Keep Your Traction

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

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

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

Is it really distance education when the church is present?

“Fifteen years ago, many academic leaders thought it was impossible for students to have truly meaningful community interaction in an online distance education environment.  Ironically, one of the biggest struggles today for many traditional campus professors is to keep their students off Facebook during class!”

This is the opening paragraph of “Social Presence in Online Learning,” my chapter in a new book called Best Practices of Online Education:  A Guide for Christian Education.  Edited by Mark A. Maddix, James R. Estep, and Mary E. Lowe. Published by Information Age (2012).

I was asked to write the chapter to describe the tremendous potential of online learning communities, but I went even farther to describe “situated learning” because I believe that truly church-based theological education programs of Antioch School partners are the best learning communities.

Here is my closing paragraph:  “In conclusion, it is clear that social presence is a crucial dimension of effective online learning.  This article has focused on how distance can be broken down in online learning and how presence can be supported and optimized in online and real life social contexts.  Hopefully the consideration of historical perspective, learning theory, and best practices (especially next best practices) can be used to stimulate improvement for weak programs and to strengthen programs that are already strong.”

Here are two excerpts from the chapter that were posted on the website.

The first, called “Social Presence in Online Learning” describes the distance education context and learning theory.  The chapter goes into more detail on theological education in particular.

The second, called “Best Practices in Online Learning” describes best practices and what I call “next best practices” (things that aren’t being done widely, but should).  The chapter in the book also includes sections on common practices and worst practices.

What’s in a Name? “School”

Why did we include the word “school” in our name?  It’s a common enough word that enjoys the luxury of being instantly understood by most people.  But it also carries enough cultural baggage to make it a risky choice often requiring substantial qualification.  This blog is the second in our occasional series that explains our name.

Words carry paradigms.  Most of us who have been immersed in the Western education system have thereby come to associate the word “school” with factory-type buildings, large classrooms, seat-time, professors, lectures, note taking, book learning, rote memorization, quizzes, exams, grades, etc.  Some of us like this approach to learning.  Others don’t.  But most of us share this cultural definition of schooling whether we picked it up through our experience in public or private schools at any level.

Our choice to include the word “school” in our name, in spite of its present-day baggage, is both principled and practical.  Even though we view the Western schooling paradigm to be foreign to the biblical paradigm of education, we’re not willing to abandon the word “school” because it still correctly carries the idea of serious ordered learning that’s essential in developing strong church leaders.  Nearly everyone associates the word “school” with high levels of discipline, scholarship, and acumen which we view to be core competencies in those who must master the Scriptures, guard the faith, and establish churches.  These competencies are substantial enough to be worthy of the academic credit and degrees that we grant as an accredited educational institution or “school.”

A biblical purist might suspect that our choice to include the word “school” in our name reveals a not-so-subtle compromise with the prevailing culture.  But we view it to be a solid example of how biblical theology ought to be translated into contemporary culture.  We’ve created a school that avoids the schooling paradigm yet maintains the highest standards of academic discipline, integrity, and ministry competence that is legitimately represented by the degrees that we grant as cultural currency.  That’s what’s in our name.

3 Proven Suggestions For Launching Your Antioch School Program

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

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

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

Here are three proven suggestions:

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

The Future of Theological Education Has Arrived


One of my personal interests is the analysis of projections about higher education in comparison with what we are doing with the Antioch School of Church Planting and Leadership Development.  I have dozens of articles that have been written over a period of decades regarding what the future will be like.  Most anticipate a very different future and rarely do we see the realization of the pervasive changes they predict, but there are exceptions.

A recent issue of Theological Education, the academic journal of the Association of Theological Education (ATS), featured seven articles focused on “The Future of Theological Education,” including two by Daniel Aleshire (ATS Executive Director).  Read the editor’s introduction to this issue.

In his article titled, “The Future Has Arrived:  Changing Theological Education in a Changed World,” Aleshire describes the changed world of North American religion, changing theological schools, and possible reactions to a changed world.  He calls for ATS to be a “big tent of educational practices” in order to “diversify educational practice to meet an increasing diversity of educational need.”  Here are the specific innovations he presents:

  1. Baccalaureate theological education.
  2. Alternatively credentialed clergy.
  3. On-the-job education.
  4. Lay education.

