Indigenous leaders are critical to fostering rapid maturity in a new church. Paul and Barnabas understood this principle in Acts 14 as they returned the second time to the churches that were planted on their first missionary trip. As I pointed out, they “strengthen the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith”, but that was not all. “They appointed elders for them in every church” (14:23). Perhaps not all of them were perfectly qualified according to 1 Timothy 3:1-7, but the Holy Spirit would help them grow into those qualities.
The importance of elders in each local church cannot be overstated. As Paul passed through Crete, he left Titus there with specific instructions to “put what remained into order and appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5). He follows this instruction with detailed teaching on how the elders should teach each age group in the church. The strategy of indigenous elders taking on this role is because they understand the culture and how to communicate biblical principles in it.
If ‘outside leaders’ plant themselves in a new church, staying there for a long, undetermined length of time, the new indigenous believers will have little initiative to grow on their own and take responsibility for being self-governed. Yes, we should visit them periodically, but not for the purpose of interfering or taking over leadership. Our visits, as Paul and Barnabas did, are to promote a hunger for the Word of God and a growing thirst for the Holy Spirit to teach them in our absence (John 14:26). It is amazing what He will do in our absence if we trust Him! WE HAVE SEEN IT HAPPEN!!
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