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The Central Arkansas Antioch Initiative: Our Journey

“Strong churches are the greatest hope for a transformed community and strong churches need strong leaders. Therefore, effective leadership training is essential.”

In February, more than 50 pastors and church leaders from the city-church network known as the Nehemiah Network gathered for the 2017 Central Arkansas Prayer Summit. In addition to crying out to God for revival and the advance of the gospel, it was also an opportunity to give praise and glory to God for the 20th year of a sustained movement uniting churches in our community.


It began in 1996 when the Holy Spirit stirred in the hearts of a few pastors who began praying together. That humble beginning led to a four-day prolonged gathering of prayer in 1998, that became the initial catalyst for our movement. As new levels of trust began to develop among leaders, nearly 100 churches united in a city-wide event called ShareFest to visibly demonstrate the love of Christ by responding to some of the communities’ greatest needs—K-12 Education, racial issues, and public safety. In the video, ShareFest: The Story of a Movement, Little Rock’s Mayor, Jim Dailey, said of ShareFest, “this was one of the most significant things that has gone on in my time as Mayor.”

After 10 years of building relational bridges, in the Fall of 2009, more than 200 churches united together in an evangelistic festival called CityFest with Luis Palau. In the years following CityFest, we continued to pray and moved beyond events to mobilizing the church to serve ongoing areas of need including: foster care and adoption, literacy, prison reentry, and marriage ministry.

While God had sustained us through significant challenges in the early years including relational conflicts among key leaders, doctrinal divisions on secondary issues, and the distraction of competing activities among churches, there was a growing awareness of a deeper issue. Many pastors fail to prioritize involvement with the city church because of what I believe is a misunderstanding of the “local” church. We rightly say that the Scriptures teach about both the universal church and local churches. For many however, “local church” simply means their congregation. This understanding, while partly true, is insufficient. Gene Getz in Elders and Leaders: God’s Plan for Leading the Church writes,

“To understand how plurality in leadership worked in the New Testament culture, we must avoid superimposing our contemporary, Western forms on first-century churches. In contrast to the multitude of “local churches” we have in a given population center, every mention of multiple leaders in the New Testament is made in reference to a single church in a single city or town. In the biblical story, there was only one church in Jerusalem, in Antioch of Syria, in Lystra, in Iconium, in Antioch of Pisidia, in Thessalonica, and in Ephesus.”1

In 2014, while looking for ways to create conversation around this issue, we were introduced to the BILD Encyclical, “The Churches of The First Century: From Simple Churches to Complex Networks” by Jeff Reed. This encyclical (available through BILD Store) provided the beginning point for dialogue on the theology of the city-church network and introduced us to BILD International and the Antioch School. After a year of research and preparation, the Central Arkansas Antioch Initiative launched its M.Min./D.Min. Leadership Cohort in September of 2015 with leaders from eight different churches. The initiative seeks the welfare of the city by:

        • Strengthening church leadership through ordered and intentional Biblical training;
        • Drawing resources into urban communities of need;
        • Creating opportunity for local and affordable Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate degree programs.

Since the launch of the initial Leadership Cohort, four additional cohorts have started in key resource churches and two additional Cohorts are scheduled to begin in September. Our vision is to train 1000 grassroots leaders by 2020 and 10,000 by 2025.

In addition to providing church-based theological training for leaders, the initiative has plans to provide Antioch School degrees in three geographic areas of significant economic need in Central Arkansas. The first Bachelor’s Urban Degree Cohort is scheduled to begin in January 2018.

As we continue to depend on God’s grace for the future, our prayer is that the following reflections on our journey will bring hope and encouragement to any leader, church, or citychurch network in any city:

        • Sustainable gospel movements must be built on a foundation of prayer.
        • Today’s culture needs to see the gospel proclaimed in both word and deed. The gospel
          must be made visible by goods works.
        • Strong churches are the greatest hope for a transformed community and strong
          churches need strong leaders. Therefore, effective leadership training is essential.
        • The church can have a more transforming effect in a community when it is working
        • Along with the easily identifiable challenges to unity, many church leaders have an
          insufficient theology of the local church.
        • Persevere. Do not lose heart in doing good. We are in a spiritual battle, it’s hard, don’t give up.

Thanks, be to God for his gracious provision.

Getz, Gene A. Elders and Leaders: God’s Plan for Leading the Church – A Biblical, Historical and Cultural Perspective (Kindle Locations 3037-3039). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Juvenilization of American Christianity

There is so much at stake when we think about the very essence of the American church as being adolescent.

The Juvenilization of American Christianity is one of the best book titles that I have known. It is best because it is so clever, but also because it is so accurate about the problem that is addressed so well by the book.



It may be difficult for some to think about American Christianity as juvenile because of the role of Christianity in the founding of America and the enormous role that America has played in the global expansion of Christianity. However, advanced age is not necessarily the same as maturity.

In The Juvenilization of American Christianity, Thomas E. Bergler explains how he understands American Christianity going from maturity to immaturity. In From Here to Maturity (another great book title), Bergler explains how he thinks we can overcome the juvenilization of American Christianity.

Adolescent Christianity

In his introduction to Juvenilization, called “We’re all Adolescents Now,” Bergler gives an extensive explanation of what he means by juvenilization by exploring adolescence as a developmental life stage, adolescence and social structure, and adolescence and culture.

