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.

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.

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.

Where Else in the World?

“An incredible opportunity to fellowship with apostolic leaders from around the world and church leaders from North America.”

Where else in the world can you sit and pray with the bishop of an entire Indian denomination… have coffee with the training director of an African church network of 80,000 churches… have lunch with a pastor from New England who is training the next generation of leaders for his church… have tea with the director of a mission planting churches in tens of thousands of Indian villages… and go out for dinner with a pastor from Ohio who has traveled the world to support leaders like these? Ames, Iowa! Where else?

On October 28 to November 4, 2016, leaders like these gather in Ames, Iowa for the annual BILD Conference.
All are committed to church-based theological education, not just because it is a practical way for their leaders to be trained, but because it accelerates church planting movements in a manner that is well aligned with the way of Christ and His apostles.

All are committed to the global mission of engaging in the Great Commission according the Pauline strategy that includes evangelism, church planting, and church strengthening, particularly through the training of leaders to equip the saints for ministry.

All are committed to the priority of indigenous apostolic leaders who “pass on the deposit” to “Timothy’s” to pass on to “faithful men” to “teach others” through a vital interplay of sodal and modal leaders.


This year’s conference, perhaps more than ever before, will be a tremendous time of equipping and vision-casting. Jeff Reed’s plenary on Thursday evening, November 3rd will be on “Doing Theology in Culture.” Various workshops throughout the conference will provide training on using BILD Cloud, creating artifacts and doing portfolio assessment (for Leadership Series courses, Ministry Practicum, Life and Ministry Development), teaching First Principles, teaching Leadership Series courses, leading Socratic discussions, and having discipline in Antioch School programs.

And, of course, you have the incredible opportunity to fellowship with apostolic leaders from around the world and church leaders from North America.

Where else in the world can you do all this? Nowhere but Ames, Iowa

Seeing Students as God Sees Them [Mentoring 9/11 Chaplain Bob]

Audio interview with Chaplain Bob Ossler – Please be advised content includes some graphic description of scenes at Ground Zero and Hurricane Katrina.

Students tend to get lost in the system of formal higher education. Apply. Register. Pay. Go to class. Take a test. Earn credit. Rinse. Repeat. Graduate.

No Bible college or seminary intends to be impersonal. It just happens largely because of the schooling paradigm. Even when faculty members want to be more personal, it often doesn’t occur. As a student who frequently took advantage of meeting with faculty members during their office hours, I often heard them make statements of regret that more students didn’t take advantage of the opportunity.  

Bob Ossler is one such student who almost got lost in the process. I was the dean of the non-traditional programs of a very well-known Bible college. We had a policy of letting students who flunked tests review their tests, retake the tests, and average the scores. Well, Bob was a student who took advantage of the policy. It seemed that he retook almost every test for every correspondence course he took. I thought he might be abusing the policy, so I scheduled an appointment with him in anticipation of having to dismiss him from his degree program. It turned out that he wasn’t the problem, we were. Bob had a Mensa-caliber mind, but also had ADD. When he took our multiple choice exams, his mind went in many directions as he read the options for the answers. By the time he read all the options, he no longer remembered the question. However, when I simply asked him the questions, he could practically recite and interact substantially with the relevant content from the course. He wasn’t cheating the system. The system was cheating him. As dean, I was able to create an alternative path for him to finish his degree that was truly competency-based.  

512QSBLE+9L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I’m particularly interested in Bob these days because he just wrote a book called “Triumph Over Terror” that reflects on his experiences as the 9/11 Ground Zero Chaplain fifteen years ago. Once I got to know Bob, I learned that he was a unique and incredibly gifted person. His main job was with the Chicago Fire Department as an Air and Water Rescue Paramedic. He was the guy who went into the frigid Lake Michigan water to save and/or recover drowning victims. Bob was also a licensed mortician, trauma chaplain, and chimney sweep. Can you imagine someone better suited for providing support on the “Pile” after 9/11? Chaplain Bob went to Manhattan five different times. He presided over hundreds of ad hoc memorial services when body parts were found. He provided care to countless workers and visitors. He even provided training to most of the other chaplains who had never had to work in an environment like this.  

Although my experience with Bob was within the context of a traditional Bible college, it vividly illustrates why I joined the BILD team and helped found its Antioch School. First, in church-based theological education, the key leaders know their students. Academics are not housed off-campus somewhere apart from real lives and ministries. Rather, the theological education is integrated into the God-given learning contexts of the students. Second, in competency-based education, there is no single method of assessment. Evidence of competency may be demonstrated in a variety of ways.  

You may not have a 9/11 Ground Zero Chaplain Bob in your church, but you have existing and emerging leaders who are specially gifted by God and placed in your midst. And church-based, competency-based theological education may be the key to helping them be equipped and mobilized for the work that God has for them.

The Antioch School has been Reaccredited!

“The Antioch School recognition is “national accreditation,” granted by the Distance Education Accrediting Council because they specialize in non-traditional forms of education, such as online learning and competency-based education.”

