When Vision Meets Practice

Bright IdeaWe are always encouraged to hear success stories from our partners.  We start 2013 with nearly 150 North American partners working to train up leaders in the context of their ministry.  They tell us of creative implementation and of fruit.  At times, though, we also hear from those who have hit logistical snags or from potential partners who fear starting because they anticipate problems. In the latter case the concern is sometimes that “if I build it, they will come”. They worry that their first, small group of students will multiply too fast as others hear about the opportunity.

What have successful practitioners of Antioch School programs done to manage the process?  Here are 11 practices we have seen used to move the vision of 2 Timothy 2:2 forward on the ground:

  1. Decide as a leader team to earmark time for developing other leaders.  In successful situations the existing leadership team has discussed the mandatory and missional nature of 2 Timothy 2:2.  A portion of someone’s time has been given over to this task and certain ministry responsibilities shifted to allow this to happen.
  2. Tap your students. Some may be able to teach the early courses to new waves of students (fulfilling a practicum in the process).  Others may be able to serve as mentors for younger students. Yet others may provide critical administrative help.
  3. Develop a mentor pool. Mentoring need not fall on a few shoulders. Find the people-developers in your midst and use them.
  4. Arrange for volunteer administrative help.  If you are more visionary by gifting, you may find that certain basic administrative tasks consistently drag down the training.  If so, look at who God had put around you.  You will often find someone within your ministry sphere, possibly one of the students, who is a perfect fit.
  5. Organize your students in cohorts who start a cycle of Leadership Series courses together.  Students may enroll anytime in the year to begin working on the more flexible portions of the training – personal development plan, assessments, practicums, etc. But many logistical problems are solved by arranging the courses on a consistent annual schedule.
  6. Have more than one person on your team go through our certification training. This can be done easily online.  This will reduce review bottlenecks if you have several students posting work to their portfolios.
  7. Recruit your students.  Don’t just take who signs up.  Pursue your “Timothy’s”, and use our resources to intentionally build your leadership team.
  8. Manage the expectations of the students from the start. They are being trained in the midst of ministry, on the front lines. The process will be transformational but also messy. That’s the nature of ministry.  If students expect this, they will work with you when any problems arise.
  9. Network with other church leaders in the area.  Find other leaders who share your vision for leadership development and who will partner with you.  Certain components of the training (the courses for example) can often be done collaboratively between several churches.
  10. Call us. We want you to be successful. We have expertise and multiple resources to assist you. We also have knowledge of best-practices that we have heard from others.  And if you are encountering a unique problem, we want to help discover solutions.
  11. Look beyond the first year.  Don’t be discouraged by the first year learning curve.  From the first moment you invest in developing leaders, you are expanding your ministry capacity.  Think ahead to ministry responsibilities that you will be delegating to your students which in turn will allow you to be more balanced as you continue to train.

Sometimes when vision meets practice, the difficulties cause the vision to die.  We believe, though, and have seen that church-based theological education works in churches and networks, large and small, rural and urban, with ample resources and few.  In the future we will bring some specific stories to you. In the meanwhile, we hope these suggestions will be helpful to you in crafting workable strategies for training leaders in your context.

Have you found other practices that are critical to managing your Antioch School training process?