Born near Ovid, New York, Nevius attended Union College, Schenectady New York, and Princeton Seminary (B.D., 1853). Called to missions while at Princeton, Nevius sailed from Boston with his wife, Helen (Coan), in September 1853 and arrived in Ningpo, China, six months later. Both were good students of the Chinese language, and in little more than a year Nevius was preaching and teaching. He and his wife spent most of their time in China in Shantung (Shandong) Province. Itineration formed a key to his missionary method. Most of each year he visited churches on horseback, encouraging, disciplining, and instructing.
From June through August each year, however, between thirty and forty men would come to their home for systematic Bible study. He emphasized especially the importance of establishing self-propagating, self-governing, and self-supporting churches, Bible study, strict discipline for believers, cooperation with other Christian groups, and “general helpfulness where possible in the economic life problems of the people.” He created a Manual for Inquirers, setting forth rules and regulations for believers; these were also mounted on placards in the chapels. The manual included Bible study methods, how to pray, the Apostles’ Creed, and passages of Scripture to be memorized.
In 1890 Nevius was invited to explain his method to the new Presbyterian missionaries in Korea. His principles so shaped the Protestant church in Korea that much missionary work as well as local church leadership and organization follow his original design to this day.
In English Nevius wrote San-Poh (1869), China and the Chinese (1869), Methods of Mission Work (1886), and Demon Possession and Allied Themes, published in 1894 after his death. He died in Chefoo (Yantai).
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- Samuel H. Chao, John Livingstone Nevius 1829-1893: A Historical Study of His Life and Methods (1996); Charles Allen Clark, The Korean Church and the Nevius Methods (1937); Everett N. Hunt, Jr., Protestant Pioneers in Korea (1980) and “John Livingston Nevius,” in Gerald H. Anderson et al, eds., Mission Legacies (1994), pp. 190-196; Helen S.C. Nevius, The Life of John Livingston Nevius (1895); Roy E. Shearer, Wildfire: Church Growth in Korea (1966).