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.

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.

Mentoring Antioch Style

Everybody likes it in theory, but many of us struggle to do mentoring well! One of the most common areas of questions we are asked relate to mentoring. “Who should be the mentors of our Antioch School students?” “What are their qualifications?” “What exactly are they supposed to do?”

Here are a few quick thoughts about mentoring:

“Who should be the mentors of our Antioch School students?”
Essentially you should think of mentors as the people that God has already put in place for the development of your students. Of course, this includes you as a Certified Leader, but also pastoral staff, elders, other church leaders, students themselves, as well as family and friends of students. A mentor does not necessarily have to be someone in a formal position of authority over the student. The main idea in mentoring is to let those whom God has already put in place in your life to speak into your development.

It is good to identify a main mentor for each student who does many of the things described below, but who also orchestrates the mentoring by others for a student. For instance, long-time acquaintances may be best for some of the character assessments, but current ministry supervisors and colleagues may be best for some of the ministry assessments and guidance in ministry practicum. If you have a small program, you as Certified Leader will likely be the main mentor for students and be involved in many aspects of mentoring, but you don’t have to do it all, especially when God has already put others in place for aspects of this purpose.

“What are the qualifications of a mentor?”
There are no official Antioch School requirements to be a mentor. We begin with the theological assumption that God has already put people in churches (and church networks) to help with the development of students. The qualifications of a mentor are somewhat related to the type of mentoring to be done. Church leaders certainly have a special responsibility to be involved in assessment of character, ministry skills, and biblical understanding. However, others may be particularly well-qualified to help because of their special knowledge of the student or an area of ministry. Often, the best mentoring comes from overlapping assessment as mentors provide insight from different perspectives.

It is important that mentors have basic familiarity with the resources being used to assist in the mentoring. For instance, someone mentoring in areas of basic establishment and ministry qualifications should be familiar with the “Becoming Established” and the “Life and Ministry Assessment” tools. Someone mentoring a student in a ministry practicum should be familiar with the “Practicum Manual.” Certified Leaders of Antioch School programs should conduct occasional orientations or provide brief personal introductions to the resources being used by that particular mentor, as well as a general overview of the degree program as a whole.

The most significant qualification for mentoring is a commitment to the person being mentored and to the mentoring process. As a Certified Leader, your main job in mentoring is to help the right people have the right interactions with students. There are not strict guidelines for what needs to be done, but amazing things happen when you connect the right people with the right tools in mentoring. It is as if God intended for things to work this way in the church!

“What exactly are mentors supposed to do?”
This is the most commonly asked question about mentoring. We all know it is important and we want to do it well, particularly because it is a “requirement” in the Antioch School. Perhaps it is best to start with the big idea of what mentoring is from our perspective.

Mentoring of Antioch School students is intended to support mentoring that already exists and/or help provide a framework and tools for new mentoring that needs to be put in place. These mentoring tools are not primarily academic requirements, but leadership development tools from BILD International that were in use prior to the creation of the Antioch School. The more the use of the mentoring tools fits into the natural operation and relationships of a church or ministry, the better.

There is only one aspect of mentoring that is “required” by the Antioch School. Students are expected to meet with mentors at least quarterly to use the Personal Development Assessments (PDA) as points of reference in mentoring. The six PDA tools are: Becoming Established, Life and Ministry Assessment, Giftedness, Current Ministry, Ministry Team, and Journal of Mentor). This is not intended to be a rigid “filling out of forms,” but using forms to stimulate biblically comprehensive mentoring in relation to the churches and ministries of the students. The forms don’t have to be submitted, but students simply need to attest quarterly that they have met with a mentor and used the PDA tools as points of reference. Further guidance in how to use PDAs is found in the Personal Development Assessment Manual.

Additional aspects of mentoring are extremely valuable and recommended, but not required.

  • Mentors can help coach students through the SIMA MAP process (and the annual MAP responses). Having a mentor involved in this process will greatly help students to understand themselves, their ministries, and how they fit on ministry teams.
  • Mentors can help coach students through the Personal Development Plan process (and annual updates). Having a mentor involved will greatly help students to connect their development process with their life and ministry goals.
  • Mentors can guide in the identification of ministry experiences to be used for Ministry Practicum, particularly if the mentor has experience and expertise in ministry areas. Having a mentor involved helps students set learning goals, prepare for the experience, evaluate the experience, and report on what has been learned. Similarly, mentors can help greatly in Teaching Practicum to help students learn from their teaching experiences.
  • Mentors can check on progress being made in Leadership Series courses. It is particularly helpful for mentors to review the culminating work from Unit 5 projects and work being submitted in e-Portfolio as evidence of competencies.

Mentoring should not necessarily be thought of as merely an isolated one-on-one relationship. Mentors may meet with multiple students at one time, such as for the Becoming Established assessment or Ministry Practicums. This may add efficiency, but also effectiveness because it creates a dimension of mutuality in development.

