When Andrew Beddoe first developed a theology course for blue-collar workers as part of the Ministry Training Strategy he hoped to see as many people trained for ministry as possible.
Four years on, this dream is becoming a reality.
In 2011 the Blue-Collar Ministry Apprenticeship started with a handful of full-time ministry apprentices studying and working alongside Sydney pastors. Now there is a part-time evening course for workers and the first rural training centre in the central western NSW town of Orange.
“The vision has always been to see training expand to churches across Australia,” Mr Beddoe says. “Since 2011, I have been encouraging those outside Sydney who were interested in the training to consider... a training centre in their local church. Orange Evangelical Church is the first to grab the bull by the horns.”
The senior minister at Orange, Bruce Bennett, sees potential for this kind of training in regional centres. “For country people [ministry training] has always meant leaving home and moving to the city for several years,” he says. “While some of us have done it, it is the exception more than the rule for rural workers and tradespeople to go and do a degree in theology. Many don’t go simply because it is so far beyond their personal experience, but it is not because they don’t have the ‘smarts’ or the dedication required.” Mr Bennett believes the apprenticeship is a possible game-changer for getting tradespeople seriously engaged with ministry and theological training in the country.
Mr Beddoe agrees, convinced this mode of training is vital for the future of the church. “This is not a dumbed-down version of equivalent higher education qualifications but a different style of training that better suits the practical ‘hands-on’ person,” he says. “I hope to see blue-collar Christians equipped to serve their church, families and workplaces. I want to see blue-collar gospel workers working alongside white-collar gospel workers in every church in Australia.”
Since starting the Blue-Collar Ministry Apprenticeship six students have been awarded a Certificate IV, one a diploma in Christian Ministry & Theology and a further 10 are enrolled part-time in evening classes. Although there is still much to be done, Orange Evangelical Church is hoping to begin this form of training in partnership with MTS this year.
“I want to train up country people in the country for the country,” Mr Bennett says. “We are taking an exciting first step. Under God, I foresee Orange Evangelical Church not just training ourselves but being a centre for training, reseeding and regrowing gospel ministry in Orange and beyond.