… and then finally today I looked DOWN and realised THAT’s where he’d been all the time, looking up at me. He’d been following Jesus, in his own little way, but looking constantly upwards at me.
I guess all of us in Christian leadership have a pretty clear idea where our ministry apprentices or trainees (or whatever) will come from.
They will have done a secular degree at a good university. They will probably have successfully completed a seminary level theological training course of some sort.
And on their part these bright young men will probably be looking for a big church, with a good reputation … and a ‘Senior Pastor’ (what IS one of them? I don’t see that name in the Ephesians 4 list … could it really just mean he’s an old guy?)
… a ‘Senior Pastor’ (anyway) who has preached a few conferences, written a few books with catchy titles and good front covers and who has gained himself something of a ‘name’ with the ecclesiastical ‘in-crowd’.
So what they will learn in their apprenticeship (assuming they are cool enough to get one) from a guy like that is how to do ‘big church with a good reputation’, preach a few conferences, write a few books with catchy titles and good front covers and gain themselves something of a name?
Is that really the biggest need of our hour?
From where I sit at the uncomfortable edge of pioneer mission … it’s a calamity.
It is a calamity not only because not much of that stuff crops up in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 … which is actually where Jesus tells His followers what they need to get on with to get on with to be serving Him after He’s gone.
It is also a calamity because there aren’t that many big churches about (for them to be learning to Pastor) and they’re not learning the skills that they WILL need.
It is also a calamity because it is statistically true that mega-churches tend not to be at the cutting edge of the forward movement of the Kingdom of God, and there is a danger that the most talented men can get ‘career-pathed’ straight in there and rendered (shall we say?) less productive by the organisation of the corporate super-structure!
There’s why we shouldn’t think that it is the big church Pastors that should be doing loads of apprenticeships!
It’s actually loads of
- missionally engaged
- little guys, who
- know how to lean their lives on Jesus, and who
- share their spiritual DNA habitually
that we really need doing the bulk of it!
… and Dads should line up in the front row!
My point here is this: big church pastors are the very ones who should NOT be doing too many apprenticeships because the ‘trade’ they’ll be modelling is really so uncommonly needed!
Now, let it be said, none of those well-educated young men that are trying to get recruited for this process will come within a few feet of me … of course not! I am the rocker of boat to their thinking!
We’ve always been church planters (since long before that was thought to be ‘sexy’) and we don’t take time out of the job to do much for our own greater publicity!
Nothing we do here will ever show up in the search engines under: ‘ministry apprentice’!
But, having waved two great sons off into really useful life and ministry (oh I hope they’re not reading this!) I’ve been looking around for a while for the next aspiringly useful ‘apprentice’.
Oddly, you might think, I’m never usually all that much up-front about it.
There’s no big hat with the title on for any apprentice around here … no board-room interviews, no specially printed hoody or name badge to wear.
Prima donnas – truly – need not apply.
I’m not even that conscious about the process, and certainly, neither are they!
No … what I’ve always done is that I’ve just increasingly shared my Christian life – just as it is – with someone or other who seems to love Jesus, and increasingly let them see into my questions, trials and gaffes as I set about what God gives me to do. (And there’s been a lot of Bible and praying in there with it too.)
But having read a book recently that makes a big fuss about formalised ‘apprenticeships’, there I was … like a real donkey, down by the seaside, looking around (in my thoughts!) rather self-consciously for my next ‘apprentice’. How wonderfully PATIENT is God?!
And I guess I’d been subconsciously looking for somebody like me but thirty years younger. (Bad, such a BAD mistake!)
So today as we walked through the sunshine along the shore of Swansea Bay discussing how we can share Jesus with our friends … as you do with your nine-year-old son … I looked down, and (as clear as day) the Lord simply said: ‘there he is’.
Now let’s be absolutely clear about this … I have NO prophetic word from God about what this boy will be doing with his life!
But I am his FATHER.
And like it or not, a large part of what comes OUT of him is likely to be stuff that (for good or for ill) I have put IN to his hands.
And by the sheer grace of God, I am a follower of Jesus Christ.
And as far as he knows, that’s who my son is too.
So whatever sort of follower of Jesus that he sees me being, is the sort of follower of Jesus Christ that he’s going to turn out to be, just because I am his Dad … Heaven help the boy!
So that’s what this rambling blog is about … for all Dads in general, but especially for conscious and intentional followers of the chief Apprentice-Maker, Jesus Christ Himself.
The little person next to you, who looks up to you … well, he looks up to you!
You ARE discipling him.
He IS your apprentice – simply because he DOES always look up to you.
And today my (little) apprentice learned how to have fun with a street dweller, how to treat that person who has a very different life experience with respect. To give respect as he tries to contribute towards their needs, and to talk openly with them not just about their problems, but also very gently about Jesus, too … because Jesus can help them by night or by day, and certainly long after I’ve gone.
(And all the while I could FEEL his little eyes boring into the back of my neck and his little ears pricked to catch my conversation over the breeze … Great! This boy is a LEARNER!What a THRILL!)
So if Christ’s last words to His followers were all about going out to train apprentices in the Christian life (and they were) … then, come ON then guys! Oh, PLEASE!
Let’s be conscious and deliberate and intentional about how we make apprentices of our little ones … for their good, and so that we might be good fathers and followers of Jesus ourselves.
Sadly it seems, if we’re not conscious about it …. well … ‘careless’ is most likely the default position.
Think you can’t do this? You’ve never been trained? Well that’s tough and you need to ‘wise up’, because know it or not you are teaching them SOMETHING already!
So father’s, listen up. Here’s how to take control of what you do … whether you are a reverend or a deacon or nothing like that at all. You are a DAD, and that’s something that is FAR more important!
Here are the principles of how the process we pray through develops – inside the home at first, no doubt, and then increasingly outside it as they grow in their passion and ability to represent Christ … to be His followers ‘out there’, or ‘at school’, or ‘at rugby training’, or on the streets with the homeless … or wherever else they happen to be.
(Now, BEWARE: it is HARD to take little followers of Jesus as seriously as HE does, but Scripture is clear that we must!)
So here’s how it goes … nuts and bolts … here’s the training plan. This is the sequence of what we might do:
1. I do: you watch: we talk. (See ‘homeless above)
2. I do: you help: we talk.
3. You do: I help: we talk.
4. You do: I watch: we talk.
5. You do: someone else watches: and now you talk to them.
6. You do: someone else helps you: you talk to them … because by now I’ve started again at #1. with someone else, and (by the way) you have too, son … do you see?
Was that just a big wall of strange words for you?
You’re going to need to think over it … but here’s an example to get you started that I hope might possibly help. With my newly recognised apprentice, we’re currently at step #1. As soon as I’ve finish this blog he and I will shoot some hoops and have a quiet, gentle chat about the lady we met on the street today to see if he was OK about it all and how he feels about that lady and discuss what we’ll pray for her at bedtime tonight.
Now that won’t be too hard for me, will it?
But that really is all that it takes.
I am conscious and deliberate about it. I make sure it happens even if he isn’t conscious of what’s happening yet. I’m his father. He’s my junior ministry apprentice. I am conscious and deliberate about it, and though he may not even notice, I’m shaping his life in the Lord … do you see?
If you are a Dad, it’s really not a matter of finding the next person to bring along with you as a follower of Jesus Christ.
Honestly, whether you are yourself a conscious Christian or not, you are teaching them something or other (good or bad) about following Christ every day.
I guess today I just got a fresh lesson in that.
And I’m hoping you’ll be happy to share it with me …
(So, thanks for persevering to the end.)