A friend and I met up for coffee the other day and talked a lot about discipleship and it got me thinking about some parallels between the Christian act of discipleship and the process of apprenticeship in the engineering field. For those not familiar with the process of becoming an engineer, it typically involves attending an accredited college of engineering, passing an 8 hour exam in the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE exam) the junior or senior year, graduating, and then apprenticing to a practicing Professional Engineer (PE) for a certain time (typically 4 years), and finally passing an 8-16 hour exam for licensure as a Professional Engineer. While there’s some variance from that in different states and different engineering disciplines, that middle step of being an Engineering Intern (EI) or Engineer-in-Training (EIT) is an apprenticeship and is typically an important step. This is where theory meets application, where the rubber meets the road. Formal apprenticeships aren’t as common in various fields as they used to be, but it can be a really good way to pass on knowledge and skills to successive generations. An apprenticeship to a master of a craft often distinguished a long line of masters from the average craftsmen.
What are the parallels between apprenticeship for engineers and discipleship for Christians?
- Both are intentional. They are not casual engagements lightly entered into. They have specific goals from the outset and require commitment and hard work.
- An engineering apprenticeship has a specific time frame with specific expectations at the end of that (i.e. take the PE exam and become a practicing engineer like their mentor).
- A disciple should be intensively trained for a time with the expectation that they will be a discipler like their mentor. Then at some point they have to “go into practice” on their own.
- Both are personal. They are typically one-on-one engagements or with small groups.
- A PE can’t mentor an entire class of EI’s very well. It takes commitment of time and resources. The PE should review the progress made by the EI, know them well enough to discern shortcomings and improvements, and council them accordingly, remembering that the same approach may not be applicable for every apprentice.
- Likewise, your preacher can’t disciple you and 1000 other people in 1 hour every Sunday morning. Discipleship is an individual investment. A sermon is just a block of instruction, while discipleship is more of a relationship.
- Both are long-term. Neither is a quick fix or short term process.
- For engineering interns, this is typically a 4 year process.
- For disciples, there’s no set time, but for Jesus’ disciples, it was a 3 year process.
- Both are developmental. Neither one should ever be static or stagnant. Rather, each is molding the person toward a future desired condition.
- For engineers, the EI should be taking on progressively more responsibility under the supervision of the PE, showing increased understanding of engineering concepts and a better grasp of engineering judgement, and working toward becoming a licensed PE.
- The disciple should be growing in their trust in God, knowledge of Scriptures, and discernment. They should grow to be a “workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” in the words of the apostle Paul to his apprentice Timothy.
- Both are cyclical. They form part of an ongoing lifecycle.
- With some exceptions, EI’s have to apprentice under a practicing engineer before they are eligible to sit for the PE exam. Afterwards, they will generally supervise an EI at some point in their career, thus contributing to the ongoing cycle of engineering training and the growth of the profession.
- Jesus’ last words to the original disciples were to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matt 28:19-20).” Likewise, in Paul’s final letter, written to his disciple Timothy, he tells him, “the things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will also be qualified to teach others (2 Tim 2:15).” As my friend pointed out, in this one verse, we see four generations of disciples, from Paul, to Timothy, to faithful men, to the ones they would teach.
I think we have to each look at our lives and ask ourselves who we’re following, and who we’re raising up to take our place. Are we learning from good teachers or bad? Are we even trying to learn from somebody else, or are we each trying to go our own way? Maybe it’s time to lay down our pride and seek out a good mentor/teacher/role model, and in humility learn from them. Maybe you feel like you’re not qualified to teach anyone. But just like the engineer has experience the intern hasn’t gotten yet, the intern has experience the new graduate doesn’t have. We all have something we can share with someone lower down the chain from us and lovingly give them a hand up.