Local church reaches out with intensive discipleship school

Members of the Antioch Community Church discipleship training school, Elevate, participate in group prayer on Thursday. Courtesy Photo
Members of the Antioch Community Church discipleship training school, Elevate, participate in group prayer on Thursday.
Courtesy Photo

By Holly Renner


There are textbooks, assignments and tests — it’s like any other college class.

Except Elevate, Antioch Community Church’s discipleship training school, is no ordinary classroom experience.

“The part that we play as a school is to provide an environment where they can, in a more intense way, seek God and give him room to work in their lives,” said Pete Leininger, Elevate night school director. “Our desire is to see people grow in their character and also grow in their ability to minister, if that is their desire.” Leininger’s role sets, evaluates and improves Elevate’s curriculum.

Antioch has always had a training school that equips people to plant churches.

However, the church’s leadership was inspired to start a discipleship training school for students desiring to grow deeper spiritual roots before starting their future endeavors, whatever they may be, said Carl Gulley, Antioch’s college pastor.

Gulley launched the new school in 2005, which was originally geared toward high school graduates.

“I had seen a growing trend among high school students at that time, of people who – when they got to college – they weren’t 100 percent focused on it,” Gulley said.

Gulley said he would hear stories of students changing their majors multiple times, or going back home after a year of school because they were unsure of what they were doing.

Gulley said he hoped Elevate would provide structure for indecisive youth by giving them opportunities to serve in the church.

“If someone said to us, ‘I want to go into business, be a better mom or minister to young people,’ we did not have an option for them at that time,” Gulley said.

Two years later, Antioch’s senior pastor Jimmy Seibert decided to broaden Elevate to include all ages and seasons of life. Modern Elevate was born.

It has since grown to include 18 Elevate schools in the U.S., operated under Antioch’s church plants.

In 2007, the once high-school-exclusive program split into a day school intended for those with part-time jobs and flexible schedules, and a night school to cater to those with full-time jobs or less flexible schedules. Both have requirements involving extracurricular activity.

Elevate students are required to join two groups: a bigger Antioch lifegroup, a coed group that focuses on practical skills, and a discipleship group, which is smaller, separated by gender and serves as an extension of the lifegroup. Allison McBrayer, administrator for the day school, described the discipleship groups as “accountability-based,” and used to help students practice skills from their lifegroups. In addition, it is suggested that students maintain a job on top of their discipleship school requirements.

Students also must share the gospel three times a week, spend time with God for at least an hour a day, serve at a Sunday service each week, get discipled by a mentor and seek to disciple others, read one assigned book per month and take multiple exams.

Despite the many requirements, students are not deterred.

Elevate graduate Alison Garzone said the requirements were “less work than college, study-wise” and manageable, although she was required to memorize 80 Bible verses over the course of the training.

Garzone advised Elevate students to pace themselves and avoid cramming in order to complete the task.

“I think with any sort of testing, you have to have a system behind it. So if you want to learn three verses a week, it’s doable because you already have it memorized. I think it’s good if you choose to learn it along the way.”

Garzone said she believed the skills she gained from the school were worth the work. “It was good to be intentional about reading and intentional about sharing the gospel,” she said. Having the activities required by class cause them to become “part of your lifestyle.”

Garzone said she appreciated the structure it added to her life.

“I liked the consistency, because we’d go Tuesday through Friday, and I’d work every day, so it was like I had a regular job,” she said. Students who attend the day school follow specific ministry tracks — like internships — in a variety of topics, including social justice, worship, creative arts, neighborhood lifegroup, preschool and youth ministry, volunteer work at Grace House and Mercy House to help those coming out of addiction, administrative work, and Acts of Mercy, which is the church’s first-response team for disasters.

The day school meets from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and lasts for nine months. The night school meets Monday and Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m. for a duration of ten and a half months. Tuition is $3,000, which covers the cost of the school, books, fall outreach, World Mandate — an annual missions conference — and retreats.

There are also two outreaches each semester, which occur on national and international levels. Night school’s national outreach lasts an entire weekend, and its international outreach stretches across two weeks.

Day school’s national outreach lasts a week, with an international outreach of two to three weeks. Outreach refers to time spent spreading Christianity. Elevate night school administrator Emily Amberg said the program changed her way of thinking entirely — for the better.

“I greatly appreciate how Elevate says the gospel is the way we live our lives, not just one-on-one encounters with people,” Amberg said. “That’s what changed the most in me — not just random times of talking to strangers, but living the gospel out in everything that I do in word and deed.”

Those interested can apply to join the class on the Antioch website: https://www.antiochcc.net.