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How to Identify and Develop Your Apprentice

A resource for small group leaders

The concept of apprenticeship is so integral to the philosophy and strategy of North Point that it shows up in both our Seven Core Values and the Groups division's Six Leader Essentials.

Core Value #7

Intentional Apprenticing

We are responsible to pass along to others
the knowledge, skills, and opportunities
that have been entrusted to us.


Leader Essential #4

Replace Yourself

How you intentionally apprentice.

As a group leader, you have no doubt heard about the importance of investing in an apprentice. But you may find yourself wondering, "How, exactly, am I supposed to develop my apprentice?" Or even, "How do I find an apprentice in the first place?" We have created this resource to help you understand:

  • Why apprenticing is such a crucial part of our model;
  • What we mean by apprenticing;
  • How to identify your apprentice; and
  • How to develop your apprentice.

Why do we apprentice?

As a church, we value intentional apprenticing for several reasons. We believe that apprenticing is a biblical model of developing the next generation of leaders, and it supports our ministry strategy, both philosophically and organizationally.

It's Biblical

Throughout the Bible we see examples of leaders apprenticing those who would follow in their footsteps. Moses apprenticed Joshua. Elijah apprenticed Elisha. Paul apprenticed Timothy. In fact, one of the most frequently cited scriptures on the subjects of apprenticing and discipleship comes from Paul's second letter to Timothy:

"And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." - 2 Timothy 2:2

Perhaps the clearest example of apprenticing is that of Jesus and the twelve disciples (the word "disciple" literally means learner/follower). Jesus never did ministry alone. His disciples were always with him, watching, learning, and listening; he involved them in everything he did. He saw beyond his three years of public ministry and knew that success was not merely doing ministry. Success was handing off the ministry and the responsibility for it to the group coming behind him.

It's Strategic

If you have been around North Point for any length of time, there are two statements you've heard over and over:

  • Our mission is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • We believe that life change happens best in the context of small groups.

If we are to stay true to our mission and follow through with our strategy, then we must create space for more people to experience authentic community and spiritual growth. But the reality is that the biggest limitation to group multiplication is a shortage of qualified group leaders. As of December 2006, there were 1300 group leaders leading 8000 people at Browns Bridge, Buckhead Church and North Point, collectively. If in the next five years we see the same growth that we've seen in the last five years, we'll need 2800 group leaders. Where will we find those additional 1500 leaders?

The answer is that we have already found them—they are sitting in our groups as members, waiting to be developed into group leaders. And the best way we've found to transform a group member into a group leader is through apprenticing.

It's Practical

Apprenticing is our churchwide leader development model. Whether you look at the Production team, UpStreet, the Host team, or the Care ministry, you'll see apprenticing at work. Practically speaking, it's the only effective way to equip leaders in a large-scale, relational, volunteer-driven organization. The beauty of this approach is that we're not limited by the number of experts we have. Andy Stanley puts it this way:

Apprenticing isn't contingent upon you being an expert at something; it's not contingent upon you knowing enough. It's not contingent upon you knowing all there is to know, and it's not contingent upon you knowing more than everyone else about a particular area. Intentional apprenticing is simply being willing to tell somebody what you do know. "I don't know much, but I'll tell you everything I know. And what I don't know, you'll have to find out from somebody else."1

There's another key benefit to this approach. Not only does apprenticing develop the apprentice, it also grows the leader who apprentices. There's nothing like being asked to teach someone everything you know to make you take stock of just what it is that you know. The process gives you incentive to organize your knowledge and put it down on paper, which forces you to solidify it in your mind. As you begin to entrust responsibility to your apprentices and they bring their knowledge, talent, and experience to bear upon what you've shared with them, they will find new and better ways to lead, giving you the opportunity to learn from them and expand your own knowledge and skills. That's what we call a win-win situation.

What is an apprentice?

Simply put, an apprentice is someone who works with another in order to learn. In the context of small groups, an apprentice is a leader-in-training, and apprenticing is the practice of involving people in ministry for the purpose of training them to take your place. Since the role of the apprentice is derived from the role of the group leader, we must ask the question, "What is a group leader?" First, let's dispel some misconceptions that are commonly held by potential apprentices (and more than a few group leaders), and then we'll briefly look at what a group leader is supposed to be.

