Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." The key is training early on; not when people are set in their ways. This certainly applies to the way we do missions, make disciples, and be church.
It amazes me how much effort and money is spent on meetings and sending people like myself to conferences. I certainly enjoy these opportunities, but do all the talks, speeches and handouts ever really impact much of what actually gets implemented once we get back home?
I literally have shelves and filing cabinets full of papers, studies, manuals, documents, and reports that do little than take up precious space. I don't have the heart to toss any of it--most of it really is great material. But what percentage of those thousands of saved pages has any bearing on what we are actually doing? Probably less than 1%!
If teaching old dogs new tricks doesn't work, why do we continue to try and do so anyway? As someone said, it is easier to give birth to a child, than try to raise the dead.
So what am I getting at?
What I try to practice in my own life is anytime I attend a meeting, event, conference, training, or read a book, I try to grab hold of 1 or 2 ideas. I carry with me a notebook and jot these ideas down. As soon as feasible, I begin testing the ideas by sharing them with fellow co-laborers. When others begin interacting with me, the idea often evolves or morphs into something that we can definitely use.
What has changed in our way of teaching and training church planters is to try and get them to do the same. Grab hold of a few key ideas and run with them, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide in the fleshing out and implementation within the given context.
It is unrealistic to think that people are actually absorbing and learning all the stuff we share with them. Just because something is said doesn't mean it has been learned. Instead of trying to assimulate large quantities of information, I believe it is more profitable to grasp a couple of ideas and implement them, even if it means leaving out a lot of important information we think they are needing to know.
For example, last year I read Neil Cole's "Church 3.0" a great book packed with tons of helpful, practical stuff for anybody involved in church planting. Out of all the interesting information and advise for starting churches, three ideas got starred. It has taken a year of trial and error and revamping for our context, but these are now being implemented along with the corresponding fruit.
1) "Groups of three" (he calls them LTG) as an evangelistic tool for not-yet-believers, and a discipleship tool for believers.
2) "Seven Signs of John" as an evangelistic tool.
3) The natural order of social groupings (in particular, consensual decision making is best done by 3-5 people.)
I don't even remember what it was Neil wrote, but we latched on to these three. A year later they have been integrated into our own church planting ministry. (Read the book if interested in learning more!)
Latching on to a few key ideas and working them out in one's context bears a lot more fruit than a steady stream of new information pouring in daily. Write down ideas as the Spirit brings them to mind. Like cream rising to the top, eventually a few ideas begin to urge us, "do me."
How do you go about teaching old dogs new tricks? What have you learned from your own experiences?