Workers often face challenges when churches multiply. If you employ a menu-driven program like “Train & Multiply”® or Paul-Timothy, then you already have training booklets that deal with most contingencies — most but not all. The local culture or religious background may require additional material. So write it.
The Apostle Paul’s inspired letters to Timothy and Titus were a kind of training material that proved so helpful that they continue to be read and followed around the globe, to this day. Examining at how Paul wrote 1 Timothy reveals guidelines for writing training materials.
1. Keep materials short enough that less-experienced readers can work through them before your next meeting
The “pastoral epistles” are short. Paul probably wrote hundreds of letters, so they would have to be short. More important, less-educated, new church leaders often cannot read fast, and they cannot absorb extensive theory. Better to err on the side of brevity than to err on the side of boredom. Provide for them a lightweight toolbox, or, as some prefer to call it, a ‘light baton’, rather than an encyclopedia.
In their zeal to cover all bases and include all helpful material, some writers create a document too heavy for new leaders. One church planters’ manual describes over 200 things a church planter should do. Overwhelming! No one would get a new church planted by following it. Every one of those hundreds of items was helpful under specific circumstances, but their sheer volume of detail would halt progress. Fortunately, some church planters trimmed it down to a few, key, essentials, putting the rest where it belonged, in an appendix titled “Do this when it fits the occasion”.
2. Keep a specific, typical trainee in mind while writing
Write material first for one person and personalize it. Keep a definite person in mind, and write a letter. Then, to use it with others, remove any personal references without losing its practical, urgent advice. When a theologically informed writer has no local person in mind, the result proves too theoretical, dry, pedantic and irrelevant, although well organized, analytical and biblically accurate. Materials formed on the anvil of struggling churches yield more, helpful, timely truth and advice.
3. Deal with real, current needs of churches or cells
Paul corresponded with Timothy and Titus who had informed him of churches’ current opportunities and challenges. When they heard questions they could not answer, they would meet with Paul at an arranged location or send to him brief messages carried by travelers going between major centers of the Roman Empire. Once Paul knew their needs, he would answer them with Spirit-inspired advice.
When writing handbooks and practical theologies for churches about which one know nothing, the result is seldom helpful. Unless answering real questions, writers only deal with speculations or from a seminary professor’s ideal ecclesiology. Worse yet is writing for another culture, based on experiences gained in sterile churches.
4. Tie every main point to a truth or doctrine about God or Christ
There is as much pure theology in 1 Timothy, as in most New Testament books. Neither the Lord, His prophets nor his apostles ever wrote systematic theology. Paul would think theologically about practical issues, then salt his pastoral advice with sound doctrine. Doctrines taught in 1 Timothy include:
- The King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God;
- God our Savior, who desires all to be saved and know the truth;
- One God, one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time;
- God created foods to be gratefully eaten by any who believe and know the truth;
- The appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, at the proper time.
5. Field-test your work with readers of the same cultural setting and the same background, of those who will study it
Find some local readers who will be ruthlessly honest and helpful; ask these to critique your work. Do not rely on opinions of highly educated coworkers, especially if they are not of the local culture. Look for concrete results. If you have only supplied facts and ideals, then you have not trained your readers to shepherd a flock, you have merely filled their brains with information. When field testing for clarity and relevance, verify:
Were instructions clear?
Did readers carry out specific action points?
Did vocabulary, illustrations and reasoning fit local culture and norms?
6. Emphasize essentials of Christian life: faith, hope, love, and purity, prayer, teaching and obedience to the Word of God
The churches belong to God, who purchased them with the blood of his Son. You and I too often come into a church-planting movement with our own agenda. Some writers learned a pet theology in seminary, and they want all the churches to teach it. Others have a moving spiritual experience, and they want all the churches to seek the same. Or a professor at the university surmises that churches should act in concert to support just social causes, and proposes an agenda that does not fit the circumstances.
Paul, too, had had many exciting, spiritual experiences, but he did not mention any of those in 1 Timothy. Remember, the main goal of all that we train leaders to do is to help believers to learn to love one another while maintaining a pure heart, a good conscience and a sound faith (1:5). All our advice must have that as its main purpose.
7. Provide something for every kind of person in the church: pastor, elder, deacon, men, women, children, rich, poor, and cantankerous
Although no training booklet will have advice for dealing with every kind of church member, yet, over time, your training and materials will have to deal with many kinds of persons and needs. How can you gain that kind of wisdom? Since it takes years of experience in church work and in dealing with new leaders, it helps immensely to have a mentor who is more experience than you.
8. Keep copies of your pastoral letters and lessons, and those of others, so that, when the need arises, you can edit them into training materials
Timothy and Titus kept their letters from Paul and shared them with others, for we have many copies of them to this day. Since those letters were Holy Scripture, their content was never revised. Your writing and mine are not Scripture, so we may keep improving and revising our training booklets.
9. Make your best stuff available to others
If you are humble enough to ask other mentors and trainers to share their goods with you, then they, too, will desire to employ yours. You might set up a central office or an Internet download site where you upload training materials for others to download.
Orient materials more to action rather than to understanding
Poor writers define principles in abstract terms rather than in action verbs. Build a list of things to do on verbs rather than on nouns. Start with what to do and why (a New Testament command or a cultural necessity), then describe examples of how to do it, avoiding examples that require high education, money, big organization or technology. Let titles of studies contain action verbs instead of passive, abstract nouns. For example: “Let New Churches Celebrate the Lord’s Supper Regularly” instead of “The Importance of the Eucharist for New Churches.” In 1 Timothy, most of Paul’s verbs are active and purposeful, relating to the actual situation in the churches of Ephesus. (See the action verbs in the 12 subtitles of this article.)
11. Employ a training menu rather than a linear program
Some writers are enamored with ‘phases’ or ‘steps’ to follow. However, no two new churches follow the same path from birth to spiritual maturity. God is too creative to lock His work into a standardized set of ABC steps. Clarify to trainees that any list of things to do is not to be followed in order, but to be consulted as one would use a menu in a restaurant or computer program.
Some missionaries feel they must tell all the Old Testament stories before they baptize believers and start a church, even when, half way through Genesis, most of the seekers are eager to follow Jesus. Those missionaries needlessly disregarded the work of the Holy Spirit. Some poorly written, church-planting manuals require a time of ‘pre-evangelism’ work, building relationships and doing demographic research, even though the great majority of church plants do not need those efforts. A healthier approach is to mention such pre-evangelism work as an option for those who are working cross-culturally in a pioneer area. As Paul said, “Where the Spirit is, there is liberty.”
12. Make sure your writing meets a need and is not simply an enjoyable pastime
Avoid wasting time writing what has already been written well. At one time in Latin America, six pastoral trainers were writing a manual to train pastors, based on the book of Acts. All of the manuals were essentially duplicates. They were all good material, but they took up a colossal amount of time! Hundreds of missionaries and church planters have spent years writing training materials that are never used, except by a few coworkers. Be carful not to violate a biblical stewardship of your time.