This is Part Three of an interview with Bill Mills on the history of Leadership Resources. Listen to the interview or read the transcript.
Kevin: As you realized you wanted to go deeper with fewer people, what were some of the influences that pushed you to focus on biblical exposition?
Bill: That’s a great question. TNT started with our staff in Latin America. They began to go to groups of pastors and ask them, “How can we help you? What are your needs? How can God use us to strengthen your ministry?” Part of it was helping them with preaching and leadership, but it was much broader than that in terms of helping with family ministry or youth ministry or worship ministry or whatever. At the same time, God was focusing on our hearts on the ministry of His Word. This was a big turning point.
Rather than going to a group of pastors and asking their needs, we began to say, “We want to help you by bringing to you what you really need: strengthening in studying the Bible, teaching it, and preaching it faithfully.”
Kevin: If the Word is sufficient for life and ministry and everything flows from that, why not start at the fountain of life: God’s Word?
Bill: Our deep commitment is that God’s Word brings life. Understanding that in the face of huge needs in the churches and in the ministry, there’s nothing that we can say to make a difference in anyone’s life or ministry. That drove us to the Word of God that is sufficient for life, godliness, ministry.
Kevin: The success of our leadership in the church or the ministry structures we build really are directly correlated to how the Word of God flows through each of those conduits to God’s people. We can be great leaders, but if we’re not leading people the direction God wants them in life and the church, what are we really doing?
Kevin: The Training National Trainers program started in 2001 and has had a few transitions. Can you share about TNT’s development?
How do you preach the message of the author? That’s what we’re challenged by.
Bill: We have found that around the world (it’s true here in the US; it’s true in most places in the world), preachers will use the Bible to preach a message that he wants to preach. He’ll have an idea and then think about what Scriptures he can use to support his idea. We are confronting this mindset of using the Bible to preach our message rather than starting with the text and asking, “What is the message of the author?” That is still one step removed from the pastor reading the text and standing before his people and saying whatever comes into his mind about that text. So those are two battles we are dealing with. How do you preach the message of the author? That’s what we’re challenged by.
Kevin: That’s really the overarching question for all of TNT.
“Bill, I’m finally learning the difference between using the Bible to preach my message and learning to preach the message of the author!”
Bill: I was just with a pastor from Central Asia. We are two years into our training, and during a break, he came up to me and said, “Bill, I’m finally learning the difference between using the Bible to preach my message and learning to preach the message of the author!” The amazing thing is the freedom and joy that brought to him.
Kevin: As one author puts it, finding the author’s intent is the “mother” of all hermeneutical principles—everything falls under that. Are you communicating what God, through the human author, is trying to communicate?
Bill: That is another reality that helps free up our pastors. Studying the text, preaching the text, the message of the author, then coming to the place of applying the sermon to their people. How do we want to do that? It is so helpful and freeing to look at the shepherding intent of the author. Why did the Holy Spirit put that text in the Bible where it is, the way it is? What does God want us to learn? Where does the author want to carry the reader? To match their application with the shepherding intent of the author sets them free from the creative use of stories or to make up an application. Make it the same as the author’s intent!
Kevin: Really as we go deeper in our study, the applications jump out at us and we don’t need guesswork or to be a master communicator or storyteller.
Bill: It takes time to look, look, look, and study, but the intent of the author will flow out of the main idea of the text and he shapes his message.
Kevin: Our hermeneutical principles have transitioned from sixteen originally to eight core principles that give you everything you need to dig into the text. That was one of TNT’s major transitions. When did that happen? 2014? That has strengthened the TNT program and made it much more transferable.
Bill: One of the ways that it helps us is that it is not only more simple and transferable but in each of our trainings we can go over those eight again and again and again until it becomes a part of the way we handle the Scriptures.
Kevin: It becomes a reflex as we read Scripture, forming the right instincts for Bible readers and preachers.
Bill: One of the things that helped strengthened our training along the way in the minds of our pastor-trainers, is they know the goal isn’t to be able to handle these hermeneutical tools more effectively. The big goal is not to have skills that are natural for us and present the Word more eloquently—the goal is transformation. We want God to get at our hearts and change our thoughts, our ways, our relationships, our attitudes, and the way we bring the heart of God in ministry. The goal is transformation.
Whenever we are teaching a lesson or preaching a sermon we want the hearts of our hearers to burn within them in awe and wonder and worship at the beauty of our God.
I remember sitting with one of our pastoral trainers in Central Asia— a wonderful, warm brother. He said, “Every time I come to TNT, it is the same. Nothing changes. It’s Do sessions, Dig and Discover sessions, Demo sessions—it’s the same; nothing changes. But I keep changing.”
It’s a wonderful reminder of the power of the Word through the work of the Holy Spirit that transforms hearts. We always have that before our pastor-trainers as the goal.
We were reading with the staff this morning from Luke 24 where Jesus is walking with the brothers on the Emmaus road and telling about how all the Law and the Prophets and the Writings were about Him. Later on, when Jesus departed after He had opened their eyes with the breaking of the bread, they said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as He was opening up the Scriptures?” We want to keep reminding our preachers and teachers that that’s what we’re aiming for. It’s not just better study skills. Whenever we are teaching a lesson or preaching a sermon, we want the hearts of our hearers to burn within them in awe and wonder and worship at the beauty of our God. That’s what we’re aiming for.
