How Do You Identify and Develop An Apprentice?

Last Wednesday, I began posting about the equipping and discipleship work of the church: What does it mean to make disciples? What does it mean to equip the church to do ministry? What does it mean to intentionally apprentice others? I believe it means that each and every Christian is responsible to pass along to others the knowledge, skills, and gifts that have been entrusted to us. In the last post, I wrote about what an apprentice is and why we should embrace apprenticeship as a ministry strategy. Today's post gets to some practical nuts and bolts. How do you identify and develop a ministry apprentice?

How do you identify an apprentice?

If you are leading a ministry team, you should recruit an apprentice who is already serving in the ministry. Look for an apprentice who demonstrates character, competency, and chemistry with the team.

  • Character: Does this person heave a personal relationship with Christ? Are they someone worth following? Are you comfortable with them modeling for the rest of the team what it looks like to walk with the Lord? If you are recruiting a couple, is this true for both husband and wife?
  • Competency: Does this person regularly arrive on time for their responsibilities? Do they find someone to take their place when they’ll be away? Do they communicate clearly with you about issues that arise or changes in their schedule? Do they do a good job managing the ministry? Will they lead with passion and faithful preparation?
  • Chemistry: Is this person a member of the church? Are they supportive of the church's leadership? Have they caught the vision for reaching people with the gospel, seeing them built up as part of the church, and sending them out on mission? Have you been able to connect relationally with your potential apprentice? Has this person been able to relate well with the other members of your team?

Test it out.

Find a note card, a pencil, and a Bible. Then Matthew 9:35-38 out loud:

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” 

The church needs harvest workers in every area of ministry. It's tempting to thing that a shortage of workers is a modern problem or a problem only at your church. Jesus shows us that this has been one of the church's prevailing needs for centuries. And he tells us that the solution is not merely a new recruiting strategy. If we're going to raise up workers to care for harassed and helpless people, we must first fall to our knees.

After you’ve read the Bible passage, work through the following questions and prayers. Write the answers to the questions on your note card and then find someone to hold you accountable.

  • What roles need to be filled on our ministry team? Write them down.
  • Take 5 minutes to pray that God will send workers for the harvest. Ask God to put the name of one or two potential apprentices on you heart. Who has God put on your heart? Write down one or two names.
  • Take another minute to pray quietly for them. Pray that if it is God’s will that he will give them a burden for serving and leading in this ministry.
  • Next, think about when you need them to start volunteering or leading. Write a specific date down beside their name.
  • Now, when will you ask them? Write that down too. If this is a children's ministry role, I typically subtract at least six weeks from the potential start date, because I want to leave time to adequately train and equip this individual before releasing them into their new ministry role.

How do you develop an apprentice?

Here are four steps adapted from North Point Community Church, the International Mission Board, and my friends Robert and Karen Cheong.

  • Ask. Why did the disciples follow Jesus? He called them. He invited them. He asked them to. Affirm the potential apprentices gifting and then ask them apprentice and serve alongside you in your role. Tell them about your goal of releasing them as a leader and about the potential time table.
  • Model (You do. They watch.) For the first few weeks, simply model what it looks like to do your ministry job. Refer to previous training you’ve received to make sure you are doing everything you’ve been asked to do as you model this for your apprentice.
  • Assist (Do together.) For the next two or three weeks, give them a checklist of responsibilities and assist them in the ministry tasks. Give your physical presence to your apprentice. You should not try to assist them by texts and e-mail alone.
  • Watch (They do. You watch.) For the final two or three weeks, allow them to lead by themselves. You watch. Don’t correct them in the moment. Instead, set a time to sit down together afterwards (maybe over coffee) and review how it went. Give them encouragement and brief feedback.
  • Release. Finally, you release them to lead on their own. You will continue to check in and give guidance. The new leader is still under the authority of church leadership, but you have come to a place where you trust them to lead on their own under the direction of the Spirit.

Is prayer a regular part of your volunteer recruitment or leadership equipping strategy? If not, why not start right now with the activity above.

Some of this material is adapted from the North Point Community Church apprenticeship training outline.

Why Do We Apprentice?

God has called the church to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). But what does it mean to make disciples? What does it mean to equip the church to do ministry? What does it mean to intentionally apprentice others?

In short, I believe it means that each and every Christian is responsible to pass along to others the knowledge, skills, and gifts that have been entrusted to us. Over the next couple of weeks, I want to share some truths and resources I've discovered while studying the nature of equipping ministry. Here's the first tool. It's a free teaching outline from North Point Community Church in Atlanta on the subject of apprenticeship. I love this outline because of the clarity of their definitions. It's like a catechism on equipping! Here's my summary.

What is an apprentice?

An apprentice is someone who participates in life or work with his teacher and patterns his life or work after that of his teacher.

  • An apprentice is NOT an expert--not someone who has it all together. Rather, she is someone who has caught a vision for modeling ministry after her teacher.
  • An apprentice is NOT merely an assistant to the teacher or leader. Rather, he is a teacher or leader in training.

Why do we apprentice?

We value intentional apprenticeship for several reasons. We believe that apprenticing is a biblical model for developing the next generation of leaders, and it supports our ministry strategy both philosophically and organizationally.

It’s biblical. Throughout the Bible we see examples of leaders apprenticing those who would follow in their footsteps. Moses apprenticed Joshua. Elijah apprenticed Elisha. Paul apprenticed Timothy. In fact, one of the most frequently cited texts on the subject of apprenticing and discipleship comes from Paul’s second letter to Timothy:

“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2)

Maybe the clearest example of apprenticeship is Jesus and the twelve disciples. The word 'disciple' literally means learner or follower. Jesus never did ministry alone. His disciples were always with him. They were watching, learning, and listening. He had an inner circle--Peter, James, and John--who were often alone with him in conversation and prayer. He involved them in everything he did. He saw beyond his three years of public ministry, and he knew that the Father's plan for growing the church involved leaving behind transformed and transforming leaders who would entrust what they learned from him to others.

It’s practical and strategic. Practically speaking, apprenticeship is the only effective way to equip leaders in a large-scale, relational, volunteer-driven organization. If everyone teaches someone else what they know, the ministry of the church will not be limited by the number of pastors or staff people we have. Every member--every Christian--will be released to use their gifts in a way that builds up the body. As Paul wrote:

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).
There’s nothing like being asked to teach someone everything you know to make you take stock of just what it is that you know.

This passage reveals something else about a church’s equipping (or apprenticing) ministry: Equipping is a pathway to maturity. Not only does apprenticing develop the apprentice, but it grows the leader who apprentices. There’s nothing like being asked to teach someone everything you know to make you take stock of just what it is that you know. The process gives you incentive to organize your knowledge and put it down on paper, which forces you to solidify it in your mind. As you begin to entrust responsibility to your apprentices and they bring their knowledge, gifting, and experience to bear upon what you’ve shared with them, they will find new and better ways to lead, giving you the opportunity to learn from the and expand your own knowledge and skills.

What knowledge, skills, and gifts have been entrusted to you? Are you entrusting them to someone else? Do you have an apprentice?