Apprenticed to Reach the World for Jesus

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Big Idea: Missional movement begins by becoming an apprentice of Jesus.

If a movement is to start with you and your friends, then it all begins with your becoming an apprentice. The core competency of any movement is apprenticeship. Apprenticeship is a fundamental principle of reproduction, yet it is so often overlooked.

A gifted communicator can attract a huge crowd, a charismatic leader can create tremendous energy, and a talented writer can sell books by the millions. But if that teacher, leader, or writer wants to see their influence grow into a missional movement, they first must learn what it means to become an apprentice.

The very first action that Jesus took to start His movement was to recruit twelve apprentices.

Come, follow Me, Jesus said, and I will make you fishers of men. – Matthew 4:19

Jesus called twelve men into an apprenticeship and then taught them the basics of His message and His ministry so that they could do the same things He had done. Two thousand years later the Jesus movement has reached billions and billions of people, and it continues to impact new generations with an unchanging message. Through apprenticeships, people are empowered to reach their leadership capacity and influence as many others as possible to accomplish the mission.

Apprenticed to Jesus

You may have noticed that what I’m talking about sounds similar to what we often call “discipleship.” I intentionally use the word apprentice as opposed to disciple. While disciple is a brilliant word (and a word used by Jesus Himself), it often does not mean to us what Jesus meant when He used it. I believe that disciple is a ruined word.

When Jesus called people into discipleship, He was calling them for and preparing them to accomplish a mission.

When people use the world disciple  today, though, it has almost nothing to do with our mission. Discipleship in the church today has more to do with consuming and absorbing cognitive content than it has anything to do with missional action. Being a disciple is more about an individual and his/her ability to get a passing grade on the subject matter, and less about being a follower of Jesus who lives in community with others for the sake of Christ’s mission. I’m convinced that it will take at least another generation for us to recover the meaning of the word disciple so it is heard in the way Jesus meant for it to be heard.

The introduction of new language is a crucial step in reshaping paradigms and getting people to think differently about the movement of Jesus. Successful businesses are now seeing the importance of this principle. Ram Charan, in his book Leaders at All Levels, explains why the word apprenticeship has such power today: “Apprenticeship is at the heart of this new approach to leadership development. To understand why, you’ll have to come to grips with a potentially controversial belief: leadership can only be developed through practice. Those who have talent for leadership must develop their abilities by practicing in the real world and converting that experience into improved skill and judgment. That conversion does not take place in a classroom.”

In other words, you can choose to continue to use the word disciple, but that choice may prove counterproductive and result in producing the same kinds of static thinking you are trying to change. The word apprentice says that you not only are a learner but also are willing and ready to take action that will demand greater leadership responsibility in order to further the movement of Jesus.

Apprentices don’t just learn; they do what they have been taught and aspire to lead themselves.

Since the missional movement that we most want to advance is a movement originally started by Jesus, we must first and foremost become His apprentices. And just like his first followers, we must walk alongside Jesus and be guided and mentored by Him. Now, you are probably thinking, “That sounds really nice and spiritual, Dave, but let’s be honest — Jesus isn’t here right now walking alongside me to give me the guidance and personal instruction that I need — so what should I do?” Believe it or not, Jesus anticipated your question. He even explains to us how  He will apprentice us and bring His movement to life. In Acts 1:8, Jesus shares His big dream with us and then gives us three characteristics that must be true of every one of His apprentices.

Dream Big

Jesus gave His apprentices a big dream when He told them,

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. – Acts 1:8

As big as it would have sounded to His followers, Jesus’ dream was not just to reach Jerusalem, or even beyond that city to the area of Judea and Samaria. His dream was for His followers to be His witnesses and reach the very ends of the earth! He wanted them to venture beyond the safety of their hometowns and take this good news to new places. Now, that’s a big dream!

Being an apprentice of Jesus means learning to dream BIG.

I have found that when you dream big, it changes how you think, how you act, and it can even change those around you. Jesus understood the power of vision, and I’ve certainly learned a lot from His example. Another person who has pushed me to dream big is Lyle Schaller. He is one of the most prolific writers on church life, and he happens to live in the same town that I do. I love that old guy!

Over and over again he will rib me by looking me in the eye and saying, “Dave, your biggest problem is that I have a bigger vision for your church than you do!” And strangely enough, every time he says that, my dream gets bigger! Right now I’m thinking about what it will take for us at Community to be a church of two hundred sites in Chicago with one hundred thousand “3C” Christ followers.  And when Jon and I get together to talk about our vision to be a catalyst for a movement of reproducing churches, we try to dream big! We start these dreaming conversations strategizing about how to reach one billion people. Will we ever reach one billion people?

Admittedly, the odds are against us.

But whether we ever see that dream fulfilled in our lifetime isn’t really my point. The very act of dreaming big — allowing your heart and mind to pursue a vision that is bigger than you can handle — will change you in some very significant ways.

Big Dreams Change Your Questions

I remember Carl George once telling me, “When you are really onto something, it will lead to more and more profound questions.” I have found this to be true when it comes to the size of your dreams. The bigger your dream, the more you challenge and stretch your mind with tough questions. The size of your dream will often determine the types of questions you ask. Small dreams that are within your grasp and easily managed require one set of questions. Big dreams lead you to ask an entirely different set of questions, questions you would probably never ask otherwise.

Over the last decade, our questions have changed and stretched with the size of our dreams:

Ten years ago our dream was to have a church with two sites, so I had to ask, “How can I reproduce myself?” Now our dream is to have a church that has two hundred sites, and I ask, “How can I create a system for reproducing all of our leadership?” Five years ago our dream was to start a network of new churches, so I had to ask, “How can I attract, train, and deploy church planters?” Now our dream is to see a movement of reproducing churches, so I have to ask, “How can I create systems that reproduce networks and attract, train, and deploy apostolic leaders?”

The bigger the dream, the more profound the questions that you will ask.

Some of the first questions I ask of a church leader who tells me that he wants to reproduce multiple sites are, “How many sites?” and “How big is your dream?” If they tell me that they want to reproduce two or three sites, the questions they need to ask are fairly simple. But if they say four or more, the questions become more challenging. At twelve sites, the rules change yet again, and the questions become even more complex. Enlarging our dreams forces us to ask the important and profound questions that will lead us to one day see the dream of Jesus — a church reaching the world — accomplished.

Excerpted with permission from Exponential by Dave and Jon Ferguson, copyright Zondervan.

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Your Turn

“Being an apprentice of Jesus means learning to dream BIG.” How big is your dream? Join the conversation on our blog! We’d love to hear from you about the dreams God has given you for reaching the world!

Jon Ferguson

Jon Ferguson is the cofounding pastor of Community Christian Church - a multi-site church in the Chicago Metro Area. He serves as teaching pastor and leads the Strategic Team of staff champions for adult, student, children’s, and creative arts ministries across all CCC locations. Jon is the cofounder and movement architect of NewThing, whose mission is "to be a catalyst for a movement of reproducing churches." He also serves on the boards of the Exponential Network and Stadia East and is an adjunct professor at Wheaton College Graduate School in the Evangelism and Leadership Department. Jon previously coauthored The Big Idea with Dave.

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