Leadership Should Start with Apprenticeship

Someone asked me the other day what my advice would be to young leaders. Then they followed it up with this: “and if it could be just one piece of advice.”


My mind was instantly flooded with a thousand replies, like:

  • stay in close community with Christ
  • pray like a mad-man (or a mad-woman)
  • don’t give in to a worldly understanding of success
  • prioritize marriage and family
  • as you preach and dispense, drink freely from the cup yourself
  • never waver from Scripture

But then I realized what would probably be the best, most all-encompassing, advice I could give. The most practical. The most “from the trenches.”

Apprentice yourself to an older, proven and seasoned leader through an existing local church.”

How’s that for a lost word.


(Maybe I’ll deal with older, proven and seasoned in a later blog.)

But I wish it would get found.

We make knowing about something equivalent to its reality in our life. But that’s not what knowledge means. We confuse information with knowledge. They are, of course, not the same. In the Bible, to know was to do. It was intimate, experiential, something within you. If it didn’t impact your life, you didn’t know it – even if you had the information.

In colonial America, one would be apprenticed for six years to a particular tradesperson in order to learn the craft. The apprentice would live, eat and breathe with the person they wanted to emulate in terms of the skill they were trying to master.

This was the dynamic behind the idea of an apprentice. You would seek to learn a craft under a master not simply to acquire information, but skill. You didn’t learn about making a gun, or forging iron, or weaving a basket. You learned to do it. And to do it well. Only when you could do it were you turned loose as one who had the knowledge (real knowledge) to do it.

Today, we’ve made “knowing” all about information – seminars, videos, podcasts, TV, classrooms, conferences – which allow the head to be stuffed, but the life to remain untouched.

Going even further, unless you spend time with someone long traveled along the road you wish to take, you don’t have any idea what it is you have no idea about. That’s the real problem of thinking you know everything. You think you know everything there is to know – but you don’t know what it is you don’t know.

No one does.

That’s why being an apprentice matters.

So I would advise young leaders to go against ego and instant gratification, opportunity and eagerness, yes, even church planting (at first) and consider serving in an existing church for a season in order to be mentored. Serve your time. Learn all you can. Humbly submit and be schooled.

And who knows?

You may just end up filling one of the most important and growing needs of our day, which is succeeding the previous generation of leaders by assuming the leadership mantle of…

…where you apprenticed.

> Read more from James.

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James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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