“What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Living overseas as missionaries provided plenty of challenges for our family. But it also provided lots of blessings. One aspect that fell into both categories was the question of how to conduct Bible studies in a closed country, and to do so in a way that would lead to reproduction. All of the supports we had used in local church ministry in the States were gone. So, we had to stretch ourselves and think outside the box. We had our Bibles, and just enough competence in two new languages to see what God could do.
There were many methods being used in our area of the world, but none were as effective as a method called T4T, or Training for Trainers. T4T looked to the verse above, 2 Timothy 2:2, as a foundation for doing ministry, and the emphasis was placed on reproduction through obedience to the Word of God.
What does the Training for Trainers model look like practically?
- The missionary gathered a small group of people interested in learning about spiritual matters; they could be saved or lost people or a mixture of both (perfect for open groups like our Sunday School strategy).
- Initially, there were six lessons that we taught, very basic stuff: salvation, eternal security, baptism, etc.
- We taught one lesson each week for an hour. There was never more than two pages of content, and we boiled that down to a few key truths that we wanted folks in the study to take away with them.
- We went over those truths several times and had them repeat the points back to us. We asked for questions; we wanted to make sure they understood each truth thoroughly.
- Then we paired people in the Bible study and had them share those truths with one another, allowing for questions between themselves, and we’d help out as needed.
- Then we challenged group members to find a handful of other people in the coming week with whom to share those truths.
- A crucial aspect was follow-up the next week. There was an expectation that everyone had shared the previous week and we allowed a few minutes to give reports. The hope (depending on the group, even an expectation) was that each of the group members would start a group of their own and share the truths they had learned the week before with us, training them to do likewise.
What happened when a group just didn’t get it?
There were times when we had a shy group and there were just a couple of people sharing testimonies of how things had gone the week before. No one ever shamed those who weren’t sharing, but those who were sharing were encouraged. Eventually, most people were at least sharing their testimonies with others, which was perfectly fine with us!
The other thing we ran into, though, was the content not being a good fit for the settings into which they were going. With our Muslim friends, for example, the didactic truths we were sharing from Scripture just couldn’t be shared broadly without fear of intense persecution. So, we adapted the content to more of a Chronological Bible Storying approach. We would use Old Testament stories Muslims were familiar with, beginning in Genesis, and tell a brief account, giving just hints of how this story tied into God’s grand story. It was pre-evangelism for most, but we followed the same model as before — small pieces of information, time for practice, exhortation to share, and follow-up, with the expectation that the stories were being shared.
How can we apply this method to our context, whether it be Sunday School or small groups?
Whether you’re using question-based curriculum like Bible Studies for Life, or something with more exposition and that’s lecture-oriented, it’s important to remember that transformation is more important than information. And transformation, while ultimately a work of the Holy Spirit supported by much prayer, involves obedience. Knowing is important in order to do, but we must be doing. We’d rather our group members take away one or two points that they apply to their own lives and then share with others, than to have a head full of facts that they will soon forget.
So, think of what you do as training as much as it is teaching. And help group members think of their Sunday School time as practice for the real-time action that will take place in the coming week. Not every member will end up starting a group, but many more will be prepared to lead a group should the opportunity arise. And more than anything, they’ll see themselves, not as spectators, but as participants in what God is doing through your local church.