“The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” II Timothy 2:2
Every culture has a vested interest in transferring knowledge from one generation to the next as part of the essential process of preserving its own uniqueness. This passing of the torch often involves the retention of certain skills and expertise that acquire considerable time and effort to acquire. For this reason, the concept of apprenticeship was widely practiced for centuries in certain trades and crafts to ensure the continuity of valuable services, goods, information and techniques. Much of this transference of knowledge occurred within a semi-indentured form of relationship from an acknowledged master to a novice. But over the last century, these former feudalistic and austere tendencies of ancient apprenticeship practices have largely given way to a modern system of employment that allows for much more individual freedom. Despite this shift, Japan still retains a certain element of apprenticeship that is more obvious in certain vocations.
This proclivity in Japan towards acquiring a particular skill through a rigorous, time demanding and low paying training program was brought to our attention a few years ago by a long-time friend. Trained in the field of medicine, this individual was seeking a complete change in life and had settled upon making customized surfboards for a living. When we inquired about the process, we learned that our friend would receive a very minimal salary and was expected to devote long hours for several years with hardly any days off for the privilege of mastering this modern craft. This apprenticeship-like arrangement for mastering a particular skill was very similar to what we had heard about master sword makers, professional sushi chefs, tea ceremony teachers, kabuki actors, trained calligraphers and other areas where one desires to become an expert in certain arts and crafts.
For example, if someone wants to become a recognized sushi chef in a high-end restaurant, they usually must start at the bottom washing dishes. Then, after a period of time, they may be entrusted with the correct preparation of the rice and eventually, they begin their more formal apprenticeship training using knives. The whole process may require up to a decade under strictly guided tutelage. Upon completion of their contractual service, these former apprentices are recognized as fully trained professionals and are qualified to start their own business or seek employment elsewhere.
The concept of biblical discipleship in many aspects mirrors the idea of apprenticeship in its objectives, but certainly not in many of its methods. The goal is to train others in godliness, faithfulness and truth and Jesus provided a pattern of a newer and improved model of discipleship that was built on love. A disciple, called a deshi (弟子) in Japanese, is generally an individual who is committed to certain goals. To achieve their objectives, they follow someone wiser and more experienced who is commonly referred to as a sensei (先生), or teacher in Japanese. This was similar to the strategy Paul laid out to his own disciple, Timothy, who was exhorted to implement the same patterns with other like-minded and reliable God followers who would, hopefully, influence others. (II Timothy 2:2) Heavenly and eternal objectives should spur us to apprentice ourselves to others more mature than ourselves, who can assist us in our spiritual journey. Assuming that we are good pupils, we should also aspire to become good teachers. In the way of the Cross, the deshi becomes the sensei, all by the grace of God.