It’s not good to argue about words and split hairs. Different people mean different things by ‘internship’ and ‘apprenticeship’. What one church calls an ‘intern’ might be very similar to what we prefer to call in iServe Africa an ‘apprentice’. On the other hand, the UK/US TV series ‘The Apprentice’ has very little to do with what we mean by apprenticeship and looks more like an extreme internship. So the stuff below might not apply in some contexts. But generally speaking, there are some important differences between the way ‘internship’ is usually understood and the connotations and conceptions that go with it, and what we mean by apprenticeship.
- Holistic – This flows out of the relational nature of apprenticeship – father and son (Phil. 2:22) – as well as the biblical view of the human person – the inter-relationship of heart, head and hands. If you’re an intern at Safaricom or Barclays, no-one is interested in your personal life, spiritual life, emotions, passions, health, character – so long as they don’t interfere with your work that is all irrelevant. In an apprenticeship, particularly a ministry apprenticeship, they do matter. It’s a life-on-life thing where the apprentice should be seeing and following the mentor’s ‘teaching, conduct, aim in life, faith, patience, love, steadfastness’ (2 Tim. 3:10).
- Horizontal – An internship suggests that you are getting on the first rung of the career ladder. The organisation is interested in getting the most out of the skills and knowledge that you gained at university (and cheaply!). They’ll work you hard and if you produce the goods then there’s a chance they may take you on and you can start working your way up within the organisation. In contrast, apprenticeship might well be unrelated to school learning. It’s more about gaining new skills – being a child again. And when you’ve gone through a year or two of apprenticeship you realise that you will always be a child, always learning, that there are no CV points to be earned here and no promotion prospects in the Kingdom.
- Humbling – All that makes for apprenticeship being a humbling thing. In fact the very label ‘apprentice’ is more humbling to wear than ‘internship’. I’ve been told that apprenticeship sounds like something that uneducated people with no ‘prospects’ in rural areas do – becoming a carpenter or farmer or mechanic like their father. If you are university educated then internship is the thing to do. And for organisations too – to say, “We have two interns” sounds more impressive than, “We have two apprentices” (to which people say, “What does that mean?” or silently think, “That’s a bit weird”). Of course internship might be humbling at times but that is seen as a pain to get through until the glories of a secure position, whereas in an apprenticeship humbling is part of the point of the exercise and a preparation for the rest of life.
- Hearing – Apprenticeship is about hearing not just doing. Internship is mainly about output. Apprenticeship has more to do with input. Interns need to contribute straight away to the organisation. Apprentices are more ‘works in progress’, growing and changing on the inside – identity, convictions. That doesn’t mean we forget that apprenticeship is learning through service (Phil. 2:22) and it doesn’t mean apprentices shouldn’t end up being a great blessing to the church or organisation they are with and to the wider community, but it is also about transformation. And that transformation comes about very largely through listening. Paul told Timothy, “Follow the pattern of sound words that you heard from me” (2 Tim. 1:13); “What you have heard from me” (2 Tim. 2:2). Timothy would have been with Paul hearing him preach hundreds of sermons, listening in as he carefully pastored and counselled people, and no doubt they had lots of time on the road and on ships talking about ministry, and late nights where Timothy and Silas and the others just sat at Paul’s feet soaking up his wisdom, sharpening their doctrine and biblical theology. This overlaps with the relational nature of apprenticeship –listening to the stories of the wazee around the fire in the evening; it meshes with what the Christian life is all about – first and foremost being and receiving rather than doing and performing; and it flows from the truth that transformation comes through hearing the Word.
- Heaven-minded – Finally, one of the most difficult things to get across when it comes to the apprenticeship model of training is the idea that it is training people for the Kingdom of Heaven not for my little earthly kingdom. As we noted, internship carries with it at least the hope/possibility of the organisation retaining the intern. With apprenticeship – certainly ministry apprenticeship – the idea is to send out workers into the harvest field regardless of whether that is ‘my’ bit of the harvest field or not. The apostle Paul spent days and nights, weeks, months travelling around with Timothy, mentoring, training, investing in him and then he encouraged him to remain in Ephesus, not to lead franchises of ‘Paul Ministries International’ but simply to nurture and grow the Church of God. The plan is simply 2 Timothy 2:2. It’s not about organisational growth it’s about people being born from above and growing in Christ. That doesn’t mean that an apprentice can’t sometimes stay in the ministry in which they’ve been mentored but the focus is on their continual growth and exposure to mission and more than that to the growth of the Kingdom of heaven whether that be in this denomination or that one, whether it mean working in Kenya or East Africa or beyond.
iServe Africa is an indigenous Kenyan gospel-driven organisation that exists to promote faithful Bible teaching and servant leadership.