When is a Local Church Autonomous? 8 Observations About Native Pastors

When can a missionary feel comfortable moving on from the church he established? How can he know the church will flourish and make the proper decisions? There are many ways to answer this question but my conviction is that a missionary can move on when he has installed a native pastor. This is the key issue. It is also the most difficult issue.

In one sense, it makes little difference if the church has 5 members, 50 members, or 500 members. If no one is able to lead them, preach to them and shepherd them, the missionary cannot depart. Better to have a church of 10 with a pastor than a church of 100 with no leader. The point is to “appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5). Then the missionary moves on.

Rufus Anderson, the American Presbyterian missiologist, made several acute observations about native pastors installed at missionary church plants. Here are eight:

1. Native pastors should lead a church where there are true converts.

“I now enquire, what should be the nature of the mission church? It should be composed only of hopeful converts…” – Rufus Anderson

2. Native pastors should lead a church early.

“[The church] should have, as soon as possible, a native pastor…” – Anderson

3. Native pastors should lead a church among his people.

“[Native pastors must be of the same race…” – Anderson

4. Native pastors should be trained (formally, or most often, informally).

[“A native pastor]…has been trained cheerfully to take the oversight…” – Anderson

5. Native pastors often will lead very small, poor congregations.

Anderson: “[The native church]…will generally be a small, poor, ignorant people…

6. Native pastors can connect with the church much better than the missionary.

“[The native pastor will]…mingle with them familiarly and sympathetically.” – Anderson

7. Native pastors will carry out the same role as the missionary did.

“By a native pastor I mean one recognized as having the pastoral care of a local church, with the right to administer the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” – Anderson

8. Native pastors should be paid according to what the congregation can give.

“As soon as the mission church has a native pastor, the responsibilities of self-government should be devolved upon it…The salary of the native pastor should be based on the Christianized ideas of living acquired by his people, and the church should become self-supporting at the very earliest possible day.” – Anderson (Beaver, To Advance the Gospel, 98).

Conclusion

A missionary should not hang on as long as he can to the church he is trying to establish. His goal is to install native elders as soon as possible. Rather than trying to create a large church, he should put much of his energy into training a national pastor that can shepherd the small congregation of local believers.

3 thoughts on “When is a Local Church Autonomous? 8 Observations About Native Pastors

  1. I like the idea in principle, however during his time many churches were planted in Africa which eventually were heavily influenced by false doctrines in so much that many churches are health/wealth or charismatic in nature, which is a huge problem. I think an argument should be made for taking some time to teach important discernment for future generations.

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