Here are several quotations that provide a good glimpse into what he has to say:

        • “Juvenilization is the process by which the religious beliefs, practices, and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for Christians of all ages.” – Page 4
        • “Adolescent spirituality favors physical activity, touch, and other bodily ways of expressing faith.” – Page 9
        • “Adults influenced by adolescent Christianity romanticize the supposed idealism and zeal of youth and try to force each other to conform to those patterns.” – Page 10
        • “They care more about the quality of their religious friendships than about truth.” – Page 10
        • “Adolescent Christians are preoccupied with self-exploration and personal transformation.” – Page 11
        • “Adolescent Christians see the faith as incomplete unless it is affecting them emotionally.” – Page 12
        • “Adolescent Christians insist that their faith adapt to their social world.” – Page 13
        • “Adolescent Christians expect their faith to be fun and entertaining.” – Page 14
        • “Adolescent Christians don’t expect to be adults for a long time, so they don’t particularly care if their Christianity prepares them for adulthood.” – Pages 14-15

The significance of the issue is made very clear at the end of the introduction. Bergler says that “Adolescent churches are more likely to conform to the supposed needs or desires of young people than they are to shoulder the more difficult task of forming the young” (Page 16).

It isn’t just the presence of juvenilization in churches that bothers Bergler, but the fact that juvenilization has essentially become the goal. “Why should anyone care about juvenilization?  Early in my college teaching career, I asked a group of my students, ‘What does a mature Christian look like?’ They disliked the question and resisted answering it. ‘I don’t think we ever arrive in our spiritual growth.’ ‘We’re not supposed to judge one another.’ ‘No one is perfect in this life.’ Sadly, these evangelical college students did not believe that Christian maturity was either attainable or desirable. The churches that had nurtured these young people well enough to get them to pursue a Christian college education had not managed to inspire them with a biblical vision of spiritual maturity” (Page 18).

“Adolescent churches are more likely to conform to the supposed needs or desires of young people than they are to shoulder the more difficult task of forming the young.”

Four Case Studies

Bergler explores in-depth the problem of the juvenilization of American Christianity primarily through four case studies that are interwoven through the book. The four case studies are:

        1. Youth for Christ, a dynamic parachurch ministry founded to do youth evangelism and its influence on evangelical churches
        2. Catholic Youth Organization and other efforts within the Catholic church to engage young people
        3. National Conference of Methodist Youth as an example of juvenilization in mainline churches
        4. Various youth ministry efforts within African American Baptist churches.

The bulk of the book is a somewhat historical progression of the juvenilization of American Christianity with evidence drawn from these case studies, but with an emphasis on each of the case studies one-at-a-time. “Youth, Christianity, and the Crisis of Civilization” explains the emergence of youth ministry in the 1930s and 1940s. “From then on, almost any innovation could be justified in the name of saving young people. Who could worry about the long-term impact of youth work on the church when the fate of civilization hung in the balance?” (Page 40).


“Misreading the Signs of the Times: From Political Youth to Trivial Teenagers” shows how Youth for Christ and other youth-focused efforts shifted from importance to triviality. “The newly labeled ‘teenagers’ would from now on be increasingly seduced by the siren song of high school social life dominated by fun, sports, dating, movies, music, and fashion. While adult values and youthful tastes have often clashed over the centuries, what was changing was the relative balance of power between the two and the length of time between puberty and full adult status” (Page 65).

“Social Prophets or Silent Generation: The Failed Juvenilization of Liberal Protestantism” shows how mainline efforts to mobilize youth for social progress failed to have significant impact. “By locating the fulcrum of social change among young people and putting them more or less in charge of it also had its dangers. If young people were the best activists because of their ‘natural idealism,’ their lack of prejudice, or other innate qualities, where did that leave adults? … during the 1960s, more and more liberal young people would take these messages to heart and reject the church that had nurtured them” (Page 90).

“The Black Church and the Juvenilization of Christian Political Activism” also shows how efforts to mobilize youth for social progress fell far short of its ambitions. “By 1960, young African Americans had created an impressive new form of Christian life that combined the powerful resources of the black church with a commitment to nonviolence and a dash of fun and excitement. … What would happen to young people and the church if civil rights victories, white backlash, and youth rebellion combined to weaken the very African American institutions that had so successfully formed generations of young people?” (Pages 117-8).

“Why Everyone Wanted to Get Out of the Catholic Ghetto” explains how Catholic efforts were not sufficient to hold on to Catholic youth. “As a result, the Catholic youth ghetto often became a claustrophobic subculture in which young people hear that they must win the Cold War by keeping sexually pure, saying the rosary, and participating in Catholic social clubs. Despite their best efforts, many parish and diocesan youth programs did not teach young Catholics how to be responsible, active adults, but rather taught them how to be adolescent consumers of Catholic identity markers” (Page 145-6).

“How to Have Fun, Be Popular, and Save the World at the Same Time” is largely a description about how Youth for Christ created a teenage evangelical spirituality. “Youth leaders and teenagers created a full-fledged juvenilized version of evangelical Christianity during the 1950s … embraced fun and entertainment while maintaining strict rules about bodily purity” (Page 174).

