Leading Through Apprenticeship

John Mark Comer

Following Jesus is hard; leading others to follow Jesus is harder. And yet, the more I do both, the more I come to believe it is shockingly simple.

To follow Jesus, or as I prefer saying “apprentice under Jesus,” is, by definition, to follow His way of life. To copy the details of His daily life. To take His life and teachings as the template for your own.

Thankfully, to apprentice under Jesus is also what it means to lead others to follow Him.

I think of Paul’s repeated line in his letters about leadership based on example and invitation, not coercion and control.

To the Corinthians:

“Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1)

To the Philippians:

“Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.” (Phil. 3:17)

To the Thessalonians:

“For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you… We did this… in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.” (2 Thess 3:7-9)

I used to read these lines and think, “Well, he can say that because he’s Paul.” And even then, it came off a little pretentious to me. And Paul was a master apprentice of Jesus, but now, two decades into pastoring, I have come full circle. I now think, “If I can’t say that, I have no business being a leader in my church.”

After all, my personal apprenticeship to Jesus is the most important thing I have to offer the people I pastor.

Ruth Haley Barton says, “The best thing you bring to leadership is your own transforming self.” Meaning, your greatest leadership offering is your own soul’s process of becoming more like Jesus.

Your life is your message, not just your sermon or your podcast or your meeting agenda. Your life. All of it – your morning routine, schedule, diet, budget, entertainment habits, etc. 

Are our lives quiet rebellions against the hurry, the low-grade exhaustion, the ambition, the celebrity-chasing-after-the-wind, and the materialism of what Jesus and the writers of the New Testament call “the world?”

Or are they just Christianized versions of the same?

Leaders, this matters because your church will live up or down to your level of maturity. As the adage goes, a church rarely rises above the maturity of its leaders. (And remember, maturity is measured by your whole person.)

Pete Scazzero has done great work recently on the reciprocal relationship between spiritual maturity and emotional maturity. Pete insightfully says, “We find God’s will for our lives in our limitations.”

Such a humbling thought that opposes our natural response, or lack of, to our limitations. 

I waste too much time and money trying to overcome my limitations, or at least, expand them! But, is that the best way forward?

Much is said in the Church right now about reaching our potential, and I’m all for it, but little to nothing is said about accepting our limitations. Both, our potential and limitations, are signposts from God meant to direct us towards His call on our life.

If you’re tired, burned out, or on edge, it’s most likely a tangible sign from God that you’ve gone past your limitations, and therefore, past His call on your life.

In one of Jesus’ many invitations to apprenticeship, He said, “Take up your cross and follow me. (Matt 16:24)” For years, I interpreted that to mean sacrifice your emotional health on the altar of church planting. Which is not what Jesus was saying. If anything, it’s closer to sacrifice your ambition, your drive, your workaholism, your desire for fame, money, status, a pat on the back. Let all of that die, or it’s your soul that will die instead.

For most of us, this means we need to slow our life down. Simplify. Take a long, hard look at our motivations and our means. Do a few things well, starting with your own soul and your closest relationships. Prioritize them as an act of worship to Jesus. For type-A leaders, this feels like a death, a loss of all we could have accomplished, but in the inner-mechanisms of the Kingdom, death is always followed by resurrection, and we get back far more than we ever give away.

John Mark Comer is pastor for teaching and vision at Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon. He holds a Master's degree in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary and is the author of My Name is Hope, Loveology, Garden City, and God Has a Name. John Mark is married to Tammy and they have two boys, Jude and Moses and a little girl, Sunday.

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