“Every time I come to TNT it is the same. Nothing changes. It’s Do sessions, Dig and Discover sessions, Demo sessions—it’s the same, nothing changes. But I keep changing.”
Kevin: The way I think of TNT is as if we were standing outside of a mine with buckets of tools and handing tools to the guys we’re training and saying, “Hey use these tools well and you can find gold, something of extreme value. Use the hermeneutical principles, pick away at the rock and discover the Word of God—the written Word that points us to the living Word, Christ. He’s the giver of life.”
I have a couple more questions for you. One of them is about the growth of TNT numerically (which is astounding, especially with the Mentor Trainers in place). Can you speak of God’s grace of growing our training from a group of ten leaders in Asia to being in now more than 35 countries?
Bill: Yes, and what would the number be now?
Kevin: We currently have over 100 Mentor Trainers, about 140 TNT groups in 37 countries, and in addition, over two-hundred second-generation TNT groups led by men we have trained.
Bill: We talked a little bit earlier about key transitions in the history of this work. Just about everyone on staff assumed we’d be working with groups of 20 pastors over 4 years, taking them through this training that is first aimed at transformation and flowing out of that multiplication, which we’re seeing abundantly around the world.
But then, God just opened our eyes. I don’t think there’s anyone on staff who saw it or brought it to us or creatively dreamed of it. It didn’t come out of a vision retreat. All of a sudden we realized we have all these graduates of TNT. Our next step is to work with them as key trainers in our work around the world.
Our Mentor Trainer program is about taking key graduates from our basic training through another level of training, continuing to encourage them, disciple them, walk with them in ministry, but at the same time using them as teachers with us. All of the work now that I’m involved with in Russia/Central Asia/Eastern Europe [involves Mentor Trainers in] all of our teaching and training. In many places in the world, we are a step further, and much of our time is just spent with these key Mentor Trainers, and they do the work of the TNT training. This is what is going to lead us to the huge numbers in multiplication that we are seeing—taking us from being able to train hundreds to being able to train many thousands and lay that foundation through the work of the Word in the hands of the Holy Spirit for a movement of the Word to develop in a nation.
Kevin: Bill, that reminds me of one of LRI’s key verses you shared earlier, which is Habakkuk 2:14 (ESV): “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” It’s amazing as we’ve traced LRI’s history from 1970 to 2017 seeing the 2 Timothy 2:2 multiplication model and your faithfulness, Karen’s faithfulness and support of you, and how God has worked through so many other people and LRI staff over the decades. The glory of the Lord is being expanded over the face of the earth as the waters cover the sea.
I know that prayer has been a foundational aspect of the ministry since the beginning. Can you quickly speak to how prayer has fueled the ministry of LRI?
Bill: I can quickly speak to it, first by saying that prayer is one of my great weaknesses. I am driven to my knees by my own inadequacy, and that’s a constant thing. I wish I could say I was a prayer warrior: consistently spending large amounts of time for God to show us more clearly what He’s doing, to open to us in a better way how we can walk with Him in the work that He’s doing. But it remains one of my great weaknesses. I think the reason we were able to walk with the Lord in our transition is because we were praying. The reason we pray is because God has built into us a large level of humility.
We know that we are not adequate for what God has called us to do. We know that ministry has to be what He’s doing, not what we’re doing. Ministry flows from His Words that bring life which are in the Scriptures. It’s not our words, our eloquence, our arguments, our persuasiveness. But that same humility drives us to our knees in prayer. We need God to show us what to do and how to walk with Him in what He’s doing. We are constantly in the situation where we have so many requests and opportunities to expand our ministry. We are limited by finances, staff—of course, those aren’t limitations to God, but we are constantly asking, “What’s next? Show us, Lord.” We are like children—we can’t figure this out. In the midst of our inadequacy in this area, humility drives us to our knees. We are very dependent on the Lord.
Kevin: Bill, would you mind closing our time in prayer?
Bill: Father, we are amazed at You. We are amazed at Your ability to fulfill every purpose of Your heart. You do that by using very weak men and women in the process. God, we are in awe of the reality that nothing can distract from Your great purpose of filling the earth with the knowledge of Your glory. No kingdom in this world, no political system, no military power, the forces of materialism and selfishness, individualism with which we struggle so in these places—not one of them can distract in any way from any purpose in Your heart. We know that at the end of time every purpose will be fulfilled. And You will be the only explanation for it and Your glory will fill the earth and the throne room will be filled with those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation who will worship the Lord Jesus, the exalted Lamb of God, the reigning Son forever and ever.
Father, with all of our hearts, we want to be a part of that process. We pray that You would lead us step by step as we continue to walk with You as to how we can be a part of those great eternal glorious goals. Lord, be our protection and be our wisdom. Would You provide the staff, the finances that we need so that You can use us to ignite movements of the Word in every nation in the world? We are in so few nations in the world now—thirty some; there are hundreds of nations. We need more workers. Would You raise up laborers in the harvest to join with us, would You continue to bring us staff who know You, not only Your Word, but Your heart, and who would lay down their lives for the glory of Your name? We lay this before you with great confidence and hope in the days ahead.
In Jesus name, Amen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kevin Halloran