In conclusion, we hope that you don’t view the mentoring dimension of the Antioch School as a “hoop to jump through.” Rather, we hope that you view it as the means by which you are able to accomplish the mentoring that you say is important, but may not be doing very well on your own.

“Mentoring” at Starbucks?

What is commonly called “ministry mentoring” often doesn’t amount to much more than an old man and a young man meeting at Starbucks to talk about whatever the old man really likes or really dislikes.  Don’t get me wrong, I think these sorts of conversations are an important dimension of the older mentoring the younger.  However, it falls far short of the biblically comprehensive mentoring to which we should aspire.

Over the years, I have heard many in theological education say that they recognize that more mentoring should be taking place in the church, but that church leaders just aren’t willing or ready to do it.  Bible colleges, seminaries, and other specialty ministries have risen up to try to fill the perceived lack of mentoring in the churches.  Yet, the fact remains that churches, church networks, and church planting are contexts which God designed for the mentoring of leaders.  Church leaders can indeed mentor existing and emerging leaders.  It is just a matter of them accepting their responsibility and leveraging the tools that God has given for this purpose.

When we say that BILD and the Antioch School support “biblically comprehensive mentoring,” we are not saying that our tools cover everything or do all things perfectly well.  We are saying that a fundamental orientation to the New Testament (particularly the Pauline Epistles) as tools for establishing churches and leaders is the key starting point.  Our Personal Development Assessment tools (particularly the Becoming Established and Life & Ministry Assessment tools) simply attempt to capture the things that are emphasized in the Epistles in a form that can be readily used by leaders to mentor others.   In this manner, it brings the mentoring very close to the biblical documents themselves.

We think that any student in a ministry training degree program of a theological education institution should have this sort of mentoring.  Thus, each Antioch School student is required to be mentored at least quarterly by those that God has already put into their lives for this purpose.  Our Leadership Series courses are great, but they are made even better when they are placed in the context of personal, vibrant, and “biblically comprehensive” mentoring . . . even if it takes place at Starbucks.

Here are some links to Antioch School resources to support you in mentoring:

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.

Interview with Caleb Keller, SIMA Professional

Caleb Keller is a SIMA® professional who specializes in service to Antioch School students. In this video, he addresses issues like “What is SIMA and a SIMA MAP?” “Why is it so important?” “How do I start?” “What are other Antioch School students saying about it?” “How have you personally benefitted from it?” and “What other advice do you have for Antioch School students?”

“Experience development that is focused sharply on you” is one of the lines that used in advertising the Antioch School.  This may be manifested best in the central role of the SIMA Motivated Abilities Pattern (MAP) in Antioch School degree programs.  However, because this is not the sort of thing that is common in theological education, some church partners and students struggle to use it.

The SIMA MAP is an analytical tool that helps you (and those in your God-given learning community) to understand how God has made you. We list it first on the portfolio transcripts of all Antioch School degree programs because it is such a fantastic starting point and foundational dimension of church-based theological education. Antioch School degrees are not just academic programs using BILD’s Leadership Series courses, but life and ministry development programs using a variety of resources. Even the experience with BILD’s Leadership Series courses is made richer by students having a deep understanding of how God has made them and how they fit into the life and ministry contexts God has given to them.

Some partners don’t offer Leadership Series courses during the summer. However, summer is a great time to address some of the Life and Ministry Development parts of an Antioch School program. If your students haven’t yet completed the Autobiographical Form (or a SIMA MAP Response), strongly encourage them to use the summer to do so. You may even want to call a special meeting or have a few special classes that help them move forward as a cohort. Please note that we take this so seriously that students may be placed on academic probation if they have been enrolled for more than a year without making initial progress on their SIMA MAP Responses.

Impact of The First Principles Series

Interview with Pastor Dave Patterson, Windham, ME.

Frequently, we hear stories about the impact of BILD resources from our church partners in North America and around the world. Here is a story of the simple, but profound impact of The First Principles Series on Bill, a 62 year old recent convert in coastal Maine.

This impact took place because Pastor Dave Patterson, Tom Szostak, and other church leaders took seriously the use of The First Principles in their church. The First Principles booklets are not just another Bible study tool. Rather, they are intended to help believers, new and old, to become established in their faith. In the testimony about Bill, you can hear how he was drawn to the family of God, as well as the impact of his life in the community.

Each Antioch School degree program includes a requirement for students to engage in a Teaching Practicum in which they teach The First Principles. This helps students become more established themselves as they are teaching others, but also extends the immediate impact of the Antioch School on the health of churches.

How extensively are you using The First Principles in your church? Are your Antioch School students fulfilling their Teaching Practicum requirements? If you need help in knowing how to use The First Principles, you should review the Teaching the First Principles booklet that was part of your Initial Training process, refer to the Practicum Manual, participate in the next Practicum e-Workshop, or send us an email.

Ultimately, it is not about fulfilling Antioch School requirements, but fulfilling the Great Commission and its mandate for us to teach them to observe all that Jesus commanded. Bill’s story is a great example of how this can be done, even in one of the hardest-to-reach parts of hard-to-reach New England.

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