Who do we apprentice?
This is the chicken or the egg question. Which comes first? Does the mentor choose the apprentice, or does the apprentice choose the mentor? The answer is both. Ideally the mentor initiates with the apprentice. Yet in Star Wars the ‘jedi mentor’ Qui Gon Jinn finds his ‘padawan apprentice’ Anakin by accident. Either way, I encourage folks to initiate. Go after what you are looking for, or be what you have never received!
The systemic problem that we have had through the ages is that there are never enough mentors, or as Paul calls them, spiritual moms and dads. In I Cor. 4;15 Paul says, “There are a lot of people around who can’t wait to tell you what you’ve done wrong, but there aren’t many fathers or mothers willing to take the time and effort to help you grow up.” That means that we need to become what we are looking for. If we wait around for a mentor in our work place or a spiritual mom and dad in the church to apprentice us, we may be waiting a long time and never find what we are looking for. That is why I am so passionate about apprenticing. I am committed to investing in a few people and places for a lifetime.
Healthy apprenticing starts as an organic or relational journey between two people. So often we have an epiphany that we need to disciple or apprentice people, so we quickly default to the implementation of an ‘apprenticing program or system.’ We assign people to one another for mentoring, recruit people for mentoring classes where we tell people how to mentor, or try to mass produce apprentices through meetings where we dispense information. This is backwards, hard to sustain, and will not produce the desired results.
Another obstacle to apprenticing is that most of us feel like we are not a ‘jedi’ mentor, so we think we don’t have much to offer, no less the confidence to invite a ‘padawan’ into an apprenticing relationship. Yet the truth of the matter is that we don’t have to be an expert or have it all together to apprentice. A good mentor is simply an available friend who is a few steps farther down the road and is willing to pass on the little that he or she has learned.
Many folks have been hurt by overly authoritarian leaders who abused them, or absentee types of leaders who abandoned them, the consequence being a disdain and avoidance of any forms of mentoring or apprenticing. Leading in any fashion is like a rash, and the distrust of leadership is high.
Healthy apprenticing is not a hierarchical relationship in which all the advice and wisdom flows one way from the guru down to the apprentice. It is a relationship of mutual learning. Neither is it a relationship in which the leader controls or manipulates their apprentice to puff up their ego or use the apprentice to accomplish their agenda. A good mentor comes alongside his or her apprentice to coach them to be all that they were created to be and do.
The first step for leaders is to observe where people are already connected to one another in their business, church, or organization. We don’t need to force relationships. In every community, church, or business, there is a tapestry of relationships where people are connected in circles of two or three. It is not hard to spend time with people you like. This is the starting point for developing an apprenticing culture. Here are few questions to help people discover who to mentor or who to be mentored by:
- Who do you have faith for and who would you be willing to spend time with to mentor?
- Who in the church or company do you admire for their character and because they have a similar calling, career, or gifts/skills that you would like to be mentored in?
- If you were struggling in your marriage or with an addiction, or needed input on a major decision, who would you feel safe going to for counsel or coaching?
- Look for people who are hungry, available, teachable, and want to spend time with you.
Apprenticing is investing in a few people that you love, by passing on what you are passionate about and living a way of life that is caught, and then passed on to others. Real apprenticing starts with God putting some people in your heart or gut – the stomach was the Hebraic understanding of where the heart is. Paul says in Galations 4:19 “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth, until Christ is formed in you.” Apprenticing is a journey of formation, not just giving people information. Love is what changes people, not first and foremost a program of apprenticing.
- Calling the person out: This is inviting a person you have faith for to enter into an apprenticing journey. It also means affirming the God-given gifts, calling, and potential you see in them.
- Caring: This is the constant encouragement that we all need to hear that someone believes in us. Caring is learning to communicate in that person’s love language. It means being there for that person in the hard times as well as the good times. Celebrating birthdays, having fun, going on trips together where the apprentice can watch what you do, and living life together.
- Coaching: This is modeling to the person how to do things, letting them go and try it for themselves, and then giving them feedback. This is the intentional part of the process where we adapt to the person’s learning style in helping him or her grow in life skills, leadership, and how to mentor others.
- Correction: This is earning the permission to speak into a person’s blind spots and giving correction out of love, especially in areas of character development. Often we avoid healthy evaluation, but constructive input is necessary for growth. To the degree people know that you truly care for them, they will receive your correction even if it hurts.
- Coaxing out of the nest: This stage is when the person we are mentoring needs to go and apprentice someone else. The person will often feel like he is not ready and will need to be nudged out of the nest.
- Demonstrate what you are trying to pass on – We need people to show us the way, not just tell us the way. When our son Jonathan was around two years old, he came with us to some meetings with our church leaders. He loved playing (or pretending to play) the guitar, so we let him bring his miniature guitar with him. When we walked into the meeting there were about 4 or 5 guys in a circle having a jam session on their guitars, with one foot propped up on a chair and their guitars resting on their knees. Immediately Jon saw this and looked up at me with a great big grin and this look asking, “Could I join them, Dad?” I nodded down at him, and he walked over to the circle, put his foot up on a chair and started strumming his guitar. At that moment I caught a glimpse of apprenticing! Paul says in I Cor. 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
- Do the stuff – Most people learn by practicing what they have seen demonstrated. This summer at camp I had the joy of apprenticing some of the counselors in deliverance. After one of the chapel sessions, a counselor asked if we could pray for one of her campers who was quite distraught and could not stay in the chapel because she was so agitated. I said, “Sure!” As we started to pray for this girl, she started to exhibit the signs of being under the influence of the demonic. I called a few other girl counselors, and we took the girl to a side room. Instead of doing the deliverance myself, I coached them on what questions to ask to get to the root of how this girl had become terrorized by the demonic. After getting to the root, they then prayed for deliverance for this girl. What a joy to mentor others in doing the words and works of Jesus! For most of these counselors this was their first experience of deliverance.
- Debrief – We need to have followup after doing, to see what worked and what didn’t work!
I believe the most effective way to apprentice is to have a person shadow you. The ideal would be to have the person live with you or in close proximity, so that he or she can be immersed in a way of life. Most things in life are caught, not a theory that is taught. This is how we apprenticed our spiritual daughter, Trang who came from Vietnam to study at the University of Calgary, with no church or Christian background. She lived with us for four years and became a Jesus follower in our home. She became a part of our family. We had been afraid we might scare her away from Jesus if she saw our imperfections and weaknesses, yet as we tried to live the Jesus way, talk about the Kingdom around the supper table, and then encourage her to welcome some friends to learn about Jesus and His Kingdom, we saw a few of her friends become followers of Jesus, too. She understood right from the get-go that as a follower of Jesus she was called to be an apprentice that makes apprentices of Jesus. She is now doing this in Sydney, Australia, where she is studying to get a masters degree in Marketing. The outcome of Trang living a life of apprenticing in Sydney is that a simple community of people who are not-yet Jesus followers, new Jesus followers, and a few ‘older’ Jesus followers is forming around her.