This past Saturday (5/22/2021), we held a School of Kingdom Ministry (SoKM) graduation for our Urbana classes. This marks our tenth (and my final) graduating class for SoKM with myself at the helm. What a journey it's been! Perhaps if nothing else but for my own processing of the change in my life, I thought it would be fitting to write a llittle of the history from this first ten-year stretch of SoKM.
On my side, SoKM has been a wild and very unexpected ride. I never expected the overwhelming majority of what God has done with it over the last number of years. I was just a physicist that bumped into the Holy Spirit! How did all of this happen? Honestly, to a large extent I'm still kind of piecing that together. The whole thing kind of felt somehow that we had caught a tiger by the tail and had since been trying to keep up with something that it felt like God was accelerating in ways that stretched us all dramatically.
The whole thing started in late 2010 when our then-Senior Pastor Happy Leman told me he had been hearing about these "Healing Schools" that some churches have (to this day I'm still not entirely sure what churches he was hearing about?). He suggested we could create something similar here. We began to look into it and surprisingly it came together pretty quickly because God had already been preparing me in a lot of ways between training in ministry prayer through my small group for the last few years, writing courses for University of Illinois for a number of years, and my own voracious personal study in the area. When it came down to create the content, I already had all the skills and materials fresh in mind. A few months in we already had a pretty solid plan and I began writing the student manual (which I largely wrote a few weeks ahead as we made our way through the first year of classes).
The first class was electric and controversial. God showed up and some pretty cool and dramatic stuff happened. People were activated in the gifts of the spirit and took them outside the building in exciting ways. God shook things up and it caused a bit of a stir in our church. On the whole it was well received, but there was some resistance as well. Happy saw the value of it and stood up for it, which allowed it to continue forwards. That turbulence at the beginning was pretty tough on me. We graduated a wonderful group of 50 people that first year: the group in the photo above.
That following summer we began to have some of our other campuses reach out and ask if they could do the class, along with two other Vineyard churches (thanks to Thrive Vineyard and Des Moines Vineyard for being our first guinea pigs). This was an idea we hadn't even considered: other churches wanted to participate? I had assumed that if this thing grew to something that extended beyond our church it would be because other people came to us, not because we went to them. Still, we decided it was worth a try and for the second year we patched together a solution using one of the early conference software packages called GoToMeeting. It was incredibly undependable - we often had streams drop and students miss parts of the teaching, but it was enough to see that the Holy Spirit was moving powerfully at the other churches as well. This was surprising to me; I had expected that it would be great in Urbana and good at the other locations. My expectations were definitely exceeded there.
The following summer I had the pivotal conversation with God that shaped the trajectory that SoKM went on for the next number of years. I asked God, "What are you doing here? I feel like I'm confused about where we're heading with this." I felt God reply, You believe 'everybody gets to play, right? Well that means that everybody needs to be trained. What option does the soccer mom, the CEO or the high school student at a church of 50 have to be trained? That's what I want you to build. That became our north star: a training experience that a soccer mom, a CEO, or a high school student, at a church anywhere from 50 to 5,000 could attend. If we could create that, we felt it could change the world.
This was a thrilling, but intimidating prospect! Was it possible? Could we do it? It was certainly worth the try. That summer we reorganized around this new mission, hired my brother to replace me in my pastoral role as well as help run the class in Urbana. We also hired Jess to help administrate, and we began to build into SoKM. The first year we opened it up (fall 2013), we had a little more than 25 churches, and we were majorly working the kinks out. Still, it was bearing fruit. It was enough for us to see God was in it. We trained a few hundred students around the country that year and realized we needed to keep investing in infrastructure and location support. That next summer we sunk a lot of energy into our infrastructure. My friend Andrew was working in Silicon valley at the time and had agreed to help us build a custom software platform so SoKM could scale (Kingdom Equipping). I was so grateful for his ability to provide this kind of technology years ahead of the curve for what was typically happening with ministry.
As we continued into the 2014-2015 school year we had about 40 churches, then the next year was the first year we hit 50 as my wife Brittany came on the team part time and helped us with recruiting. Before long, we were getting completely saturated and needed more location support. We hired Tim to help us stay on top of our growing set of classes. These years were really difficult actually, it was incredibly exciting to be a part of something God was breathing on, but the growth SoKM was going through was putting extraordinary weight on me as a leader. I didn't know how to lead in this capacity, and it was really stretching me. My friendships all shifted around as I developed more and more regional influence and I felt really lonely. Between that and not knowing how organizational leadership worked, it was a heavy burden. I never went in and got checked out, but I'm pretty sure I had a diagnosable experience of depression in that timeframe. Eventually I learned how leadership at that level worked and was able to build enough structure and team around me to not be crushed by the weight of it.
