The reason a carpenter invests in an apprentice is to develop the skills of the apprentice so that he can do everything that the carpenter can do. This helps the carpenter to accomplish more work than he can do alone. But it also produces a replacement for the carpenter (during sickness or retirement) or a new carpenter who can go into business for himself. This applies to your substitute as well.
Since the Sunday School care ratio is 1:5 (one leader for every five persons enrolled), apprenticing is greatly needed in Sunday School. In order to address the leader shortage, more leaders of every kind are needed: teachers, outreach leaders, member care leaders, greeters, etc. Apprenticing should be an intentional strategy.
Why Do I Need More Than a Substitute?
Substitutes simply fill in when needed, primarily due to absence. While covering absence is critical, they do not address the care ratio. They don’t shoulder any of the ongoing care and ministry that groups need.
When the care ratio is covered well, having substitutes to serve can be first steps to discovering potential apprentices. But when there are leader shortages, having substitutes can cripple apprenticing. You see, most substitutes enjoy avoiding ongoing responsibility.
So the substitute never expands his understanding of the larger role and responsibility for which they are substituting. And he is much less likely to be willing to serve in another place within the Sunday School–where he may be even more needed. Even when the teacher retires or leaves, the substitute is often unwilling to step in to replace.
Transitioning Your Substitute to Become Your Apprentice
Not every substitute will be willing. Some may not be able to serve. But your effort does not have to be wasted. Consider the following as you work with your substitute:
- PRAY. Begin with prayer. Ask the Lord to help you as you invest in your substitute. Pray for him and his openness to God’s leadership and your investment.
- INVEST. Consider every effort as an investment in the individual–even if he is ultimately unwilling to become your apprentice. Think long term.
- HELP ME. Ask him to “help you” as you expose him to a broader portion of the role/responsibility than the substitute has previously undertaken. For instance, if he is a substitute teacher and has only prepared and taught lessons, ask for his help as you together plan an event or make a visit. Repeat experiences, and continue to expand. Don’t rush.
- OBSERVE. Watch as the substitute helps you in these expanded ways. Make written notes.
- DEBRIEF. After each experience, express your appreciation and ask for his feedback and insight. Provide positive feedback. If anything needs improvement couch it as “next time, we need to ….”
- ASSIGN. When you have observed competence and confidence, ask him to handle some assignments solo. Always follow up by asking how things went.
- INVITE. After prayer, investment, working together, observation, and assignment, ask your substitute to be your apprentice. For many, this will be weeks/months later. Help your apprentice understand that you felt led to him and have seen evidence that he is ready. Ask him to pray and give him up to a week to ask for a response. Accept his response, even if it is negative.
- COACH. If he says yes, continue to encourage and coach him. Give him greater responsibility and visibility as a leader and peer. Prepare him to replace you or to invest in starting a new class.
- CHALLENGE. When the time is right, challenge your former apprentice to begin investing in an apprentice.
Because we have a shortage of leaders, existing groups need more leaders to increase the care ratio. Adding leaders who help us lead the class to provide care for members and prospects tends to increase class satisfaction, discipleship, and growth. Adding more classes also helps us provide more leaders and more care, resulting in reaching new people and leaders.
Challenge your substitutes to help you address the care ratio. Adding apprentices requires patience while increasing care, but its far-reaching impact is worth the time and effort required. Invest. Multiply yourself. Build leaders who build leaders. Make disciples. Be revolutionary!