Bachelors-Level Programs
For decades, ATS has defined theological education as graduate-level professional training.  Now, they are asking, “How might ATS schools partner with undergraduate institutions to provide ministerial education at this [bachelors] level?”  I love the story conveyed by Aleshire about the president of a seminary asking Aleshire the difference between a baccalaureate-level funeral and a graduate-level funeral.

Frankly, I’m suspicious of whether ATS will make much progress in this regard because they still seem to believe that theological education is primarily the responsibility of the masters-level seminaries.  The article, which is based on a live presentation at an ATS conference, ends with a statement that “most of the executive leadership of North American theological education is in this room.”  This seems to disregard the work that has been done for decades by universities, Christian colleges, and Bible institutes – the very institutions with which they need to partner in order to accomplish this innovation.

Academic level is not the starting point for the design of church-based theological education programs.  Rather, our partners start with existing and emerging leaders of their churches in order to help them build one-mindedness on their ministry teams.  Differentiation of academic level is related to admission to Antioch School degree programs and criteria by which competencies must be demonstrated, but it is not something that necessarily segregates students like in the schooling paradigm.

Alternative Paths to Credentials
One of the most encouraging trends in mainline and evangelical denominations is the development of paths for alternatively credentialed clergy.   Aleshire recognizes the “growth industry” of part-time pastors of smaller congregations in Protestant denominations.  He says, “Part-time pastors cannot leave their primary jobs for three years to study at a seminary and then return to a part-time church.”  Elsewhere he addresses the importance of this issue for ethnic minorities and urban contexts.

Credentialing of ministers has often been linked closely to formal academic programs.  Perhaps the starting point for alternative credentialing paths should not be the traditional seminary curriculum, but the matters of character, skills, and knowledge as determined by the denomination or church network.  We think that the Antioch School portfolio transcripts are much better suited for use in ministry credentialing processes.

In-Service Learning
The need for on-the-job education is a by-product of the formal schooling model.  Aleshire writes, “Seminaries have built educational systems primarily on the professional school model in which students go to school, get a degree, and then begin work in ministry.”  However, as stated previously, there are so many for whom this is not a reasonable path.  Aleshire states, “Theological schools need to give increased attention to the character of education that supports persons who are already engaged in ministry.”

One of the best articles I’ve ever read in this regard is titled “Judicatory-Based Theological Education.”  The article presents the findings of a major research project funded by the Lilly Endowment  that studied “a wider range of educational options for theological study.”  The article, also published in Theological Education in 2003, describes a number of examples, best practices, and issues to address.

This raises the fundamental concept of whether we should think of theological education as pre-service or in-service.  The Antioch School is built on the concept that ministerial training ought to happen in the midst of ministry and in the context of real churches and church planting movements.  Even those without much ministry experience are trained by church leaders in real situations because we think that theological education should be essentially church-based.

Lay Training
Aleshire asks what theological education would look like for “lay persons who are often better educated in almost every other area of their lives than in their faith.”  This dilemma is largely caused by making theological education the proximity of graduate-level academic institutions.  We have never had larger numbers of ministers with high academic credentials than today.  Perhaps the professionalization and segregation of theological education to the context of schooling institutions is part of the problem.

The Antioch School bypasses the dilemma by helping churches train whoever needs to be trained.  This includes those who may serve in vocational ministry capacities, as well as those who won’t.  The foundational concept is not the training of professionals, but the equipping of leadership teams for churches.  Our definition of theological education is “cradle to grave life development for everyone in a church,” not just professional training for the vocational ministers.

It was fascinating to read this article and recognize how these “innovations” for the future of theological education are already standard practices of the Antioch School partner churches.   Lay people, bachelor-level, masters-level, and even doctoral-level students are engaged in collective learning processes using the BILD resources in their churches.   Many Antioch School partners are using their own credentialing processes for local ministry assignments, as well as recognition throughout their networks, districts, and denominations.  On-the-job education is a staple, not an option, for Antioch School students.

Aleshire has given an interesting glimpse on where formal theological education may be going in the future and the Antioch School is already there.

Postscript.  Other articles in this issue of Theological Education raise fundamental questions that don’t seem to call for minor innovations within the current schooling system, but radical reorientation like we have done with the Antioch School.

In his study of Andover-Newton Theological School, Nick Carter wrote, “What the assumptive model of the church is that underlies our curriculum?  Many of our mission statements say that we exist to serve the church.  What church is that?  . . .  When we finished our yearlong study of our assumptions, we were forced to conclude that, other than the gospel itself, almost every one of the assumptions our school had been founded on was in the midst of being swept away.” (pp. 11-12).