“Youth, Christianity, and the 1960s Apocalypse” reveals how much juvenilization of American Christianity had taken over the churches. “Some young Christians who lived through the 1960s learned to value the political dimensions of their faith more than members of previous generations. But even more of them began to see the institutional church as an impediment to personal fulfillment. … In the long run, the rebellious styles of sixties youth proved more popular among the middle class than the substance of their social vision” (Pages 205-7).


“The Triumph and Taming of Juvenilization” acknowledges the good that was accomplished, but also recognized what was lost. “Juvenilization has kept American Christianity vibrant … The musical styles and multimedia sophistication may be new, but the ministry philosophy is the same one that created the Youth for Christ rallies of the 1950s” (Page 208). Bergler relies on the research of Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers that found that “American teenagers are surprisingly inarticulate about their faith,” but seem to rely on something that could be called Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism in which “Teenagers are ‘moralistic’ in that they believe that God wants us to be good, and that the main purpose of religion is to help people be good. But many think that it is possible to be good without being religious …” (Page 219).

In summary, Bergler states that “Although juvenilization has renewed American Christianity, it has also undermined Christian maturity. First, the faith has become overly identified with emotional comfort. And it is only a short step from a personalized, emotionally comforting faith to a self-centered one. Second, far too many Christians are inarticulate, indifferent, or confused about their theological beliefs. They view theology as an optional extra to faith, and assume that religious beliefs are a matter of personal preference. Many would be uncomfortable with the idea of believing something just because the Bible, the church, or some other religious authority teaches it. And they are particularly resistant to church teachings that impose behavior restrictions. If we believe that a mature faith involves more than good feelings, vague beliefs, and living however we want, we must conclude that juvenilization has revitalized American Christianity at the cost of leaving many individuals mired in spiritual immaturity” (Page 225).

“Although juvenilization has renewed American Christianity, it has also undermined Christian maturity.”

From Here to Maturity

Bergler’s solution is “Pastors and youth leaders need to teach what the Bible says about spiritual maturity, with a special emphasis on those elements that are neglected by juvenilized Christians. Both teenagers and adults need to hear what Jesus and the apostles taught: that every Christian should reach spiritual maturity after a reasonable period of growth” (p. 226). Bergler doesn’t just make a call for this solution. He wrote another volume to support implementation of the solution. It is From Here to Maturity: Overcoming the Juvenilization of American Christianity.

The bottom line evidence of the lack of maturity is a summary of the findings of Christian Smith, et al, and published in Lost in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. “In particular, Smith and his research team found that American society is not preparing young people to become healthy, productive adults in five important areas of life:  moral reasoning, higher life purpose, substance use, sexuality, and civic engagement” (p. 6). Bergler defines the now common spirituality of adolescent faith as “If I’m having a hard time, it makes me feel better,” emerging adult faith as “My faith is what’s best for me,” and adult faith as “religious doctrines get in the way of truly relating to God” (pp. 12-17).


Bergler’s understanding of spiritual maturity means beginning well with one’s faith. “We must begin by facing the fact that a significant number of Christians do not regard growing up in Christ to be an intrinsic part of what it means to be a follower of Christ” (p. 27). It is important that the gospel preached includes a sense of the implications of faith, namely a vision of maturity as “basic competence in the Christian life” (p. 33). Bergler’s working definition of spiritual maturity is “the foundational level of spiritual formation of the human heart resulting in thoughts, feelings, and choices that display basic competence in the Christian life” (p. 54).

The content of spiritual maturity is to “know the basic truths, display discernment, be connected to the body of Christ (the church) where they are helping others become mature and are sharing with them in the mission of the kingdom of God, and live a life of love” (p. 49). The process of growing spiritually is derived from Dallas Willard’s VIM Model of Vision (“to see the kind of person God wants you to become”), Intention (motivation to be that kind of person), and Means (spiritual disciplines to be undertaken) (p. 58).

Praise for the Books

There are many important things for which to praise the tremendous contributions of Bergler in these books. For instance, the titles themselves are catchy and provocative. I think many of us have a sense of the juvenilization of the church, but we didn’t know what to call it. It is much more than a mere preoccupation with Baby Boomers. There is so much at stake when we think about the very essence of the American church as being adolescent.

It is so refreshing to find someone who deals straightforwardly with the concept of spiritual maturity. Bergler treats it as something normal in biblical teaching, not some unattainable goal or process of continuous development. Spiritual formation gets lots of attention, but often without corresponding attention to spiritual maturity. Paul often writes about building up of the church to maturity, but most dismiss it in terms of any practical definition. The inability of the American church to have clear definitions of spiritual maturity have left even the sincere to flounder and not really know whether they are truly progressing.

Bergler roots his analysis is serious lessons from history. His books are not mere opinion pieces. The case study approach is a very good way to probe the depths and diversity of the problem in the American church. The lenses of the evangelical, mainline, black, and Catholic experiences provide special insight into each, but also a clear view of the American church in its broadest sense.

“A mature church has strong, well-trained, qualified leaders in place, is properly engaged in the progress of the Gospel, and has programs to sustain its own outreach and edification efforts.”


Excellent books like Bergler’s build a foundation on which concepts and critiques can take the discussion even farther. Here are a few of my critiques:

1. Church Maturity. Was the American church ever actually all that mature? Bergler admits that some who read his first book thought he was “just being a grumpy old man” (From Here to Maturity, p. xiii). Of course, Bergler is not just a grumpy old man. He is a careful scholar with particular expertise on the impact of youth ministry in the twentieth century. However, he does seem to have a sense that things were better than they were. Church attendance, superficial morality, and rote theological knowledge may have been more the norm in previous decades, but I’m not convinced that I would call that true spiritual maturity.

