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A Culture of Apprenticeship

by Zach Below


There is a non-profit in my hometown called the West Side Nut Club. The Nut Club is not affiliated with any church, and at first glance you would think it was nothing more than a men’s club. The club began in the early 20th century to promote civic welfare, but was really part social club, too. What’s crazy about the Nut Club is that this small group of men (300) pull off what Paul Harvey claimed was the second largest street festival in America (I’m not sure there are any real statistics to support this).

Every year the festival attracts 200,000 people and brings in more than $250,000, which they split between West Side schools, organizations, and other non-profits. In addition, they have 130 food booths on the street run by area churches/non-profits that get to keep the money they earn, sometimes upwards of $20,000 for a week of selling fudge, deep-fried Oreos, or whatever grease-soaked, artery-clogging treat you could want. Since the West Side Nut Club began the Fall Festival, they have given more than 5 million dollars to the community, all while pulling families together for a fun celebration people look forward to.

What does this have to do with multiplication? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to wonder how they pull this off over and over again, year in and year out, with the same or growing degree of excellence. This year, I was talking to a friend that I never realized was a member. I said something to the effect of, “I didn’t realize you were in the Nut Club. How have you guys pulled this festival off for almost 100 years? What’s your role in the Festival?”

What my friend told me was so common sense yet so difficult to duplicate in the church. It is the key to multiplication, legacy, and a multi-generational movement. It’s been going on since the Middle Ages, but rarely done in the church. What is it???

Apprenticeship. 

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Nut Club members begin a committee apprenticeship early on in their membership. It’s not just top-level apprenticeship, either. There is a parade committee, a food committee, a clean-up committee, a waste committee, etc. Every committee has multiple levels of apprenticeship. My friend is an apprentice on the parade committee and is still a few years away from leading the committee.

What a great model of an active leadership/discipleship pipeline! There are a number of great churches that are actively implementing an apprenticeship program at every level of ministry, and it creates a multiplying church.

Okay, so you are a small group leader or children’s director at your church. How do you find an apprentice? What should you be looking for?

While there is a lot of different language around the same idea, I love what Eric Metcalf from Community Christian Church and New Thing Network in Naperville, IL, says they look for. Here is what Eric said are the 3 things to look for in apprentice leaders.

  1. Spiritual Velocity: We are not asking people (nor should we) to be Bible scholars and seminary grads. What is most important is that they hunger after the things of God. This is a person you see growing in Christ. A person with spiritual momentum and trajectory.
  1. Teachability: An apprentice relationship is simply not going to work with a person who thinks they already know everything. When seeking out an apprentice leader, look for someone who is applying new learnings to their life.
  1. Relational Intelligence: There are some people who love God and are incredibly teachable, but just have no common sense relationally.  As you read that sentence, a name or face may have just popped into your head.  A leader has to have some degree of relational intelligence.

If you make these 3 qualities known at your church, the ask for apprenticeship can be much more intentional and much less awkward. You have the ability to identify a person, walk up to them, and say something to the effect of, “I really see these 3 things in you. Have you ever considered doing an apprenticeship?” As you set the culture of apprenticeship in your church or organization, you also set the culture of multiplication. As a result, the ask for either is not an awkward, out-of-place ask; it’s a cultural norm.

What are your methods of intentional multiplication?

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A Culture of Apprenticeship

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