The Indigenous Church: Self-Propagating

“We must decide where we want our ministry to count—in the momentary applause of popular recognition or in the reproduction of our lives in a few chosen people who will carry on the work after we have gone.” – Robert Coleman, “Multiplying Leaders on Mission With God” [i]


“The true measure of success is not what missionaries accomplish while on the field, but the work that still stands after they are gone.” – Melvin Hodges, The Indigenous Church [ii]

Missionaries, by definition, ought to have a mission. Missionaries are “sent.” They are sent to carry out specific tasks, all of which (ideally) will accomplish the clear vision (invisible) of what must be done and bring about real change (visible). If there are no results (visible), the missionary is missing the mark. Why do missionary endeavors falter, miss the mark, or fail to produce results? Of course the missionary has a mission, or else he or she would not have been sent in the first place. But it’s not enough for the missionary to have a mission! Missionaries must have a clear vision from God, which is the basis for mission, and then move with action. Besides these, the missionary must impart the same vision/mission/action into others who can carry out the mission after the missionary is gone. Reproduction must be focused, intentional, and laborious. Multiplication is a must. The missionary must “self-propagate” him or her self, and teach nationals the same art of self-propagating.

Propagate (Merriam-Webster)

: to pass along to offspring

: to cause to spread out and affect a greater number or greater area

: to foster growing knowledge of, familiarity with, or acceptance of (as an idea or belief)

To become self-propagating, the indigenous church must become a center for leadership training and development. Melvin Hodges, author of The Indigenous Church, observes that “Paul had a training school in Ephesus where he taught for two years.” [iii] Luke, the writer of Acts, records, “All they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus.” [iv] Paul was determined to reproduce his own leadership in the lives of others in order to propagate the gospel to regions beyond. Missionary methods that are apostolic include training workers, developing leaders, and teaching new leaders to do the same. The Great Commission is primarily a commission to teach: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations … teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” [v] Yes, the missionary will preach and baptize; but the primary mission is teaching—make disciples (i.e. students, pupils).

Multiplication Matters

Jesus invested his life into his disciples so they would GO and make more disciples. John 17:20 records Jesus’ prayer for his group of disciples, and “for them also which shall believe on me through their word.” Jesus envisioned his disciples making more disciples, perpetually. These original disciples, along with new disciples brought in later, would continue together in unity. Only a unified (i.e whole) organism can healthily reproduce. This is missions. Wherever I have seen churches growing, at home and abroad, I have also seen leaders growing other leaders. The missionary is not there to make every decision, pay every bill, win every soul, baptize every convert, and bear every burden of the mission.

The missionary exists to lead, teach, guide and inspire the nationals to do all these things, then get out of the way, and let them do it.

Roland Allen, author of Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?, plainly states, “We ought never to send a mission agent to do what men are already doing on the spot spontaneously.” [vi] Missionary involvement in the field should inspire, empower, and fuel the fiery passion of souls who have been changed by the gospel. The missionary is not boots on the ground to do everything for the national church, but rather a very influential voice, a catalyst for change, who inspires others to action, action based on the missionary’s vision, then moves aside to allow for a response. With time the missionary ought to have gained trust and formed relationships, upon which the dynamics of mentorship can flourish. From such an environment, national leaders will emerge. It starts locally—the missionary winning souls, and then teaching nationals the art of self-propagating.

“The local church [is] the best medium for evangelism,” says Hodges. [vii] Local churches are the fishing vessels commissioned by the Lord to “launch out into the deep.” But it will always require men who are willing to let down your nets for a draught.”  These, fishers of men, must also be capable of taking others along and teaching them the fishing trade. Self-propagation simply means that a local church reproduces its members by making disciples and training workers, thereby growing and expanding its sphere of influence to the point of sending out workers to unreached areas. By doing this, the local church “plants itself” in an unreached area. The new church “plant” can begin the same perpetual growth cycle, teaching, training, sending, filling the city with apostolic preaching and doctrine, then the regions beyond the local assembly, and the entire nation, and finally into other nations.

