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Phil owns a tattoo shop in Colorado. He is constantly training new artists to work in his shop. He doesn’t train them in classrooms; he trains them in his shop through apprenticeships. The word “apprentice” has escaped much of our vernacular, but it’s still common in the trades. Phil apprentices people who believe tattooing is part of their destiny. They must be hungry and have potential in order for him to take them under his wing. They read tattoo magazines, learn about different styles, hang around other artists, mop the floors, and watch him tattoo clients as he explains his craft. They are thrilled to learn for free. When Phil is confident in their work, they get their own space in the shop.

This training process is not too far from how we should learn as disciples of Jesus. Every human is crafted by God to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). Every human is built with this God-given desire and capacity to come alongside Him in changing the world.

When it comes to Christian growth, our default setting is formal training. Many people get frustrated by trying to become students of Jesus in the friendly confines of a classroom. Formal learning isn’t bad; it’s incomplete. We must see growth in Jesus as an apprenticeship to be lived, not a lecture to be absorbed. Apprentices learn in three areas: relational, experiential, and formal.

Expanding your view from a classroom to an apprenticeship requires some significant shifts. If you’re looking for a more balanced system that includes relational, experiential, and formal learning it’ll take some work. No area is more important than the others, and apprenticeships are healthy only when there is a balance of these three.

Let’s take a look at how Jesus equipped the disciples in these three realms.

Relational Learning

Jesus invited the disciples into a relationship. They trusted Him enough to follow Him. Jesus lived with them and walked alongside them, training them in the trenches of life to live as He did. This happened in real time along the road, among hurting people and retreating from the crowds. He preached to the masses, but His most powerful work was training a small band of men to unleash his love on the world.

Humans learn to live like Jesus from other humans who embody godliness. Relational learning is eyeball to eyeball and must emphasize challenge and encouragement. It’s one thing to take a spiritual gifts assessment, but it’s another to have leaders reflect back how they see you live and minister. Sitting across the table from others discussion the peaks and valleys of life while drinking coffee or eating tacos could teach you more than a sermon or class ever could. Gifts are given by God, for use in his Kingdom work, but they are confirmed in community. Many Christ followers are trying to grow, but they don’t have anyone to learn from. If you want to find sustained growth, make sure to find others around you from whom you can learn as they model the gospel to you.

Experiential Learning

Study Jesus’ sending process carefully and be ready to reshape your view of how “ready” people are to minister to others. Jesus sent out the 12, the 70, and the 120 to experience trial by fire. Who in their right mind would say they were “ready”? The work they were able to do was not because of their training process; it was part of their training process. They learned on the go and stumbled into amazing things because of their obedience and the power of God. After returning they debriefed, told victory stories, and headed out on the next mission.

Hoards of Christians are just waiting for the next class or mentoring relationship to feel knowledgeable or proficient enough to begin practicing ministry. Most people are ready sooner than they think. Apprentices need meaningful and challenging tasks with appropriate support. It is similar to kids learning to walk. They need to fall a lot, but there’s still a gate at the top of the stairs. There is no way to manufacture the urgency that experience gives you. Perhaps it’s time for you to move from simply studying the life of Jesus to living as He lived. Push against your fears and get out there.

Formal Learning

While Jesus drew His disciples into relationship and set them free to do ministry, He was also intentionally teaching and instructing them. The Sermon on the Mount was truly a sermon, an epic lecture for Kingdom life. It could have been titled “Jesus’ Greatest Hits”, because it touches on nearly every major issue humans will face. This was very early in His ministry, and He gave His followers a concentrated formal education. He told them about his way of life, and then He showed it to them through his ministry. If we are trying to become more like Jesus, we must start by knowing what Jesus gave His life to.

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