In fact, I’m not sure that Bergler has actually given a proper definition of spiritual maturity at the church level. Certainly a church filled with people who are spiritually mature is better than what we have now. However, a mature church is more than just a bunch of spiritual mature individuals. A mature church has strong, well-trained, qualified leaders in place, is properly engaged in the progress of the Gospel, and has programs to sustain its own outreach and edification efforts. Chapter 4 on in From Here to Maturity (“Reaching the Tipping Point: Youth Ministries That Help the Whole Church Mature”) provides an excellent description of how youth ministry can play a significant part in improving the situation, but it focuses on greater development of individuals, not necessary the church as more than the sum total of its parts.

The appendices in From Here to Maturity are helpful, but quite limited. For instance, the list of “Resources for Cultivating Congregational Cultures of Spiritual Maturity” are books on the subject, not curriculum or processes to implement. One of the unique things about BILD is that it provides resources and systems for church-based theological education for all believers and are designed to be used within the context of church leaders strengthening churches and church networks.

2. Leadership Development. While the books helpfully focus on spiritual development of individuals, it tends to treat all individuals too similarly. It does not focus on the unique role of leadership development in building mature churches, other than the unique role of youth leaders. However, in most church contexts, youth ministry still remains a subset of the larger church. Despite the influence that may be generated from the youth ministry program, there needs to be a much more concerted effort on the rest of the church staff, elders, deacons, and other forms of church leadership.

Bergler provides a robust explanation for how the American church’s approach to youth ministry has led to its juvenilization. However, he doesn’t address some key institutions that have contributed to the problem. For instance, most of the youth leaders and parachurch ministry leaders who have led us to juvenilization were trained in formal Bible colleges and seminaries. It would have been interesting for Bergler to probe the connection between their ministry training and their ministry outcomes. Similarly, although talking about how some parachurch ministries took the focus on spiritual development out of the churches themselves, Bergler didn’t sufficiently address the impact that even the training of youth leaders by these parachurch agencies had on the local churches.

3. Post-Modern. The books were largely retrospective to understand where we are and how we got here. And while they proposed a solution, the solution didn’t seem to be ground well in the realities of post-modern America. If fact, I’m not sure that I ever even read the word “post-modern” and it is not listed in the index of either book. It seems that the contribution would have been even better if Bergler had more specifically addressed the problem and solution in terms of a post-modern world.

4. Spiritual Maturity Itemization. It was a bit confusing to know exactly what Bergler meant by spiritual maturity because the itemizations on pages 49, 53, and 62-63 in From Here to Maturity have significant differences. It would have been helpful to have a core model from which various presentations could be adjusted, but with the core still in view, so that others can build on the core model as they customize.

The bottom line is that Berger has made a massive contribution toward the spiritual maturity of the American church. If nothing else, he has presented the problem in a way that is inescapable. Fortunately, he has also given us much perspective and direction on corrective steps to take. Hopefully, the American church, particularly its leaders, aren’t too immature to take seriously his assistance.

Building a Leadership Team to Reach Our City

What is the work of a missionary? Depending on who is asking me the question, the answer can vary, but the essence is always the same. Training leaders who will establish the church is the work of a missionary and building a leadership team is a core aspect of our work in expanding the gospel to our cities. This is the model that is left for us, explained in the book of Acts. Paul and his team would share the good news in a city, gather those who responded into a church, and then appoint and train leaders to lead those churches. Recognizing this pattern, our ministry team at BILD International, is working with church-planting networks from all over the world. We are also doing this in Des Moines, Iowa, our home city. We are passionate about Des Moines, and we hope that all churches share this passion for reaching their home city.

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About Des Moines, Iowa

Let me share some perspective from our journey in Des Moines and the practical aspects of implementing long-term habits. Here are a few factors that make Des Moines a strategic city for the expansion of the gospel:

      • Capital of Iowa
      • Home to over 551,000 residents
      • 780,000 people live within 60 minutes (=24% of Iowa’s population)
      • The greater Des Moines area is composed of 16 cities
      • Downtown and East Des Moines are the highest density, low-income zones of the city
      • Des Moines is a central hub and there are significant opportunities for “Seek the Welfare” initiatives.

Leaders from different churches discussing the expansion and establishment of the church in Acts.

Encouragement From Our Journey

Leaders ask me how their denomination or network of churches can get people established in the faith, while often citing their unique circumstances, challenges and history of using a plethora of church programs. My initial response is: “We use Thursday evenings.” This is surprising to many leaders who are usually looking for another “plug and play” programmatic piece designed for today’s modern church machinery. But this cannot be the starting point. As leaders, if we understand our role in equipping the saints so that our people know the full counsel of God, we must help our people implement long-term habits for growing and developing in their faith.

Our leaders have been meeting on Thursday evenings for 10 years. This habit began when we were initially implementing the Antioch School because Thursday evenings worked best for everyone. When we started, we only intended to meet until we completed our Antioch School degrees. However, as the months passed by, we began to understand the principles for being a New Testament church, and realized that completing our degrees in the context of our church was just the beginning of our development.


