The training model that Jesus presents to us is fairly simple: three years of apprenticeship with no formal education that we know of. The effectiveness of this model is seen in Acts 4 when Peter and John preach before the rulers, elders, scribes and chief priest in Jerusalem, “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” This is remarkably the same thing said of Jesus in John 7, “The Jews then were astonished, saying, 'How has this man become learned, having never been educated?'” People were surprised that Jesus and the disciples were able to be effective preachers without a formal education.
We know very little of Jesus’ early life. We have only one story that relates to training. When Jesus was twelve, his family had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. They had apparently left thinking he was with the caravan, but when they could not find him they returned to Jerusalem, and “after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.” So although it seems that Jesus was self-taught, we can only assume from this experience that the idea of formal education was not completely foreign to Jesus. The extent to which Jesus participated in something close to formal education is unknown, but what is known is that, to whatever extent he had participated in formal education, it was not enough for him to be classified by the culture as “educated.” People in general did not consider him as educated, but despite this general opinion, there are many instances of people referring to him as “Rabbi” or “teacher.” So what we know of Jesus was that he may have had some sort of experience with formal education; he was more than likely self-taught; but it was evident to all that he was qualified to teach.
The same can be said of Jesus’ disciples, the Twelve. The difference with the Twelve was that they clearly had an intensive three-year apprenticeship with Jesus. It was not a light matter, for Peter confirms in Luke 18, “Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.” And Jesus then replied, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.” Jesus and Peter were affirming the fact that whether you leave for seminary, or are trained through apprenticeship, the sacrifice remains the same. Apprenticeship is not an easy way out of the rigors of a formal education.
The point that I would like to emphasize is the fact that Jesus did train people. Even though he drew thousands when he spoke, the crux of his ministry was the training of the Twelve. The training also extended to a handful of women, many of whom financially supported his ministry. After sending out the Twelve to minister in groups of two, Jesus later sent out seventy to do the same. In the upper room in Acts 1, we see that the church at the time seemed to be comprised of about 120 people. So any way that you look at it, the God of the entire universe came down to earth, and with a ministry that only spanned three years, took the time to train a relatively small group of people.
People need to be willing to be trained. Churches, denomination, and institutions need to be willing to accept models of training like apprenticeship. But all that is moot and void if pastors and leaders are not willing to take the time to train other people as pastors and leaders. What I would like to do is to take the time to go through Jesus ministry and pull out some of the events that highlight how things might change for a pastor or leader that decides to mentor someone. If we are to participate in training, then we may have to adjust our ministry or work to accommodate something like an apprenticeship.
The first lesson to consideration is how to find people to train. This is seen in the calling of the Twelve, or at least the first few as described in John. The first two that John mentions were actually disciples of John the Baptist. John was standing with two of his disciples and as Jesus walked by he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” The two disciples followed Jesus and asked where he was staying. One of those two was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. After Andrew brought his brother Peter to Jesus, the next day it says that Jesus “purposed to go to Galilee and He found Philip.” Philip was from the same city as Andrew and Peter. We can only assume that since Jesus purposely went and found Philip, it may have been that his name came up in the conversation with Peter and Andrew, or at least that they knew Philip. After Jesus called Philip, Philip went and found Nathanael. In Mark 1 we learn that James and John were brothers that had a small fishing business right next to Andrew and Peter’s fishing business. So it seems that at least half of the Twelve were brothers, friends, and work companions. Many of the people being trained ended up having a pre-existing relationship with each other that preceded their calling to be trained by Jesus.
When my father-in-law agreed to train me for the pastorate, he ended up agreeing to train not just me but a group of my close friends. I’ve seen this pattern repeated through out my time as a pastor. There always seems to be a key person that you connect with and from that person a whole group of people comes into the church or the work that we are doing. A group that had a relationship with each other that preceded us as a leader coming onto the scene. The only reason why I bring this up is to affirm the belief that God already has people in groups, waiting to be trained. Finding people will not be the problem. It is like Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 9, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” We usually think of that in terms of people coming to salvation, but the beginning of the chapter is the story of Jesus calling Matthew the tax collector and it ends with Jesus saying, “Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” Much of Jesus work was focused on calling and training people to be workers in His harvest.
Much of the work is simply being willing to bring people along with you as you minster. Jesus traveled everywhere with his disciples. Hospital visits, leadership meetings, funerals, weddings, counseling, preaching, teaching, and prayer—the disciples were always there. Even time “alone” was spent with the disciples. There are actually very few brief moments that Jesus spends completely alone. This can be incredibly taxing for both the teacher and the student. In most formal educational models, by comparison, the student spends a relatively small amount of time with a teacher.
One of the first miracles of Jesus is in Luke 4 when the disciples made a request on behalf of Peter’s mother-in-law who was sick in bed with a fever. He heals her and she immediately gets up and feeds them. Your lives very quickly become intertwined as one family. Your kids will start to see the people you are training as part of the family. Their family starts to see you as family. It may seem a little overwhelming, and at times it is, but it is also richly rewarding as the closest of friendships develop. To Jesus, this is what ministry was all about. This is how he got things done. As they lived together and worked together, Jesus was constantly taking time to talk about ministry with them. It was the conversation at every meal. It didn’t matter how many thousands of people were thronged around Jesus, he always took the time to turn to his disciples and make some comments, teaching about ministry.
The last part that I’d like to address and is the fact that Jesus rebuked the disciples. This may seem like an odd thing to dwell on, but it is an important point to talk about. In the storm on the lake, Jesus rebukes both the disciples and the storm. When James and John want to call fire down from heaven, Jesus rebukes them. The disciples rebuke people for bringing their children to Jesus; then Jesus rebukes the disciples. Jesus tells the disciples that he is going to die, Peter rebukes Jesus, and then Jesus rebukes Peter. When Peter pulls out his sword and cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant, Jesus rebuked him. There was a lot of rebuking going on, which is the way it is with any relationship, where you are spending a lot of time with each other. But this betrays that it’s more that just the quantity of time. It’s also the fact that they were in intense situations where the pressure and cost of ministry was a very real thing. There are a lot of lessons that can only be learned when you are knee-deep in ministry. Many lessons simply cannot be understood until one is emotionally involved in the problems of ministry. Many lessons simply cannot be taught in a classroom. Formal education has severe limitations. If someone is going to be adequately trained for the ministry a good portion of it has to be taught through apprenticeship. And, at least some of these lessons may require a pretty severe rebuke—a rebuke that that simply cannot happen outside the context of a mentor relationship, in apprenticeship where the student respects the teacher enough to bear with the rebuke. Where the teacher knows enough about the student to give a fair rebuke, a rebuke that doesn’t break them.