Steve Smith has served as a missionary in East and Southeast Asia, and has trained numerous missionary strategy coordinators in best practices of Church Planting Movements. He has a graduate degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Steve currently serves as the International Mission Board’s Affinity Group Strategist.
Ying Kai is a contributor to this work and serves as a mission strategy coordinator in Asia.
Rev. Chuck Huckaby is the Minister of Congregational Life at First Protestant Church in New Braunfels, TX. http://www.FirstProtestant.com
“T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution” attempts to quench the thirst many have for more information on the “best practices” behind modern “Church Planting Movements” or “CPM’s” heard about from a variety of mission fields. “T4T” or “Training for Trainers” is, essentially, a distillation of principles and practices believed to facilitate the rapid multiplication of disciples.
These practices vary from field to field and culture to culture somewhat. Steve Smith’s experience, for example, is with rural farmers with low literacy. Ying Kai’s, on the other hand, is with people having significantly higher literacy levels in factory and urban settings. This book attempts to summarize the common methods shared by missionary practitioners in different fields, while indicating what parts of the overall process are best adapted to local settings. The authors indicate which elements can be adapted from field to field and those which, in their experience, must remain unaltered.
The most radical decision for most Western evangelicals will be to start by choosing a new mindset: seeing everyone one meets as either “saved” or “lost” and acting accordingly. With the “lost” one begins by talking about the Good News and testing for interest. A full Gospel presentation or follow up evangelistic Bible Study ensues. With the “saved” one offers training to be an effective Christian. (In the “Bible Belt”, practitioners have to more clearly define what they mean by “Lost” because many who need to be evangelized claim to be Christians! ) As a result, T4T practitioners seek to do two things: constantly witness and train. This automatically means most US pastors will never adopt this strategy or lead their churches to do so… they are too busy doing things only marginally related to the two main tasks.
Ying Kai and his wife were both full time in their church planting. Together they had experience leading 40 to 60 people to Christ and planting one new church annually. Placed in a zone with literally millions of people, they were forced to ask “How can we possibly reach these people for Christ?” He quickly concluded he would have to lead people to Christ and then immediately train them to obey the Great Commission themselves so that they could win others. That became the foundation for what is known now as T4T.
Their schedule was brutal. Six days per week they either witnessed or trained till late at night after rising and reading doing bible and praying for two hours. To double the number of groups trained, they began meeting with people every two weeks instead of weekly. As soon as someone professes faith or a Christian asked to be trained, they began a six lesson process of basic training. After each lesson, the student would be expected to duplicate it with those they had personally won to Christ and then train that convert to witness and train more! He ultimately considered the process working when multiple generations of new believers were self-replicating down four generations. After the sixth lesson, Ying Kai began teaching trainers how to “self-feed” by doing Inductive Bible Study. At every training session though, trainees report their evangelistic progress and their faithfulness in implementing the lessons learned previously. As key leaders emerge, they are given additional training.
These are the activities and activity levels required to achieve momentum in a “Church Planting Movement”. The average pastor who embarked on such a strategy would soon be fired for failing to attend to other expected (and often legitimate) duties!
While it’s unlikely that American churches will interrupt their routine to embark on such a strategy, there are important lessons to be learned from the T4T movement and this book:
1. Christians must “Go” to obey Christ, not wait for visitors!
2. Christians must remember that people who are not vitally connected to Jesus Christ and living in the fellowship of His church are in spiritual jeopardy. People really are lost without Christ.
3. Relationship evangelism for the most part is self-deception. Even well trained
missionaries who invested time in “developing relationships” before witnessing about Christ admitted that over time, they became afraid of being rejected by their new “friend” and so failed them by failing to witness. Instead, we should witness more and invest scarce relationship building time with those who have a sincere interest!
4. The Great Commission task is so immense that no professed Christian can be left
sitting on the sidelines. We must offer to train everyone and encourage everyone to
follow through on their training.
5. In the West, we convey too much information without ever expecting people to obey Christ! We must constantly cast a vision of what we’re about and lovingly hold
people accountable to DO SOMETHING with what is being taught and about
6. The “Three Thirds” method of teaching for obedience outlined in Chapter 7 should be adopted by every small group in one way or another!
Despite these valuable lessons, CPM’s are not without great controversy. Steve Addison, a student and observer of CPM’s, notes these common objections on his blog:
1. A mile wide, half an inch deep. Quality is substituted for quantity. In the rush for conversions, discipleship is compromised.
2. Uneducated leadership. A lack of theological education. New believers are rushed into leadership.
3. Missing kingdom. God wants to save the whole world, not just grow churches.
4. Out of control. Without denominational structures, CPMs spin out of control.
5. If it works. . . Pragmatism reigns supreme. The end justifies the means.
6. Bible studies are not churches. Half a dozen people in house is not a church.
7. Missionary burnout. The pressure to produce results (indigenous CPMs) takes it’s toll on cross-cultural missionaries.
In response, even casual observers must note that most churches in the United States suffer analogous problems in almost every category even when they have never even heard of T4T! For all their faults, at least T4T movements attempt to do evangelism and discipleship!
Nevertheless, these concerns have a certain validity. If, indeed, Christians were only taught 6 rudimentary lessons and an evangelistic presentation, that would indeed be shallow. That stereotype is not completely true, though. T4T is a process of asking people to move ahead at many levels: an original response to the Gospel, a willingness to be trained, a willingness to share their faith, a willingness to train their converts, etc. As the parable of the soils indicates (Luke 8: 4-21), the same Gospel produces a variety of results. Some fall away, others grow to maturity. The T4T process accounts for lifelong discipleship and ongoing training for advanced disciples. Because the emphasis is laid on evangelism, initial discipleship, and immediate obedience and replication, it is easy to believe T4T only produces shallow disciples.
The concern about “burnout” is also misleading. In fact, chapter 20 of this work is devoted to this subject in a way. It’s title? “Death: Persevering to see a CPM”. CPM strategy coordinators are often warned that many who have aimed to spark a genuine movement of church planting have suffered severely for their work. This is not normally portrayed as “burnout” as much as outright Satanic attack against the missionary, their loved ones, and their converts. Evidently for the armchair critics, the notion that Christ’s followers may become – like Paul – “poured out like a drink offering” (Phil 2:17) is surprising news!
Criticisms aside, those interested in the future of the American church should read this book. If the T4T methodology is indeed lacking, American pastors and churches had better chart another course that is equally effective quickly, or we face the prospect of becoming as Christless as Western Europe. The status quo is obviously suicidal for the church. In the meantime, critics of T4T may do well to reflect on a story told regarding the evangelist Dwight L. Moody:
One day a lady criticized D. L. Moody for his methods of evangelism in attempting to win people to the Lord. Moody's reply was "I agree with you. I don't like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it?" The lady replied, "I don't do it." Moody responded "I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it."
WIGTake, 2011 (Paperback, 352 pages). Colson Center Store Link: Not Available in Colson Store At This Time