Madrid Train the Trainer

Tim Coomar -  Athens, Greece

In 2008 I attended a six-week intensive church planting training course at Redeemer Church Planting Center in Manhattan, New York City. It was a formative experience in numerous ways, helping me to take many ideas that had been floating around in my head and put them in order. I went away confident that I had the tools and training to return to Greece and plant a church. For someone with no formal pastoral experience at the time and no clue what church planting (or who Tim Keller) was before I arrived in New York City, this was no small feat.

Yet, despite the inspiration his preaching and written materials provided, it was not so much Keller directly (we only had one two-hour session with him per week) but chiefly the trainers, who made the training what it was. In particular, I remember John Thomas and Mark Reynolds having that rare combination of being both knowledgeable and accessible, despite having very different styles as trainers and individuals.

Since then, many things have changed. RCPC has morphed into Redeemer City to City, our church plant in Athens has been launched and is now four years old, and Tim Keller has become a household name. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the invaluable input of the City to City trainers behind the scenes. This was pressed home to me yet again during the ‘Train the Trainer’ course I attended last month where Mark and John, the very same trainers who had trained me initially back in September 2008, came over to Madrid to teach us how to become trainers ourselves. What follows are some very brief reflections on how TTT affected me and what I feel I have gained through the experience:


One of the principles that drives the training is the simple observation that ‘you teach how you learn’. Thus, in order for us to learn how to teach, we were once again immersed into that same ‘affectively sensitive’ educational environment that had proved so helpful for me the first time I was exposed to it in 2008. Having been convinced by the method, this is now how I will seek to teach.


By the end of the training, I felt I had the tools to map out a training course, think like a trainer, and get to where I needed to go. None of these elements were clearly in place in my mind beforehand, even though in Athens we had already been running our own version of an incubator course for two years.


While the general principles regarding how people learn were incredibly helpful, it was clear that the TTT training went further than a bunch of useful secular principles regarding education. The City to City DNA was evident throughout. For example, in terms of educational principles, we were told that the goal of learning was more about behaviour change than just the accumulation of knowledge. Yet, at the same time we were never allowed to forget that since it is the Gospel that brings about this change, ‘it’ must always remain the chief concern of training. However good a relationship we build with our trainees, nothing can replace the Gospel in its power to affect the change that is required in their lives.


In the end, I realized that becoming a trainer has less to do with mastering and delivering material and more to do with ‘being there’, ‘being there for others’ and ‘being engaged’. These are all Gospel competencies and demand a certain level of spiritual vitality in the trainer. In other words, in order to train others effectively, I need not only to be a capable church planter but, above all, a godly one. Only then does it cease to become about me and start becoming about building up truly competent church planters for the future.

Network Leaders Forum

From March 7 - 9, 2017, 75+ church planting network leaders gathered from around the world in New York for Network Leaders Forum (NLF). The purpose of this event was to help leaders of church planting networks be equipped to lead their network through providing helpful resources, best practices and opportunities for collaboration. CTC hosts this event every 2 years and it has taken a different form each time as the CTC network continues to expand. We praise God for new relationships that were built, collaboration that was prompted across regions, and the many Godly leaders that are stepping up to lead in the CTC family. 


Reflections from the event By Andras Lovas, Budapest

Nearly three weeks after my return from New York this is the first time I have sat down to consciously reflect on how NLF has impacted me. I found that our time together has given me four real and enduring gifts.


My vision of what God wants to do in Budapest has been strengthened and enlarged. I was encouraged to dream big for his glory. Since the Biblical story ends in victory we are free to risk failure. This encouragement has started to take shape - I see names of people to meet and steps to take outlined in my notes.

Focusing on God’s goals

As new ideas were forming I started seeing my ministry with new eyes. I realized that my calendar leaves me no time for networking in the city; to meet new people and share the vision of our network. It is easy to concentrate on more structured and goal oriented forms of ministry such as training, developing teams and materials and mentoring church planters. But God needs me more available for his goals.

Forming significant relationships

At NLF you run into people you do not know well all the time, which I sometimes find a bit frustrating. You listen to the story of a new person, something God is doing somewhere, and share your own story. Again and again. The sheer numbers mean you can only develop more significant connections with a few. But these occasional deeper relationships are God's gifts. They provide humor and joy as well as opportunities to pray for each other’s life's depths and learn from each other.

Experiencing God's universal church

At one of our prayers the leader asked us to recite the Lord's Prayer aloud in our own language. As one prayer followed after another we reflected on the One who created all the peoples of the earth. It provided a foretaste of the day when all God's redeemed people from all nations and languages will glorify him in the new world. What else is church planting about than the hope of this new world in our Lord Jesus Christ?


The Gospel for the City: Tim Keller’s visit to Rome

“There was much joy in that city” (Acts 8:8). This is what the book of Acts says about the city of Samaria after receiving the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Good News brings joy in the midst of suffering and spiritual warfare. This is also what happened in Rome on May 28th on the occasion of Tim Keller’s visit. We have experienced a glimpse of Gospel joy.

The day was a great blessing in four main respects: resources, contexts, unity, and movement.

Resources. Keller’s visit gave the opportunity to translate and publish the Italian edition of The Reason for God. This is perhaps the best apologetic book that has been produced over the last 30 years. Keller deals with many questions and issues raised by present-day skeptics and shows that the Christian faith is much more reasonable than many of its critics. It is a privilege to have it now in Italian and to use it to strengthen the faith of the believers and to respectfully challenge the unbelieving friends. A great tool for both discipleship and evangelism.

