Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Is Apprenticeship the Ideal Form of Leadership Development for Movement Leaders?

Written by: on October 21, 2019

Leadership is a complex endeavor.  With myriad definitions and various forms of practice, it’s a concept that conjures over 5.5 billion references on Google.  Many of the books written on the topic help the individual identify what kind of leader she is, offer input into how she can overcome leadership obstacles, or advise on the necessary strategies she can employ in order to generate organizational health and steadily increase her bottom lines. As of today, a brief overview of the New York Times Bestsellers list for books on leadership reveals a set of resources designed for leaders who are struggling with the following two questions:

  1. What does it mean to lead?
  2. What does it take to shape better leaders?

Enter the Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice: A Harvard Business School Centennial Colloquim, in which editors Nohria Nitin and Rakesh Khurana have woven together a series of articles written by thought leaders who span the spectrums of business and academic practice. The purpose of the book? To answer the second aforementioned question. Within it’s opening pages, Nohria and Khurana surface the theme that runs throughout the entire text: “Do we really understand what it takes to make better leaders?” (3) In the five-sectioned book that follows, the authors give voice to the wonderings that leaders have with regard to the impact of, the theory behind, the variability of, the practice of, and the development of leaders. With humility, the authors explore the many dualities that leaders must navigate within a globalizing world.  They are especially concerned with how leaders both lead and raise up leaders within contexts where rapid, discontinuous change adjusts the playing field, sometimes on a daily basis.

Chapter nineteen explores a concept of leadership that I am especially concerned about: leading change. In this chapter, the author, Marshall Ganz, writes about the power of social movements to change the systems that oppress communities of underprivileged peoples. Informed by his experience within the United Farm Workers uprising where he participated within the leadership nucleus of the movement, Ganz offers commentary into the world-changing impact of social movements and highlights the unique forms of leadership required in order to catalyze and maintain change.

Repeatedly throughout his chapter, Ganz differentiates the leadership of social movements from that of other sectors.  He writes:

Because social movements are dynamic, participatory, and organized primarily to celebrate collective identity and assert public voice, their structure of participation, decision making and accountability are more like those of other civic associations that celebrate collective identity (churches, for example) or assert public voice (advocacy groups) than of those that produce goods or services. (528)

In so saying, Ganz demonstrates his belief that social movements are built, not on economic or political coercion, but on moral suasion (528) and maintained by its “members rather than its employees.” (529)  Thus, the absence of positional authority combined with the complexities of diverse world views, distinct social locations, and varying emotions make for a unique challenge for social change leaders.  While grass-roots movements have played a central role in most political, social, religious, and economic uprisings throughout time, many seeds of social change have never taken root due to the fact that they are “voluntary, decentralized, and self-governing; they are volatile, dynamic, and interactive….” (561)  The conclusion? Social change is hard to accomplish because it is difficult to lead.

As I read, I couldn’t help but reflect on the challenges that my team has faced over this past decade in harnessing progressive Christianity’s energy and emotion about injustice and channeling it toward constructive change. Momentum initially generated by their dissatisfaction with nationalism expressed in the forms of militarism, exclusion, incarceration, and capitalism is quickly negated by the five action barriers Ganz identifies as inertia, apathy, fear, isolation, and self-doubt. (535)

The pattern is predictable: yet another political or denominational decision rolls out that is advantageous for the few and that comes at the expense of those already marginalized.   This is followed by a social media uprising (we call this “flash-pan activism”) and an onslaught of anguished emails to our organization, demanding that we help them respond appropriately.  Like clockwork, within three days and a progressive sounding social media post or two, their anguish is vented and all things enter seamlessly into the new reality that, three days previous had caused the outrage.

The five barriers to action that Ganz suggests are real and they seem to be lulling us to sleep. In turn, our impacted relatives are giving up hope that we are viable allies while the watching world grows more and more indifferent to the God whom we claim loves so holistically.  Ganz spoke directly into my frustration by offering insight into the kind of leadership necessary to shift barriers to catalysts and, ultimately, to activate dominant culture Christians into the restorative revolution.

  1. Our collective inertia (habitual routines) requires movement leaders who generate a sense of urgency and accountability.
  2. Our collective apathy (habitual indifference) requires movement leaders who demonstrate and invite thoughtful, righteous indignation (not rage) at injustice.
  3. Our collective fear requires movement leaders who, rather than seeking to alleviate it, invite us to move through it fueled by a hope for the change we seek.
  4. Our isolation requires movement leaders who generate a culture of interconnectedness where we discover and then embrace the facts that we need and are needed by one another.
  5. Our collective self-doubt requires movement leaders who identify, invite, train, mobilize, and provide accountability to leaders and then celebrate the small victories. (536-37).

Returning now to the original question that Nohria and Khurana ask and seek to answer: How do we develop these kinds of leaders?  More powerful than his instructive reflections throughout the chapter is the example he offers of his own experience with Caesar Chavez.  While leadership development programs can and must be generated in order to enhance the skill sets of social change leaders, the best example that he offers and that, I argue, must be recaptured, is that of the apprenticeship. Rather than thinking, theorizing, or even workshopping individuals into the action of social change leadership, we must, instead, choose to live them into the movement.

