Guest article by Evan Burns

Missiologists have produced many great works analyzing cultural/linguistic phenomena, demographic statistics, and effective methods of cultural engagement. Yet missionary-theologians are a rare find today; and a useful manual produced for practitioners by a missionary-theologian is even harder to find. Dr. M. David Sills, theologian and practitioner, has provided such a resource: Hearts, Heads, & Hands: A Manual for Teaching Others to Teach Others. In his book, Sills makes a case for training the 85 percent of Christian leaders around the world, specifically pastors, who remain untrained and undiscipled. Not only does he argue for its importance, Sills provides a practical manual for training Christian leaders, forming the mind, heart, and will with God’s Word. He points out that “knowing, doing, and saying are the three foundational aspects of pastoral ministry. Pastors and pastoral candidates must be instructed by those who model it” (4).

Summary

Sills does not advocate extracting a pastor-in-training from his native context in order to enroll him in a metropolitan seminary away from his village culture. Rather, Sills proposes seminary-quality training for pastors in their native contexts, yet he cautions that using highly literate models of education do not transfer well to oral-based learners. He helpfully states,

“Even though many students can read the words on a page, the headlines in a newspaper, or a verse in the Bible, this is not proof they are able to understand the argument or that they could learn and apply life-changing truths found on a printed page. Our Western forms of education that require literacy seem to us to be the best—or only—way to teach students. The use of numerical listings, progressive ordering of points, outlines, statistics, percentages, and logical reasoning is lost on oral learners. Additionally, oral learners do not easily separate the truth from the truth teller. For them truth equals relationship plus experience. If either of the latter two is missing, the lesson will not be effective” (8).

Sills posits that andragogical learning is preferable because then the student is self-motivated and the learning is problem-centered, not content-centered. Moreover, lest someone recommend the myriad of online learning opportunities, he does not promote information inculcation from such online platforms, though helpful as they may be. Sills argues,

“The problem is not simply that the majority of the world still does not have reliable Internet with sufficient velocity to benefit from this method, but the very teaching style and delivery must be contextualized to a culturally appropriate method as we have already seen. Digital forms of teaching are not helpful for many. . . . Additionally, most cultures in the world are face-to-face cultures, and the relationship between teacher and learner is extremely important” (11).

Sills further explains that combining in-class oral-based learning with peers would be enhanced much more through in-ministry mentorships because a trusting relationship is the ground in which the fruit of learning grows for face-to-face, group-oriented cultures.

Sills explains that this book is for trainers to know how and what to teach the pastors-in-training, but the final goal is that the students would themselves become trainers of others in the future. Thus, this book is a tool for training trainers over and against merely teaching students. He explains that this “curriculum is divided into nine one-week intensive classes with a rhythm of instruction flowing from hearts to heads to hands every day, employing a very specific and pedagogical philosophy, and presents the curriculum in a logical flow of courses presented” (15). These modules do not necessarily delve deeply into academic arguments and scholarly minutiae lest functionally literate and functionally illiterate students feel unqualified and incompetent. Yet, Sills provides suggested readings after each module for those who wish to study in depth or for those teachers who wish to prepare more deeply. Moreover, Sills helpfully explains,

“Although each module’s content is divided according to natural teaching sections, the material may alternatively be easily divided in any other way that may be more conducive to the specific training context. The module incorporates the content to be taught for Hearts, Heads, and Hands, occasional illustrations, applications, intercultural contextualization guidelines, as well as insights for how to teach the material. It falls to the missionary-professor to know his specific cultural context well and make appropriate adjustments in his teaching to enable the students to understand, remember, and be able to repeat the lessons. If any one of those three are missing, then the teaching with that group stops at the end of the class” (15–16).

Each module is designed to require approximately thirty to thirty-five hours per week, and spaced between each module should be an interval of weeks or, more preferably, months. The weekly modules should focus five hours on hearts, five hours on hands, and twenty-five hours on head knowledge. In addition, for those teachers who require interpreters, phrase-by-phrase translation means that the professor will only teach for roughly half of the class time.

Each of the themes (heart, head, and hands) is integrated together in each module. The theme of the heart focuses on the leader’s spiritual development, which is divided into nine personal spiritual disciplines, the nine parts of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22–23, and the nine aspects of the thought life in Philippians 4:8–9. The theme of the head focuses on the leader’s biblical foundation. And the theme of the hands focuses on the leader’s administrative responsibility. The integrated modules include:

Module 1 (week 1)
Heart: Bible Intake, Love, Truth (5 hours)
Head: Overview of the Old Testament (25 hours)
Hands: God’s Call to Ministry (5 hours)

Module 2 (week 2)
Heart: Prayer, Joy, Honorable (5 hours)
Head: Overview of the New Testament (25 hours)
Hands: The Pastor’s Character (5 hours)

Module 3 (week 3)
Heart: Worship, Peace, Just (5 hours)
Head: Christian Doctrine (25 hours)
Hands: Shepherding God’s Flock (5 hours)

Module 4 (week 4)
Heart: Scripture Memorization, Patience, Purity (5 hours)
Head: Church History (25 hours)
Hands: Ordinances (5 hours)

Module 5 (week 5)
Heart: Serving, Kindness, Lovely (5 hours)
Head: Hermeneutics (25 hours)
Hands: Developing Leaders (5 hours)

Module 6 (week 6)
Heart: Evangelism, Goodness, Commendable (5 hours)
Head: Missions and Church Planting (25 hours)
Hands: Mentoring (5 hours)

Module 7 (week 7)
Heart: Stewardship, Faith, Excellence (5 hours)
Head: Homiletics and Storying (25 hours)
Hands: Community Engagement (5 hours)

Module 8 (week 8)
Heart: Fasting, Gentleness, Praiseworthy (5 hours)
Head: Family Ministry and Counseling (25 hours)
Hands: Church Finances (5 hours)

Module 9 (week 9)
Heart: Silence and Solitude, Self-control, Peace (5 hours)
Head: Worship Leadership (25 hours)
Hands: Church Discipline (5 hours)

The students, if applicable, are encouraged to own and use a quality study Bible to supplement their class lessons. For those wishing greater depth of study, professors are encouraged to provide suggested readings or supplemental material. Such additional instruction should be integrated throughout the module instead of offering an extra elective course, Sills advises, “lest it give the impression that the additional classes are optional or, worse, only for the more spiritual” (19).