During those years of meeting and learning these principles together, we started bringing food to share and slowly became a family that relied on each other. We shared our lives as marriages, occupations, pain and death were always part of someone’s life. In these initial years, our establishment and leadership development was housed and included a single church. After three years together, this church sent us out as church planters to our city, to continue the work to which we had been called.

This habit of meeting together regularly to establish each other in the faith, and be a family that encourages one another still continues today. Now, we have five different churches and we are seeing how each church plays a needed role in our city. Just as individuals are unique and have a role, the same is true for churches; each one is unique and has a role in the city. This ministry is only possible through the one-mindedness that is built through regularly studying and discussing the Bible together.

How It All Happens

We meet in a business owned by one of our benefactors. Our Thursday evenings looks like the following:

      • We begin our time together sharing a meal and our lives. Entire families, including children, participate.
      • We then move into 4 groups, each following a development track:
          • Becoming a Disciple – BILD Institute
          • Laying Solid Foundations in the Gospel – BILD Institute
          • Acts – Antioch School
          • Habits of the Heart – Antioch School
      • We end by gathering everyone together to pray and discuss upcoming schedules.

“The Church is not like a family, it is a family and I am thankful that it looks like it too!”

There is much work still to do but it has been an exciting process of growth. We are seeing entire families where parents and children each learn the same principles of the faith, while simultaneously discussing these principles with leaders who sharpen their vision and purpose in the city.  Some of these leaders are enrolled in the Antioch School, earning degrees with their work. The church is not like a family, it is a family and I am thankful that it looks like it too!

The Antioch School is an important aspect of our work in reaching our city. It provides a developmental pathway for leaders who need the cultural currency of a degree, but want to learn in the context of their work in the church. This process builds one-mindedness among leaders who seek to reach the city. It is in this context that we can truly begin to see how the church of Jesus Christ can have lasting impacts on our cities.

Life and Ministry Development

“Developing leaders must take a whole-life approach, and not focus simply on a student’s knowledge base.”

One of the distinctive features of the Antioch School of Church Planting and Leadership Development is suggested in that last clause in our name: leadership development. At the Antioch School, we believe that preparing the next generation of leaders is about more than mere academic preparedness. Rather, developing leaders must take a whole-life approach, and not focus simply on a student’s knowledge base.

For this reason, our degree programs all begin with life and ministry development requirements. These requirements insure that Antioch School students are growing not just in their knowledge and their skill, but also in their character. It takes more than academic skill or homiletic acumen to be a faithful leader in God’s church. It also takes character: It is for this reason that Paul exhorts Timothy to, “set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim 4:12). He knows that when one’s character is consistent with the contents of his teaching, that teaching will be far more effective.

The Antioch School approaches growth in character from the three perspectives. First, we utilize the SIMA MAP system. SIMA is a tool that helps Antioch School students identify the pattern of behavior that they exhibit in their life and work, to enable them to make the best use of the unique design that God has placed on them. Using SIMA, students learn to know themselves very deeply and thoroughly, which equips them to find work and ministry opportunities in which they will be maximally effective. SIMA enables students to help others to understand their unique design, allowing them to be used in ministry in ways that are a good fit for them, leading to lifelong joy in ministry.

Secondly, we require evidence that mentoring has taken place in the student’s life. Just as Timothy’s life and ministry development was overseen by Paul, we want our students to benefit from the mentorship of older, wiser believers. Using a variety of mentoring assessment tools, students are evaluated, nurtured, and guided in a process of growth and development in community that facilitates steady, consistent growth in character. As students grow in their understanding of the faith through their engagement with the Antioch School’s academic resources, they integrate that understanding into their lives, under the guidance of wise mentors.

Third, we require students to reflect on their own lives and development, and to think about their future life and ministry plans. Our youth-obsessed culture does not do a good job of helping the young think about their lives ten, twenty, or thirty years into the future. Nor does it place a high value on reflecting on how we have come to be in the position we’re in today. For these reasons, students are led through a process of taking stock of the important people, events, and lessons that have led them to the current moment. On this basis, they look ahead at the future, envisioning a pathway of development in faith and life. This enables students to make wise life choices, because when they are equipped with a vision for their participation in the mission of the church, they can make decisions on the basis of God’s eternal purposes, rather than their own narrow short-term self-interest.

When life and ministry development is successfully integrated into an Antioch School program, it serves as the connective tissue that brings all the elements of an Antioch School degree program together. Growth in character means that the knowledge and skills gained through one’s education are guided in ways that enable one to minister to God’s church faithfully, wisely, and effectively.

Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Satan’s!

Roland Allen is a leading prophetic voice for taking seriously the teaching of the Book of Acts. He is best known for two of his works called Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes That Hinder It and Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? Recently, I encountered a hidden treasure by Roland Allen that I had never even seen referenced by anyone else. It is found as Appendix 5 in the biography Roland Allen: Pioneer, Priest, and Prophet by Hubert J. B. Allen (his grandson) and is called Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Satan’s: An Infernal Dialogue (as if his other titles weren’t provocative enough).

In this work, Roland Allen creates an imaginary conversation between the demon Beelzebub and Satan about his strategy related to thwarting the progress of the Gospel. Hubert Allen claims that it was written in 1930 and not published then because it would have been considered “too flippant or too aggressive” and not later because it “might well have seemed to be no more than a plagiarism of C. S. Lewis’ similar idea in The Screwtape Letters.”

