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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)