Although the fashion for apprenticeships comes and goes, the principle of 'learning on the job' while being overseen by an expert, is very good. In Britain we know that plumbers, electricians, builders and bakers who have served an apprenticeship will usually have a detailed understanding of their trade, knowing how do deal with unusual problems. After more formal academic training, the same learning style exists in medicine, law, surveying, architecture, aviation and seamanship. It should also be the normal pattern of Christian discipleship (Philippians 4:9). Indeed, the word ‘disciple’ means a ‘pupil who learns on the job’.
Paul had chosen Timothy to travel with him, help him practically and learn the job of church leadership (Acts 16:1-5). In the same way that trades or crafts were passed from father to son by working together, Timothy learned from Paul by observing and assisting in the work of gospel ministry. Timothy's credentials were firstly a willingness to learn, followed by faithfulness, integrity and service. His experience equipped him to know what to do, but his character was shaped by submission to the Lord in gospel service so that he could be trusted by Paul and the churches (1 Thessalonians 3:2).
Proof of trustworthiness does not come through academic degrees but by observing godliness of character and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform the mind (Romans 12:2) and heart (Philippians 2:13). Timothy's advantage was in seeing how Paul lived a godly life despite many trials (1 Corinthians 4:17). His challenge was then being willing to be to be sent out to serve without Paul's immediate support (1 Corinthians 16:10).
Likewise, today's spiritual leadership needs to be in the hands of godly people who grow in holiness of character as well as in ministry skills (1 Peter 1:15). Ideally every believer should learn the importance of both Christian character and ministry competence from an 'old hand'. That sort of spiritual mentoring is the only effective way to develop credibility in the present generation of believers and encourage the next generation of servant-hearted saints. So, it is worth asking, "Who is my example of godly living and gospel service, from whom I can learn?" and, likewise, "Who could learn from me?" These people might be in the workplace or community as well as in the church. Be a faithful apprentice and make apprentices (2 Timothy 2:2).
© Dr Paul Adams