Accreditation is a rigorous process for academic institutions. There are two forms of legitimate accreditation in the United States (granted by accrediting agencies recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education). “Regional Accreditation” is the general recognition of traditional universities and colleges granted by seven regional agencies in the U.S. “National Accreditation” is the specialized recognition of institutions within a particular sector of higher education, such as medical or veterinary education. If you are having surgery, you most likely want a surgeon who has graduated from a medical school accredited by the American Medical Association (AMA). The Antioch School recognition is also “national accreditation,” granted by the Distance Education Accrediting Council because they specialize in non-traditional forms of education, such as online learning and competency-based education.

Accreditation by DEAC is particularly valuable because of its rigor and expertise. Most accrediting agencies are still just learning how to evaluate the non-traditional programs of its traditional institutions, but DEAC has been focused on non-traditional programs for 90 years. DEAC is a leader in the use of outcomes assessment in higher education and is miles ahead of most other agencies in this regards, as evidenced by the very significant role that DEAC plays in the Council on Higher Education Accreditation. The Antioch School received the maximum length of reaccreditation from DEAC, namely 5 years from the start of our reaccreditation process, because DEAC thinks that the 10 years often granted by regional accrediting agencies is far too long to provide a meaningful ongoing declaration about an institution’s quality.


DEAC is a leader in the use of outcomes assessment in higher education and is miles ahead of most other agencies in this regards…”

On April 7, 2016, we received a site visit from a team of six DEAC evaluators, including a chairperson, an education standards evaluator, a business standards evaluator, a ministry content expert, a theology content expert, and a staff person. They arrived having each already scrutinized our 50,000 word Self-Evaluation Report (with 60 exhibits) and the reports from the independent course evaluators. They interviewed staff, faculty, students, and Certified Leaders. They reviewed files, policies, and facilities. They compiled a Chair’s Report to address 70+ indicators of compliance with DEAC standards. Fortunately, our response was quite brief because there were only a few points that needed to be addressed. The DEAC Accrediting Commission met late June and announced in late July the granting of our reaccreditation.

Thank you to all who helped us with the reaccreditation process. Many students and Certified Leaders were contacted by phone during the site visit. Many more were contacted through surveys. Some unknowingly served as models of admission, service, and BILD Cloud portfolio assessment processes as site visit team members arbitrarily chose examples to review. And many of you have been praying. Indeed God has answered your prayers and honored the hard work of the Antioch School, both its staff and its partner churches and ministry organizations around the world.

The Antioch School of Church Planting and Leadership Development is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Accrediting Commission (DEAC), 1101 17th Street NW, Suite 808, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 234-5100, www.deac.org.

Leading with a Church Planter Mindset

Church planting is a priority in God’s plan. The Great Commission, as seen in Acts, is a church planting strategy, not merely outreach to individuals. And the Pauline Epistles clearly show that establishing (strengthening) churches includes engagement with God’s plan and partnership with the apostles in the progress of the Gospel. Thus, even if I’m not a church planter, I need to lead with a church planter mindset.

“… whether or not you consider yourself to be a church planter, you need to have a church planter’s mindset!”

So, what do we mean by “leading with a church planter mindset?”

  1. Church renewal is closely related to church planting. Many existing and emerging leaders hope to bring strength and focus to churches that are faltering badly. Although their churches already exist, leaders who believe church planting is a priority in God’s plan approach their tasks in a manner that is much like a church planter. They try to put strong leadership in place and help the churches become strong and participate in the progress of the Gospel.
  2. Church maintenance may need a dose of church planting emphasis. Many people find themselves in churches that may not seem to be faltering, but in reality have plateaued. These churches are focused almost entirely inward (or on causes that are only tangentially related to the progress of the Gospel). Leaders need to be trained to help these churches refocus on the core of the progress of the Gospel.
  3. Church planting in small groups (without even knowing it). Contemporary Western Christianity tends to be focused on “Sunday church services.” However, there is a rapidly growing emphasis on small groups. Although most churches don’t refer to their small groups as “churches,” I heard one church elder say that “my missional community is more like a church than my church [Sunday morning church service] is.” The fact is that small groups may not just be ministries of a church. According to biblical definitions of what a church is, the small groups may actually be a network of churches that share much in common, such as Sunday morning services. And perhaps the focus of the pastoral staff should be the training of the small group leaders as shepherds of churches, not just facilitators of small group discussions.
  4. Church planting movement support. Regardless of whether you consider yourself to be a church planter, you need to care about church planting movements because they are at the heart of God’s plan for fulfillment of the Great Commission. The more you can think like a church planter yourself, the better you will be able to provide support to others who are directly engaged in church planting.

globe resized

Occasionally, I’m asked the question: “Do I have to be a church planter to enroll in the Antioch School?” The answer is “no, you don’t have to be a church planter to enroll with us.” However, even if you are not a church planter, BILD resources and Antioch School programs are designed to help you lead churches and minister with a church planter mindset.