Training Leaders = Multiplying Leaders

Peter Wagner, former missionary to Bolivia and professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary says, “The missionary’s role in training leaders is more critical than even evangelism and church planting.” [viii] The fruit of the missionary is seen in the multiplication of himself in others. In Matthew 9:37-38 Jesus instructs us to pray the Lord would send forth laborers. The church at Antioch must have prayed such prayers, for they heard the Holy Ghost speak, and obeyed, sending forth laborers:

“As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away..” [ix]

The Lord does the supernatural work of calling, ordaining and sending men; the church recognizes this call and sends them out with prayers and support. Missionaries are sent to plant seed, cultivate a particular field, and multiply themselves in others. This is harvest; not only that the gospel is preached and souls are saved, but also that new leaders are formed and sent forth. Coming home, the missionary report is a “full-circle report;” that is, seed was invested in the missionary, who was sent out, he or she being planted in a field, which was cultivated, watered, labored over, and indeed brought forth fruit—so much so that there was more seed, in abundance, of which the missionary was able to then invest in other people and places, where it began the reproductive cycle again. This is missions.

Speaking on global missions expansion, Bruce Carlton says, “Leaders are being equipped and empowered to train leaders, who in turn train leaders, who in turn train leaders.” [x] Paul—the missionary par excellence—understood this principle. He instructed Timothy, his son in the gospel, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”[xi] Coleman asserts, “Jesus’ concern was not with programs to reach multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow.” [xii] This is profound! How often do we place focus on hierarchical, organizational structures, elaborate programs, correct procedures and protocol, and departmental oversight committees? It never appears that Jesus tried to “manage” the mission, but rather he released the missionary? The Lord placed the future of his church and worldwide mission expansion on the shoulders of men whose hearts had been transformed by their personal vision of Jesus and what Jesus had for them to do. These men, not elaborate programs, devoted themselves to first being, and then making, disciples.

Jesus said,

“For I have given unto them [his disciples] the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me … I have given them thy word … As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.” [xiii]


“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.” [xiv]

Training workers in the field will mean being with nationals. In order to impart missionary zeal for evangelism, and recognize who among the churches are answering the call of God to serve, the missionary must invest time in others. Working side-by-side with nationals provides a venue for imparting practical knowledge, insight, and inspiration. There are varying degrees to which this can be done, but Jesus exemplified this to the maximum degree. He spent days and nights with his disciples, eating, talking, teaching and continuing with his disciples. On occasion Jesus would resort to a mountain to pray alone. I’ve often thought that Jesus, though he spent time alone in prayer, also just wanted some time away from his disciples. He was with them 24/7! On top of this, Jesus literally gave up every “other” life he could have had. Why? To invest himself, as seed, into the hearts and lives of a handful of close disciples.

Jesus said, “The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom…”[xv] Missionaries must be the grain of wheat that falls into the ground (mission field) and dies (gives up every “other” life). Such a “dying” will cause the life of the missionary to break forth, to sprout and bud, issuing forth with color and vibrancy and life. The end result: seed-bearing fruit. This is a missions model of reproduction.

As we lose our life for Jesus’ sake and the gospel’s, we will reproduce ourselves in others, after which we can send forth the good seed (nationals) into the harvest fields. As Jesus eventually stepped off the scene, his ministry continued in the lives of his disciples. His very Spirit that was “with them” continued “in them” as they took on the day-to-day tasks of propagating the gospel. The apostolic model for missions is the same. The missionary’s spirit, zeal, values, etc., will continue on long after he or she has withdrawn from the field.


Works Cited

[i] Robert Coleman, in R. Bruce Carlton, “Multiplying Leaders on Mission With God,” in Discovering the Mission of God (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2021), 514.

[ii] Melvin Hodges, The Indigenous Church (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1953), 30.

[iii] Ibid., 62.

[iv] Acts 19:10

[v] Matthew 28:19-20

[vi] Roland Allen, in Melvin L. Hodges, The Indigenous Church (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1953), 53.

[vii] Hodges, The Indigenous Church, 49.

[viii] C. Peter Wagner, “A Church Growth Perspective,” in Called & Empowered: Global Mission in Pentecostal Perspective, Ed. Dempster, Murray, Byron Klaus and Douglas Peterson (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1991), 277.

[ix] Acts 13:2-3

[x] R. Bruce Carlton, “Multiplying Leaders on Mission With God,” in Discovering the Mission of God (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2021), 499.

[xi] 2 Timothy 2:2

[xii] Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1993), 22.

[xiii] John 17:8, 14, 18

[xiv] John 17:20

[xv] Matt 13:38

2 thoughts on “The Indigenous Church: Self-Propagating

  1. Excellent post and a subject that must be grasped by apostolic leaders if they desire to see true self-perpetuating growth at home and abroad – it’s not a choice, it’s a commission from Jesus Himself.


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