Training for Trainers

An Explosion of House Churches

Dr. David Stone    

When they come into your house, and drag you away, and throw you into prison and threaten to kill you, will you still follow Jesus?

November 1, 2013

T4T:  A Discipleship Re-Revolution, by Steve Smith and Ying Kai, describes the methodology used in the Church Planting Movement (CPM) explosion in Asia over the last 12 years.  They have documented over 150,000 new church starts (house churches) and over 1.7 million baptized converts.  Much of the work has been accomplished under severe persecution.  Most significant from our Western viewpoint is that the methodology is highly correlated with New Testament principles and the pattern observed in the book of Acts.

In this blog I’ll highlight some of their main ideas and practices, commenting along the way, and then offer my conclusions, admittedly with some trepidation, at the end.

“T4T” is short for “Training for Trainers.” The idea is that new converts should be discipled promptly in Bible basics, prayer, etc., and also to share the Gospel with those around them.  In the first week of a new convert’s walk with Christ, he should be sharing his faith, and then begin to disciple those that respond on the same pattern.  Every Christian is to be a missionary, growing in faith and training others to be trainers also.  What a shocking idea!  How quaint!  How … New Testament-like.

An outside assessment team visited one segment of an Asian CPM and discovered an 18th generation church, just a few years removed from the “1st generation”, which went on to plant a 2nd generation of house churches, which went on … to the 18th generation.  They generally figure that it takes 12-18 months to form reproducing discipleship communities which require, at a minimum, four generations alive and working vigorously.  Ying Kai cites specific Biblical principles to establish the pattern:

  1. Go, not come.  The Lord told us to GO and preach the Gospel, not to merely invite the lost to come to us.
  2. Everyone, not just some.  Give the Gospel to everyone, not just the ones we are most comfortable in dealing with.  You can’t predict what God might do in convicting the hearts of the least likable.
  3. Make trainers (disciples), not just church members.  We are to make disciples of all new believers, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The Great Commission includes a recursive relationship.  In teaching the new convert “all things”, you have taught him to go and do for others what you have done for him … and so on … as has been God’s plan for the last 2,000 years.

Now, I love this … see the theme of this site’s Home Page … Ying and Grace Kai determined to see only two kinds of people: lost and saved.  If someone was lost, they witnessed to him.  If saved, they trained him.  Evangelism and Discipleship: just do that for the rest of your life!

The book offers plenty of details for constructing an efficient discipleship program, which dovetails into the establishment of house churches.  They believe that if Biblical principles are maintained a CPM can be both a mile wide and a mile deep.  The Western model assumes that it takes years for a Christian to mature before he can serve effectively.  The T4T process uses immediate service to accelerate growth to maturity.  As the authors relate …

NOT “believe – mature – serve”
BUT RATHER “believe – serve – mature”

Can rapid growth get messy? Assuredly.  But great rewards always entail great risk.  The Western model, which is characterized by years of seminary training, ordained clergy, tightly scripted meetings, costly and attention-demanding infrastructure, and passive lecture-listening rather than active training, GUARANTEE failure.  Smith and Kai assert that if discipleship is done properly, the average believer can start and organize a house church.  They say, “Otherwise, church planting will be relegated to a few highly trained individuals.” Indeed.  And I would challenge the fundies to give evidence that their ordained seminary-trained candidates are “highly trained.”  Trained for what?  Delivering weekly sermons and organizing building programs, while neglecting Biblical evangelism and discipleship?

The authors cite much Scripture as foundational to their principles.  For example, the parable of the two sons, Matthew 21:28-32, is used to contrast those who give verbal assent to the Father’s commands with those who actually obey.  (This is right on track with my previous blog on Tozer’s discussion of faith and obedience.)  In T4T disciples move on as they obey in practice the principles of each Bible lesson, all the way to forming a church with new disciples who work to the same pattern.

Regarding the maturity of disciples, and I’m sure with Western churches in mind, they contrast the long-time believer who may know much Scripture but would have to admit that he obeys only 30%, with a newer believer whose Bible knowledge is underwhelming, but consistently obeys 90%.  Who will be the better servant over the long term?  I would suggest that American churches are filled with the former.  Wouldn’t it be a pleasure to teach those who actually want to obey?  By the way, the secular world understands this well.  When we teach engineering students about bridge design, computer software, or wireless communications, we insure their motivation by making them accountable via homework, exams, presentations, and real-life projects that must work!

Not everyone becomes a trainer of trainers in the “real world.” Always looking for those that bear spiritual fruit 30, 60, and 100-fold, CPM statistics indicate that about 20% become trainers of trainers.  Most of the others do witness, however.  Those that attend meetings but don’t witness are loved, coached, cajoled . . . but some never ‘get it’.  My guess is that those who don’t get it get uncomfortable and drop out, perhaps proving that they never got salvation in the first place.

