Is Spiritual Apprenticeship A Dead Art?

For centuries, craftsmen passed down knowledge and skills through a method of mentoring and training known as apprenticeship. It was once the primary means to pass skills from one generation to the next. Recently, I saw apprenticeship in action during a visit to the art district of Raleigh, North Carolina—a community of artists that enjoys mentoring the next generation of artists.

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However, that’s not the only place I see apprenticeship in action. At a recent Navigator national conference I was surrounded by hundreds of people who are committed to spiritual apprenticeship—although they would call it spiritual mentoring or discipleship. Some 1,400 Navigator staff members and friends encouraged each other in the life of discipleship and shared thoughts and ideas about how to pass spiritual truth on to the next generation.

These Navigators have a great biblical precedent for this. Jesus did His spiritual mentoring—His investing in the lives of the next generation—through the use of the “apprenticeship” model. He spent time with a handful of people, imparting and modeling lessons on living life to the fullest.

In His last days on earth, Jesus gave final instructions to His followers (His “disciples”). The Greek word for disciple was mathetes, which means student, follower, or learner. Jesus encouraged His disciples to “make disciples.” I like the way The Message translation captures the command of Jesus: “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life” (Matthew 28:19).

Many churches and organizations boast discipleship programs. But disciple-making is only a shadow of its true self when it exists in the form of programs and curriculum. True discipling is experienced through life-on-life encounters in the context of normal, everyday life—one-on-one or in small groups. As true followers of Jesus, we consider ourselves learners of His Word and are called to help others. As a friend once told me, a leader is really just one person who is a step ahead of someone else and headed in the right direction.

The art of spiritual apprenticeship is alive and well. But it takes a conscious decision to learn and pass on spiritual truth. What keeps you from taking on a “life apprentice”? Is there someone in the pathways of your life that you could help in everyday living and their relationship with Jesus?

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