At iServe Africa we really believe in apprenticeship. This is where character is formed, convictions tested, skilful hands and warm hearts developed. But what is apprenticeship? Here is a key text for us:
“But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he was served with me in the work of the gospel.” (Phil. 2:20)
Obviously Paul was pretty unique in some ways but he is a model for us in many things. He entrusted gospel ministry to Timothy, Titus and others who entrusted it to others… all the way to us. How was the gospel entrusted? In what context was it passed on? Timothy was an apprentice to Paul. Paul was a mentor to Timothy. What did that involve?
- Relationship – There is love and respect as between father and son. The father is not overbearing or exasperating (Col. 3:21; 1 Pet. 5:3) but encouraging, comforting, urging (1 Thess. 2:11-12; Eph. 6:4) and above all a humble example (1 Pet. 5:3-5). The son is submissive (1 Pet. 5:5) and eager to learn from the life and words of the father (2 Tim. 3:10-11). This relationship matters far more than a precise curriculum.
- Service together – Apprenticeship is not academic – it is about getting hands dirty. There is content to be taught (2 Tim. 2:2) but the deepest learning comes through service and particularly serving together – the apprentice observing the mentor and the mentor observing the apprentice and giving feedback. The aim is that the apprentice grows not only in skill but in servant-heartedness.
- Gospel work – The apprenticeship that we are talking about here is not in plumbing or electrics or even in ‘leadership’ but in gospel ministry. The priority is proclaiming Christ (Phil. 1:18) the God who humbled himself to death on a Cross (Phil. 2:5-11) who wraps us in his own righteousness (Phil. 3:7-9). This gospel must never be assumed. The apprentice and mentor are constantly seeking to know Christ more (Phil. 3:10-14) and to work for the joy of others in Him (Phil. 1:25).
- Proving – Apprenticeship is a time of testing. This is true both in the sense that, through hardship and trials, through temptations and through the rigors of gospel service, faith is refined as gold (1 Pet. 1:6-7) and in terms of exploring gospel ministry – the apprenticeship experience begins to reveal whether there is a gifting, desire and right character for long-term gospel ministry.