T4T discipleship meetings last two to three hours, divided into three “Thirds.”  The First Third includes:

1. Pastoral care:  How are you doing?  The nitty gritty of weekly life is dealt with.
2. Worship: praise, songs, etc.
3. Accountability: How are you following the Lord?  To whom have you witnessed?  Who has responded?  Are you training others and how is that going?
4. Vision Casting:  The big picture – Keep the goal in mind, to train trainers to win and disciple converts, and to plant churches.  The “little stuff” should always support the big goals.

The Second Third includes:

5. New Bible lesson
a. Short-term reproducible topical Bible lessons on essential topics like baptism, the Great Commission, the Lord’s Supper, perseverance under persecution, marriage / family, etc.  There will be 6-10 such sessions.  From that point and into the indefinite future …
b. Long-term, self-feeding inductive Bible studies, verse by verse through major portions of Scripture. Use open-ended questions like, “What is this passage saying?”,  “What should we obey from this passage?”,  “Who is someone to share this message with?”  With this pattern, many people can learn to lead Bible studies … and grow in knowledge and wisdom.

The Third Third includes:

6. Practice:  The trainer acts as a coach and organizes ways to practice whatever is relevant from the first two Thirds.  Practice witnessing, practice teaching the Bible lesson, practice training techniques.  Everybody practices, dividing up as necessary.  Yes.  That’s “training.”  How often does that happen in American churches?
7. Set goals and pray for each other.  The goals connect to next week’s accountability.  Prayer is vital because you do want the Lord involved, don’t you?

How do you implement T4T in the context of conventional American churches?  The idea would not be to deconstruct everything, but to build experimentally.  Take a motivated life group and launch them into the discipleship process.  As they win converts and disciple them, new life groups are launched.  One American pastor said that he would be content for such life groups to operate as autonomous churches, baptizing and doing the Lord’s Supper, perhaps still joining the “large worship service” on Sunday, or perhaps not.  I’m sure that such a perspective will be rare among American pastors.  Especially since the American model, particularly with fundamentalists (yet also with evangelicals), expects leaders to be seminary-trained and ordained clergy — the “pastors” don’t sit in the pews, after all!

The book is supplemented by online materials, but I believe there is enough info about evangelism within the text to draw some definite conclusions.  Their basic pattern for presenting the Gospel is OK, especially for cultures in which Christians are persecuted.  Their Gospel basics are sound and they appropriately emphasize “Get them to lostness.”  They seem to define repentance and faith properly.  Muslims or Hindus or animists are challenged on how their sins cannot be appropriately forgiven by a just and holy God in their own religion, and then shown the beauty and simplicity of the true Gospel.

In pagan and Communist and Muslim cultures, the new believer puts his life on the line in turning away from his family’s or tribe’s faith to that of Christ.  So repentance is strongly implicit, even if the presentation does not camp there.  If the believer walks on in the faith and bears fruit, he’s the real deal.  In America, on the other hand, no price is paid to be a professing Christian.  Multitudes profess Christ while promoting abortions, practicing sodomy, living the rock and roll fornicating lifestyle, or just going through the motions of typical worldly life.  In America, repentance must be hammered, with many specific examples.  As I experience week after week in witnessing to unregenerate American churchgoers.  In short, in America it’s easy to make false converts.  How?  Don’t preach repentance.  Preach God’s love, what Jesus can do for you, and how great you’ll feel.  Or if you’re a fundie (or a gelly Calvinist), just mention repentance briefly, but put the real blame on an alleged inherited sin nature.  It’s Adam’s fault!  Then just manipulate the sinner into praying a little sinner’s prayer to “close the deal.”

Steve Smith and Ying Kai talk of baptism as the public declaration of an “allegiance shift.”  They probe the new convert with questions like:

“Have you decided to follow Jesus and Him only?”
“Do you know that He has forgiven you of all of your sins?”
“Are you telling all of these witnesses that you will follow Jesus and never turn back?”
“When they come into your house, and drag you away, and throw you into prison and threaten to kill you, will you still follow Jesus?”

That last question … so silly in the American context, but probative of the nature of saving repentance and faith.  They cite the experience of the missionary to the Lisu people of China, James Frasier, who struggled with Lisu converts going back to their old idols.  So he tested them by instructing converts to demonstrate repentance by tearing down their idol altars and destroying their pagan artifacts.  Note that we see the same outcome in Ephesus, stirring up the entire city, nearly costing Paul his life.

Regarding the selection of leaders in new churches, the authors offer an interesting analysis of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 … elder qualifications.  They suggest that the situations are different, with the passage in Titus relevant to new church plants, where all the believers are new converts.  In 1 Timothy, on the other hand, we have more established churches in which some aspire to become or else believe that God is calling them to be elders.  Thus the modest differences in the two passages.  I’ll let the reader do his own analysis.  Their main point is that with new converts and new churches, there will be risks, but there is much Scriptural precedent for trusting the Lord to take care of His own.  Besides, almost any CPM will have communication networks.  The authors also point out that the Biblical principle is to appoint multiple leaders in each church, enhancing safety by consensus and distributed power.

