Reflecting on 2018, I’m recalling 7 things that made a big difference this year. I’m writing as a note to my future self – but they might be of help to you too.

In June we had a dream to run an online academy where we began to teach some of the things we’ve learnt in 20 years of ministry and life. We were due to start mid-July and everyone told us we’d have so many students. But we didn’t. We had 5 students. In surrender I laid it up before God again and asked for a creative idea – He generously gave it to me. I made the adjustment and two weeks later we launched with over 100 students attending our first class.

The Why
Something I enjoy doing is teaching and training. I like to see people grow and transform. After all these years, I think I’m good at it. Natalie is good at it too. I’ve been running short courses online via webcam for a couple of years now but nothing of great length where we would take people on a journey over many months. Teleios Academy was birthed with the dream that it’ll be a place people come to mature. I’m all for learning ministry skills at bible colleges, serving skills through volunteering, prophetic practices through schools etc. but my ’thing’ is maturity. I wanted to establish something online that was going to affect many aspects of their life and relationships.

The word Teleios is Greek for perfect, maturity, complete. It appears 19 times in the New Testament. I think maturity is a key task all believers are called to pursue and painfully lean into. Go do a search to where the word Teleios appears in the NT, it’s remarkable.

The How
How did we go from 5 to 380? What was the creative idea? Well, a standard learning model is to have a student pay for a seat in a class. They often pay in advance or through a payment plan. Right? That’s how I am paying for my University degree. That’s how I pay kids school fees. That’s how Nat I’ve invested tens of thousand$ in our education and built up our intellectual capital. So, if you can’t afford the fees, travel to class or the timing doesn’t work, you just can’t do the course. Right?

I remember talking with staff and friends in late June about the fact we only had 5 students paid and enrolled the $650 for the 16-week course. I couldn’t afford to spend 5 months teaching for $3,500. They were as surprised as we were at the low numbers. Interestingly, I had gone to a Christian Business Breakfast in Brisbane to speak. Whilst there a property developer shared on the ups and downs of his business and someone asked how he recovered after a project went bad, he said “The only thing I can suggest everyone do when they feel stuck and deflated around projects and business deals are pray to God for a creative idea. Ask God for an idea.” So that’s what I did.

A few hours later as I was driving home, the idea came.

1. Make your costs transparent.
2. Open up access to anyone, anywhere, any time.
3. Give people the opportunity to fund the classes.

So that’s what we did.

The Value
Let me break down these three things down quickly.

Transparency: I published the fact that our ministry needs at least $600 per day to make the class work. Two live classes, morning and night, for $300 each. I installed a crowdfunding meter on the registration page of each class, all 32 of them, and allowed the world to see how much each class was grossing. Because we value vulnerability and believe in the common-wealth of the Kingdom, we took this brave step. Do you know of other training colleges that do this?

Open access: Over a third of students paid nothing. They registered for $0. The rest paid an average of about $9 per class. We ran two live classes per week, giving the opportunity for all time zones to participate. As a result, we had students from Australia, US, UK, South Africa, NZ, India and several other nations. We recorded the sessions for those who registered but couldn’t make the live class. We also made the course units accessible week-by-week, so people could join or skip the classes any time.

We had some well-meaning people suggest if we made classes available for $0, it would cheapen the appearance. I mean, one minute you’re placing a value of $650 on the course; the next minute people can pay nothing?! Yep, a little crazy and against most of what you learn at marketing school.

But here’s the thing, we’ve been through bankruptcy. We know what it’s like not having two-cents to rub together. We didn’t want a rough season to get in the way of people getting healed and trained. We’re not out to make millions from the academy, we want to see lives transformed in Christ. In a scalable online model like ours, why wouldn’t we make it free to those in need if that doesn’t cost us much more? Surely we could trust God for the energy and resources to serve them in this way.

There are those, of course, who definitely have the money to contribute something to the classes but don’t because they behave like stingy tight-arses and don’t understand how to place value on teaching, growth and extend honour to teachers. I’m glad they join the classes because they need healing too. Amongst their healing needs, they need healing from the things that have led them to stinginess and lack-mentality. They need healing from the false sense of security their accumulated money gives them. They need healing from their selfishness. You see, I believe healed people, tend to live with effortless generosity and honour. There, I said it!

The Outcome

☑️ 380 students registered across 5 continents who signed up for an average of 4.5 classes.
☑️ 41% attended classes free of charge. The other costs were covered by other students able to donate at various times.
☑️ We reached our published budget (costs) for 32 of the 34 classes.
☑️ Transformational feedback and the joy of gathering weekly via webcam and recording from homes and offices!
☑️ God’s Kingdom of life, truth and love extended into eternity.

A couple of student testimonies (there were many):

“I didn’t think this course would be of any interest to me & only joined the first one for a look-see. Boy was I wrong!!! Relevant teaching & info that you don’t really get anywhere else. I liked the format, content & that David & Natalie are so down-to-earth, open & honest. Highly recommend this course for everyone.”

“This was a very timely course in my life. it gave me more of a framework for where i am walking. it is jam packed with great teaching, insight, resources, personal stories and room for a raw honest grappling with our faith. the format was exceptional with break out groups for class participation if you choose. both David and Natalie bring a freshness to the table in their synchronising together. for me it was refreshing to watch. i am grateful for the take away value that will stay with me for a long time.”

Will we run the Teleios Academy Life-Course again in 2019? For sure!

Note to my future self: Dave, never underestimate the power of a creative idea when you’re stuck like this. I know it sounds simple but it’s often easier or quicker not to wait on God for a strategy and concept. And even if you go ahead and do it, remember that the outcome of the idea is less important than the relationship with God that is forged along the way. Also, keep gathering feedback as you did from friends etc when you’re stuck, but those must be overridden if you feel the strategy come from heaven. In this way, no man can boast in the result. And you get the privilege of being WOWed by God and WOOed into deeper communion with Him.