When the Ministry Training Strategy began in the early 1980s, the vision was always to multiply gospel workers through ministry apprenticeships “to win the world for Christ”.

Now there is a new method for achieving this aim, through a partnership between MTS and European Christian Mission. With a tweaked curriculum and an extra apprenticeship year overseas, InterCultural MTS (IMTS) apprenticeships will seek to prepare people for long-term cross-cultural mission – before they go to theological college.

The national director of MTS, Ben Pfahlert, says that when he has spoken to leaders from mission organisations over the years, they have made it clear that “if you want people to be both excellent in the field and last long term, they need to be trained really well. And the training needs to start as early as possible.

“They’ve identified that training people post-college is good, but it’d be really good to expose them to intercultural thinking prior to college and that brings the ministry apprenticeship phase to mind.”

As it happens, the leadership of European Christian Mission in Australia had reached the same conclusions. Simon Ball worked for a decade in Ireland as a church planter, using the MTS model to train mid-term missionaries and, after he returned to Australia, the executive director of ECM Matt George suggested they approach MTS to talk about a partnership.

Adds Mr Pfahlert: “We talked about growing the number of well-trained gospel workers that go overseas – in their case to Europe – not just in quantity but really high quality. That’s when we started talking in depth about the ‘two plus one’.”

A normal MTS apprenticeship takes two years and is spent in the culture of origin. In an IMTS apprenticeship, the first two years are done here in Australia, but working in a cross-cultural ministry environment. In the third year, the apprentice is sent overseas to work in a country where they already speak the language. 

“If someone wants to do their third year in Chile and they’re Aussie-born but fluent in Spanish, that’s fine,” Mr Pfahlert says. 

The fluency is important for two reasons. First, it would be hard for an apprentice to have a productive year in ministry if much of their time is spent gaining language skills. Second, as they immerse themselves in the different culture and take part in local ministry, it’s important for them not to slow down this ministry or make it harder for their overseas trainers to do their job.  

It took about a year to plan and prepare the extra curriculum. Mr Ball – who has become the IMTS training and development co-ordinator – not only mapped out the third year but took the existing MTS curriculum and remodelled the training to include cross-cultural and intercultural elements, as well as developing further options for apprentices to explore.

“Our ambition is the same as Paul’s: “to preach the gospel where Christ is not known,” he says.  The primary issue that drives our ambition is access to the gospel. 

“In Australia, and particularly in places like Sydney, you can drive for 10 minutes and probably hit at least five gospel-centred churches... but in many places in the world, you could drive for hours and not hit one gospel-centred church. So, we are primarily focused on raising up cross-cultural ministry workers for overseas ministry. 

“Having said that, as of the last census, 30 per cent of people in Australia were not born here. So, there is certainly plenty of need in Australia for raising up cross-cultural ministry workers! It may be that some of our apprentices go on to work in cross-cultural ministry here.”

Adds Mr Pfahlert: “All the feedback we’ve had is that, sure, it’ll be a little bit more expensive because there’s another year involved, with air tickets and so on, but the consensus with all the discussions we’ve had is, Australia is a very rich country and not only we can afford to train people this way, it’ll make them much better for cross-cultural ministry over the long haul. It can also help to raise the profile of cross-cultural or intercultural ministry in their church.”