By Oswald J. Smith

For over 100 years now we have been sending out missionaries to be pastors of native churches, and thus God's order has been reversed. Our methods as a Church have not been scriptural. Hence, the world is still unevangelized in spite of all our efforts.

Paul, the greatest and most successful missionary the world has ever known, did not become a pastor. He travelled, preached, won converts, organized churches, placed them under native leadership, and passed on. He did not attempt to change the manners and customs of the people. The Gospel, where necessary, did that. He placed responsibility upon the natives themselves, made the churches founded self-supporting and self-propagating, and that from the very first. He founded no colleges, built no hospitals and erected no church buildings. The natives provided for their own needs.

Missionary Methods

During my world tours I made a very careful study of missionary methods. In many fields I found foreign missionaries acting as pastors of native churches, a thing unknown in Scripture. In one country, for instance, I visited a number of leaders who had been sent out as missionaries, in some cases, 20, 25 and even 30 years ago. These men had settled down in various towns and cities and after preaching for some time, had won a number of converts, whom they had organized into a church. And during all these years they had remained themselves in charge as pastors. Consequently their influence had not been felt beyond the confines of their local work.

I do not mean to insinuate that these missionaries have not done good work. Certainly they have been a blessing to the locality in which their church has been situated. But after 20, 25 and 30 years of service they have to admit that the country in which they have laboured for so long, and in some cases even the city in which they live and preach, is still unevangelized. What a tragedy! They became pastors of native churches instead of Pauline evangelists.

What then should they have done? They should have followed the example of Paul. They should have kept the evangelization of the entire country constantly in mind, adopting the scriptural methods that would have made this possible. The business, the one and only business of the foreign missionary, is to train native workers, and put responsibility upon them. They should be appointed as evangelists or teachers according to their gifts and sent forth to evangelize their country. They should be ordained as pastors and elders and placed in charge of churches. Each church should be self-governing, and like a hive it should repeatedly swarm. Thus new churches would be constantly springing up and in a short time the entire country would be evangelized.

In one country I visited I found a number of foreign missionaries who had become pastors, who were unwilling to allow their young men, gifted though they were, to go from the mother church in order to evangelize other sections of the country.

The missionary societies that see Paul's vision are endeavouring to adhere strictly to scriptural methods. They are keeping evangelism to the forefront. They are not specializing in hospitals, for they realize that institutional work is the responsibility of the state. There are many hospitals in the foreign field in which no scriptural work is allowed. They are not building colleges for they do not believe in educating the unsaved. Moreover, they have learned from experience that education in the hands of an enemy of the cross is a most dangerous weapon. In fact, most of the trouble in China and India, as well as other countries, comes from the student class. Nor do they establish theological seminaries. To put a native through a long course of study is to rob him of his vision, turn him into a student and send him forth with a superiority complex. All that a man needs to begin with is a knowledge of the fundamental truths of the Gospel and how to give them out. If a country is to be evangelized it must have evangelists. The one and only thing to do is to preach the gospel. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,” commanded Jesus. Preach it everywhere, in the bazaars and marketplaces, on the street corners, in halls and homes, anywhere, everywhere, but to preach, preach, preach, and preach the Gospel, for the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.

Native Bible schools

Hence, in one country there was established a sort of Home Bible School, where an evangelistic course of intensive Bible study lasting only three months was given. So short was the term that none of those taking the course had time to become students. They remained Evangelists. And at the end of the three months the fire was burning brighter than at the beginning. As evangelists they were then sent forth to preach the gospel over a widely scattered area. After they evangelized for a year, they were brought back for another three or four months of intensive training. Then sent out again.

Most foreign missionaries seem afraid to trust the native worker. I remember one such. His furlough was long overdue, but he hesitated to leave. For years past he had taken full charge of the station and was alone responsible for everything. Not a single native worker had he trained. At last the hour arrived when he was simply compelled to go.

It so happened that a visiting missionary was spending a few days with him, one who knew and practised the scriptural method. Seeking to solve the problem the visitor requested his much worried friend to call the leading natives of the congregation before him, with a view to finding out which of them, if any, could be entrusted with responsibility.

Then, to his amazement, his visiting friend took this untrained and doubtful material and appointed each one to a position of trust. One was to be the pastor, another treasurer, a third the superintendent of the entire work; others evangelists, elders, etc. Thus each one, to his own surprise, was given a responsible position. The tired, overworked missionary took his furlough. A year passed by. At last he returned expecting to find disaster. To his amazement he found that every man had made good. The work had prospered as never before. Scores of souls had been won to Christ. The church was in a flourishing condition. For miles around the country had been evangelized. Money had been contributed, repairs made to the church, and other chapels erected. The natives for the first time in their lives had been made conscious of their responsibility. In fear and trembling, unused to being trusted, they had gone about their work, but it was the scriptural method and God blessed. What a revelation to the missionary who thought he had to do it all and hence could not be spared!

