Steve Smith with the help of Ying Kai has written a book that is actually “the story behind the world’s fastest growing Church Planting Movement (CPM) and how it can happen in your community.” In short this process is known as “Training for Trainers” or T4T. The story is written in such a way that it gives the foundation for T4T, the process of T4T, and the application of T4T.
Smith proposes that the main idea behind T4T is training Christians in church planting movements. This idea came about when he was tasked with planting a single church every year for five years, but somehow mistakenly had planted 200 in three months. The difference between what those over him had instructed him to do and what he did was he expected those he trained to train others, which turned into T4T.
Smith turns to the book of Acts where the Holy Spirit fell and through his power there was a movement of people that came to faith and the church was started. Although these church planting movements are not happening in the same way, the power behind them is the same Holy Spirit. In its most simple form this movement comes from one following Jesus and fishing for men (Mark 1:17).
Smith looks to the church at Ephesus in Acts 19 for his basis of a discipleship revolution where Paul won a few people and then trained them that led to a movement spread by new believers. He contrast this to most of what is observed in the church today with only the professionals trained, leaving the majority of the church on the sidelines. The movement started in Acts was due to the everyday, ordinary new believer.
A key component of the T4T story is the interpretation of the Great Commission. Smith shows how many have misinterpreted this passage or have it confused. He believes that the church should view it this way: “Go, not come, everyone, not some, and make trainers (disciples) not just church members. He proposes that the next step would be to implement Paul’s strategy of investing in young Timothy (2 Timothy 2:2).
Smith realized in his own story that many Christians were simply not sharing the gospel and he came up with three reasons why. First, people were not aware of the reason for sharing the gospel. Second, people were not aware of whom the gospel should be shared. Third, people were not aware of how to share the gospel. As a result Smith started to train everyone because he realized that is what it would take.
Some have questioned the validity of T4T, but many just want to know why and how it is working. Smith believes that the basis for its success is its biblical principle. The only way to discover good soil is to sow a lot and within the soil a CPM is birthed. Another reason that Smith believes it is working is because the push is not for decisions, but for disciples. The way in which a T4T trainer assesses ones maturity is not their knowledge, but their obedience to what they do know.
Smith makes sure to point out that T4T is not a lesson, but an ongoing process. He points to the problem of the spread of a CPM throughout history has been the unwillingness of laborers (Luke 10:2). Although he distinguishes that a CPM must be Holy Spirit driven, Smith believes that by following the general T4T process one will see a CPM. The beginning process of a CPM is evangelism, discipleship, church planting, leadership development, and a recurring cycle.
Smith firmly believes in training everyone, but he also shows that likely only twenty percent of those trained will actually go on to become trainers themselves. Although filtering is part of the T4T process, most of this will happen on its on through what Smith calls obedient based discipleship. In other words, most people will naturally filter themselves out of a group by failure to show up or by disobedience.
Smith presents the T4T model as a three-thirds process. First, is looking back, which includes: pastoral care, worship, accountability, and vision casting. Second, is looking up, which includes a new lesson with short-term and long-term discipleship plans in place. Third, is looking ahead through practicing the new lesson and setting goals for the future.
Once a group gets started, Smith shows what things need to be in place in order for it to continue and to sustain the movement. Although he recognizes that in order to have growth, one will have a mess because it easily gets out of control. What Smith hopes to do through T4T is help you to know what to do at each stage of a group and a movement.
In the final section of the book, Smith gets away from the story of T4T and moves into the practical side of how one can apply it in their own ministry context. He simply starts with sharing the gospel, make disciples of those that respond with baptism being the first step of discipleship, form the new disciples into churches, and reproduce leaders. In sharing the gospel, Smith points out to sow broadly because we do not know whom God has prepared to respond. Looking back to the command to make disciples in the Great Commission, Smith proposes that there be both a short-term and long-term discipleship plans in place.
Smith has written a book on the story behind the world’s fastest growing Church Planting Movement and then shows how it can happen in ones own community. Although it is a story, it does not read like most stories, but more like a book that gives facts about what happened and how one can hopefully transfer the same happening into their context. If the goal was a story then the job was not completed, but if the goal was to give some parts of the story with the foundation, process, and application then the goal was met.
Personally, I did not mind the way in which the book was written because it helped me break down each stage of how this story unfolded. I can see where it may be slightly confusing to someone their first time hearing or reading about this process though. In my current ministry context my team has implemented much of T4T so in reading the book it was not my first exposure to training for trainers.
The way in which Smith chose to break the book up into three main parts was helpful because in laying the foundation as he did and then showing the process, it was not a stretch to see how the application would work. If he only reported what happened but did not give us the foundation and process then it would be much harder to believe how one can apply it in any context. The encouraging thing is how it is being reported that the T4T process is working all over the world now.
This book rightfully points out that this process is not a revolution but a rediscovering of a revolution that if applied can help see church planting movements all over the globe. Smith helps the reader see that this was not something magical that himself and Ying Kai developed, but that it was simply returning to a simple process that can be seen in the New Testament. It is encouraging how it is written and the process shows that any Christian has the potential to be a trainer and see great things happen for Jesus.
Although I have already recognized the importance of the foundation and the process, my favorite part of the book is the application section. The reason being that people are often told the “what” or “why” without the how. Smith has done a good job of giving the “what” and “why” with the “how.” In this case the how or application section of the book is the majority of the book. The foundation and process are a combined ten chapters whereas the application is eleven chapters by itself.
Overall I enjoyed reading this book and agree with the overall presentation. A major reason that I am in favor of this book is because it is very similar to the current practice that I have been implementing in my own life and ministry in India for the past two years. If more people in the Western context would implement a T4T type of strategy then I believe we would see many more communities reached for Jesus in a much quicker way than with some of the current models being practiced.
In concluding, this book is a helpful piece into the story behind a noteworthy church planting movement and what it will take to see it happen in other contexts. I personally know many people implementing it around the world and for that I am grateful; but I sense that the majority of the American church will ignore its significance. As for me, I plan on continuing to implement its three-thirds process and plan to reference it in my own ministry for years to come.