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.

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.

Understanding Your Design

“SIMA is a process that discovers and describes the unique pattern of behavior that motivates individual people.”

Our faces are the parts of ourselves that we present to the world, and yet we cannot observe them for ourselves—not without a mirror, that is. Without that tool, we could come to a close approximation of what we looked like. We could ask others to describe us, or we could use our fingers to explore its contours. Eventually, we might be able to come to a close approximation of what our own face looks like. Yet this process would be time consuming, difficult, and prone to errors. If what we want is to know our own face, then, a good tool—a mirror—quickly solves that problem.

In a similar way, it can be a challenge to discover the unique pattern of behavior that is motivating to us. What are the skills, circumstances, subject matter that are enjoyable to us? What is it that we want to achieve through our work, and how do we want to relate to, and interact with, others as we do that work? Without some sort of tool, we could eventually come to a close approximation of that pattern of behavior.  We could use self -reflection, trial and error in our choices, or the testimony of others. But again: it would take quite some time, be very difficult, and (worst of all) subject to mistakes. In order to solve this difficulty, the Antioch School makes use of a powerful tool: the System for Identifying Motivated Abilities (SIMA).

SIMA is a process that discovers and describes the unique pattern of behavior that motivates individual people. Through the SIMA process we discover what skills you gravitate toward and are prone to be talented in. We find out what environmental circumstances constitute a good fit for you, and what subject matter captures your interest. We discover what you want your relationship to others to be like, and what fundamental results you want to come from your work. This behavioral pattern represents the range of activity that you do well, find genuinely enjoyable, and in which you are prone to experience success. SIMA is a tool to help us to identify that pattern to equip people with knowledge about who they are.

Man takes a look at himself in the mirror.

Like a mirror reflects a face, SIMA reflects a reality that already exists: the unique pattern of behavior evident in your life and your activities. SIMA does not impose its own artificial categories on individuals. Rather, the SIMA method strives to be the most accurate, and detailed description of who you really are and how you behave, and to present this information to you, for the benefit for your decision making process.

The Antioch School uses SIMA because when a person is equipped with this sort of knowledge about themselves, they are in a position to make the best decisions about directing the course of their studies, and using their new-found knowledge (and eventual degree!) to maximum effect. If we know who we are and how we’re put together, we’re equipped to make the choices that best reflect the sort of work that we find most enjoyable, and in which we will experience the highest degree of success.

Again, much like a mirror, the SIMA process can reveal things to ourselves that we either did not know, or only understood partially. And, as with a mirror, SIMA is a useful tool to use in order to see ourselves objectively, in order to make decisions, adjust our course, make necessary changes, or even embark on a new trajectory in life. In future posts I will unfold some of the ways that the SIMA tool can be used in order to do all these things based on an accurate, detailed understanding of ourselves, and how the tool can be used to avoid potential pitfalls.