We think that Antioch School shows what can be done when you truly question all of the assumptions and start with a fresh perspective of what it means to serve the church.

Alice Hunt of Chicago Theological Seminary wrote, “. . . we have master’s-level students graduating with significant debt to enter jobs paying an average of $34,000 a year.  Plus, we aren’t sure if we are meeting the religious needs of our communities of faith or society.  The list goes on and on.  . . .  Why aren’t we doing something differently?   What are we waiting for?”  (p. 61).

The Antioch School didn’t wait and we are doing something differently, such as radically changing the cost of theological education for our students and starting with the religious needs of our churches.

Image © by jhalper 

Islands of Excellence

Martha Kanter (Undersecretary for Postsecondary Education in the U.S. Department of Education) last week addressed the CHEA conference.  Our Antioch School exemplifies much of what she referred to as “islands of excellence.”

On Tuesday of last week, I had the privilege to hear Martha Kanter (Undersecretary for Postsecondary Education in the U.S. Department of Education) address the conference of the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Doesn’t that sound like a fun bunch? Actually, it is a lot better than you might think.

One of the memorable phrases she used repeatedly was “islands of excellence” that highlight what we are doing right. I thought I would comment on a few pieces of her speech because of their significance to what we are doing with the Antioch School of Church Planting and Leadership Development.

Kanter said that there has not been enough differentiation in terms of quality in our institutions. This may have been a subtle reference to the lack of innovation in colleges and universities. Many institutions are looking more and more like each other while the world is getting more and more diverse. No one has ever accused our Antioch School of not bringing differentiation in terms of quality in the realm of theological education.

A common theme during the conference was uncertainty about the meaning of degrees. Kanter suggested that there may need to be more common standards in the industry so that we can be more confident about what a degree actually represents. Again, no one has ever accused the Antioch School of being unclear about what our degrees represent. The program objectives and portfolio transcript for each degree are abundantly clear.

Higher education needs to be more focused on competencies and outcomes assessment, according to Kanter. Some at the conference (not Kanter) even went as far as to say that institutions are guilty of giving degrees to people who have not learned what that degree is supposed to represent. Frankly, I was amazed to hear such a statement at a conference of accrediting agencies that are supposed to be emphasizing outcomes assessment. Our accrediting agency, the Distance Education and Training Council, requires us to prove on an ongoing basis that we are granting credit and degrees solely on the basis of outcomes assessment. The Antioch School is characterized by being competency-based and was formed because of the emphasis on outcomes assessment associated with the use of BILD resources.

Kanter also said that faculty and students need “shared reference points” so that there is better alignment in higher education. Again, the Antioch School’s portfolio transcripts and Student Competency Assessment Guide provide consistency and objectivity in assessment, an area in which “shared reference points” are often hard to find in theological education institutions.

Special reference was made by Kanter to one particular situation in which higher education needs to become more competency-based. She said that higher education needs to work more closely with industry-recognized credentials, such as how to convert competencies developed during military experience into credit. This is exactly what we do in the Antioch School through our Ministry Practicum which are a required part of every program and can be used extensively to satisfy free electives in our B.Min. program.

Well, what does all this mean? At the risk of patting ourselves on the back, I think it is reasonable to conclude that the Antioch School and its partner churches are “islands of excellence.” We may not be on Undersecretary Kanter’s radar screen, but we seem to be an institution that exemplifies many of the most important things that she is looking for in institutions that differentiate themselves based on quality. Pretty good stuff coming from an accreditation conference, isn’t it?

Antioch School Testimonies: Rancho Community Church

Antioch School Presentation @ RCC from BILD International on Vimeo.

Watch as Pastor Scott Treadway of Rancho Community Church in Temecula, CA interviews two members of their Antioch School Degree Program.

The Antioch School allowed his vision of the church being a training center that would prepare the next generation of church leaders for their church and a network of churches to be fulfilled more than 5 years ahead of his projections!

Their first cohort was a young group that will be the backbone of their church planting efforts. The second cohort (and more to come) are serving both emerging and existing leaders in the church, including elders and seminary graduates.

Launch of Ongoing e-Training of Certified Leaders

If you were unable to participate in the ongoing training at our International Summit in November, you can still maintain your training by participating in at least one Leadership Series workshop and one Paradigm Transformation Project workshop per year through Ongoing e-Training.

