Training Leaders by Planting Seed Truths

by Tom Julien

The process of sowing and the harvest teaches us four basic principles or “laws.”

How did you train leaders when you began your ministry in Africa?” This question was addressed to a missionary, long since retired, who had pioneered church planting in an area of central Africa. His answer was noteworthy:

When I went to Africa we didn’t have all the advantages you have today—Bible institutes, seminaries, and all that. I had to do it on my own. I had to focus on the truths that were really important in my own life so that I could try to plant those truths into their lives. We didn’t have time to sit around and talk all day long; they had to follow me around when I went out to the villages. I suppose they learned as much while we were on the move as they did when we came back and talked things over around the fire. Before long, there was more work than I could handle. They had to take over. Maybe they were not as prepared as they should have been and they made mistakes, but they sure caught on fast.

As was true of most pioneer missionaries, this man had of necessity adopted an implantational (to coin a new term) approach to leadership training—the approach modeled by our Lord. It produced some of Africa’s finest church leaders. The missionary carefully chose the seed truths that had already germinated in his own life, then implanted them into the lives of his disciples. As his disciples followed him around, the example of his life watered those seeds, causing them to germinate and become personal. Getting the disciples involved in the ministry produced fruit in active obedience. All this gave them a pattern for training others.

As Bible institutes and seminaries were created, they produced leaders with a greater knowledge of the Bible and theology. But they also had a less desirable side-effect —- a shift from the relational approach of the pioneer missionaries to one that was increasingly institutional. When professors remained active in ministry and maintained a strong mentoring relationship with their students, they usually produced good leaders. As training became more institutional, however, knowledge too often replaced character as the criterion for preparation for the ministry. The new leaders were better instructed, but not as equipped.

By implantational training we mean training that grows out of seed truths that have germinated in the experience of the trainer. These truths are taught not only by instruction, but also demonstration and involvement in ministry. Seed truths give meaning and synthesis to our knowledge; they are to knowledge what seeds are to plants. Teaching that is purely instructional often results in the acquisition of information that does not necessarily become rooted in the experience of the learner. When the objective of teaching is only to instruct, the focus is on content, and the learner’s response is often passive. This can result in conformity rather than cultural change.

Training that is implantational seeks to implant truths that must germinate by being personalized in the experience of the learner. The purpose of the training is the acquisition of wisdom, which is the application of information, not merely its acquisition. Wisdom-based education is active: the learner must process the information he or she receives in order to apply it. The objective of the teacher is to equip; the focus is on the disciple, not just on the content of the teaching. This kind of teaching instruction seeks conviction rather than mere conformity.

In the Europe of the Middle Ages, education progressively shifted from trainers to institutions, diminishing the relationship between the teacher and the learner. The result was a dichotomy between instruction and experience, resulting too often in the autonomy of knowledge. This dichotomy has been perpetuated in most academic institutions, including institutions for Bible and theological training, where knowledge about God often replaces knowledge of God, and where this knowledge becomes the basis of faith and fellowship, and the criterion for preparation in the ministry.

True biblical education, however, aims for obedience. The Great Commission does not tell us to teach all that Jesus taught, but to teach disciples to obey all that he commanded. We cannot obey without knowing, but we can know without obeying. In the scriptures, the word didasko (to teach) implies instruction in how to live, not just the communication of information. Biblical knowledge implies a relationship between the knower and the object of his or her knowledge. The process of sowing and the harvest teaches us four basic principles or “laws.”

1. The law of the seed: choose your seed truths. The law of the seed teaches us that we must organize content around seed truths so that we are planting truth and not merely transplanting knowledge. Seed truths are the main ideas that underlie information and give it meaning. They are truths that have been personalized in the life of the trainer. Like seeds, they have life, purpose, and the potential for reproduction. Truth that has germinated in the life of the trainer has the potential of germinating in the life of the learner. Planting truth is more than merely transplanting information. Unless truth germinates and produces roots in the experience of the learner, it will not produce fruit.

2. The law of the soil: relate truth to the learner. The law of the soil teaches us that in order to implant truth, we must relate it to the experience of the learner, capturing his or her interest, presenting truth in ways he or she can understand, and making it applicable to his or her needs. We never plant truth in virgin soil. Every learner is a composite of beliefs, values, and behavior patterns that represent his or her culture. Unless truth is made relevant, it will remain theoretical.

3. The law of the sower: demonstrate truth by your life. The law of the sower teaches us that the trainer must be a demonstration of the truth he or she is seeking to implant. His or her example clothes the truth with flesh and blood, motivating the learner to personalize the truth he or she has received. The relationship of the trainer both with the Lord and the learner waters the soil, causing germination to occur. Comprehension is only the beginning of the learning process; learning must lead to personal conviction and commitment as truth is applied. Truth that is not watered through personal example remains theoretical.

4. The law of the harvest: encourage reproduction through obedience. The law of the harvest teaches us that the fruit of biblical training is obedience rather than mere knowledge. The trainer encourages obedience and reproduction by involving the learner in real-life ministry situations, so that he or she in turn can plant new seed truths. The learning process is not complete until truth is put into practice. Knowledge which does not lead to obedience is theoretical. Involvement in ministry reveals giftedness, perfects skills, and develops faithfulness. Learners should be taught to train others so that truth can be reproduced.

These four conceptual laws are becoming an effective teaching tool for trainers in widely differing cultures. In Africa, they have had success both among illiterate pygmies and university professors. Because they grow out of a process that is universally understood, their simplicity allows them to be easily grasped and taught to others. They have relevance not only in teaching and training ministries, but in preaching, discipling new Christians, or even having personal conversations.

Further, they are an excellent tool for learning. To learn from someone, I must consciously ask four questions: What seed truths is he or she seeking to plant? How do these truths relate to my life? How must I respond personally to these truths? Must I react through changes that I need to make?

After a training session in central Africa, the missionary referred to in the opening paragraph of this article wrote,

Early on in the training, it became evident that most daily training of children in the African context, whether it is in gardening, hunting, fishing, etc., is done as seed truths are planted through instruction, demonstration, and imitation; in other words, implantationally. Once I realized this, it was a lot easier for me to apply the same principles to biblical training as well. My question to them was, “So if you teach your children to garden, hunt, and fish this way, why don’t we teach the Bible in the same way?”

A seminary student was invited to preach in this missionary’s church. The missionary shared his excitement with the student. “What seed truths are you going to plant?” he asked. “What do you mean by seed truths? I’m working on a sermon,” was the answer.

“How about the soil?” the missionary continued. “What do you know about the people?” Answer: “Well, I have to get my sermon prepared first, then I’ll think about the people.”

“And you—is your life a demonstration of what you are planning to share?” Answer: “Now you’re making me think.”

“What about the harvest? What do you hope will be different in the lives of the people two weeks after you preach your sermon?” Answer: “I think I need to go home and start over.”

Later, the seminary student told the missionary he had learned more in that brief conversation than in his homiletics class. An exaggeration? Of course. But my friend had proved that it is easier to plant a few seeds than to transplant a semester’s seminary course.1

1. A pamphlet containing the laws, Four Laws for Effective Communicators, is available at BMH Books, Box 544, Winona Lake, IN 46580 USA or by calling: 1-800-348-2756.


Tom Julien and his wife Doris served as missionaries in France for twenty-eight years, during which they began a ministry at the Château of Saint-Albain, a center for evangelism, training, and church planting. He was executive director of Grace Brethren International Missions in Winona Lake, Indiana, until 2000. He is currently involved in leadership training.

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