Somewhere around this time we began to experience some growing pains with our broader church environment of the Vineyard as a movement. As SoKM grew more and intersected more churches, I learned a tremendous amount about the context of the Vineyard movement. I learned about the different theological perspectives and ministry paradigms, and that nothing we did could avoid that backdrop. I asked a lot of questions and listened a lot. Somehow we had picked up a bit of a reputation for being a bit "loose" theologically. I sanded off a few rough edges in the way I taught things and learned how to speak to a wider segment of the Vineyard movement effectively. At some point I felt God suggest that I should reach out to Derek Morphew and ask for his input, which I did - and he's been a wonderful source of input and assistance ever since!
Hitting our Stride...and then COVID
Coming through these challenges we really hit our stride as a team. We worked with about 600-900 students for the school years of 2016-2017, 2017-2018, and 2018-2019. We worked hard in Urbana to synergize the role of SoKM with the annual MLMP conference, and that created a lot of momentum. Lots of amazing stories and encounters in these years. We had developed our team, our systems, our training, and things were firing on all cylinders. It was exciting - and exhausting as well.
In 2018 we began to see things open up internationally a lot more. Vineyard Australia National Directors Kirk and Nichole Delaney invited me to come and do a "national conference tour" where they replicated their national conference into a five-stop experience all across Australia. It was a powerful and profound experience for me, and it opened things up internationally for both SoKM and for other international invitations (in the next year I did the national conferences for the UK, US, Australia and Benelux). This caused even more forward motion in our recruiting. In the 2019-2020 school year we had nearly 80 locations and about 1200 students. We crossed a thousand!
I was incredibly excited about our 2020-2021 school year. With our momentum from national conferences and things beginning to open up internationally, I was praying we'd hit 1500 students and 100 locations, and I think if it hadn't have been for COVID that may have been a reality. But as we all know, COVID disrupted everyone's plans and SoKM was no exception. Our team pivoted amazingly and we were able to finish the 2019-2020 school year in a way I was proud of, as well as run a solid year in the 2020-2021 school year, but COVID definitely knocked a lot of momentum out of SoKM. There just weren't that many people looking for an intense nine-month discipleship experience in the middle of a global pandemic! As I wrote in another post, this open space provided the chance for me to really begin to dialogue with the Lord and hear the invitation into the next season God is extending to Brittany and I.
This last decade with SoKM has been such and adventure - now I'm excited that adventure can continue with Daniel Goulet as the new SoKM Director and see where God takes it under his leadership. It has been a thrill to write the first chapter of the story, now I hand the pen to him and eagerly see what God continues to do with this beautiful ministry.
Looking back at a Decade
Reflecting, I can honestly hardly believe this whole SoKM journey has already been a decade! I can recall so many of the early memories so clearly: the first classes, the first leadership trainings. The first time we hosted at other churches, the first international class, and so on. There have been so many incredible memories and aspects to my side of this adventure. At nearly every point I found myself pinching myself: how was it that this happened? How did I find myself in the middle of this? How was this what I got to do for a living? Wow, so humbled, so grateful. It really has been a true joy. God is good!
At the same time, it has been incredibly hard as well. Pioneering requires thick skin, and that was something I had to develop along the way more than anything else. I learned what it feels like to have articles written in opposition to my influence, and to be the subject of conversations in rooms that would make decisions that would affect me (without me being present). I learned the "h-word" (heretic) does sting when it's thrown your direction, at least until you learn to brush it off.
I learned that leadership inherently provokes others to not like you and that you have to be willing to take that as part of the price to be paid. I learned that I'm a pioneer and a builder, and that I need to hang out in the sweet spot of doing both of those. I learned that investing in people is the most important part of leadership, and that good structures are essential for staying healthy as things grow. I learned the Holy Spirit is far more eager to partner with us than I had first realized, and that the degree of permission we have within the great commission is huge. I learned that while any given week it might not seem like you get much done, if you keep plugging away you can accomplish amazing things if you keep at it for years in a row. I learned "why not?" is such a critical question and that life in the kingdom is truly an adventure.
SoKM has had the amazing opportunity to directly impact thousands. I've had so many alumni over the years share with me how profoundly impactful it was for them. I'm deeply thrilled to hear that and it is a joy to be a part of each person's journey that I have been able to, but at the end of the day, I think SoKM grew me far more than it grew anyone else.
Take it from me: why not try your crazy ideas? It might just be that God is in them. Here's to the kingdom adventure waiting around the corner for you!
More is captured in the SoKM Salute we did, where the original team discussed SoKM's development for the first ten years:
Putty Putman's Spirit-inspired innovative insights come from his wild journey with Jesus from physicist to pastor to entrepreneur to author and speaker. His three main passions are the Holy Spirit, effective communication and journeying towards the future God has for the church and the world.
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