Creating a Training Culture in Your Church

“The Apostle Paul fostered a developmental culture within his team, across his network, and within each church that he established.”

The Apostle Paul fostered a developmental culture within his team, across his network, and within each church that he established. Several things make this clear. First, he regularly assessed the maturity of the churches he had planted and let them know how he assessed them. Second, he worked tirelessly to train the leaders who would minister within and among these churches.  Third, he challenged leaders to both show progress in their own development and to give effort to the training of others.

How do you form such a similar, vibrant training culture if it does not currently exist in your church?  At least three elements must be present – vision, example, and flexible structures.

It starts with vision from the senior leader and core leadership team.

Senior leaders must value and envision a developmental culture. As steps are taken to create this culture, they must continue to cast vision, persistently answering the question of why time and energy is being given to training. Beneath this vision must be a fundamental conviction that 2 Timothy 2:2 is a mandate, not an option.  Strong churches and sustained movements of church multiplication simply will not happen without training leaders in the context of ministry.

Vision must be reinforced by example. 

The church needs to see existing leaders taking their own development seriously.  It also needs to see emerging leaders making evident progress as a result of training.  And it needs to see a range of its members investing in lifelong learning and experiencing fruit.  These examples spur others to imitation.

Flexible structures must be used as tools to aid development.

When Paul invested day and night for 3 years in the training of the Ephesus elders, choices had to have been made regarding times and places for teaching, topics to be covered, and shepherding skills that needed to be modeled.  Likewise, today we must create practical training structures which shape leaders while flexing with the realities of ministry.  These structures will necessarily be tailored to each situation, but some core elements will hold true in any ministry context.  For example:

  • Establish a weekly time slot for equipping. What will work? A weekday evening? A Saturday morning?  Adjust this as the ministry requires.
  • Create mentoring habits. Leaders in training might begin by connecting every other week over breakfast. Then make the time more frequent or less according to need.
  • Develop quarterly rhythms to gather and assess the body of work being developed by those who are studying the scriptures together.
  • Schedule annual leader retreats to cast vision and reinforce discipline.


Our partners who are working with Antioch School cohorts should recognize that every component of an Antioch School training program fits within these broad structures.

“2 Timothy 2:2 is a mandate, not an option.”

Many things will distract you from fostering a training culture in your church or church network.  Congregational expectations may need to be corrected.  Ministry needs will demand your time. Developing new leaders will take longer than you planned. Despite this, if you are the leader giving concentrated effort to create a training culture, find courage and resolve in the knowledge that your strategic investment will bear fruit now just as it did in the early church.

Keep Your Traction

From time to time we talk with a disappointed leader who started strong with a cohort of students only to see several of them drop out. Clearly the motivations that drive people to begin training do not always push them to continue. Is this normal? How do you create and sustain momentum? In our experience, leaders who maintain energy in their students over time do at least 3 things:

  1. Choose the right people.  As you establish your training process, you may be tempted to accept any and all comers. This will ultimately backfire. While all people within your ministry sphere need to be helped to maturity, only some are ready for development as leaders. We encourage you to vet potential students and carefully choose who you will invest into.
    • Are they well-spoken of by others to whom they minister? Give energy to those whose growth will be accelerated by your investment while at the same time being a help to you.
    • Are they teachable and truly looking for development? Watch out for those who simple want to use you pursue a personal agenda (like getting an easy degree).
    • Have they counted the cost? “Church-based” does not mean “Sunday-school-simple”. The training is well integrated with other life responsibilities, but it still requires discipline.
    • Do they accept that training in-ministry is transformative but also messy? Institutional expectations can cause people to become critical of a process which is actually bearing fruit.
  2. Call for progress.  Students who plateau become bored while students experiencing real change remain motivated.  Keep a vision and expectation for progress in front of the students. Don’t let the courses become academic. Instead, push for transformation of thinking and evidence that the students are using the principles in ministry. Insist on practicums that confront areas of identified needed growth rather than allowing practicums which provide experience but lack teeth.  In your mentoring do not be content to only reach quantitative milestones (“we finished the course”). Rather seek to achieve qualitative change.
  3. Train for mission.  Training for the sake of training holds interest only for a while.  On the other hand when training is needed in order to pull off a critical responsibility, it is compelling and even desperately sought after.  Cast vision around what you are training people for – effective use of their gifts, specific ministry roles within the church, passing the faith to others, or a future church plant.  From day one adopt the posture that “this is not a drill”. You need them to faithfully carry out current ministry responsibilities. You are counting on them.  And you need them to prove themselves in the midst of ministry so you can respond to doors God will yet open. In every way the stakes are real.

