Local churches face the challenge of training Christians for local ministry and developing new leaders, but with limited resources.
Stepping up to help is the Porterbrook Network, a global theological training ministry based in the United Kingdom and founded by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. Both men are seasoned authors, church planters, and pastors; and Timmis serves as the Director of Acts 29 Europe.
The Porterbrook Network has developed a two-year program of twenty-four courses for local churches and small groups aiming to train church planters and church-planting core groups. They use the curriculum to bring together like-minded local churches into regional collective training sites around the world, possibly in a neighborhood near you.
The Porterbrook training materials are impressive for their theological rigor. With a desire to train Christians to live gospel-centered lives, the program is built around biblical theology and aims to ignite a love for local mission and church planting. The program is theologically robust, application oriented, and easily integrated into group-study contexts.
New Website, Timeless Vision
Recently, we talked with the associate director of the Porterbrook Network, Jonathan Woodrow, from his cozy log cabin home office in the heart of England (Loughborough). At the time, he was sleepless, and running on caffeine, after launching the new Porterbrook website the day before.
“Right from the beginning of Porterbrook, the aim was to train ordinary Christians,” he said. “The vision was that if ordinary Christians got an eyeful of Jesus — of who he is, and not just the gospel as a message, but the gospel as a method for life — then you could release ordinary folk into mission and ministry on their doorstep. This sounds like motherhood and apple pie, but the thing is, it’s not anymore.”
Local Training in Community
Porterbrook materials intentionally focus on the gospel, gospel-shaped living, and missional vision, all done locally in community.
“There’s something deliberately relational about the design of our training,” Woodrow said. “Imagine a chain of progression. We want to wake up sleeping Christians and encourage Christians who feel ill-equipped for the task. We have courses that we hope will help people get a gospel-centered thirst for mission and ministry where they are, to talk to their neighbors about Jesus, and live out gospel-transformed lives where they are. Then they might get a hunger to attend a learning site, where they interact with others in ministry. Here relationships get built and new ministries and church plants start to emerge. We’ve seen this particularly in church planting in Europe.”
The full two-year program is built upon twenty-four courses, eight of which are currently online with the rest to follow. For now, the courses are text-based ebooks written by Chester and Timmis, with audio and video components forthcoming. Each course (or module) carries a nominal fee, though can be less expensive if taken at a training site, with additional hosting charges determined by the host site.
Translations and Church Planting
The Porterbrook Network uses its income to fund translations of its materials into several other languages including Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, and Italian.
Profits are also invested in new church plants in Europe.
Woodrow explains, “The reason we set the charges is deliberately to raise money for church planting and training, while keeping the cost of training low. We don’t have a drive to make profit. The idea is to fund further training and church planting in Europe and further afield where there is little or no gospel witness.”
“We are church planters. I come from a background where I got planting a church and I needed theological education in the middle of doing it. Church planting is exploding all over the globe, and we see in Europe a desperate need to plant churches. And one of the things I keep coming across are planters who cannot leave their contexts for theological education, but also love the gospel message, but don’t know how to shape the church plant by the gospel. So pragmatics and sociology and missiology come in in unhelpful ways, rather than having those things tempered and shaped and critically assessed by a gospel methodology, what we call a gospel instinct. This is why we don’t present in our courses a model of church. We want people to arrive at the model for their context driven by thinking theologically.”
“Because we come from that background, our aim is to supply theological training and to raise money we can use to directly support church planters in Acts 29 who are struggling financially.”
Where to Start
So where can an individual user start? Woodrow suggests considering two of the most popular courses: Gospel Change, an introduction to the gospel-centered life, and The Bible in Missional Perspective, an introduction to the study and application of biblical theology.
We applaud our friends at Porterbrook, one of our ministry partners laboring in the hard soil of post-Christian Europe, for mobilizing robust theological training for the local church, a training centered on the gospel and aimed at stirring local ministry, networking like-minded Christians, and spawning and supporting church plants.