Have you ever had this conversation with a young person in the Vineyard? The student says, “Hey youth leader! I was hoping to chat with you after youth group,  I think God is calling me to use my life for the Kingdom of God! I feel like I want to be a pastor, or a church planter or maybe even a missionary!”

You, the youth leader responds, “That is so great! God has awesome things for you. I know you would be a great pastor. You already help lead so many young people in your school. I am excited for you!”

The student asks, “So, how do I do that? I know I still have a lot of learning to do. I would like to study more about the Bible, I know I need some more growth in my character and I am still pretty nervous about having to speak in public. Is there a place for me in the Vineyard where I can get this training?”

Youth leader, “Well…Hmmm…there are some options. We have some long distance learning options. It is DVD based, but you kinda need more hands on mentoring and you have a lot of extra questions huh?”

Student “Yeah, I have really been struggling with my relationships and I know I need to learn how to handle conflict a little better, ’cause the last argument I had didn’t end so well.”

Youth leader, “Well, I know there are some churches that do internships. Maybe if we could figure out which churches in the Vineyard have them, we might be able to get you connected.”

Student, “So, what is an internship?”

You, “Well, I guess it depends on which church you are in. Maybe you should just hang out more with me and I will try and help you read some good material to grow and I can try and mentor you?”

Student, “Ok, but I graduate next year, are you sure there is not some sort of training program that I can be a part of within the Vineyard?

You, “Hmmmm…”

My husband and I have been youth leaders in the Vineyard movement since 2001 and have had this conversation too many times. So many of our young people feel a call to engage in Kingdom ministry—some want to be youth leaders, church planters, missionaries, leaders in the fight of social justice, worship leaders, serving the marginalized and more. They know they need theological training, but they also need the training to be able to do the hands on “stuff” of Kingdom ministry—things like casting out demons, praying for the sick, walking a family through grief, planning events, preaching, building a team, casting vision and more. But then, as young leaders they also have the need to be sure their spiritual formation—their connection with their Maker that shapes their self-awareness and sets their identity anchor for the rest of their ministry ups and downs—has a strong foundation.  We want them to have all of it, and we want them to have an option with the DNA of the Vineyard that is radically local church based and keeps them connected with the movement. We want them to be able to see a path for themselves within the Vineyard to engage in the ministry they feel called to.

This is where the dream of the Heroic Leadership Institute began.  So many of the leaders we interacted with when we moved to Lewiston, Maine, five years ago, shared this same longing. Phil Strout, the national director elect of the vineyard, was the senior pastor of the Pathway Vineyard at the time. He had traveled around the globe interacting with young, passionate, gifted people within the movement and had seen the same need. The synergy began to build around the region, until finally, in September 2011 we launched our pioneer year, inviting those who were willing to learn with us to come. We had amazing volunteers and host homes come forward, we had churches up and down the East Region open their doors to our students and pour into them and challenge them. We saw leaders from all over the nation take time to Skype with the students and to coach us in the process.

This past May we graduated the pioneer class of HLI. Twelve students who came from Colorado, Maine, Connecticut, New York, Spain, Utah, Minnesota and Delaware! Twelve students with an intense mixture of personalities, giftings, callings, opinions, social skills and weaknesses, who banded together for nine months of education, spiritual formation and participation! It was pretty ridiculous to watch God’s faithfulness to meet each one of them and shape them. Our educational portion is formed around the five Core Vineyard Values as determined by the Vineyard board in 2009 and Biblical Studies. We had some speakers that were virtual, some DVD based material from Vineyard Leadership Institute and some from Vineyard Bible Institute, and others were live. Our goal was to expose the students to the very best communicators we could find and then help them process the material in a way that really shaped them.
Here is a video that captures the educational portion of HLI:

[vimeo clip_id=”36790463″]


The spiritual formation piece of HLI is an aspect of raising leaders that we think just might be the most important part of the whole process. The goal was to help students learn how to engage with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each day, several times a day, in such a way that they are able to be shaped by this interaction.  Shawn Stepp, co-director of HLI, and the leader of the spiritual formation portion says it best in this video:

[vimeo clip_id=”36988137″]


I think some of my favorite stories about our pioneer year came from the participation portion of HLI. Stories of our students praying for a man in a wheelchair in the Dominican Republic and seeing him stand up; of them leading people to begin a journey with Jesus, or interacting with the Somali community in downtown Lewiston; or making friends with them in their coffee shops. I think of moments when they took time to help a single mom move, or got to know a victim of human trafficking and spent time on the streets of Maryland learning how to connect with those who are at risk for abuse. I think of the many hours of coaching and mentoring on peacemaking, communication, crisis management, and conflict resolution. The twelve students graduated with a deep connection to each other, to their Father God, and with the vision to be used daily in the Kingdom of God for the “greater glory of God and the well-being of people” as St. Ignatius would say.  Here is our video recap of the participation portion of HLI:

[vimeo clip_id=”36995848″]


It is exciting to know that youth leaders around the Vineyard no longer have to wonder if there is an option for their young radicals. Heroic Leadership Institute exists to provide a training in education, spiritual formation and an opportunity for hands of participation in an environment that is radically local church based with the DNA of the Vineyard movement. We know that this year is just the beginning of all that God wants to do in and through HLI. We are so grateful for so many leaders from around the nation that poured into the program this year. We are very excited for the HLI sites that are looking to start beginning in the fall of 2013. We know we need many of these schools all around the nation! HLI students give me so much hope for the future of this movement! For more information, visit www.GoDoGreatThings.com

Jenna Stepp
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