Being in ministry in a situation like mine requires doing a wide variety of things (often with opportunities to dabble in new areas of my incompetence), but among the things that I do, there is one that stands out to me above the rest as
- being the most enjoyable,
- helping me become more the kind of person I want to be,
- making the biggest difference in others' lives,
- developing good and needed personal friendships with others,
- and responding the best way that I can to the invitation from God that I've sensed for a long time to help others mature in their love for God and for others.
I remember writing in my journal years ago that I wanted to shape my life around two simple things: being a disciple of Jesus, and helping others to do so. This opportunity in ministry has helped me to do both of those things more effectively than anything else in the decade that I've been doing this kind of thing full-time, and it's nothing unique to me or my situation. Whether you're in ministry or not, you can easily be involved in the same thing I'm talking about: being part of a group of people going through The Apprentice Series by James Bryan Smith.
Because of the nature of the roles that I have had in ministry, I usually stay pretty familiar with a good deal of the curriculum available to churches. There is a multitude of good stuff out there, but I have never used or seen anything else like Apprentice. It is the only material I am aware of that does such an effective job at helping us to think about God in a way that is consistent with the scriptures, arrange our lives in a way that gives God room to work in us, and connect with others in the relationships that we must have for Jesus' kind of life to keep growing in us. Or, as one of my heroes, Dallas Willard, describes it, it is "the best practice of Christian spiritual formation that [he has] seen."
We've greatly enjoyed going through the first two books with a group of friends at our church, and will begin the third book in a couple of weeks. One of the things we have enjoyed most is the mix of people in our group: from people who were very new to church and Christianity to others who have probably averaged being in church 3.5 times per week for their entire lives. It has made a difference for all of us. We love the relationships with one another, and those friendships have been an important part of how Apprentice teaches us overall to shape our lives in a way that we are Jesus' apprentices in how to live life in the kingdom of God.
I remember a specific time as a teenager, after I had committed my life to Christ. I wanted to learn to live my life as God wanted me to, but was having trouble figuring out how to do so. I was in church, I prayed and read my Bible, but I still wanted to know, "what's my life supposed to be like from now on?" I went to a Christian bookstore, hoping to find something with a title like, How to Live as a Christian, but I didn't have any such luck. That was almost 20 years ago, and I have kept looking hard for that answer, with some very good help along the way. If that is a question you have in your life now, the Apprentice series is the first place that I would point you. Find out if anyone in your church is going through this, and if not, get a group of friends together (who can be very committed to it) and start.
If you're someone who goes to First Methodist of Midland with us (or if you're anyone else locally), and this sounds interesting, there will be two chances to jump in during the coming months: one group will start in September on Wednesday nights, and another will start in January on Tuesday nights. Email me
for more details.