Contexts. Keller spoke at four different venues and to four audiences. First, in a press conference at the Senate, he advocated the contribution that Christianity can make to the public square. Excluding religious voices is a form of tyranny. Second, he addressed 100 church planters and leaders encouraging them to be a herald of the “living” Word in the city. Third, he met with 200 university students answering their questions about the reliability of the Bible, evil and suffering, etc. and challenging them to believe and trust Jesus. Four, he preached in a public meeting on Acts 8:4-13 emphasizing that the church grows “organically”, having Jesus Christ at the center and bringing joy in the midst of tensions. He then highlighted six marks of what a city church looks like. Parliament, the university, the church: not three disconnected places but three different areas where we have received the task to live the Gospel out.

Unity. Different churches, networks, publishing houses, training centers, students’ ministries, agencies, all contributed to the successful outcome of the day. When the Gospel is at the center, a space opens up for fruitful cooperation and synergies. In the evening meeting an offering was taken for the City toCity Europe network whose aim is to encourage church planting in Europe.

Movement. Many people responded enthusiastically to Keller’s visit. We had people coming from all over Italy to be part of the event. In one way or another they were all challenged not to live the Christian life passively and to look at the opportunities that God is giving us to live missionally. The Gospel empowers people to go deep and to reach out, to pray and to serve and to put our hope in God alone who works wonders. We pray that Keller’s visit will not be an isolated event, but a landmark of a growing movement of the Gospel that will eventually bring a Biblical Reformation to the Italian peninsula.  

Something Stirring in the Heart of Europe

Towards the end of 2013, I spent a couple of days near Brno in the Czech Republic, observing a training process for teams of church planters from the Czech Republic, Moldova, Romania, and Slovakia.  There were also some observers from Spain, Germany and Sweden together with a large group of coaches (mostly young people) from Norway.  An amazing mix!

Something important was going on here.  It might not be too easy to capture what I was witnessing in cold print but here is an attempt.

First, it has been a very long time since that kind of energy around church planting has been seen in that land.  More than just joy over something positive happening, this was church planting related to genuine mission and not just to sectarian expansion.  The teams came from many denominations, they were working together, encouraging each other and they were focussed on winning those with no religious/ Christian conviction, not on proselytizing people from other churches.  Wonderful!

Some had stories of encouraging breakthroughs – a school in one town where around half of the students in some classes are now Christians.  These kinds of things normally don’t happen in the avowedly secular Czech Republic.

 Something of the same energy was flowing in the groups from other nations too.  To a certain extent the enthusiasm was engendered by the fervour coming from the young Norwegian coaches.  There is a remarkable change beginning to take place in Norway – not unfamiliar to those of us in the UK. 

The polite secular humanism tinged with God which has passed for Christianity over many years, is giving way to a new mainstream – creedal Christianity – that has the capacity to convert others. 

The Norwegian church is beginning to engage in mission and so are winning people of all ages to active, dynamic faith.  New churches are being planted in growing numbers as an overflow of this activity.  There will be a church planting conference in March 2014 in Norway with a likely attendance of 1,000 people.  (Adjusting for population differences the UK equivalent would be close to 10,000 people – around 2,000 people for the Netherlands).

In one way these are small beginnings but in another way they are revolutionary in their impact.  Its worth remembering that until very recently (last year?) no one imagined that the church had a real future, that it could grow, that young people could be converted or that new churches could be planted, let alone grow fast.  So the advent of such activity is remarkable.

The eventual impact of movements with small beginnings is something that is now more mature in my homeland – England (not yet the whole of the UK).  The process has been happening for longer than in most European lands and it may give a pointer to what can take place. 

I want to describe one such situation which began when three couples left their home church with the intention of planning a church in another city.  This took place around 20 years ago.  They chose a socially deprived area and eventually joined forces with another small church that already existed in the neighbourhood they wanted to reach.  The social deprivation they witnessed was manifested in the failure of kids at school, high unemployment, broken families, crime and drug abuse.  These were neighbourhoods that people wanted to leave.  The children’s workers could not find a single home where both biological parents were present and it looked as though it had been that way for at least three generations.

Their primary outreach tool was a children’s club inspired by the model that Bill Wilson had used in New York.  They recruited around 50 workers who raised their own support and started contacting hundreds, and eventually thousands of kids.  At its peak this work was touching the lives of around 5,000 children and young people and the church grew on the back of this work.

And something else happened too.  The young people they reached started to achieve at school and their changed aspirations led them to become employed and to seek stable relationships of fidelity that would lead to marriage.  Eventually the city authorities noticed that something was taking place in this area and came to talk to the church.  The city council noted that they had poured many millions of Pounds sterling into this neighbourhood in an attempt to bring change but acknowledged that these initiatives had failed.  They had commented that the church had succeeded in rewriting the social history of a significant section of that particular city.

That is why the church planting teams described at the start of this article are so important and why they need to be replicated many thousands of times over.  Church plants tend to be the places that produce church planters so even these small beginnings are hopeful.  To echo Luke 10, the harvest is ready, the workers are still few in number.  We pray that the Lord of the harvest will raise up yet more workers.

This post originally appeared on Together in Mission, republished here with permission.