Over the years I have had the privilege of traveling around the world to coach leaders and their communities and teams. Again and again in every culture and context, I have heard leaders lament over the dearth or lack of people who are willing to lead. Even Jesus said in Luke 10:2, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Why is it so hard to find leaders? Whether in the business world or the church, we can get sidetracked by the discussions and debates around what are the right models, programs, structures, systems, leadership styles and philosophy, and miss the heart of the matter. These are important discussions, but they need to be preceded by addressing a couple more important questions: Why do we exist, and how do we pass on our way of life to others who pass it on to others?
For example, Jesus makes it very clear in Matthew 28:19 that the raison d’etre for His followers is “Go and make disciples or apprentices of all nations.” He didn’t say go plant churches, or run meetings, or simply make converts. These things simply are the by-products of apprenticing people in the Jesus way of life that they then go and pass on to others. As I often say, leading people to Jesus is like having fun making babies. The long haul work is the journey of nurturing babies and investing in them till they reach maturity. The question we need to be asking is: How are we doing at making apprentices that go and make apprentices? I will be using different words such as mentoring, discipling, coaching, and apprenticing interchangeably to describe the same one on one journey of passing on a way of life.
As a pastor for many years, I put an inordinate amount of my time and energy towards planning a Sunday meeting, running the organization of church, and crafting 52 life-changing messages a year that I hoped would produce mature apprentices of Jesus who would go make other apprentices. I kept doing the same old thing getting the same result, which some would call insanity! Now don’t get me wrong, I believe in and enjoy preaching and teaching as one small part of the continuum of how we apprentice people in community. What has changed in me is that I believe that the deepest forms of transformation happen through an intentional relationship of one-on-one mentoring, where we can dig in on the core growth issues as we live out life together. The Sunday message or speaking to groups at conferences is no longer the locomotive driving how I disciple, but simply one of the train cars.
Many of us leaders need to go through a radical overhaul to re-calibrate and shift our priorities. Our priorities are revealed by where the majority of our time, energy, and money is going in a typical week. Thus my primary metric or measuring stick for evaluating my success as a leader is no longer how good of a preach or talk I gave to a crowd, though this is one of my gifts which I still value, but rather how many hours of a week I have invested in one-on-one intentional apprenticing relationships, to pass on the Jesus way of living.
My conclusion after years of coaching, leading, and pastoring is the following transferable, ageless, cross-cultural, and transcendent principle: Healthy organisms or organizations grow when they develop a culture of apprenticing where a way of life or the genetic code/DNA is passed on. Where there is a healthy mentoring culture there will be a multiplication of leaders who have caught the vision, values, and practices of that church or business, and are passing it on to the next generation of leaders. To develop an apprenticing culture will require a re-prioritizing of where we put our time, energy, and money! The seduction of rapid numerical growth, or the insecurity around being small and looking for the panacea to fast track growth, so quickly de-rails us from apprenticing. This initially is the slow way and is time intensive, but paves the way for multiplication that lasts.
In my next blog I will address the questions: Who do we apprentice? What is apprenticing? How do we apprentice people in our churches, businesses and communities?