• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

Fostering a reproducible process

reproducible processI recently finished reading, Paul’s Missionary Methods, edited by Plummer & Terry.  It’s a centennial celebration of Roland Allen’s work and its ongoing impact to missional thinking today.

Let me quote a lengthy section from a chapter on the apostle Paul and leadership development:

The missionary wrongly believes that the time to turn over the church to indigenous leaders – that is, after they have been sufficiently trained – will be obvious to all, but “those who are seeking to gain authority never agree to wait until those who hold it think they are sufficiently prepared.”  Filled with the Holy Spirit, the new believers are thus “not so incapable as we [missionaries] suppose.”

Toward this end, Allen argues that the apostle Paul generally “preached in a place for five or six months and then left behind him a church, not indeed free from the need of guidance, but capable of growth and expansion.”  Paul accomplished this task by “teaching the simplest elements in the simplest form to the many,” thereby fostering a reproducible process that facilitated rather than hindered planting new churches.  The apostle planted and taught the young church, moved on quickly to his next ministry destination and made himself available to minister as needed to the planted church via his writings or his emissaries.  The leaders he left behind were not necessarily highly educated; they were simply Holy Spirit-filled men.”

Two things immediately stood out to me in this section, and which called for further reflection.  First, Allen contends that Paul’s focus was not on efforts to ‘highly train’ others, but to ‘train so that others could train others who could train others’.  The apostle was looking to foster a reproducible process; training in such a way that it was more easily transferable.  Second, I recognized how often I can underestimate the capabilities of others because I forget that they, like me, have the Spirit living and working in them.

To apply both of those insights would mean working to ‘release’ people more quickly into ministry and leadership, entrusting their ongoing growth to the Father.


8 Responses

  1. Agreed, we can entrust more to people than we often imagine. At the same time, lets not underestimate the genuine life-on-life Paul spent with people. Discipling “disciplers” (those who can reproduce themselves by passing on their knowledge and experience in Christ) requires more personal, in a variety of settings, interaction than we tend to participate in. Just a thought

    • Understood, but don’t miss the impact of Allen’s comments. Our typical pushback is to say it takes more time than he seems to imply. His question to us is: is that really true? Because as Allen read the biblical text and compared it with current practice, he found that people often erred on the side of taking so long to ‘train’ that they never released the believers into ministry or leadership.

  2. Dear David,

    Absolutely correct in my opinion. We usually wait far too long to
    release people into ministry. We unwittingly teach them our cultural
    ways of doing things instead of encouraging them, right from the
    beginning, to use their own cultural ways of doing things. We put them
    into our type of church building instead of something which is cultural
    in their context. We teach them our structures and make them dependant
    upon our technology. We do all this out of true love and a desire to
    help them. Our love stifles them.

    In May Karry shared with me a story from a South American meeting. A
    group of South American missions have been trying for over a decade to
    find a way to reach the unreached tribes of the Amazon basin, so far
    without success. Our Treo and Wayana Christian leaders from Suriname
    were invited to speak to the group. They simply explained how they got
    in their canoes, travelled for weeks and months on the rivers searching
    for new tribes, made contact, learned the language and shared the
    gospel. They do this their way. On their missionary trips they gather
    plants and hunt animals for food, they live in primitive shelters, but
    over the last twenty years have reached six unreached tribes, sharing
    Christ with all of them. They do it their way, not our way, and are
    getting the job done.

    We need to remember to teach the gospel, disciple in the ways of the
    Lord, but do it in a way in which is reproducible by those with whom we
    work. We need to release them early to ministry and encourage them to
    do it their way. They need to follow the Bible, not our ways of doing

    In Jesus love,

    • I liked the way you balanced the training with releasing. It’s not an easy call, but we often err on the side of holding on to long before releasing.

  3. A modern day application of this principle from Paul and Roland Allen is T4T. This application and approach was developed in the peoples Republic of China by Ying Kai and a team mate Steve Smith with the International Mission Board. I have been amazed at how well this approach has worked in other very diverse cultures.

    Several months ago I took a workshop lead by Steve Smith and read his book T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolotion. The book is great but I found Steve’s workshops even more helpful because there was interaction and and putting key parts into practice under his encouragement and facilitation.

    Richard Schlitt of OMF says, T4T addresses the most fundamental, but often missed activity of a disciple maker who desires to see a church planting movement. This is intensive, focused training of disciples.” What is impressive is that this approach to training trainers who train trainers is both easily reproducible and has proven in multiple contexts to go on from one spiritual generation to the next spiritual generation, in short order without the gospel becoming diluted. It keeps on expanding with new trainers being developed as disciple multiply

    I highly recommend that WT invite Steve Smith to give a workshop on training for trainers (T4T) for our Area Directors, Field Leaders and executives. WT does not need to reinvent the wheel in order to apply Roland Allen’s principle. This approach is well developed and very compatible with WT’s POM and II Tim. 2: 2.

  4. Many are familiar with T4T within WT and have gotten the training. Thanks for the reminder. There are also numerous other trainings which have focused on the reproducible process. Thank you for modeling an ongoing learning spirit!

  5. I’ve certainly struggled with all of this in our ministry to the Baka. One thing that I remind myself is that Paul often had people who already had a good grasp on the OT. Also, the culture was one were there was already organized groups. When he did find himself in a ‘tribal situation’ – he didn’t plant a church as far as we know (Acts 28:1-10). I’m glad that our fledgling church is already Baka-led – I’ve tried to give them responsibilities from the beginning – but I certainly still have a lot of clout as I encourage, teach and train them. I continue to wonder how best to move forward in this situation. I pray for God’s leading and continue to tell them that they must make all the decisions and I’m only here to teach, train and counsel them. I’m encouraged that they show a lot of growth – in character, knowledge and ability. I’m seeking the Lord now for how our ministry should change/adapt/evolve in the near future to help His work move forward here among the Baka w/o forming dependency nor keeping the leaders from truly leading.

    • Everyone struggles when disciples begin to form into a community and take responsibility for the life and ministry of that community. The apostle never saw disciples as an isolated entity, being able to live on their own. Disciples always ‘drift’ or move towards community. So making disciples by nature leds to community. Your comments are right on the mark and we will pray with you for wisdom in knowing how to determine the way forward. Thanks for entering this conversation.

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