About the Author

Jer Swigart

17 responses to “Is Apprenticeship the Ideal Form of Leadership Development for Movement Leaders?”

  1. Dylan Branson says:

    Earlier this year, I read a book called To Change the World by James Davison Hunter (you may find it interesting if you haven’t read it). You touched on the role of grassroots movements and Hunter hits on what you said about these movements rarely taking root because they are so decentralized.

    Hunter observes in one section that “cultures change from the top down, rarely if ever from the bottom up.” He writes, “Yet the deepest and most enduring forms of cultural change nearly always occurs from the ‘top down.’ In other words, the work of world-making and world-changing are, by and large, the work of elites: gatekeepers who provide creative direction and management within spheres of social life” (p. 41). He goes on to argue that while grass-roots movements can be a catalyst to cultural change, if it ultimately doesn’t sway those who are connected to centralized power, cultural change is unlikely to happen. Rather, he observes that change is often initiated by elites who are outside of the centermost positions of prestige (p. 41).

    I agree that recapturing apprenticeship could be a major step in building leaders who can initiate social change. One inherent part of apprenticeship is that you take on the social capital of the one you apprentice under, thus giving yourself more credibility. We can see this in Acts 22 when Paul speaks to the crowd in Jerusalem that he trained under Gamaliel.

    • Jer Swigart says:

      I haven’t read To Change the World but will certainly take a look. Thanks for the recommendation for offering one the the nuggets that Davison Hunter explores.

      Yet, the quote that you offer seems to diminish the potency of social change that actually, and often, does begin in the grassroots and makes its way up. Based on the one quote rather than a deeper dive into his holistic argument, I’d have to disagree with his sentiment. History seems to indicate that social change toward justice is rarely, if ever, in the interest of the power-brokers and elites. Thus, why would they work to bring about change to broken systems that are benefiting them? My research and experience so far indicates the opposite of what Davison Hunter asserts: real change is almost always initiated by the impacted communities.

      Where I agree with the quote is that grassroots change requires a razor-sharp strategy to reach grasstops leaders if systemic change is even possible. Too often, social change momentum is stymied by the lack of strategy and access to the power brokers.

      Love your idea that a benefit of apprenticeship is the acquisition of the social capital of the leader. The value of carrying the trust and mantel of the leader into the future within a pre-existing web of relationships is critical in order for the movements for change to endure and, ultimately, to bring about the future that was dreamed of.

  2. Darcy Hansen says:


    Your grassroots work has morphed into an international movement. While you mention challenges faced in your context of the 3 day outrage, what successes have you experienced because of steadfast leadership? I have to think that of the 5 strategies you listed, your organization is doing some of them well? If so, which ones? And which ones do you still need to grow in? What would it look like organizationally to “live them (apprentices) into the movement”?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      Thanks for asking these Q’s, Darcy. It’s been helpful to reflect back on what’s worked…and hasn’t. While I sense we’re constantly in the experiment-forward stage, there are a few things we’re learning.

      Our target audience are dominant culture faith leaders who are rooted in evangelicalism, are waking up to the injustice around them, and are discovering that the theology that they have inherited has and is perpetuating the pain rather than contributing to the reconciliation of all things.

      As they find themselves in the starting blocks of deconstruction, many experience isolation for the first time. That is, they are asking questions about theology, faith, and leadership that are threatening to the establishment. Quickly these leaders, who have previously been understood as the “hope of the future” are suddenly deemed, a “problem to be solved.” It’s a lonely place for these leaders to find themselves within. I think we’ve been successful in finding them in their beginnings of deconstruction, inviting them into a community of theological (re)formation, peacemaking practice, and meaning-making. In so doing, we’re addressing the theme of isolation while also, because of our formation-through- practice approach, we’re confronting the barrier of inertia that so frequently causes leaders who are deconstructing to either return to the rigid theologies and broken systems which they knew or to abandon the faith and their leadership/pastoral calling altogether.

      In short, our data suggests that our immersive approach to forming leaders for the restorative revolution is, without knowing it, confronting the five barriers that Ganz lays out. Now that I have his language, I’m actively auditing our method to discover our deficiencies.

      • Darcy Hansen says:

        I so love when new language unlocks the ability to communicate key perspectives in fresh ways!

        • Jer Swigart says:

          I love that too. And, while I love to read, I wish there was an easier way to gain access to the most relevant content to a leadership dilemma. In this case, we’ve been struggling to name, with the same clarity, the barriers to action that Ganz identified in his article. It makes me wish I’d have read this piece five years ago. Alas…we continue to slowly sift through excellent literature in search of the new language that unlocks our leadership potential.

  3. Shawn Cramer says:

    Jer, I’m on the edge of my seat seeing your work take focus. I’m sure the concept of apprenticeship for you transcends this particular post, and I wanted to pause and affirm that direction you’re going. Where many organizations are trying to multiply at scale, most have settled for training as opposed to apprenticeship.

