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.