When it comes to discipleship, those of us called to do ministry in the Western Hemisphere are encumbered with what I call a “content fetish.” We have been consumed with focusing on content as if we could teach discipleship.  All we need to do is get our people into a classroom, teach them how to be a disciple, and bingo they’re discipled. But nothing could be further from the truth.  Discipleship can’t be taught; it’s has to be caught. No let me unpack this truth.

The Meaning of the word “Disciple”

One translation for the word “disciple” is “apprentice.” Take a look at how Webster’s Dictionary describes and apprentice:

a : one bound by indenture to serve another for a prescribed period with a view to learning an art or trade
b : one who is learning by practical experience under a skilled worker a trade, art, or calling

An apprentice learns a trade by watching how the master craftsman goes about performing the trade. While there may be some instruction the bulk of training for an apprentice is on the job actually attempting to master the trade.

Jesus showed us this truth in the way he dealt with the disciples. Consider what he did with the disciples:

·         He hung out with them most of the time. They lived with him, followed him around, and saw how he lived. The most important thing he did with them is show them how to live by watching him

·         He told them real life parables as they hung out together. When he did quote Old Testament he usually tied it to some real life, present day situation.

·         He didn’t have a syllabus or crib sheet but he did have the Old Testament.

·         He was the curriculum and so are we.

·         Like the Apostle Paul, he basically said to them “imitate me.”

·         The purpose of apprenticeship is the multiplication of leaders.

That’s the way you disciple/apprentice someone- you spend time with them and let them see Jesus in you as they learn how to live the Christ-like life. Of course, there will be some instruction, perhaps even a series of teaching moments in a classroom. But the majority of apprenticing is on the job training by watching how someone goes about whatever it is the apprentice is trying to learn.

A  Present Day Example of Being the Curriculum

One of the masters at being the curriculum is Wayne Cordeiro, pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu. I first met Wayne when I was asked to do a one day seminar for his church. When I got there I was surprised to learn that he had invited all the pastors in the city and paid for their lunch. I was so impressed that a year later I took ten new church planters to Honolulu to spend three days with Wayne. I had no idea what to expect. What I learned was he planned on being the curriculum. We spent three days just hanging out with Wayne.  All day he would weave stories in and out of the conversation, making his point without us even knowing it until the punch line. He didn’t have any notes, or workbook, or content of any kind planned. He just shared himself with the group. He was the curriculum.

Now apply this truth to your church.  Who is the master craftsman who is going to be the curriculum to the point that people begin to realize you don’t have to have a college degree to disciple someone.  All one needs to apprentice someone is a life with copying.

Apprenticing Basics

Every leader should have one to three apprentices at all times. Since the worth of a leader is not so much what he or she accomplishes as much as how they help others achieve the more a leader reproduces another leader the more effective the leader is for the Kingdom.  As a full-blown leadership culture emerges in a church, no one is allowed to lead without an apprentice who is learning how to do what the leader is doing. After all, being an apprentice to someone is the very definition of being a disciple. An apprentice is one who is learning a trade. For a disciple that trade is becoming more like Jesus and living that life among their networks. A leader who doesn’t have an apprentice isn’t a leader.

Disciple making leaders mostly do ministry when they are training someone else either to take their place or expand into a larger area of ministry.  When I restarted Colonial Hills, I took people with me to the hospital.  They would watch me minister to the patient a couple of times and then I would let them take my place. When the visits were over, we would debrief how they felt about their work. After a couple of times I empowered them to go the hospital on their own. That freed me up to spend more time in the community reaching out to people.

The problem with mentoring an apprentice is that most pastors either like to do ministry or they find it easier just to go ahead and do it rather than mentor an apprentice.  I remember having to schedule hospital visits after people got off work or before their children came home from school. It times more time in the beginning but it allows for more ministry to occur long term. So if you want your church to raise up strong leaders you should encourage or require all leaders to have at least one apprentice.

Moving On

How much time do you devote to discipling one-on-one? How much of your staff meetings do you devote to discipling your staff members?