The reason so many missionaries are content to settle down as pastors is because they only see their own local work; whereas their vision should take in, not merely the village or town in which they labour, but the whole country. Their task is not only the evangelization of their own community, but a nation.

Ordain Elders

But now for God's plan for the establishment of local churches. How is it to be done? That is to say, how is it to be done without foreign funds? What is the scriptural method?

Paul, you remember, evangelized, won converts, formed them into little churches, and appointed elders. Herein lies the secret. He took two or three men and placed them as elders over the flock. Now these men did not give up their daily occupations. But they became the overseers of the church. They called the church together for worship at regular intervals. They presided at the Lord's table. They baptized the new converts. They read the Scriptures and lead in prayer. They visited the sick.

Here, for instance, are a number of cities, towns, and villages. Our native Evangelists, Paul's company, trained in our Bible School, commence a campaign of evangelization. The Word is preached, tracts distributed, and personal work done, and finally, a number of converts are won. But they are scattered over a wide area, and so they are formed into little groups, churches. From each group the most gifted of the men are selected and ordained as elders. Two will suffice. Three would be better. These elders are placed over their own groups. Thus the church meets regularly under their leadership. They may not be able to preach, but one of them can read the word. Another may be gifted to expound it. And all can pray.

These churches will, of course, grow. That is, if they are normal, living organisms. When they become too large, they will just naturally swarm. Another little church will be born. The elders already appointed have power to appoint others, and to organize other churches. Thus they will multiply rapidly until, in a short time, there will be little churches scattered all over the country.

Now a church may become strong enough in certain centres to require the whole time of a pastor. The pastor may be one of the elders, who, if necessary, can be trained in the Bible school. Or he may be one of the evangelists already trained. He is now supported by the native church. He is not sent to a weak church and supported by foreign money, but he is called to a strong church and supported by the natives themselves.

In some districts converts have had no communion for 2 or 3 years, simply because there was no foreign pastor and the bishop was not able to get round. For they had been taught that only properly ordained pastors had authority to baptize and reside at the Lord's table. Whereas, from among themselves, elders should have been ordained, who could have done everything required.

Never can we send out enough foreign missionaries to evangelize the world. Never can we support enough native pastors to place one in every town and village worldwide. But we can found a Bible School. We can send out a Dean. We can train native pastors and evangelists. The evangelists can go everywhere, as Paul did, evangelizing. They can form the converts into local churches even if there are only two or three at first. 'For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them, ' said Jesus. And that constitutes the New Testament Church. They can appoint or ordain elders from among the converts that the life of the church may be maintained and developed. These churches can multiply and organize others. And thus whole countries can be evangelized.

The Native Is the Key

But let us turn, in closing, to Acts 14:23. Paul and his company of Evangelists had travelled from city to city, according to God's plan, and many converts had been won and churches established. They did not remain permanently anywhere, nor was there any thought of settling down as pastors. Later on they made a second tour, and later again a third. Thus they encouraged the churches. “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” And then – they left them.

The fact is, we have built 'up’ instead of 'out.’ Such has ever been the policy of Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism has made the same mistake. In organization we have gone from laity and priest to pope, and in buildings, from homes and halls to cathedrals. God told us to build out, to evangelize, but, ignoring His plan, we have built up. And so today we are over-burdened with property and top-heavy with machinery and organization.

Whereas had we followed the Pauline method, we would have found the burden light. It solves the financial problem. Large gifts for educational and medical buildings are unnecessary. Native Evangelists are accustomed to native food and ways of living, and thereby the heavy expense of setting up a foreign establishment is saved, including furniture, imported foods and clothing, etc. Allowances are much less, as the Evangelists are able to live comfortably in their accustomed way. The heavy expense of bringing foreign workers home every few years for furlough is saved.

A foreign language, with foreign customs and ways of thinking, does not have to be learned, so that much valuable time is saved. A foreign worker seldom ever learns perfectly, idioms of a native language and so always has a handicap. Our evangelists have this advantage from the first. They are at home with native manners and customs, and so do not cause offence.

My brethren, you may or may not agree with all that I have said. But one thing you cannot deny. Thus far we have failed to evangelize the world. Then we must admit that something is wrong. Have we ever thought that it might be our methods? Will the plan generally invoked work? I think we must all agree that it will not. Then why not consider another? A plan tried and tested by the Early Church. A planned fitted to every country the world over. A plan that succeeds where ever it is put into practice. A plan that completely solves the financial problem. A plan through which the Holy Spirit can operate. God's plan. God's way.

Read: The Challenge of Missions by Oswald J. Smith


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