Sills also includes seven appendices that discuss helpful tips regarding teaching in cross-cultural contexts, the role of women, ecclesiology, oral-based learners, using the manual for discipleship, discerning prosperity gospel doctrines, and cultural adaptation. Then, at the very end of the book, he provides outlines for each of the nine modules. In his final introductory comments, for the sake of clarity and focus, Sills repeats that the goal of this manual is to train competent pastors of high-character quality who are equipped both to serve their ministries and to train others to do the same.

Critical Analysis

Sills has done a great service to missionaries seeking to train the undiscipled. Combining conservative evangelical theology with contextualized pastoral insights and practical applications for spiritual growth, this manual proves to be adequate in scope and sequence to equip Christian leaders in any cultural context for every good work. Because Sills is familiar with the typical literacy and education level of students in jungle, mountainous, rural, and non-Western settings, he does well to focus on broad themes of instruction instead of particularly concentrating on academic minutiae. Nevertheless, he provides enough biblical verses and exposure to topics so that, if the teacher or students so desire, more in-depth learning could be pursued. These lessons are designed to be the broad strokes of what they should know as the first steps of their ministry training. For those missionary-teachers preparing to utilize this book, it helps to think of targeting students who do not know much beyond the fact that God has called them to serve the church; this is not a North American seminary education in a single volume, though it sets a foundation for more advanced theological/ministerial training in future courses.

Missionary-teachers who use Sills’ model would benefit from reading through each module and preparing supplemental material in case students desire deeper discussion and further clarification. As Sills explains, “The content of these modules is primarily for the teachers, teaching them to teach others more than detailed content containing everything a pastor needs to know” (14). These modules can be adapted for a broad spectrum of learners—from those with a functionally illiterate learning style to those with a highly literate learning style. The modules are not fixed transcriptions for the teachers to read aloud; they serve more as basic content outlines for the teachers to follow in a concise, easy-to-follow format. Pre-course preparation for each module would benefit the overall teaching and learning experience.

One unique feature to this training manual is how it is designed for face-to-face, group-oriented cultures. The suggested teaching modules are not written in a way that would promote a memory dump or information download. Sills designed the modules to be conducted in a conference style. Related to this relational manner of teaching is the unique method of teaching. According to Sills’ research and experience, “spaced repetition” is ideal for transformative learning: “The same lesson taught repeatedly at spaced intervals, and approached from many directions to make the same point, is powerful in our memories” (8). Lending itself to non-linear modes of learning for those not educated in Western pedagogy, this method of spaced repetition proves to be very effective for all learners, but especially for those in bush, jungle, and rural contexts.

Some missionary-theologians might infer, after skimming through the brief nine-module outline, that Sills has neglected gospel-related categories that are deemed theologically meaningful in varying degrees in all cultures, such as shame/honor, guilt/innocence, and fear/power paradigms. Admittedly, he does not strictly dedicate a whole module to these categories, so glancing through the table of contents would give the impression that they, and others, are not covered. However, he does indeed mention those specifically in numerous places throughout the modules in order to aid in culturally communicative gospel teaching. Moreover, his focused treatment of the scope of contextualization would be helpful for any teacher to read prior to teaching through the modules (see pp. 284–95).

The material is generally structured according to Western paradigms of theological and biblical understandings as both a way to assist the teacher to understand and because most theological categories are essential, non-negotiables of biblical revelation. Introducing new paradigms for multiple cultural contexts would have been both confusing and unhelpful, given the demographic from which the majority of evangelical missionary-teachers come and the global churches which they will serve. This is a teaching manual, not a systematic theology textbook. As such, it is not intended to be comprehensive in content but, rather, thorough in scope and sequence.

Conclusion

Dr. M. David Sills has provided a highly recommended training manual that many discipleship-oriented and theology-driven missionaries have eagerly desired. Bringing together contextually appropriate teaching methods, culturally sensitive learning styles, essential biblical doctrines, and timeless pastoral wisdom, Sills’ Hearts, Heads, & Hands raises the bar for training pastors and Christian leaders in non-Westernized cultures who cannot access formal seminary education due to geographical, financial, and/or educational limitations. The contents of this book have been already employed in Sills’ ministry—Reaching & Teaching International Ministries. Therefore, these are not theoretical lessons created in the confines of the academy; rather, these are field-tested modules compiled after years of developing and refining. Moreover, this manual unapologetically seeks the transformation of the pastor-in-training’s mind, affections, and volition with the inerrant, sufficient Word of God.

In an era of globally pervasive biblical illiteracy, this resource, if used as designed, will help guide missionary-teachers to heed 2 Timothy 2:2 and entrust biblical doctrine to faithful men who will thus train others also.


Editor’s Note: Neither Reaching & Teaching nor Dr. David Sills solicited this review from the author. It was obtained by permission from the publisher of Hearts, Heads, and Hands.

Evan Burns

Evan Burns (PhD, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Director of the MA in Global Leadership program at Western Seminary, where he also directs The Judson Center. He and his family have served as missionaries in the Middle East, East Asia, and most recently in Southeast Asia, where he has been on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary of Cornerstone University.

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