of churches – are we ready and willing to apply the same financial principles and guidelines to our new and established church work and personnel at ”home”?

If we did, perhaps we would see and experience the kind of church planting movements and expansion of the church that in occurring in China, India, and Africa today.


You can read two short biographies of John L. Nevius here and here.

You can read an electronic version of The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches here.

Pauline Principles For Church Planting: Proven And Re-Emerging

February 6, 2012

I have posted a number of articles on Roland Allen’s Missionary Methods: St Paul’s Or Ours? over the course of the past several Missionary Methods weeks. Missionary Methods, written  in 1912, is considered by many missiologists to be a classic on the subjects of missions,  indigenous missions, and church planting.

Though Missionary Methods is one-hundred years old and was written during the time of dominating foreign missions agencies, a spirit of paternalism, and missions stations, the missiological insights and principles contained in it are as relevant and pertinent to today’s missions as when it was first written and published.


Regarding the ministry of St. Paul …

” … we must allow to his methods a certain character of universality, and now I venture to urge that, since the Apostle, no other has discovered or practiced methods for the propagation of the Gospel better than his or more suitable to the circumstances of our day. It would be difficult to find any better model than the Apostle in the work of establishing new churches. At any rate this much is certain, that the Apostle’s methods succeeded exactly where ours have failed.”

” … we should endeavour to appreciate the principles in which the Apostle’s practice was rooted, and to learn the spirit which made their application both possible and fruitful. Those principles are assuredly applicable to every stage of the Church’s growth and that spirit  is the Divine spark which should inspire every form of method in order to make it a manner of grace…. The principles which seem to underlie all the Apostle’s practice were two: (1) that he was a preacher of the Gospel, not law, and (2) that he must retire from his converts to give place for Christ.”

In “Application”, the next to last chapter of Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours?,  Allen writes that

” … the secret of the Apostle’s success in founding churches lay in the observance of principles which we can reduce to rules of practice in some such practice as this.”

When we read his list of principles, too long to reproduce in their entirety here, we find that they are strikingly similar to the indigenous church planting principles that have been “discovered” through observation and research and are being written about by contemporary missiologists and practitioners such as David Garrison, in Church Planting Movements – How God Is Redeeming Lost World, and Steve Smith and Ying Kai in T4T – A Discipleship Re-Revolution.

The principles for successful church planting and the facilitation of a church planting movement that Roland Allen lists are:

  1. The churches must be obedience-based and reproducible. With respect to teaching, it must received … retained … used …  handed on. “The test of all teaching is practice. Nothing should be taught which cannot be so grasped and used.”
  2. The churches must be indigenous and culturally relevant. “Nothing should be established as part of the ordinary church life of the people which they cannot understand and carry on.”
  3. The churches must be self-financing and self-governing. “All financial arrangements made for the ordinary life and existence of the church should be such that the people themselves can and will control and manage their own business independently of any foreign subsidies.”
  4. The churches must live in community, it must experience body-life. “A sense of mutual responsibility of all the Christians one for another should be carefully inculcated and practiced.”
  5. The churches must also allow the exercise of every members’ spiritual gifts. “Authority to exercise spiritual gifts should be given freely and at once. Nothing should be withheld which may strengthen the life of the church, still less should anything be withheld which is necessary for its spiritual maintenance.”

” … the power in which St Paul was able to act with such boldness was the spirit of faith. Faith, not in the natural capacities of his converts, but in the power of the Holy Ghost in them.”


Roland Allen opened Missionary Methods: St Paul’s Or Ours? with this statement:

“In little more than ten years St Paul established the Church in four provinces of the Empire – Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia. Before AD47 there were no churches in these provinces; in AD57 St Paul could speak as if his work there was done, and could plan extensive tours into the far west without anxiety lest the churches which he had founded might perish in his absence for want of his guidance and support.”

Missionary Methods is Allen’s classic treatise on the missiological principles of St.Paul that helps us understand how such a missionary feat could happen. Understanding that such a movement can only result from the work of the Holy Spirit in and through the lives of men and circumstances, Allen points out principles  that were used of the LORD to facilitate the spread of the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean world in the First Century. That spread of the Gospel resulted in the start and multiplication of churches which in turn, resulted in the further spread of the Gospel.

If the 21st Century church is going to be faithful to the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ and the reaching of our neighborhoods and the “nations” for His glory, we must be about the making of reproducing disciples of Christ and the starting and multiplication of reproducing New Testament churches. That work can be enhanced and facilitated by the implementation of the missionary principles of St. Paul that we find in Roland Allen’s Missionary Methods: St Paul’s Or Ours?