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You're hired!

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"Do you know anywhere in London that sells fillet steak?" It's the month after Easter so The Apprentice is back on BBC TV. It never fails to amaze me how lacking in common sense, or any sense at all really, some of these entrepreneurs are. Last week the task was to find as cheaply as possible ten items chosen by Lord Sugar to kit out the Savoy Hotel. Yes, one of the businessmen, the pick of Britain's finest, really did ask his team where he could buy fillet steak. (Er, try a butcher's shop?) We've already seen in the fruit n veg task the woman who could not tell the difference between a grapefruit and an orange, and then there was the search for a top hat that took this week's losing team into the shop marked "Top Hat Dry Cleaners". It makes you proud to be British knowing our country's industrial future rests with such intelligent minds...

But you've got to hand it to them. They certainly know how to talk the talk. Last year we had Stuart ‘The Brand' Baggs: "I'm not a one trick pony. I'm not a ten-trick pony. I'm a whole field of ponies and they're all running towards this job." Or Melody this year: "Don't tell me the sky's the limit when there are footprints on the moon!" The trick is, and I speak as someone who is a whole field of ponies here, when you get into the boardroom and face Sir Alan Sugar, keep your mouth shut. Time and time again, people talk themselves into being fired. Silence is golden.

The month after Easter for Christians means another thing too: the Apprentice Disciples facing the risen Jesus and being given their new tasks. The tasks are allocated, one by one, and on this bright side of Easter there is plenty of opportunity for the apprentice disciples to show their true colours and get out there and do something. If only they would just stop talking and get on with it. Nowhere is this better seen than with Peter the Rock. Here is a man who really can talk the talk - the same Peter who had said to Jesus the day before his death "I will never deny you. Trust me - I will always be here, speaking up for you." That's Peter for you - not a one-trick pony, a whole field of ponies, and he's ready for anything (except he wasn't, as it turned out). But this is no ordinary boardroom and this is no ordinary business model. The Master has no time or desire to do any firing. Instead, Peter is summoned back after another fishing session - and believe me, it's just as well it wasn't a fishing competition against a girl's team because the girls would have won hands down - and faces Jesus.

Jesus has a task for him. Feed my sheep. Go on out there, stop talking, just do it, Peter! But you get the impression from John's gospel that Peter just cannot stop talking. "You know Jesus that I love you, so - and let me finish, Jesus, and let me tell you -" "Oh Peter just be quiet. Go and feed my sheep." "Yes, Jesus but let me say something first..." E M Forster in A Passage to India makes a comment about "poor, talkative Christianity". Talkative Christianity is summed up by Peter, even now when you would think he had learned his lesson. But it's not talkative Christianity that is Peter's task. Or ours. No, Peter. Go and feed my sheep.

We are all apprentices in these tasks. And like those facing Alan Sugar we do not have a lot going for ourselves. Take the task of the church sale. "Right, gentlemen and ladies, you will be split into two teams and your task is to price up the items for sale and make as much money for the church as possible!" I have seen arguments so fierce about the pricing and sale of items in church sales that it makes the boardroom in The Apprentice look like a silent Quaker retreat in comparison. I've seen hard-headed businessmen as elders look at award-winning sponge cakes the size of Kent for sale and stick a price ticket of 20p when its cost the woman who made it one week, half of the Wirral's gas supply and two shelves of Tesco home backing. I've seen hand-crocheted quilts, four years of a lady's life, sold for £1 and the quilt-maker with bleeding worn-out fingers stretchered out in shock. As apprentice disciples, we can talk the talk, but pricing up a Victoria sponge can be beyond the best of us. As the apostle Paul would have said had he been alive to be guest of honour at the Perthshire Show, you may have all the knowledge in the world and speak in tongues but if you have not priced Mrs Macbeth's lemon sponge with Mrs Macbeth's gimlet eyes piercing your very soul and the hush of 100 expert cake-makers descending, you are nothing.

Poor talkative Christianity. We know the right words. We can even be very fond of saying them. I remember working on a children's holiday club with a young Christian, fresh with enthusiasm and with his copy of Mission Praise, who loved quoting the Bible, especially saying to people "go and do what you have to do quickly!" until it was quietly pointed out to him that was what Jesus said to Judas when Judas went to betray Jesus. And yet like the rest of us, this young man had so much to give. If only he would stop talking.

On this bright side of Easter, the apprentice disciples have so much to give. Once they stop talking. Thomas who had had his say in the boardroom too was to take the gospel to India. Peter now had been given his task. But first he had to listen to the Master, and to recognise when to stop offering empty promises. We know you are a whole field of ponies, Peter. We know you want this job. Now go out and just do it. Bring back lost sheep for the kingdom. It's probably just as well that we do not have an account of the scene that followed our reading: Peter searching the Galilee yellow pages and asking the others in the team, now where can we find some sheep?!

I am sure (like Peter) sometimes we will fail again, just as Jesus' last words of advice and instructions to his disciples were not the last word in a story of over-confident and not terribly bright young men and women entrusted with this gospel task. But there is a difference between our boardroom arguments with Jesus and those of Alan Sugar's apprentices. Apprentice disciples will never hear those words "You're fired!" There is room for all of us on the team, no matter what our track record is or how few sheep we have brought into the kingdom (or where we look for them). No-one loses; no-one faces the long walk alone into the darkness leaving the rest of the team to celebrate. We are as one, and we are and by God's grace always will be on the winning team. Like Peter, for Christians the only words that matter are those of the risen Jesus: Peter, you're hired!


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About apprentice

I agree with you, instead of you are fired! you're hired,,well done!!

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