Learning from Paul

HBI Relief Staff With Children

I’ve just finished Paul Gupta’s account of the church planting movement that has emerged out of his Hindustan Bible Institute (HBI). Good case studies of contemporary church planting movements are rare. Everyone is too busy to take the time to write up the story and the lessons.

It’s also rare for an established ministry to reinvent itself as a church planting movement. How did they do it? What can we all learn from the story of Paul Gupta and the HBI?

1. Begin with apostolic leadership

At the heart of this church planting movement is Paul Gupta, an apostolic leader called by God to plant a church in every village in India in one generation.

2. Confront reality

Gupta soon discovered that their existing training programs did not produce the kind of people who are motivated and adequately prepared to achieve the goal of a church in every village.

Specifically, he found that “formal education” had crippled and derailed a school originally founded to produce church planters. The priority to develop godly, mature individuals, skilled in sharing their faith and proclaiming God’s Word to the unreached, had taken second place to the development of individuals of knowledge who could serve in the professional ministries of the church.

They were producing academic theologians not church planters. The skills and work of the evangelist, church planter and apostolic foundation-layer can be understood and mastered only through practice, through experiential learning.

3. Recommit to the founding purpose

Gupta explains, “The more we evaluated the programs and policies of accreditation, the more we realized we had sold our birthright.” Gupta led the HBI in an innovative return to its founding purpose.

4. Set ridiculous goals

Gupta began by asking, “What it look like if our job was done?” The answer was, “A church in every village, a church for every thousand people in every people group.” To achieve that goal an additional one million churches were needed and a minimum of one million church planters.

5. Craft a new strategy

To accomplish the task, a different kind of student and a new kind of training was required. HBI had to attract students who had a passion for evangelism and church planting and provide training for them that did not take them away from their villages and people group.

This is the strategy that emerged:

• They brought the trainees to HBI for ten days of training every three months and sent them back to live and minister in their villages.
• Many of the trainees were new converts with little formal education. They learnt the principle of repetition with the aim of progressive mastery of foundational information.
• They chose trainers from among successful church planters who have planted several churches.
• They equipped trainees in basic biblical and theological knowledge, personal spiritual disciplines and ministry skills.
• They discovered that real learning takes place when a trainee is required to teach immediately what they had learned to those they were reaching and discipling in their villages.
• Eveyone was clear on the intended outcome. They were equipping trainees to start their first church in their home village, then to identify five unreached villages around them that were receptive to the gospel, and begin with evangelism in those villages with the objective of planting new churches. Training was continually adapted to suit the outcome.
• Trainees were provided with experienced on-site mentors as they did evangelism in their villages. They learnt by seeing and doing ministry. The pace of learning was adjusted for each trainee. Those who progressed rapidly became peer coaches for others.

As a result of this training strategy, every trainee who stayed with the program succeeded in planting at least one church. On average each trainee has planted 4.5 churches.

6. Make it up as you go

HBI was very clear about the outcomes—recruiting people with a passion for evangelism, five or more churches for each church planter, and churches that reproduced other churches.

How they got there was up for grabs. They committed to continuous evaluation of the performance and impact of their trainees. Each of the innovations in training strategy was the result of a process that included both trial and error mixed with Biblical reflection and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The new paradigm emerged over several years as they listened to the leadership of the Lord, experimented with non-formal training, and evaluated the results in the light of their mission.

7. Read the Scriptures with new eyes

Gupta rediscovered the ministry of Paul and applied the implications to their church planting movement. According to Gupta, “He functioned as an evangelist, a cross-cultural missionary, a church planter, a mentor to young leaders, and a trainer, but he did not pastor a church.” He equipped others to do that.

The role of the missionary is not to pastor a church but to be the facilitator of a church planting movement. From the beginning the missionaries must understand that they need to identify gifts in new believers and equip them to do the ministry of the church.

8. Break the mold

There are no exceptions. Paul Gupta broke through because he broke the mold. He had the courage to reject an inherited model of ministry training and explore new ones that get the job done and reflect Biblical principles.

The breakthroughs in the renewal and expansion of the Christian movement always occur on the fringe, never at the centre of ecclesiastical power. (Paul Pierson)

We would be wise to learn from this case study and apply, not the program, but the principles.