Educating for Ministry, pt 3: The Apprenticeship Model

This is the third post from my remarks at the Consultation on Theological Education in the Balkans, held at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Osijek, Croatia this past April.

Here, I propose a model of educating for ministry that is based on an apprenticeship model.  Most ministry education involves an internship (usually three months to one year in length).  My model involves a five-year part-time (18 hours per week) apprenticeship, where the student is trained and discipled by a mentor.

Again, the presentation was titled, “Nonaccredited, Nontraditional, Nonformal.”  In it, I described what schools without accreditation, etc., can achieve outside the “accepted” model.


Formal and nonformal.

“Formal” and “nonformal” refer to whether instruction and formation take place in traditional classroom settings and class structures (formal) or through on-the-job training (nonformal), e.g., internships or apprenticeships.

Breakthroughs in this area will have great positive impact on the training of Christian workers, because the things that our churches most need are things that are hard to teach and form in formal classroom settings.

What type of outcomes is the classroom best suited for?  Classrooms are great at teaching and reinforcing facts and doctrines (declarative knowledge) and introducing and sharpening skills.  For example, the classroom is well-fit for teaching students the books of the Bible and sharpening their ability to find specific significant passages quickly.

But is this what our churches MOST need?

One veteran church leader from our region told me:

“We keep trying to build on sand, and when things fail, character is why they are not working.  We must develop character first.”

By “character,” this leader was referring to specific virtues beyond integrity, love for God, commitment, etc.  Virtues like openness, self-awareness, generosity, and cooperation, are what is in view.  Is a leader generous or jealous?  Competitive or cooperative?  Motivated by (and motivating others) by fear or by grace?

These traits come from internalized knowledge, functional knowledge, and the classroom is not good at producing them.

To return to the specific example: a classroom is more fit for teaching students the books of the Bible than it is for teaching them to forgive as God in Christ has forgiven them.

The skills and knowledge that the classroom excels at producing will not impact our churches as deeply or positively as developing the character of Christ in emerging leaders.

In addition to the differences between declarative and functional knowledge, other factors make character formation in the classroom difficult.  For example:

  • It requires a long-term approach. It may not produce fruit in one year or three or five; it may take ten years, or a generation.
  • Character formation requires a set of tools for assessment and measurement different from the tools educators normally use. The “toolbox” for assessing cognitive outcomes doesn’t seem to work well on character formation.

The best approach for shaping the character of emerging church workers is through a hybrid of classroom work, especially in the lowest levels, building into apprenticeships that are up to five years in length.  Apprenticeships are the perfect setting for developing functional knowledge, shaping character, discipleship, and spiritual formation.

Apprenticeships are an accepted part of the educational systems in the European Union.  EU member countries, including Croatia (where I minister), have developed detailed guidelines for designing professional apprenticeships.

(Croatia differs from other EU countries in that outside of Croatia, apprenticeships are used for a variety of professions, including financial and technical professions.  In Croatia, the apprenticeship track is reserved for crafts and not for professions.)

EU internships are generally three years in length, full-time (approximately 30 hours per week over fifty weeks.)

Apprenticeship curricula divide the hours of work between the classroom (between 20% and 35% of the work, depending on the semester) and mentored work outside the classroom (between 65% and 80% of the work).

Generally, apprentices in the EU earn 60 ECTS points per year (the equivalent of 1 year of traditional class work) for between 1450 and 1680 hours of work (29 to 33 hours per week over 50 weeks), counting both classroom and mentored work.

Students being educated for ministry would likely be working jobs in addition to their apprenticeships.  Ergo, the internships should be constructed for part-time students.  The apprenticeship would be five years in length (rather than three years full-time.)

Part-time students would need to earn 18 ECTS points per semester to graduate in five years.  (This falls within the time limits Croatia imposes on bachelor’s degrees.)

An apprenticeship for ministry would look something like this:

  1. First year: students earn 36 ECTS points (studying half-time) for intense classwork in Bible, hermeneutics, theology, church history. The students are being mentored by an equipped, accountable pastor or Christian leader.  The students work a few hours each week as volunteers in their churches, preferably under their mentor, no more than three hours per week.  Those practicum hours can count toward the ECTS total for the year.
  2. During years two through five, students again earn 36 ECTS points per year, most of that through mentored work in their churches.
    1. Students work part time outside the church, and are mentored in ministry work for eighteen hours per week, under qualified pastors or ministry leaders. The mentors are in regular (perhaps weekly) conversation with the school granting credit for the apprenticeship.  Leaders and apprentices make one year commitments to each other, which can be renewed or severed after the year’s end by mutual agreement.  As long as the student and church do not violate basic requisite requirements, the commitment cannot be ended mid-year.
    2. Four times each year, apprentices take intense one-week classes in Bible, practical theology, and spiritual development. Each class features a final portfolio project, focused on the apprentice’s ministry setting, due ten days after the final lecture.  These classes are coordinated with the apprentices’ work in their apprenticeships, and count for a percentage of their ECTS points for the year.
    3. Throughout the year, the apprentices are being discipled by their mentors. “Learning to be a disciplemaker / mentor” will be one of the benefits that mentors will receive.

I anticipate that the biggest hurdle to overcome in implementing this system will be a shortage of capable, willing, gifted mentors.  As the system grows, the administrative demands will be difficult to keep up with.

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