Many students have enrolled in the Antioch School without any intention of becoming a church planter. However, as they use the BILD resources, particularly the Leadership Series course on Acts, they find themselves compelled by the priority of church planting in God’s plan. Some begin immediately to plant churches, even before they have taken the Pauline Epistles course to identify the characteristics of a strong, well-established church.

The point is that the priority of church planting is a compelling idea that may draw you into church planting whether you expect it or not. So, whether or not you consider yourself to be a church planter, you need to have a church planter’s mindset!

Making Progress Toward Graduation – Academic Progress Requirements

BILD Cloud is very transparent regarding what work has been submitted by students as evidence of competency, as well as initial assessment by Certified Leaders and validation assessment by Associate Faculty. The Antioch School has established Academic Progress Requirements to indicate the minimum that is expected of a student. These requirements are not an indication of the pace to complete a program quickly. Rather, these requirements help to provide accountability to keep you going toward our common goal of graduation.

One of the best features of competency-based education is the flexibility of the content and timing of what you submit as evidence of competency. However, the flexibility of timing may also be a trap for some Antioch School students who let too much time pass without posting evidence of competency. In order to provide accountability, we have academic progress requirements regarding the timing for students to demonstrate minimum amounts of evidence of competency. See below for the full statement of requirements.

Progress arrows

Please note that it is not our intention to penalize anyone for the flexibility of competency-based education. If you have a good reason for not having met the academic progress requirements, please let us know. The requirements and academic probation warnings are intended to help you make progress, particularly if you need the accountability.

* Academic progress requirements include:

Assignment or Course Deadline
SIMA Autobiographical Form within 3 months of admission
SIMA MAP Response each 12 month period
LifeN Plan (or annual revision) each 12 month period
Personal Development Assessment Quaterly Reports each 12 month period
Competency for a Leadership Series Course ** within 12 months of admission, then each 6 month period until all are done
Initial Integrated Ministry Plan ***

  • Interim Plan
  • Future Plan
24 months of admission

  • within 36 months
  • within 48 monhts
Ministry Practicum Report each 6 month period until all are done
Teaching Practicum Report each 12 month period until all are done

If you have not yet activated your BILD Cloud account and started to use your portfolio, please visit the Help Center for tutorials.


* Update: as of 8/09/16, this chart and article were revised to reflect the current May 2016 Handbook.

** There are times when students need to move through the courses at a slower pace while still showing progress on elements of the program. If this is your circumstance, please contact us.

*** If you have a good reason for completing Leadership Series courses at a slower pace, the deadlines for Ministry Strategy Plans can be adjusted.

e-Workshops: Now Open to Students

For several years, we have offered weekly e-Workshops to Certified Leaders of Antioch School programs. Topics range from specific areas of Antioch School programs (Practicum) to skills in using BILD resources (Socratic discussion). See the complete list below.

Now, rather than restrict these to Certified Leaders, we are opening them up to students and others in churches and ministries offering Antioch School programs. We think that this will greatly enhance the support we can provide you and your students.

You can find a complete list of upcoming e-Workshops and register through our “Web Conferencing Center.” Descriptions and further detail regarding each workshop are available on our Antioch School website.

Here is a complete list:

  • SIMA ® MAP ®
  • Startup Solutions
  • “Integrated Core” General Education Courses
  • Personal Development Plans/LifeN
  • Program Design
  • Accreditation
  • Student Finances
  • BILD Cloud e-Portfolio Orientation
  • Socratic Discussion
  • Practicum Design
  • Mentor Training
  • Assessment of Leadership Series Courses
  • Global Partnerships
  • Personal Development Assessment

Please note that these e-Workshops use WebEx technology.  You will need to download the Webex software in order to participate.  Also, please try to use a headset with microphone to increase the quality of the e-Workshop experience for you and others.

Competency Tips

So, you have finished a BILD Leadership Series course, but now you wonder “What am I supposed to put in my e-Portfolio as a demonstration of competency?”

As you know, the Antioch School is a competency-based academic institution. You don’t get credit merely for doing Leadership Series courses and their projects. Rather, you get credit for demonstrating competencies associated with the courses.

Here is a link to the Antioch School Help Center in which you will find “competency tips” for each of the Leadership Series courses required for Ministry degree and certificate programs. For the most part, these tips help you to know which projects to use (and how to use them) to demonstrate each of the competencies in the courses.

Also, please note that we have revised the Student Competency Assessment Guide. Specifically, we have provided more explanation of what is meant by each of the criteria by which Leadership Series course competencies are to be assessed. Also, we have add additional rubrics for the “accuracy” criteria of each Leadership Series course so that you can know more of what is expected.

We hope that these additional services will help you as you do your work in the Leadership Series courses, but also as you demonstrate competencies and do your self-assessment in BILD Cloud in order to earn Antioch School credit.

And if you have questions about the “competency tips,” you may discuss them with other students, Certified Leaders, and Faculty in the Community Discussion Board.