31-hwJcQ62L._SL500_SX316_BO1,204,203,200_If you appreciate other works by Roland Allen, you will really appreciate this one. It has many of Allen’s most important ideas, but presented in a very clever, edgy, and effective manner. If the eternal consequences of decisions to not follow the Acts model didn’t haunt you before, they certainly will after reading this short dialogue. I shudder a bit even as I read the opening lines. “Beelzebub asks ‘What is the matter, Satan?’ and Satan replies ‘I was thinking about those Christian Missions.’” This is fiction, but it isn’t fictional. Satan does have a strategy related to missions.

As expected from Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Satan’s is quite polemical. He writes in an “us/them” style as a critic of the modern missionary movement. His presentation is mostly in terms of either/or based on core principles. Allen is trying to make a statement and illicit a sharp response, not to guide us through a transition to a proper implementation of the Acts model. In the remainder of this blog, I will focus on some of the more transitionary dimensions of Allen’s critique, particularly as they relate to BILD and its church-based theological education partners.

The essence of Satan’s strategy is to multiply divisions among the universal church so that “separate missions go their own way in practice.” They are “all labeled something Christians . . . and they more often drop the ‘Christian’ than the qualifying term” and “each doing the same thing or very much the same thing in the same places” as they “take their divisions abroad.” One of the things that I like most about the BILD network is the manner in which partners with great differences come together, often for the first time, primarily because of a simple agreement that our missionary methods should follow the Acts model. Keeping primary things on which we have unity in focus (without giving up important secondary distinctiveness) strikes a powerful and deep retaliatory blow against Satan’s strategy.

“Keeping primary things on which we have unity in focus (without giving up important secondary distinctiveness) strikes a powerful and deep retaliatory blow against Satan’s strategy.”

Allen proceeds to have the demons explain the work of their colleague Mammon who “taught the zealots [us] to put money in the first place,” designed “the machine” of modern missions, created a “class of professional missionaries” that “left everything to the pro.” Further, as if the money for the professional missionaries wasn’t enough, Allen puts in the words of Satan that “I invented the Mission Station, and let the establishing of mission stations take the place of establishing Churches.” And even if some evangelists were doing the work of evangelism, often they were put in charge of the mission stations, essentially immobilizing them. Allen claims that survey reports show how many of the missionaries are tied up – “four-fifths of them, or even nine-tenths of them, are clustered in some two or three cities, or a few big stations.” Allen is so frustrated by the mission station concept and so energized by the spontaneous expansion that he may not sufficiently understand the role of resource centers. Although he makes reference in other works to the concept of a missionary bishop who is out on the fields where the evangelists are working, he doesn’t describe the importance of having entities that provide support for the evangelists and apostolic leaders, such as we see in Acts (the Upper Room seems to have been a known place of gathering for the apostles, the Antioch Church, and even Paul’s rented quarters in Rome). However, these places are fundamentally different from a mission station because they are always and robustly focused outward on the progress of the Gospel.

Allen’s work has an amazing contemporary feel at points, such as his critique of trends in charity. He quotes Satan as saying, “’The kingdom of God is a kingdom to be established by social advancement and intellectual enlightenment’ and such like. Muddle up a lot of philanthropy in a bottle and label it ‘Christian’ and they will swallow it like . . . like gin. No – they wouldn’t like that word . . . we had better say ‘like the sincere milk of the Word.” Allen’s comparison of and intoxicating addiction to milk of the Word as if it were gin is disturbingly accurate. Keeping converts busy with good things, but not helping them eat solid food and mature is a surefire strategy to hinder the progress of the Gospel.

“It is here that Allen could be misunderstood as being anti-training. However, he is only against a particular type of training, namely the type of training that takes people out of ministry.”

71zmXCVtipLAnother clever tactic put in the words of Beelzebub is “making professionals of the converts.” Essentially, this means “they paid Christian workers to work for the Mission and that put off the lay Christians” who used to be active in ministry until they learned that “the propagation of the Gospel was not his job.” And even worse, “They teach little boys in school and then catch as many of them as they can, and make them mission agents” and getting them shut behind the “Training Gate.” It is here that Allen could be misunderstood as being anti-training. However, he is only against a particular type of training, namely the type of training that takes people out of ministry. For instance, he identifies the trend of prioritizing scientific education and the grandiose idea of training leaders of the country generally, but at the expense of the evangelistic work and training the future leaders of the Church.

The convolution of spiritual authority is seen in Satan’s description of missionaries that “act as if they had spiritual authority over their converts” and subtly teach native Christians that “the position and the salary” in “an organized society” is “a kind of social authority” that actually results in “spiritual power withheld.” In this part of the dialogue, Allen is effectively criticizing the missionary machinery of his own denomination and focuses on the spiritual power that is present in the spontaneous expansion of the Gospel. In other works, he also talks about missionary field bishops who identify and ordain “native evangelists” who should be recognized as church leaders. However, he never addresses the concept of an indigenous apostolic leader of a church planting movement as we know them throughout the BILD network, perhaps because there were almost none at the time when he was writing.

In conclusion, it is probably not a good idea to read this work by Allen apart from his other works. The explanations in Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Satan’s are presented in a very unique perspective. However, for those who have benefited from Allen’s other works and been led to take more seriously the missionary methods taught by the Apostle Paul, this work should light a fire under you . . . and the Gates of Hell will not prevail.