Of course it is normal for some who begin training to have legitimate reasons to step back from the process. There can be unforeseen circumstances. A student may even reevaluate his leadership capacity as a result of your input. What we want to highlight here are key principles which will help you maintain traction within an Antioch School training program.  We all know that more is required than administratively enrolling students, assigning mentors, and scheduling classes. We believe the above principles are not only tested but ancient, having been practiced by Paul himself as he took a promising Timothy and intentionally developed him to be a co-worker for the progress of the gospel. “Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress.” (1 Timothy 4:15, NRSV)

One Practice That Makes a Huge Difference

We are sometimes asked by our partners to identify the mission-critical elements of an Antioch School training process. What are those things, in our experience, which make the difference in whether a training program effectively develops leaders?

One critical practice we have identified is having students work on their Personal Development Plan early in the training.  This tool takes students through a series of exercises – a life planning arch – beginning broadly with a clear life-vision statement, then moving to details of a student’s gifting and responsibilities, and ending with a comprehensive plan for growth. Annual review and revision keeps the plan current and keeps students in a disciplined rhythm of self-evaluation.

Why is the Personal Development Plan so strategic?

  1. It integrates the training experience. The process prevents students from just focusing on a favored area of the training (such as the Leadership Series courses), helps them to identify measurable growth objectives in each sphere of life, and clarifies how various elements of the Antioch School training will help them accomplish those objectives.
  2. It encourages life-long learning. We tend to learn for a season and then plateau.  Rightly implemented this tool will help students develop habits of learning, assessment, adjustment, and continued learning – habits critical for a leader who needs to keep acquiring  wisdom over a life-time of ministry.
  3. It teaches students to assess priorities and to juggle all the necessary balls amidst the demands of ministry. Rather than being controlled by the tyranny of the urgent, students learn to invest time and energy in a balanced fashion that addresses needs within their personal walk, family, community, church, and broader ministry spheres.
  4. It gives our partners a tremendous resource as they implement training.  Partners are able to tailor-make practicums, adjust course projects, or assign mentors based on the unique needs of a student. They are better able to address shepherding issues that are specific to the student and recognized by the student.

When the Personal Development Plan is postponed or done hastily, we have found that students are more prone to approach the training in a merely academic fashion.  The elements of the training become fragmented rather than seen in relation to each other.  Many benefits of carrying out training in the context of ministry are muted. Done rightly, the Personal Development Plan will help your training process be truly holistic rather than one dimensional.

Ideally, we suggest that you take students through the Personal Development Plan within the first few weeks of launching an Antioch School program.  During initial training you receive a First Term Scenario which depicts how this can be done.  If you are well past the start of your program, you can activate this tool in an intense, focused period such as a weekend retreat. Please note also that we provide an online manual and a reoccurring e-Workshop that you can tap for insight on creating an effective Personal Development Plan.

We are confident that as you implement this piece of your Antioch School training process, you will see how the Personal Development Plan powerfully links every element of the training experience to the needs of the student.  It will ultimately help the whole training have an impact that is greater than the sum of the parts.

3 Proven Suggestions For Launching Your Antioch School Program

We hear regularly from church leaders who want to launch an Antioch School training process but who feel they lack time, energy, and resources. They are often discouraged by the perpetual catch-22. They can’t see a way to train new leaders because they are buried in ministry, too busy and stretched too thin. But… and here’s the catch… they know they will never be less busy without training capable leaders to share the work!

On one hand, this concern is sometimes given too much weight. The Antioch School training processes are designed to be carried out in the midst of ministry by those doing ministry. We have experience helping you to weave the training into the natural rhythm of your responsibilities. On the other hand, you are making a substantial investment – one which will increase your capacity from the first day – but an investment of time and energy nonetheless. It is not surprising, then, that pastors, church planters, and network leaders frequently ask:

How do I get an Antioch School program off the ground? How can I get the traction I need to start?

Here are three proven suggestions:

  1. Envision why you need to train leaders. If you clearly see why training leaders is one of the most strategic things you can do, it will translate into energy for the task and a compelling vision. Cast this vision strongly with your board or congregation and make the case for using a portion of your time for training others.
  2. Hand-pick your first cohort of “Timothy’s”. Approach those who you want to develop and see alongside you in the work. Then call them to be pioneers not simply students. Within the traditional schooling paradigm, students are consumers who expect a predictable experience which at every stage does something for them. Pioneers, though, know they are moving into uncharted territory in order to accomplish something important. They will benefit, but they also know larger matters are at stake. If your first participants see their role as pioneers, they will tolerate bumps in the road and will be enthusiastic about their role in helping you build a strong church-based leadership training program. Rather than the demands of ministry being a hindrance, it will be the expected environment where leadership development takes place.
  3. Follow our suggested first-term roll-out. During our Initial Certification Training we distribute a template entitled A First Term Scenario. Here we actually encourage certified leaders to launch training with the Life and Ministry Development portions of the program and wait until the second term before beginning the Leadership Series courses. In our experience this lays the right kind of foundation at the start for Antioch School students by emphasizing their holistic development rather than just completion of courses. However, the other benefit of this approach is that you have a more gradual ramp-up period as you launch an Antioch School program. You can begin with more flexible components of the training while still laying logistical groundwork for the rest.