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Training Up Timothy: 7 Steps of Apprenticeship

The American church today is facing a pastoral succession crisis. The vast majority of church leaders struggle to find mature emerging leaders. But what if the problem isn’t a leadership shortage but a lack of investment? The best way forward is for church leaders at every level (staff or volunteer) to begin making apprentices wherever they are.

Paul and Timothy provide a classic example of how a seasoned leader can train up a younger disciple. Specifically, this master/apprentice relationship has seven steps progression we can follow.

1. Spend TIME with the next generation.

That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord. - 1 Corinthians 4:17

Paul saw Timothy as more than a ministry asset. These two would eventually become incredibly close friends.

It can be difficult to cultivate relationships across generational divides. Yet, if we want faith to pass from one generation to the next, we need older leaders to invest in emerging leaders. You can’t invest in someone without spending time with them.

When are you spending time with people younger than yourself? If the answer is “never,” I want to encourage you to put yourself in new places where you can rub shoulders with the next generation. Don’t worry about being cool or relevant. I promise that the upcoming generation is hungry for spiritual mothers and fathers.

Where can you go that puts you around the next generation?

2. SEE emerging leaders.

He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. - Acts 16:2

According to Barna, 75% of pastors said they “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed with the statement, “It is becoming harder to find mature young Christians who want to become pastors.”

A main reason there is a shortage of ministry leaders is that we are looking for the ideal person right out of the box. We have to stop looking for perfect leaders and start seeing the potential leaders God has already given us. All Paul needed to invite Timothy along on his second missionary journey was a young Christian with a decent reputation.

Timothy had his fair share of shortcomings—his father didn’t disciple him, he lacked ministry experience, he was timid, and he had a weak stomach. But Paul wasn’t looking for perfect. He just needed someone willing to learn. Eventually, Timothy would grow into a strong spiritual leader.

Who are potential leaders that you already interact with regularly?

3. BRING them along.

Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him. - Acts 16:3

The beginning of discipleship is inviting a younger believer to “Come and see” (John 1:39). The next generation needs to see how older believers spend time in prayer and God’s Word. They need someone to bring them along to hospital visits and street evangelism. A young adult out there needs to see what godly parenting looks like. I’m willing to bet some aspiring preachers are interested in sitting down and learning how to prepare a sermon. 

As often as possible, try to embody the phrase, “Never do ministry alone.” Even Jesus did ministry with younger, inexperienced disciples. He didn’t do this because he needed the help; he did it because he wanted to reproduce kingdom workers. 

What activities can you invite someone else along to?


For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands… - 2 Timothy 1:6

One of the most powerful things you can do for a young person is tell them something you see in them. Far too often, the next generation hears negativity from their elders. Every interaction with a disciple is an opportunity to speak words of calling, encouragement, and truth over them. We must adopt the motto of the Department of Homeland Security, “If you see something, say something.”

The angel of the Lord calls Gideon a “mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12). Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter, i.e., “the rock” (John 1:42). Paul tells Timothy to use his spiritual gift. We’re not sure precisely what this spiritual gift is, but that’s not the point. The point is that Paul took the time to highlight that God has gifted Timothy for the sake of ministry.

Who do you need to encourage?

5. Challenge GROWTH.

…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. - 2 Timothy 1:7

Younger leaders are, by nature, inexperienced and unrefined. That’s okay. Even the apostles were “uneducated, common men” (Acts 4:13). This means that your disciples not only need encouragement but also need challenge. It’s your job to help them identify blind spots and grow beyond their current capacity.

Paul calls out Timothy’s “spirit of fear.” I’m sure it stung when Paul highlighted Timothy’s shortcomings. But the pain of growth pales compared to leadership deficiencies left unchecked. Realize that hard lessons now will save your disciple from pitfalls down the road. Often, the most loving thing we can do for a younger leader is to help them grow.

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. - Proverbs 27:1-2

What is a challenging conversation you need to have?

6. Provide opportunities to PRACTICE.

Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. - 1 Timothy 4:15

At some point, discipleship necessarily moves from theory to practice. All ministry leaders must get their hands dirty. No one wants to hire an electrician who has only read books about wiring a house. Active learning is an essential part of apprenticeship.

Pastor Dave Ferguson popularized a five-step apprenticeship model that goes like this:

I do. You watch. We talk. I do. You help. We talk. You do. I help. We talk. You do. I watch. We talk. You do. Someone else watches. We talk.

Notice the pivotal switch from learning through watching to learning through doing. Along each part of the process is an added task of “we talk.” It’s important to debrief with your apprentice to ensure they are not just watching or doing tasks. The goal is to get them to the point where they can apprentice someone else.

What tasks could you turn into training opportunities?

7. Let them LEAD.

This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. - 1 Timothy 1:18-19

Paul entrusted Timothy to lead the church in Ephesus. He would have preached regularly, handled church conflict, appointed new elders, and more. It was a challenging ministry context. Yet Paul was confident in the years of training he had invested in Timothy and in Timothy as a leader. This assignment was Timothy’s deployment into war.

Discipleship always has an endpoint. The goal is not to create personal followers who are dependent on us for their spiritual growth but to make disciples who make disciples of their own. The exact timeline might look different for each person, but we must let the next generation lead. 

“The real secret for the Church will be learning that their mission is not simply to shape Gen Z, but also to be shaped by them.” - Tyler Huckabee, Relevant

Who do you know that is ready to lead today?


Which of these seven steps do you typically get stuck on? Which one did you find the most helpful? I’d love to know in the comments below!

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