Why would those of us involved in church leadership have apprentices. They’re lots of work. Training them takes time and energy. Like any staff they need managing. They have issues. They create issues. We’re busy and though they undoubtedly contribute in terms of gospel ministry, they require lots of input.
There are three reasons to have apprentices
1. It benefits them
If this was the only reason to train apprentices it ought to be sufficient. But it’s not the only reason, as we’ll go on to see.
i. They get to experience practical ministry. Before going off to college to hit the books, they experience what they’re going to college to prepare for. It means that they’ll choose wisely how to spend their time in study. They’ll know which courses to attend and which essays to write. It means that they’ll have an appetite to study not for the sake of passing exams but for the sake of serving those Christians whom they long to encourage in their Christian lives.
ii. They learn to problem solve. They’ll encounter real practical gospel ministry issues. They’ll experience real life personal care issues. And they’ll need to deal with them. We can allow them to fail. In my own apprenticeship I was asked to launch a small Christian meeting in the Wimbledon YMCA. It never really got off the ground. But I learnt loads about church planting, about recruiting and training a team and so on. It meant that when I was approached to plant a church in Balham I’d had some meaningful experience.
iii. They pick up an approach to ministry. I have an instinctive approach to ministry. I have unspoken expectations about ministry. We all do. And my apprentices pick that up. This has enormous benefits if and when we seek to bring them back. To my mind they are the obvious people to get back onboard when we’re in a position to add to our staff team
2. It benefits you
i. They keep you sharp. They’re at that stage where their desire for theological knowledge knows no bounds. They’re hungry for answers, that can be chaffing at times, but it’s better than stagnating and making no progress in our own theological maturity!
ii. They keep you accountable. I’m aware that my apprentices have looked at me and drawn conclusions about what’s acceptable and what’s desirable in ministry. They see how hard I work, or otherwise. They see how I spend my time and who I spend time with. They see whether I live the same life that I encourage and whether I do any evangelism. The best apprenticeships are those where I’ve taken the risk of letting people come close and genuinely shared all my life entails.
iii. They keep you humble. I face a great temptation of taking myself too seriously. No one else seems to share that temptation, least of all my apprentices. I expect to be mocked and ridiculed and I don’t think it’s disrespectful. It’s our love language! It means that they’re comfortable in challenging what I’ve done and the way in which I’ve done it. I cannot escape my mistakes. And that’s good.
3. It benefits the church
i. They supplement the ministry team. The great temptation is to think of them as cheap labour. That mustn’t be why we have them. They’re with us to be trained. But they do bring skills to the full-time ministry team. And so they can share the load of ministry. You may need to get used to the idea that they’ll do things differently to you; sometimes that’s better and sometimes that’s worse.
ii. They come back after college. Over their apprenticeship they’ll develop great loyalty to you and to the church. And so they make great candidates to bring back onto the staff team after college. They’re the obvious candidates to lead a new church plant. And because they have prior experience they hit the ground running. The ministry DNA is already in their system. Our current assistant minister at CCB trained under me as an apprentice and we’re enjoying the benefits of that!
iii. They attract extra giving. Many of us will be all concerned how we’ll finance our apprentices. In my experience, raising money to enable them to live is less difficult than we might imagine. We have had single men, married men with working wives and some men with families. There’s no doubt that family men are very expensive to train and so we’ll need to get them earlier than that! But lots of Christians who are already giving willingly, generously and sacrificially are happy to dig deeper to see a young man trained in gospel ministry.