In my mind, the most controversial aspect of the book is their belief that T4T will work to produce similar results anywhere, including America and Western Europe.  The authors are aware that persecution in Asia forced them toward the 1st century New Testament model.  Since this model has been perverted or has disappeared in the West, is it reasonable to expect a CPM in the West?

The American T4T approach would be to work via small groups in conventional churches, as mentioned before.  They warn that many churches use a leadership-training program, or (worst case) a Bible college degree program, followed by apprenticeship, before real leadership responsibility is allowed.  Smith and Kai say, “Eliminate this lengthy ‘safe’ approach for new launches.  Continue the leadership-training phase, but just realize it will happen on-the-job while the person comes to your T4T group AND leads his own group.”  On the job.  That’s the problem.  The old-boy clergy club won’t like that idea.

For evangelism, the advice is to get out there where the lost people are and engage 1-2-1.  They suggest that ‘discovery studies’ for a few weeks might entice skeptics to explore the Gospel message.  They actually believe that organizing such studies in the T4T format can develop into discipleship programs and churches … starting with a group of unbelievers.  Right.  Go ahead and try that with Americans.  Appropriately, they encourage pastors to re-think church meetings and turn them into training sessions.  Yes.  So obvious, but so foreign to American church thinking.

Here’s the problem for T4T in America:  You have to get real born again converts!  That’s hard.  The book cites a couple of examples of T4T working.  In a North Carolina small group, the members didn’t witness because they “did not know any lost people.”  Frankly, that’s impossible.  What it means is that they didn’t have any discernment, not knowing the difference between real and phony professing Christians.  So they redefined “lostness” as “far from God” people living a worldly lifestyle and not attending church.  Out of the resulting list, each member was asked to identify one person out of ten “whose life God was stirring up somehow.”  The task was to share their testimony with these “far from God” prospects.  Additionally, members were told to stop inviting people to church and start inviting them to Jesus.

I get the picture.  The Gospel is softened.  “Far from God” people just need to get “closer.”  Avoid using words like “Hell,” “Judgment,” “Lost,” “Sin,” “Repent,” and “Born Again.”  Or, if you do, keep it light.  Keep them engaged.  Consider salvation to be a process in which a guy hangs around long enough for some Christianity to rub off on him.

Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, embraced T4T, retooled their church programs, and “saw over 300 salvations in Waco alone.”  Antioch has planted churches across America and supports over 200 foreign missionaries.

My bottom line on the American application of T4T in Texas and North Carolina?  I don’t believe it.  I can’t prove it, but my rather extensive experience informs me that using a softened Gospel in a filthy-rich, culturally licentious, sin-hardened America produces only (or at least mostly) false converts.  It appears that the Gospel presentation in Asia is much more robust, and when people respond under persecution, you quickly see genuine fruit.  Salty seed … sweet fruit.  In America, sugary seed … corrupt fruit.

I haven’t been to Antioch Community Church, but did spend a little time on their web site.  They show evidence of Pentecostalism in their doctrine and a hint of Calvinism.  They run a 9-month discipleship school and charge $3200 tuition.  Their church planting school’s tuition is $2000.  Really?  But that’s American Churchianity.  How would that work in rural China?  Photos of Antioch’s services show the contemporary rock and roll style prevalent in mega-churches and all mega-church wannabes.  They really don’t look any different from the rest of evangelicalism.  It will all come out at the Judgment Seat of Christ, of course.  In the meantime, I’ve got to assess … for myself … whether they’ve got the “Biblical model” that I should be embracing to do evangelism and discipleship in America.  Answer:  No.  The modern evangelical culture produces multitudes of false converts and, at best, an occasional perpetually immature true believer.

I have great confidence that the T4T Asian experience is valid.  Might there be tares among the wheat?  Of course, as Smith and Kai point out themselves.  But they seem to have embraced and put into practice the New Testament model for evangelism and discipleship.  Are they fuzzy about some issues, like the role of women in establishing house churches?  It looks like it, but I’d have to dig deeper to figure that out.

T4T in all of its organized glory or something very close to it is clearly necessary for the scenario where your evangelism is producing multitudes of genuine converts.  What do you do with them?  Disciple them and multiply house churches and propagate widely.  You’d better have a well-thought out plan for the day to day and the week to week.  T4T lays out a solid plan in great detail.

In America it is VERY HARD to get genuine converts, or even to distinguish the difference between real and false converts.  Many fundie and gelly churches have a mixture.  But in the American system, even the genuine converts are so immature in their passive church experiences that God’s work never develops.  Mega-churches might grow, but very little discipleship is done and evangelism is corrupted by neglecting the salty truths.

If you start winning converts, get the T4T book … or re-read the New Testament for instructions!  If you must be content with sowing Gospel seed and not seeing much fruit … then keep plugging away and do the part of the Great Commission that you are able to do.  Do evangelism and keep looking for the opportunity to do discipleship.  And honor God by meeting as a “house church” so that at least by faith, you are in position to deal properly with new converts, if you are so blessed.  The New Testament model is always RIGHT, whether or not converts multiply.



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