  • A group leader is NOT a scholar/expert — While many group leaders may have strong backgrounds in biblical knowledge or ministry experience, this is by no means a requirement of the position. And since a know-it-all leader can hamper the group's growth, leaders who have the most knowledge or experience may have to take extra care not to play the role of the scholar/expert.
  • A group leader is NOT a teacher or a counselor — Some leaders may have sought the group leader position because they enjoy teaching and/or imparting their wisdom to others, and thought that small groups provided the best opportunity to do so. Since groups are not a teacher-driven environment, but rather an environment where a facilitator encourages all members to participate in discussion, even those who are gifted teachers may find that they have to subjugate a God-given desire to teach others for the good of the group.
  • A group leader IS a shepherd — The best group leaders are the ones who understand where the group is supposed to go, guide and care for the group members, and monitor and protect the health of the group.
  • A group leader IS an investor in people — Groups are about doing life together; a good group leader is someone who is intentional about building relationships and creating environments where group members experience authentic community and spiritual growth.

With those parameters in mind, we can better understand the role of an apprentice.

  • An apprentice is not someone who has it all together.
  • An apprentice is not merely an assistant to the group leader.

  • An apprentice is someone who has caught the vision of what groups are all about.
  • An apprentice is a leader/shepherd-in-training.

The Apprenticeship Process

For the group leader, the apprenticeship process lasts the entire life cycle of the group. Practically speaking, we divide this process into three phases: observation, preparation, and multiplication. These phases and key steps within each phase are identified below. Keep in mind, however, that many of the tactics and strategies are critical elements of good group leadership and shouldn't be limited to a specific phase. For example, modeling receives special focus in the preparation phase, but you should be intentional about modeling good group leadership throughout the life of your group.

Phase 1: Observation

During the observation phase, which corresponds roughly with the first third of the group's life cycle, much of your focus will be on creating an environment where your group members experience authentic community. But you will also want to be intentional about observing your group members with an eye for identifying your apprentice.

How do I identify my apprentice?

In looking for a potential apprentice, it is important to remember that you are not looking for someone who can lead a group tomorrow. You are looking for a teachable group member who has the potential to be a great group leader in the future. We have identified four C's that will assist you in prayerfully considering who in your group may be a good apprentice leader. Our four C's are detailed below:


  • First and foremost, it is important to determine if your potential apprentice has established a personal relationship with Christ. Can your potential apprentice point to a time when he or she established a relationship with Christ, and has he or she been growing in a relationship with Christ for over two years?
  • Recognizing that character is what makes a leader worth following, is your potential apprentice someone worth following?
  • Are you comfortable with your potential apprentice's moral authority to model for other group members what it looks like to be in a growing relationship with Christ?


  • Is your potential apprentice someone who is teachable and able to learn the skills necessary to create a predictable environment where authentic community and spiritual growth can occur?
  • Does your potential apprentice have the relational skills to effectively lead a group at some point in the future?
  • Have you seen your potential apprentice display leadership skills (i.e., facilitating group discussions, planning socials, providing care, etc.) in your group?


  • Is your potential apprentice a member of our church, or will he or she agree to pursue membership?
  • Does your potential apprentice recognize the leader's role as a facilitator, not a teacher or counselor?
  • Is your potential apprentice committed to the mission and strategy of our church?


  • Have you been able to connect relationally with your potential apprentice?
  • Have you seen your potential apprentice connect with the other members of your group?
  • Are you comfortable with your potential apprentice's ability to relate to others?

If you answered "No" to any of the above questions, we suggest considering other group members or discussing your concerns with your Groups Director.

How do I develop my apprentice?

Once you have identified your apprentices, consider some "best practices" that can help you develop them effectively. If apprenticing is a key element of our multiplication and leader development models, then it follows that we should take a strategic approach to apprentice development. Specifically, we will look at four practices:

  • Recruiting
  • Modeling
  • Involving
  • Connecting

We acknowledge that no two apprenticeships will look exactly the same because of the uniqueness of the personalities involved. There is no magic formula for developing your apprentice, and naturally you will want to tailor your approach to fit your personality and that of your apprentice, but the tips and strategies that follow can guide you through the process.

Phase 2: Preparation

Most of the development your apprentice will receive during the group life cycle will happen during the preparation phase. While you should be modeling group leadership and involving others in the group throughout the group's life, during the preparation phase you will shift your focus to specifically involving your apprentice and intentionally modeling specific attitudes and skills This shift in focus begins with recruiting your apprentice.


How is recruiting part of development? Doesn't the development process begin after you have identified and recruited your apprentice? On the contrary, how you recruit your apprentice sets the tone for the rest of the development period.

Why did Matthew follow Jesus? Because Jesus invited him. Jesus didn't ask for volunteers to be his disciples—he picked them. He made a general call for people to believe in and follow him, but he handpicked his successors.

The act of inviting people to leadership—if done well—can communicate that they are valued and respected, a message that creates a solid foundation for their development. Consider the following invitations to leadership:

"The Groups Director at North Point said I needed to have an apprentice, so I put your name down. You'd be kind of like the assistant group leader. Whaddya think?"


"We've talked about this group multiplying into two new groups next spring. As I think about that, I can really see you leading one of those groups; you really 'get' what groups are about, and I think you bring a lot to the table. So I'd like you to consider being the apprentice leader for the duration of this group, to prepare you to lead your next group."

The invitation is also your first big opportunity to cast vision for what apprenticing and group leadership are all about. Share the passion you have for your role and why you do what you do. Share with them why you think their gifts are well suited to the role. Most potential apprentices are going to have some reservations about becoming group leaders; chances are they don't feel qualified to lead a group. Your invitation is an opportunity to address their concerns, while also building them up, and it also provides a natural segue into communicating the expectations for both group leaders and apprentices.

To a large degree, their understanding of what group leaders are supposed to be is governed by what they see you doing. If the two of you are gifted in different ways, and they don't feel like they would be good at the things they see you do well, they may not think they're well suited for group leadership. This gives you a great opportunity to discuss what a group leader is and is not. Once they understand the role, they may still be a little bit overwhelmed, but at least they will know what is expected of them.

Now, if you have taken this strategic view of recruitment, you will have begun the development process by:

  • Affirming their value and leadership skills;
  • Casting vision for both the group leader and apprentice roles; and
  • Communicating what is expected of them as apprentices.

And if they have accepted your invitation to leadership, they will be ready to embrace the rest of the development process.


The apprentice's understanding of what group leadership is all about is based largely on what the apprentice sees the leader doing. This dynamic can be leveraged to build your apprentice's group leadership skills if you are strategic and intentional about the way you lead. There are two critical elements to strategic modeling: demonstration and explanation.

Demonstration is fairly straightforward; it's simply showing them how to lead by watching you. Everything you do as a group leader—the way you lead discussions, how you demonstrate authenticity, how often you interact with group members outside the group meeting—communicates a lesson about group leadership. The key to effective demonstration is to think through what lesson you want to communicate and act accordingly. For example, it may be your natural tendency to allow the discussion time to run long; but since you want to demonstrate the value of adhering to the guidelines in the Covenant, you make a conscious effort to wrap up the discussion at 8:45, even though there are four discussion questions you didn't get to ask.

Explanation involves directly communicating with your apprentice about the principle that you are modeling. For example, if you want to model a sensitive response to tough questions, you may want to say to your apprentice, "Tomorrow night's discussion is probably going to provoke some emotional response from Kelly, since she recently lost her stepmom who wasn't a Christian. I'd like you to listen to how I respond to her comments and questions, and you and I can talk later about why I responded like I did." This helps the apprentice pay particular attention not only to what you do, but also to your method or approach, and it allows you to focus attention on the specific skill or principle that you are modeling. And by making it a priority to talk about what was or will be modeled, you create opportunities for the apprentice to ask questions or provide feedback.

In order to put the demonstration/explanation strategy into practice, you'll need to know what it is you want to model. One way to do this is to periodically spend some time focusing on self-assessment. Ask yourself what you have learned about group leadership that would be helpful to your apprentice and how you might model that. Some group leadership practices you may want to model are:

  • Facilitating discussion — in particular, how to listen more than you talk; how to engage the introverts or rein in the dominant personalities.
  • Investing in group members — spend extra relational time with your apprentices and pray both with them and for them.
  • Choosing an apprentice — ask them whom in the group they would ask to apprentice.


Simply modeling—even intentional, strategic modeling—is not enough to prepare your apprentices for group leadership. In order to build both their competence and their confidence, they will need to practice leading a group. They will need opportunities to put into practice what they have learned through your modeling. And the best way to prepare them is to actively involve them in the leadership of your group. Here are some time-tested tips for involving your apprentices:

  • Start small — The life cycles of most groups provide numerous opportunities for your apprentices to take on leadership responsibilities. You can start by asking them to take the lead of a specific area or project, such as: planning a social, leading a discussion, or leading the men or women through their gender's prayer time.
  • Build up — As they show they're ready, invite them to play an increased role in leading the group. You might give them the chance to run the entire group meeting instead of just one part. Present them with the opportunity to direct the group through a key discussion or transition, such as reviewing the group Covenant, selecting the next curriculum, or discussing next steps toward group multiplication. Involve them in major decisions or conflict resolution, as appropriate.
  • Provide and invite feedback — As they take on responsibility, give them feedback on how they're doing (make sure that you give them more affirmation that criticism). Just as important, invite them to give you feedback. Ask them how you did; what went well, and how you could have done it better.
  • Encourage training — Make sure your apprentices are invited to training events and encourage them to attend with you. Encourage them to attend a CGLO. Ask them to join you at the next S2. Not only will this provide them with practical training and a vision for group leadership, but it will also reassure them that the church is committed to supporting them with training and development.

For many group leaders, involving their apprentices is the most challenging part of the apprenticing process, because they feel a tremendous sense of ownership of and responsibility for their groups, and they are hesitant to entrust that responsibility to someone else. The key is to remember that success is not just a job well done or more people under your care; success is another competent leader who is ready to take your place.

Phase 3: Multiplication

The final phase of the apprenticeship process is the multiplication phase. The last third of the group life cycle is a significant time in the life of your group because successful multiplication requires some advanced planning and intentionality. It's particularly significant for your apprentices because that's the time when the idea of leading their next group begins to solidify in their minds. Since planning for multiplication means planning for two or more future groups, your apprentices will need to be on board and intimately involved with that planning. But before we get too far down that road, there is one more critical step that needs to happen in the apprenticeship process.


Recruitment, modeling, and involvement are critical elements of the apprenticing process, regardless of the context. Because the group leader is a key position, connecting the apprentice with church staff is crucial to the apprentice's preparation for group leadership. As soon as you have recruited your apprentice (which would ideally happen by the end of the first third of your group's life cycle), notify your Groups Director so the apprentice can be invited to S2's and training events.

The Groups Director is responsible for guiding your apprentices through the application process, and you can help ensure a smooth transition by introducing them to each other. There are several hurdles to cross in approving a group leader, including:

  • Confirming that the apprentice is a member of the church;
  • Completing a group leader application;
  • Interviewing the prospective group leader; and
  • Approving the applicant.

Since some of these steps can take extensive time, the earlier you can connect the apprentice with the director, the better. Toward the end of the second third of your group's life cycle, invite your apprentice to the one-on-one appointment with your director, or make the introduction at a training event.

Finally, as your group moves into the final third of its life and your multiplication date approaches, follow up with both your director and your apprentice. Confirm that he is taking the necessary steps to move the apprentice toward group leadership, and ask if there's any way you can help.

By making a commitment to identifying and developing an apprentice—in effect, replacing yourself—you are playing a significant part in raising up the next generation of leaders and ensuring that there will always be a place for those who want to connect in a community.

1 Andy Stanley, from the sermon "Intentional Apprenticing" in the Simply Irresistible series, North Point Community Church, 2004.