How to make the most of an apprenticeship at your church

With the recent emphasis in church planting among evangelicals, there is now more than ever a need for a boots-on-the-ground training system for planters. Theological education is important and helpful but is lacking without practical experience. One of the best ways for churches to give potential church planters practical experience is by establishing an apprenticeship program. Below are a few suggestions on how to make the most of an apprenticeship at your church.

Invest in the Person

Don’t just give apprentices books to read and some tasks to complete. The best apprenticeships result when the pastor, staff and lay leaders invest in the church planter personally. Jesus didn’t give the disciples a syllabus and to-do lists to knock out while they were apprenticing with him. He spent a lot of personal time with them, invited them to walk with him and learn from him, and then he sent them out. There is simply no substitute for relational investment in future church planters because most of them need a mentor, not another college class.

Reverse Engineer the Planter

When planning an apprenticeship program, have some benchmarks in mind. Reading, assignments and goals are helpful, because they lay a foundation. But they must address the whole person. I have found it helpful to think of it under the categories of content, character and competency. Content is the basic knowledge all planters/pastors have. Character focuses on the spiritual maturity of the individual in every area of life and ministry. Competencyhighlights the practical skills needed to plant and lead a church. There are general goals for each of these as well as some others related to the practical aspects of the individual’s church plant (location, people, partnership, etc.).

Tailor the Apprenticeship as Much as Possible

A syllabus provides the skeleton for the program, but the church needs to tailor the other aspects of the apprenticeship directly to the individual’s needs. While there are certain things every apprentice needs to get from your church, one-size doesn’t fit all when it comes to apprenticeships. Every individual comes to your church with unique educational, personal and cultural backgrounds as well as a unique community in which they desire to plant. It may be easier to tailor the program if you only have a handful apprentices, but every church should seek to help equip the individual for what they need. For example, an apprentice church planter with little to no theological education but who is a naturally gifted speaker with lots of practical ministry experience needs to be equipped in ways different from a resident with an M.Div. and little-to-no practical ministry experience. The need for tailoring a program is also necessary because planters start churches in different communities. Churches that treat all individuals the same, because it’s easier to run them through the same program, are not equipping the saints in the most effective way.

Put them to Work

An apprentice should work hard for your church, and it can’t all be classroom time or planning meetings. They also need to do some hands-on, nitty-gritty, not-so-glorious, hard work, so put them to work on some basic levels. At times an apprentice may feel like “Assistant to the Regional Manager” because they are helping with sermon study, picking up food, setting up chairs on Sundays, running slides and doing other various tasks, but this is an important part of training in church planting. How? Early on in a church plant, the planter has to do tons of tasks that are high level, more menial and everywhere in between. Gaining experience and practical insight into these tasks ahead of time is helpful and can save him time and energy later.

Start an Apprenticeship ASAH (“As Soon As Healthy”)

Established churches may be in a position to start an apprenticeship at any time, but early on a church planter can feel like he is herding a bunch of intoxicated, ADHD cats on roller skates. Nothing is going as planned. There are no leaders besides the planter because no one is qualified or committed. This is not the time to bring in an apprentice. That said, a church plant should seek to bring in an apprentice as soon as they are healthy. Health can be measured in terms of a semi-stable and growing church body, functioning (albeit modest) systems are in place for discipleship and administration and the planter has begun to multiply himself by developing leaders. These things can happen in a year or two in some church plants but in others it may take longer.

Published February 5, 2015