Apprentice has become quite a flexible term covering all manner of church based ministry experience. So let me define my terms.
When I say apprentice I’m usually talking about a man in his mid to late twenties with some secular work experience who has a proven track record of showing godly initiative in ministry in the local church. He needs to be of such an age and stage of Christian maturity that he can preach to an adult congregation and run an adult small group Bible study and Christianity Explored Course. He may well be married and ideally he has a working wife who can afford to support him financially! I recognise that sets the bar pretty high. And I recognise that this is formed by our context; where we have lots of young men in their twenties.
Of course, we can seek to train children’s worker apprentices, women’s apprentices and so on. And we’ve done that. But principally I want us to think about training a young man in church leadership and church planting.
Apprenticeships are modelled on the Apostle Paul’s relationship with his ministry trainee, Timothy. We’re talking about a mentoring relationship in which ministry is both taught and caught. It’s practical ministry experience that’s then assessed, evaluated and critiqued in the context of a deepening relationship.
In this post I want to explore a biblical pattern for training in ministry. To do that, we’re going to look at 2 Timothy 3. Let’s consider some of the theological principles that undergirded Paul’s investment in the young church pastor, Timothy.
It’s worth tracing the flow of Paul’s argument over these chapters.
a. The context of ministry training: worldliness [2 Timothy 3:1-9]
In these verses, Paul exposes the shocking state of the church. His analysis is a comprehensive account of how worldliness had infected God’s people and consequently shaped their thinking. The list begins with the world and ends up with the accusation that the church is no different. Worldly congregations love themselves before God and others. They love money because of the status and influence it earns. And they love pleasure because it makes no demands on discipleship. A church that incorporates these elements can look authentic but has no need for the power of God to sustain them in a suffering gospel ministry. Timothy was to distance himself from them and all they stood for.
b. The nature of ministry training: apprenticeships [2 Timothy 3:10-17]
c. The goal of ministry training: perseverance [2 Timothy 4:1-5]
This is a personal charge from the Apostle to his erstwhile apprentice. Paul knew that his time was at an end. He implored his dear friend to persist in gospel ministry whatever the circumstances. He gave this encouragement in full knowledge that there would be times when neither the culture nor even the church would welcome such clarity.
In other words, in a cultural context that looks like 3:1-9, the way we’re going to produce gospel ministers who will fulfil 4:1-5 is to do what’s described in 3:10-17!
What’s described is a ministry apprenticeship! The central imperative of Paul’s appeal is (14). Timothy was to continue in what he had learned and had been convinced of for two reasons.
1. He knew the pastor teacher from whom he’d learned a pattern of ministry.
2. He knew the scriptures from which he’d learned about salvation in Christ.
In other words we ought to expect that a ministry apprentice can continue in gospel ministry, even in the absence of his trainer, based on the personal witness of the trainer’s godly lifestyle and his theological knowledge.
Paul’s appeal consists of two parts that both begin with the phrase ‘su de’. In (10) it’s translated ‘you however’ and he repeats it in (14) where it’s translated ‘but as for you’. Paul wants Timothy to distance himself from the prevailing cultural situation. He wants him to stand apart from the decline in morals, the empty show of religion and the spread of false teaching that he’s described in (3:1-9). Paul appeal therefore consisted of two parts.
- Timothy was to remain loyal to Paul’s example, which models gospel ministry (10-13)
- Timothy was to remain loyal to the scriptures, which equip him for gospel ministry (14-17)
1. You know my ways (10-13)
10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
In these verses Paul not only reminds Timothy of his own pattern of gospel ministry but he reminds Timothy that he had followed suit. The word translated ‘followed’ implies not a detached assessment but a personal commitment. It’s not followed as in ‘I followed your argument’, but followed as in ‘I follow Surrey County Cricket Club’. It has to do with personal investment.
The reason that Paul reminds Timothy of their relationships is because he wants Timothy to remember what characterises genuine gospel ministry so that he might imitate it. His aim is not to produce a carbon copy of himself. We must preserve the distinctive characteristics of our apprentices. We’re all different and we don’t want clones! That’s one of the reasons why collaborative training is helpful. If our apprentices are picking up influences from lots of difference perspectives we can avoid self replication. But it’s hard to avoid reproducing ourselves.
