Growing as an Apprentice
Anyone who wants to be a physicist or a Marine or an electrician will become part of an organization (a university, or a Boot Camp, or a technical institute, say) which will train them to that end, and that organization will be explicit and up-front regarding not only their expectations (“this is what it means to be a Marine;” or, “this is what a good electrician should be able to do”), but their methods for fulfilling those expectations. They will make clear both the requirements and the training entailed. Then they will ask them if they still want to go through with it. The church should be no different. (And this is exactly what the church, in its historically most vibrant forms, has always done.)
That said, we need to be able to identify the basics of what we understand a follower of Jesus to look like, and the practices it would be formed around. This understanding must consider the ways Jesus apprenticed his followers. It could be suggested that Jesus’ discipleship was very holistic. It wasn’t just about inward personal piety, nor was it just about outward evangelism and social action. Apprenticeship with Jesus was both an Inward and Outward approach.
With that in mind, we would suggest there are eight areas – four inward, four outward. That’s not to say there couldn’t be other areas, or different ways of arranging things. But, taking our best shot at it, we think the following eight areas sum up what it is to be an apprentice of Jesus.
First, we would seek to live as the people of God. Jesus instructs us to “worship the Lord with all your soul, mind and strength” (Mark 12:30, see also Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Throughout Scripture obedience to that command has been the mark of the people of God. It is a surrendered heart . . . saying “no” to competing gods (idols) – ex. materialism, power, consumerism, status, greed, sex – and turning with love and adoration to the one true God as revealed in Christ Jesus. We would help people understand what following Jesus in a “surrendered way” looks like. We would also focus on the different aspects of worship – it’s more than singing songs. True worship entails how we use our money and how we approach work, etc. Unless we are becoming the people of God in worship, much of our life together will be lived on the surface of things, and we will not truly experience life in the kingdom as Jesus has promised us.
Second, we would seek to be people of prayer. We would consider learning how to pray, and growing in the discipline of prayer, of paramount importance. At the end of the day, prayer is probably the most important thing we can learn to do as disciples, because the deepest kinds of inner transformation, as well as calls to action, flow out of it. We would value cultivating those who have particular calls to prayer, and have those who are long-practiced in learning how to pray teaching others. We would help people learn to pray corporately and personally, and using various methods. We would value the contemplative life, and seek to recover its expression in the modern church. We would try to create space for it in meetings, and on retreats. We would train in various kinds of prayer – intercession, listening to God for ourselves and for others, as well as praying for the sick, and for demonic deliverance.
Third, we would seek to have scripture play a central role in the life of the community, with a particular emphasis on the New Testament and life of Jesus. We would study it together, seek to imaginatively inhabit its world, listen for the voice of the Spirit speaking to us in it. We would understand faithfulness to Jesus as a commitment to intentional reading of Scripture, memorizing and meditating on it. This means we need to have contexts in which, beyond Sunday services, we’re equipping people to work with Scripture. We will not have the spiritual depth God calls his church to without raising the level of Biblical literacy among the church as a whole.
Fourth, we would seek to submit to the Holy Spirit and His leadings as seen in the book of Acts and most of the NT letters. This means we need to have contexts where people are introduced to the Person and working of the Holy Spirit. We would help people learn how to discern the Holy Spirit’s voice for daily living, to trust Him as our Counselor, to understand His role in transforming our lives, to see His presence in the world today and to move in His supernatural power.
First, we would seek to be people who have deep commitments to each other and understand the church as “first family,” with all the commitments that implies. This means something beyond gathering socially or having good discussions. Rather, it means really knowing each other and still loving each other, living in reconciliation, serving each other, challenging and correcting each other, helping each other to grow, learning to share resources with those amongst us who have less, sacrificing for each other.
That kind of commitment, of course, has to be asked for. Some will want to do, others won’t. We want to be a place where people can be at whatever stage they’re at in their spiritual journey, and be given the space to work with things as long as they need. But we also have to have some context where people can make deep commitments to each other and learn to love at deeper levels. To not do that is to continue to perpetuate American individualism.
Gifts & Call
Second, we would seek to discover, uncover, call out, and celebrate the diversity of gifts and calls in the body, understanding them as charisms of the Holy Spirit for the good of the church and the world. In ways old and new, whatever creative ways possible, we would teach about the gifts of the Spirit, looking to call them out in people, whether they be administration or prophecy, “helps” or healing. And we would help people through the often scary process of discovering their passions, of recognizing God’s call on them, and beginning to live it out. We would understand people to be leaders around their call, thus making the church radically egalitarian and full of the spontaneous life of the Spirit.
Caring for the Marginalized
Third, we would seek to be with, learn from, and serve the marginalized. There is an inescapable bent in the whole of the Bible of concern for the weak, the alien, the suffering, the poor. There is a strong social justice element in nearly every aspect of Scripture. We need, as a church, to be with the poor and marginalized, learning from them, and taking their burdens on as our own. Not just a few “compassionate souls” in the church, but everyone who considers themselves as belonging to Jesus. This surely is a major piece of what it means for the church to “be what we hope the world will one day be:” no more the poor or marginalized being separate or overlooked or not cared for, but welcomed, valued and celebrated as part of the family.
Evangelism (Missional Living)
Fourth, we would be an outward-facing church proclaiming the Gospel as a “sent” people through incarnational living and verbal witness. Jesus invited his followers into a life beyond themselves. It was an invitation to experience the gospel - life in the Kingdom of God. This life, Jesus said, was not to be kept secret, like a lamp under a bowl. Rather, this new life was to be shared with the world. Evangelism and missional living forces us to wrestle with the nature of the Gospel (why did Jesus come), the role of hospitality and understanding cultural dynamics such as “centered-set” and “bounded-set” systems. We would help people learn how to verbally share the Gospel and their faith in winsome and Spirit guided ways AND also understand that mission happens wherever God has placed us.
Resources for Core Competencies
Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller
Desiring God, John Piper
Prayer, Richard Foster
The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen
Experiencing Healing Prayer, Rick Richardson
The Blue Parakeet, Scot McKnight
How to Read the Bible for all it’s Worth, Gordon Fee
The Last Word, NT Wright
More, Simon Ponsonby
Forgotten God, Francis Chan
Empowered Evangelicals, Rich Nathan and Ken Wilson
The Good and Beautiful Community, James Bryan Smith
Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Gifts and Call
Let You Life Speak, Parker Palmer
Cry Pain, Cry Hope, Elizabeth O’Connor
Caring for the Marginalized
God in the Alley, Greg Paul
Good News about Injustice, Gary Haugen
Evangelism (Missional Living)
Speaking of Jesus, Carl Maderas
Just Walk Across the Room, Bill Hybels
Practicing the Way of Jesus, Mark Scandrette
Books for Mentoring
Apprenticeship with Jesus, Gary Moon
Discovering Our Spiritual Identity, Trevor Hudson
Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster