There was a confused gathering in a flat, bushy area just north of the isolated Andean village of Postrervalle, Bolivia. Suddenly a young man, with a notable gold tooth, energetically spoke out. The people listened to him and the confused mob began working together in a somewhat orderly manner. The situation was that the village nun (town boss) was sick and the Air Force was sending a plane to evacuate her. The people quickly prepared to provide an adequate landing site. A young missionary, who could barely speak Spanish, was present and working alongside the people. He was impressed by what the man with the gold tooth accomplished and a friendship began that remains to this day.
It happens that this young missionary had been praying for many months that God would lead him to an individual in the village of Postrervalle that he could disciple. His prayer was that God would provide an individual, very early in his church planting ministry, that would eventually become the key person in establishing a church there. God was answering that prayer. That was nearly 34 years ago.
Surely it has been said a thousand times before that the most important element to assist the missionary church planter in overcoming spiritual warfare is prayer. This certainly is true today. God’s Word declares this in Ephesians 6:18, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;” My advice to the missionary church planter is to begin praying, even before you know where God wants you to establish a church. It really works! I do not understand how our meager prayer efforts influence God, but somehow they do. Is God leading you into a church planting ministry? It is not too early to begin asking God to prepare the people to whom He is sending you. It is not too early to ask God to work in the hearts of the people so they will be ready to receive the Gospel. It is not too early to pray that God would prepare you and your family and enable you, by His power, to take the Gospel to them. In offering these prayers, it is vital to remember that all such prayers must be done with a strong desire to glorify Him!
So in regards to establishing an indigenous local church, the first step is to prayerfully seek to disciple and develop local leadership. Recruit others to stand by you in sincere prayer as you begin the process of establishing a God-honoring church. The ultimate goal must be to bring God glory! Achieving this goal requires diligence (laziness is not an option); and not only in prayer. The missionary church planter must train disciples to strive to give God glory in every aspect of ministry. Only then will the people truly understand the next objective; a total dependency on God.
It is crucial to do nothing that tends to create a dependency on anything, or anyone, but God. In other words, do not act as a “prop or crutch” for the infant church with promises, influence, finances, or other resources. For the church to truly be indigenous, it must also be autonomous (independent) to the point of being self-governing, self-financing (total dependence on God), and selfpropagating (surviving and even thriving without outside help). You must be careful to lead them to prayerfully seek God for all provision. Really! Surely it is not the desire of the church planter to make a church dependent on, or controlled by, a mission board, a missionary, or an affluent church in another country? I pray this is not the goal! What could honor God more than a local body of believers meeting together regularly for worship, training nationals in the propagation of the Gospel and in the whole counsel of God, completely independent from outside influence, and with absolute dependence on our kind and able heavenly Father?
Back to where our story began. Years earlier, some Gospel work had taken place in Postrervalle, Bolivia but only with marginal success. However, roots were now sinking in and the young man with the golden tooth had become a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. When we say faithful, we mean faithful! His hunger for the Word still amazes us today. He ably pastored what became the Maranatha Baptist Church of Postrervalle for over 25 years. They have a fine new pastor now who is continuing to lead them as they depend on God. They are remodeling the old church house that was built 32 years ago, as God continues to supply the means through the congregation’s tithes, offerings, and work.
The landing site was not ready in time to rescue the nun, but she was evacuated by helicopter the next day. As for the nun, she lived on to hinder the Gospel elsewhere in Postrervalle for several more years. Still, the best thing that happened in the little field north of the village 34 years ago was that God answered prayer and a lifelong friendship began between a discipler and a disciple. By God’s grace, a church was established through this relationship in a very difficult place.
Do you desire to establish an indigenous, New Testament Church that will continue on for decades? Pray about incorporating the following simple steps in your approach to church planting.