Ongoing e-Training is a series of web-enabled conversations with Antioch School certified leaders about the design and use of core Leadership Series courses and the implementation of partner programs within the boundaries of the church-based paradigm. If you have a web-enabled computer, a mic-enabled headset, and availability between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. CST on the first Monday and Tuesday of any month, then you can participate in Ongoing e-Training.

Beginning in December 2008, the following Ongoing e-Training will be available to certified leaders:

  • December: Pauline Epistles
  • January: The Church Doing Theology in Culture (PTP-II)
  • February: Essentials of Sound Doctrine
  • March: The Church as Missions (PTP-III)
  • April: Leaders and the Early Church
  • May: The Church as a Hermeneutical Community (PTP-IV)
  • June: Interpreting the Word I
  • July: The Church as Christian Education (PTP-V)
  • August: Theology in Culture
  • September: The Law
  • October: Theology in Civilization

Certified leaders can register for any Ongoing e-Training through our WebEx web conferencing center. Each e-Training will be limited in number and limited to registrants who commit to both 4-hour sessions on Monday and Tuesday at 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. CST. Each registrant will receive a set of PDF documents to read in preparation for the e-Training and will also be expected to acquire the actual course material in advance of sessions involving a Leadership Series course.

At the beginning of the e-Training, each registrant will be required to verify that their equipment is capable of seamless two-way voice communication. It is absolutely essential for each participant to use a fully functional headset, without exception! We recommend the Logitech Premium Notebook Headset or an equivalent.

For more information, please e-mail us or call our office at (515) 292-9694.

3 Easy Ways to Learn More

We are pleased to announce the launch of 3 different tools that make it even easier for you to learn more about the Antioch School and help you introduce it to others. We have created several tools that allow us to come to you via web-conferencing.

E-Luncheons are 40-minute online versions of what we do when we come to specific locations to introduce the Antioch School to groups, often during a luncheon. Sorry, but there is no food served at an e-luncheon. Register for an e-luncheon.

Webinars are 4 hour online versions of our more comprehensive Antioch School introductory seminars. Like the e-luncheons, webinars are interactive, using online video segments and live interaction with Antioch School staff. Register for a Webinar.

E-Workshops are 1 hour online events for leaders of Antioch School programs addressing issues of general importance, such as Student Finance (what do you do when someone says he wants to enroll in the Antioch School, but can’t afford it right now?). These include presentations by Antioch School staff, but also shared wisdom from partners with first-hand experience with Antioch School programs in their churches. E-Workshops are intended exclusively for certified leaders of Antioch School partners. If you are a certified leader and aren’t getting invitations or if you have suggestions for e-workshops that would serve you, please contact us.

Low Tuition, High Impact

Tuition is still low for the Antioch School. And it seems even lower when compared to traditional higher education. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported that the average cost of tuition and fees for private 4-year colleges is now $23,712 per year or $94,848 representing an increase of 6.7% (Almanac, Aug. 29, 2008, p. 29). Tuition for Antioch School programs remains at $4800 for those who are admitted during Fall 2008. This is only 5% of the national average.

On average, training with the Antioch School costs 80% less when compared with the cost of campus-based programs.

On average, training with the Antioch School costs 80% less when compared with the cost of campus-based programs.

Students in the Antioch School are not paying for ivy-covered walls on elaborate campuses or expensive faculty research unrelated to ministry. Much of the cost of education for Antioch School programs is built into its unique relationship with churches. Tuition primarily supports the mechanisms necessary to sustain assessment and validation of academic quality in order to ensure that Antioch School degrees are trustworthy. This includes costs associated with accreditation and other innovative assessment tools, such as the e-portfolio.

Further, Antioch School students don’t have to pay all their tuition up-front or at the beginning of each semester. Rather, they are able to pay $100/month for four years. If you don’t think you can afford the tuition, you may want to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the real problem? Is it really a matter of finances or it financial priorities? Is it really that I’m fearful of the workload or academics? Am I really committed to church-based leadership development?
  • How might I find the money? Have I let the need be known to family and friends, particularly those who are keen to fund ministries such as mission trips? Have I pursued opportunities with my employer or in my community?
  • How could my church help? Do they know about my situation? Are they making it a matter of prayer? Are there funds in the church budget or privately with church members that could be used as a loan to get started?