Paul draws attention not to himself but to the Christlike virtues that he’s embodied. There are eight of them.
i. My teaching: He’s talking about the content of the faith not the rhetorical techniques he employs in speaking. We’ve tried to let our apprentices hear us speak in a variety of ministry contexts so that they begin to hear and reflect on what it is that we’re most keen to speak about. When we go out we need to think whether we’ve got everything that we need; Bible, talk, apprentice!
ii. My conduct: He’s talking here about his whole demeanour, the things that characterise his way of life. We’ve tried to let our apprentices see how we conduct our personal, family and ministry lives. We’ve opened up our homes to let them in. We’ve given them the opportunity to accompany us to meetings and speaking engagements. The relaxed conversations on a car journey provide opportunities to talk about a whole range of issues. I think I learnt more about strategic planning on car journeys with Richard (Coekin) than I have from books.
iii. My aim in life: He’s talking here about his purpose. Ultimately his purpose is the glory of God. His church planting project has not been about promoting his own reputation. We’ve tried to let our apprentices see and understand what it is that makes us tick. We share with them our goals and aspirations. Years ago Richard was asked for interview at a large evangelical church. He faced the decision of whether to apply and then the disappointment of being overlooked. He didn’t hide that from us. And we mocked him for it! This is all about taking them into our confidence. We want them to understand what we’re trying to do for them.
iv. My faith: He’s talking here about our trust in God’s word. We’ve tried to let them hear our confidence in God’s word as we’ve battled with issues. It’s important to try and reflect on things spiritually with our apprentices. One of things that our apprentices struggle with is acquisitive materialism. We’re middle class aspirationals and sacrificial service is anathema to us and our wives. We need to help people think about our confidence in God in the light of His word on those issues.
v. My patience: He’s talking here about coping with people. We need invest in people so that they’re conformed to the likeness of Christ. That’ll take time and patience because people are just like us and they don’t give up their sinful preferences that easily. They need to learn that leaders have to put up with characters that irritate, chafe and aggravate. They need to learn what stretches our patience to the limit. We’ve tried to let our apprentices know a little more about that than we would otherwise do so. Obviously there are issues of confidentiality to bear in mind. But they need to know what’s in store for them when they end up running a church and everyone else thinks they know how it ought to be done!
vi. My love: He’s talking here about affection for those God has entrusted to us for care. We’ve tried to let our apprentices know that we love them and let them experience our care and affection. For example, there will be occasions where we’ll need to step into the breach because they’ve been unable to cope with the demands we’ve placed on them. It might mean that the guest service talk that they’ve spent weeks preparing is still hopeless on the Friday night.
vii. My steadfastness: He’s talking here about endurance. Endurance is the ability to keep on going when otherwise we’d rather collapse in a heap! We’ve tried to let them see our determination to keep going. I think we’ve got that wrong at times. It’s fair to say that we have a strong work ethic at Co-Mission and perhaps we need to rediscover a strong leisure ethic so that we strive for sustainable sacrificial ministry.
viii. My persecutions and sufferings: He’s talking here about his own experience in the three Galatian cities recorded in Acts 13:14-14:23. We’ve tried to let our apprentices feel our trials, but also God’s rescue. A couple of years ago Richard was disciplined by the Bishop of Southwark for overseeing an irregular ordination. Letters were written against Richard and in support of the Bishop. People blogged. He was talked about on the radio. He was subsequently vindicated at a trial. We went through that with him. We learnt to contend and suffer opposition. We experienced his suffering and we saw God’s rescue.
In each situation it’s a judgement call how much we’re prepared to reveal. There’s a great temptation to keep people at arm’s length. That’s especially true since we know our lives don’t match up to the ideal and we’re worried that they’ll find out. But that’s a good thing for two reasons. First, they need to know that maturity is not the same as perfection. And secondly we benefit hugely from this sort of accountability. The nature of apprenticeships is that they inevitably get to see more than most people. We’re deliberately opening up our homes and therefore our lives to some degree of scrutiny. It’s this that distinguishes apprenticeships from other training schemes.
2. You know the scriptures (14-17)
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
In these verses Paul encourages Timothy that even in strife ridden Ephesus, God had resourced him with everything he needed to cope with the situation. He was confronted by rampant false doctrine and flourishing ‘alternative’ churches stealing congregational members from his church. But He had the scriptures. And God’s expired words speak contemporarily, authoritatively and sufficiently about salvation in Christ. And so there was no task in Ephesus, or indeed any type of gospel ministry, in which the gospel minister needs anything more than the scriptures.
But our apprentices need to learn that. They need to know how to use the Bible for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training themselves and others in righteousness. They need to be convinced of its sufficiency to equip us for every good work of ministry.
We’ve tried to let the apprentices hear the shape of our thinking on the big issues and have theological discussions.
We need to provide ministry apprenticeships in which we model the character of gospel ministry.
The two key aspects of an apprenticeship in gospel ministry are therefore
1. modelling a lifestyle for our apprentices that’s been shaped by gospel convictions
2. grounding our apprentices in the scriptures through which they can be equipped for every good work