The Role of the Church in My City

As Christians, how do we think about our city, our involvement in it, and our commitment to its welfare? After all, we are building Christ’s church and are aliens in this world. Are we really called to build cities and seek the welfare of those cities? How does God intend us to live in community? Should we invest our time, talents and resources into our communities… or mainly our churches?


A recent picture while flying over Mumbai, India, reflecting on the Church’s role in seeking the welfare of our cities around the world.

A mentor of mine once said:

“Tie one hand to Scriptures and tie your other to your culture.”

He was essentially telling me how important it is to first calibrate our minds according to the principles and patterns given to us in the biblical text. Then we can move into our culture and seek out the questions they are asking. Our goal is to understand and engage with our culture, but we must do so with biblically trained minds.

We must continually renew our minds around Scripture while simultaneously engaging in our neighborhoods, cities and cultures. We are to go to all nations, baptizing them into the family while teaching them Christ’s principles so that the world may know God’s plan.

A leader enrolled in the Antioch School, baptizing a new member into the church family.

A leader enrolled in the Antioch School, baptizing a new member into the church family.

What Should the Church Actually Do in Our Cities?

Today, our American churches should be benefactor communities and truly be a benefit to our cities and seek their welfare. Instead, many are focused on making their own budgets and tokenly engaging in international mission while engaging even less with the local city. For churches to benefit their cities requires a renewed understanding of the centrality of the church in God’s economy, for this is God’s welfare distribution system.

The Church is meant to be a family, seen as glad and generous people, finding favor in their community.1 We are to build Christ’s Church according to His administration, where our people live skillful lives, engage in good occupations and meet pressing needs.2

“And let people learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive.” – Titus 3:14

In his letter to Titus, Paul was concerned with Titus teaching the people to devote themselves to good works. Our churches today need to follow this pattern: establish our people in the teachings of Christ,3 engage in our communities and cultures, devote ourselves to good works, and meet pressing needs.

How will you know the pressing needs of your city? How will you devote your church to good works? How will you be productive in the community? We have been asking these questions for many years in our local church network and here are some of our conclusions:

Being Devoted to Good Works

      • Begins with living peaceful and quiet lives that are attractive and healthy.4
      • Practicing hospitality toward strangers and helping those who can’t meet their own needs.5
      • Developing more dialogue on our work in the city, not dissension, and not antagonizing through political activism.
      • Older men/women should mentor younger men/women in developing lifestyles of good works.6

Meeting Pressing Needs

We have an initiative in my local church called Re:Build, where everyone in our network of churches is expected to participate in the process of helping people rebuild their lives in the community.

      • Life Skill Development
          • Hosting: Some people will live with our families
          • Hospitality/Openness/Family meals: Some people will integrate into our churches
          • Support: A support team is needed to help these individuals be “resourced” (i.e. budgeting, transportation, employment, parenting, cooking, cleaning, etc.)
      • Faith Development
          • Some will need older men/women to teach them the first principles of Christ
      • Education and Lifework Development
          • Develop good work skills
          • Education and career guidance (i.e. resume help)

Being Productive in Community

      • We should choose jobs based on a comprehensive view of our lifework.
      • Job opportunities should be considered based on the strategy of the local church, not primarily on location and pay rate.
      • We should think of our homes as a base for our lifework, for the faint-hearted, and practice generosity out of our homes. People of the community should say, “that’s where those glad and generous people live!”
      • Our business owners should engage with the city, seeking its welfare with its products and people.
      • Submission to employers isn’t passive. It requires engagement in a way that will bring praise from your employer and other colleagues. People should say, “that’s where that glad and generous person works!”
      • Honoring people and kings implies giving respect and honor to them, giving them value in your service.

As the church engages with the community, we must continually remain curious about the pressing needs of our neighborhoods and cities. Our world is continually changing and every neighborhood is different, staying involved and asking questions is the beginning.

The church must understand that globalization and urbanization are changing our world. Today’s cities are key in our global world and the church needs to impact the city. Consider this video below created by New Life AG Church in Chennai, India. Rev. Chadwick Mohan (English Service Lead Pastor) and New Life AG Church are ministry partners in the BILD Network and this video is an expression of their understanding of how they need to be seeking the welfare of their city.

The Church is God’s plan and we are to wholeheartedly engage with our cities. Our church families need to devote their lives to good works, meet pressing needs and engage in good occupations. As our hearts align with our cities, the world will see a people that live with a hope that is attractive and generous.

How do churches train their people to live by these principles and do more then just attend church? It starts by training the leaders. The Antioch School is designed to lay a foundation of biblical principles for leaders. This training takes place in the context of your church, with a core of gaining competencies in the biblical principles while being mentored, following the Paul-Timothy model. School is not about academics or degrees, it is about the lifelong pursuit of wisdom.7 This pursuit of wisdom is needed for all people no matter their station in life, and it all starts with the leaders.

The Antioch School is designed for churches to train their leaders in pursuing wisdom, which is the wholehearted pursuit of seeking the welfare of our cities. Now is the time for the church to train her leaders in the first century, biblical principles.

1 Acts 2:46-47
2 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12; Titus 3:14
3 Titus 2:1
4 1 Timothy 2; 1 Peter 1:15
5 1 Timothy 5; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-13
6 Titus 2, 3; 1 Timothy 5
7 Albeit the Antioch School is accredited, granting Bachelor, Master and Doctorate degrees.

