By Toby DeHay
I love history. I’m the kind of person who pulls over to read old roadside historical markers when I travel.
I often read biographies of some of America’s heroes (currently reading John Adams by David McCullough), and I even enjoy watching YouTube videos about 18th century food preservation, fire starting, and letter-sealing wax.
History fascinates me.
I also love to read about people who’ve made major contributions to church planting. Two of the most influential men who’ve 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 taught me the importance of applying the 2-2-2 principle I share with church planters on an almost weekly basis (2 Timothy 2:2 teaches Christians 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 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 been formative to how I view church planting.
Two truths I’ve learned from Allen are 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 are the ones to emulate. As I read the New Testament, particularly Acts and the letters of Paul, I see 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 to correct doctrine within the churches he planted.
Allen notes these churches didn’t need to repeat the exhortation of the Great Commission because the believers naturally shared their faith.
Indigenous Church Planting
Allen believed church plants should be indigenous in that they’re 1) self-governing, 2) self-supporting, and 3) self-extending.
New churches often need the outside help of a parenting or sponsoring church, but in the long-run, they should be able to conduct their own business, support their ministry, and multiply through evangelism and discipleship.
These ideas were groundbreaking for me early in my seminary education and church-planting journey.
John Livingston Nevius
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 known for the Nevius Plan/Method which took off in Korea in the early 1900s and jumpstarted the church there from a few hundred believers to almost 10,000 in the course of a decade.
Nevius helped me see that bivocational ministry, along with continual biblical training, is a must for church planters and pastors.
Bivo/Covocational Ministry Model
Nevius believed leaders and pastors should live in their local areas and continue in their occupations.
He thought fully-funded national leaders might become Christian mercenaries, have attitudes of entitlement, promote unnatural church growth, and no longer have natural contact with the people they minister to.
While this isn’t necessarily always the case, Nevius’ thoughts on bivocational ministry remind me of the importance of empowering pastors to shepherd 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 firefighters, plumbers, teachers, bus drivers, and loggers are leading urban, suburban, and rural churches to thrive and are providing a biblical model to follow.
Ongoing, Available, and Intensive Biblical Training
Nevius also taught that local leaders should receive appropriate biblical training throughout the year.
As these leaders were put into place, they were expected to not only desire training but to receive training to equip them to carry out the work of the gospel within their contexts.
Nevius believed this training shouldn’t only include studying books and other material, but should include physical work, trials, and suffering. He wrote that when the church thinks they’re helping a young, aspiring pastor by relieving them of their daily worries, they receive 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. And free or low-cost classes are also available from seminaries and Bible colleges.
Thinking Through What We Do.
Past saints like Roland Allen and John Nevius have helped me think through what I practice as a church planter, pastor, and state missionary. 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 settings.
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 notes of principles that challenge your current way of thinking or practice?
Take time to study past saints such as Allen and Nevius. It can help provide you with the challenge you need to succeed.
TOBY DEHAY (@tobydehay) serves the Kentucky Baptist Convention as a Church Planting and Development Associate and is currently working to finish his dissertation at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife have two children and are currently well on their way to visiting all Major League baseball parks.