    I also appreciate the five barriers you extracted: inertia, apathy, fear, isolation, and self-doubt. In response to your post, I was looking at Wikipedia’s page on “Slactivism” and was pleasantly surprised on the depth of that page: the arguments for exposure, the critique, more than 50 references and some helpful suggestions for further reading. Are Ganz’s 5 solutions something your organization is addressing explicitly and consciously?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      Thanks Shawn.

      As you imagined, apprenticeship, for me and for my team’s work, does transcend the ideas in this article. We’re tried our had and various forms of “training” and, while nominally successful, the restorative revolution of which we’re all apart, demands that its leaders are formed holistically. We no longer believe that leaders are shaped by trafficking ideas at them and offering them “tools.” The existential question that is on the forefront of every dominant culture leader that we’re working with is: “Who must I become?” From our perspective, it’s a better question than “What must I do?” for becoming always informs doing.

      As we continue to shape the leaders who are waking up to the cramped theological ceilings, the shackled gospels, and the limited leadership tool chests that they’ve been given, we’re discovering that the ancient approaches to apprenticeship are likely they inconvenient, costly, and very necessary way forward.

      • Shawn Cramer says:

        Those are great questions you pose. Based on my personal reading for the week, I might suggest Alasdair MacIntyre’s question as well from “After Virtue,” “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’” Our being stems from our story-ing.

        • Jer Swigart says:

          I dig it. The question “What’s mine to do?” may be the essential question for leaders as we seek to focus our attention and energy proactively and in line with a mission rather than reactively and in line with others’ urgency.

  4. Greg Reich says:

    Jer as usual your posts give me great food for thought! I too enjoyed the view into social movements and had to asked myself what makes some of them as powerful as they are and others not so much. My thoughts boiled down to this, many social movements are founded on a specific set of beliefs that drive and unite the members. There is a common goal and objective. The purpose and mission go beyond the members and toward the disenfranchised. People get behind what they believe in. Could it be that Jesus was ahead of his time with his style of leadership? 3 years of living, crying and teaching a motley crew of “apprentices” while forging a single mind set along with a set of convictions has set the world on end over the centuries.

    • Jer Swigart says:

      Hey Greg. Good thoughts here. Thanks for posting them.

      As I consider your reflections on social movements and what makes them powerful, I agree that deep-seated belief that unifies the constituency around a common goal is critical. However, the same could be said of any successful venture, whether it be a classroom of 6th graders, a family, or a business.

      I wonder if an ingredient to successful social movements that Ganz didn’t address is this: people are willing to die in order to usher in the change. That level of costliness and commitment is of an altogether other substance and, from my view, is the necessary ingredient to see social change actually happen. And…it’s a commitment that is modeled and a cost that is all-too-often demanded of the leaders of the movement.

  5. Steve Wingate says:

    I had to test it this morning… “About 4,060,000,000 results (0.85 seconds).” Wow!

    As Christian’s who are called to lead (that’s my bent on things) by various ways: serving, encouraging, speaking, being hospitable… I wonder if we are called to transform culture or find what is best about a culture and help develop those elements as leaders. As a pastor, I am typically drawn to the latter. What is often seen needs to be appreciated and then it appears that a complete transformation happens- which is really left to a mutual relationship between Jesus Christ and people.

    • Jer Swigart says:


      I like it. From my view, you seem to offer the “salt of the world” approach to leadership in that our work is to enhance whatever images the Kingdom of God on the earth. While I appreciate that, it does make me wonder how, within the description of leadership you offer, we as leaders are to interact with the things that do not reflect the Kingdom of God…namely injustice. My view is that we point to the mustard seeds of Kingdom and nurture them AND point out what is incongruent and, in the way of Jesus, give our lives to see those broken things made new.

      Your thoughts?

  6. John McLarty says:

    A few years into my church plant, we were having a training event for various team leaders. I turned over some of the teaching to some of my staff and more senior leadership. Without much, if any, direct coaching from me, they started talking about the vision and values of our church and they almost sounded like me! They had their own interpretations, but the underlying message was the same. It was my first real assurance that the kind of church we were trying to build had a chance of lasting beyond my time there as pastor. (Which it has.) Our organizations and causes constantly need to develop the next leaders who will carry the work forward and help prepare them for the reality that we always struggle against the five barriers.

    • Jer Swigart says:


      I think you’re spot on. We have to demonstrate the kind of leadership that results in our being unnecessary/replaceable. In light of my article concluding with the power of apprenticeship, is that word that you would have used to describe your leadership style with your team? If there are 2-3 key decisions/leadership practices that you were intentional about that resulted in the outcome your articulate above, what were they? And…last question…I promise…is the same kind of leadership that you exhibited within a church plant expected/necessary in your current mainline church?

  7. John McLarty says:

    I don’t think I thought of it “apprenticeship” at the time, probably because of how young I was. But we were definitely trying to be intentional with some key elements related to our church plant’s culture. When the moments came up where a decision was directly related to culture, we always talked about it with staff and leadership, and often with the larger congregation. My circumstances have changed now that I’m in a much more established congregation, so I’ve adapted some of my style as I’ve learned the culture here. But at the end of the day, intentionality about the why (before the who, what, when, where, and how) of a decision and a focus on relationships seem to be constants when it comes to effective leadership.

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