What is Your Training Plan?

Did you make some New Year’s resolutions? Lose some weight. Exercise more. Make progress on your Antioch School program.

Seriously, this is a perfect time to think about your training plan for 2017. Perhaps you can consider how to make progress in each aspect of your degree program.

For instance:


      • What is the next step in your SIMA MAP Response?
      • Have you written and submitted your stories?
      • Have you had your interview?
      • Have you prepared a response?

Make your next step part of your plan for 2017. Don’t just make it a general goal. Identify a specific time when you are going to focus on it.

Personal Development

Or maybe you should focus on your Personal Development Plan. After all, it is the perfect tool to help you think about the other parts of your Antioch School program (and more).

      • Use the PDA forms as a point of reference
      • Report about meetings with mentors

For many, earning credit for the Personal Development Assessments requirement is really just a matter of posting a simple report about your mentor’s use of the PDA forms as a point of reference. Perhaps you can start 2017 with earning credit for reporting about meetings with mentors in late 2016.


“Make your next step part of your plan for 2017. Don’t just make it a general goal. Identify a specific time when you are going to focus on it.”

Leadership Series Courses

      • Have you uploaded your work on BILD Cloud?
      • Visit the Help Center for competency tips

As you prepare to start a new Leadership Series course, try to make sure that you have produced a body of work that demonstrates each of the competencies associated with the course you most recently finished. Even if you didn’t complete all the projects to your satisfaction, focus now on the competencies and criteria in the BILD Cloud rubrics.

Ministry Practicum

      • Identify some area of ministry to grow in
      • Utilize the template and example in the Practicum Guide

Similarly, as you begin 2017, identify some area of ministry that you can use as a Ministry Practicum. Use the template and example in the Practicum Guide to help you set goals and prepare to make a ministry experience into a fulfillment of the Ministry Practicum requirement.

It is unusual for students to achieve more than they plan in a year. Don’t make unreasonable plans, but do take some time this early January to make some plans for how you can make progress in each area of your Antioch School program.

Playing to Our Strengths

When I was a younger man, I spent almost ten years in the U.S. Navy. As in other branches of the service, physical fitness was emphasized. Some guys loved the daily discipline of lifting weights. These guys would bulk up, and lift heavier and heavier loads—but I also observed that when it came to running, their endurance was lacking. Other sailors, however, prized endurance. They would put on their sneakers day after day and head out for long runs. But I also observed that they tended not to be the most physically powerful people. If we had to move a safe from one office to the next, you needed the power of the weightlifters. But if you wanted to move boxes around the ship all day long, the endurance of the runner was required. In both cases, identifying and playing to the strengths of the individual meant that the work got done well, and the worker was happily using his native abilities.

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As I wrote in a previous article, the Antioch School uses the SIMA® process to help people understand their native strengths, their natural talents, their innate and unique design. Using an empirical process of observation across the scope of an individual’s life, SIMA® allows us to identify the skills that we are most naturally suited to using, the circumstances in which we will thrive, the types of relationships we want to maintain with others, the subject matter that engages our interest, and the results we want to see come from our work. When we know the pattern of behavior that is most natural to us, in which we do our best work and find our maximal satisfaction, then we know what our strengths are. But how can we play to those strengths?

I suggest a three-step process for helping people use their SIMA® Motivated Abilities Pattern (MAP) to play to their strengths.

Prerequisite to this process is to thoroughly understand your MAP. A SIMA® MAP is nothing more than information about you! The best way to use your MAP is to learn it as deeply and thoroughly as you can. Read and re-read it regularly. Talk about it with the key people in your life. Reflect on it regularly. Unless you understand the contents, you won’t be able to make use of your MAP.

If, however, you have made a solid beginning at mastering your MAP, you can use it to play to your strengths. As a first step, reflect on your past work and ministry experiences, in light of your MAP. Think about the work that was most meaningful and satisfying, about the ministry that was most fruitful and enjoyable. Compare these experiences to your MAP, and try to identify the specific things that made that work or ministry effective and satisfying to you. Begin to build a mental picture of the best sort of work for you: the sort that engages as much of your native talents and proclivities as possible.

Having done this, compare your MAP to your present work or ministry setting. Using the mental picture you developed, along with your knowledge of your MAP, critically evaluate the extent to which your job or ministry engages your strengths. Low motivation at work, or lasting discouragement in ministry, can often indicate a bad fit between our day-to-day requirements and the enduring pattern of behavior described in our MAP. If that is your situation, try to identify what areas of work or ministry fall outside your native abilities, and try to identify which of your strengths aren’t being used in your day-to-day activities.

Having made this sort of evaluation, you will be prepared to reshape your work or ministry situation. Talk with the people who oversee your work or leader your ministry. Most managers and leaders really do want to get the most out of their people. If you can explain to that person why you are underperforming, and how that problem might be solved, perhaps your work or ministry setting could be reshaped to better fit the unique skills and abilities you possess.

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SIMA® is not a silver bullet, of course. There will remain, for all of us, things we must do that don’t match our unique strengths (this author, for example, finds home maintenance tasks nearly unbearable!). But if we use the information provided in our MAPs, then we will be positioned to make the best use of the skills and talents with which God has uniquely gifted us.