HISTORY OF THE THREE SELVES
In the mid-19th century, a man named Henry Venn argued that missionaries ought to plant churches that are “indigenous”. By indigenous he meant native, autonomous and reproducing. Venn had never been to the mission field, but as a mission administrator, he saw cracks in the foundation of the Great Commission methods of his day, including in his own denomination—the Anglican Church.
In his youth in England, Venn was told by an African boy: “Treat us like men and we’ll behave like men. Treat us as children and we will behave as children.” Venn never forgot that line.
You might think that insisting upon indigenous churches would be obvious, but the popular method in Venn’s day was for missionaries to go to foreign lands in order to pastor the churches they planted. The local people often did not become pastors themselves, and if they did, they were often supported by foreign funding. Moreover, the foreign offices and managerial machinery in the host country continued to make decisions in the foreign church. Not surprisingly, the native church either became addicted to dependency upon the foreigners, or they felt pandered, babied, and belittled.
To fix this issue, Venn urged missionaries to plant churches that were autonomous, evangelistic and generous, or as he put it, a church with the “Three Selves”: self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating. The church was to be self-governing in that she had her own authoritative local elders, void of foreign jurisdiction. The church was to be self-propagating in that she would lead the charge in preaching, evangelism and church planting, void of overseas meddling. The church was to be self-supporting in that she provided for the congregation’s leadership with their own money, void of foreign funding. Continue reading