It terrifies me to think of what the last 18 months would have been like without the help of a really fantastic church planting apprentice. I would go so far as to say that it’s almost ridiculous to consider planting a church without someone whose full time job it is to support you, learn from you, and share the ministry burden with you.
Church planting has sort of become the sexy thing to do in the last decade or so. There are some real problems with that, of course. But one of the greatest benefits of this trend is that there are tons of aspiring church planters out there. Church planters need to find an apprentice who can be entrusted with almost everything.
Here are some tips for who you should look for as an apprentice:
- Find someone who is 18 to 24 months “behind” you on the church planting timeline. You don’t want someone who is going to school full time. Ideally, get someone who has finished studying. Find someone who has been assessed for church planting. Get an apprentice who has received an encouraging recommendation that includes apprenticing under an active church planter.
- Find someone who is different from you. Daniel Wells, my apprentice, likes sports, movies, and was recently a student leader in a thriving college ministry. Oh. And pro wrestling. Not me. This means that he’s naturally better suited to tackle our ministry to college students and engage with people who follow sports and who are film buffs.
- Find someone who is still nevertheless pretty similar to you. At the same time, Daniel and I have tons in common. We are both avid readers. We’ve both been of a more “doctrinalist” temperament in the past, but have grown to find ourselves more missionally oriented. You have to have similar enough “theological vision” (as Tim Keller calls it) in order to end up being compatible in terms of philosophy of ministry. You don’t want to be butting heads with the person you’re out on the missional frontier with.
- Find someone who you’d be happy to hand your ministry over to. It’s almost impossible to know this before you’re in the trenches together. But your hope is to be with someone who is apprenticing to do what you’re doing. You might even want to be up front with the candidate about this. Look them in the eye and tell them that your goal is to get them to the point where you’d be comfortable handing the pastoral ministry off to them if God called you elsewhere.
- Find someone you’d be happy to send off to plant a church. Again, tough to know for absolute certain ahead of time. But as you’re considering candidates, only bring on someone you can see yourself wholeheartedly sending off in 18-24 months to plant a new church. You’re not looking for cheap labor. You’re looking to help someone prepare to lead a bold, strategic kingdom initiative right behind you.
- Find someone who will submit to your leadership. It’s essential that there be tenacious loyalty in your apprentice. You want them to have your back, to be your ambassador, to pray for you, and to serve you. You don’t want some punk who thinks he’s already better than you.
- Find someone who isn’t afraid to tell you what he sees and do what he knows is right. At the same time, you want to have someone who’s not afraid to tell you what he thinks, and to give you honest feedback. How else are you going to be able to assess their church planting instincts unless you put them to the test? You also don’t want someone who will pussyfoot around in tough situations. You want someone who will act, not out of slavish conformity to your style and instincts, but out of their own strengths and convictions.
Pretty picky, huh? Well, if you want the fantastic experience I’ve had in having a partner in ministry, then you’re going to have to be very picky. Is the person excited enough to serve under your vision that they’d do it for next to no money? Is the person competent enough to serve alongside of you and deserve to make a living doing it? Then grab that apprentice and go into the trenches with him. Find some way of paying him as much as you can. Meet with him as often as you can. Pray with him. Send him off to do pioneering work within your ministry field. And then release him to do whatever Jesus is calling him to do next.
I’ll post more thoughts on how to assess, utilize, fund, and deploy an apprentice in the future. For now, I’ll just say thank you, Daniel, for your excellent service to the kingdom through the church we’ve served together.