The following is a reflection written by Sophie*, a recent graduate of the Ministry Training Strategy (MTS) apprenticeship program, on her experiences while discovering the realities of full-time gospel ministry. She is now studying at Sydney Missionary and Bible College.
At the end of 2020 I completed an MTS apprenticeship at my Sydney church. For those not familiar, an MTS apprenticeship is a two-year program designed to give those considering vocational ministry a chance to test their hand at full-time gospel work while receiving guidance and seeking discernment about the future from current ministry leaders.
It was a full, stretching and surprising two years, and with a few months of life-post-MTS now under my belt, I feel like I’m beginning to have something coherent to say when people ask for my reflections on it.
Part of my answer is fairly predictable: I learnt a whole lot about the Bible. COVID was weird, but God is still good. I had the time and space and freedom to try types of ministry I’d never done before – like SRE, pastoral visits to the elderly and running an evangelistic playgroup. My relational capacity was stretched. I got a backstage view of a lot of wonderful things God was doing in the hearts of his people.
Other reflections might surprise people a little more, but they are things I want my Christian sisters and brothers to know about MTS. Here are just three of them:
1. MTS isn’t a guarantee that someone will go into ministry longer term, and that’s a really good thing.
MTS functions as a time for those in training to discern whether they have the conviction, character and competence to be a leader in the church (2 Tim 2:2). It’s also a time for apprentices to explore the ways God has skilled them to serve his bride. If every person that undertook MTS ended up in vocational ministry, that would be a sure sign that discernment was lacking and standards were slipping.
When you talk to apprentices, try your best to avoid presumptuous language about the future. And if you come across an apprentice who has prayerfully decided to re-enter the workforce after completing their two years, applaud them for their humility!
2. You should consider doing MTS. Yes, you!
As a teenager at youth group, I remember viewing my leaders as spiritual superheroes whose level of holiness was unattainable. Fast forward a few years, and I was given my first little flock of 12-year-old girls. They loved me immediately and devotedly. I was incredulous. Surely they didn’t see me like I used to see my leaders?
I think something similar happens with MTS. Overnight I went from being a regular member of my church to someone listed on our website’s staff page. So, when I encourage people to consider doing MTS, I’m normally met with laughter: “Not me! I’m not like you!”.
What they have quickly forgotten is that I was (and am!) just like them. If I appear more confident playing an upfront role in services, it’s only because I had to do it multiple times a week for two years. There are plenty of good reasons not to do MTS but expecting to be competent before you have to stick your neck out isn’t one of them. God uses weak vessels to bring himself greater glory!
3. Lean into relationships with those you know undertaking MTS.
Something I didn’t anticipate about starting an apprenticeship was the way that would shift dynamics with friends and peers at church. For years, these were the people I worshipped with, socialised with, served with, prayed with and did life with.
None of them – to their credit – dismissed my tentative plans to go into paid ministry, and many were really affirming. But subtle remarks to the effect of, “Why would you give up the career that you trained for?” (subtext: Are you judging me for not doing the same?) created distance. With others, it was a newfound reluctance to share sin with me or to give me advice. People found themselves less at ease in my company: “You’re on staff now!”
I hope this doesn’t sound like a pity party. My church community is wonderful, and none of these comments were malicious. I mention it to urge you to keep just being friends with someone you know who starts MTS. Or make friends with them! That goes for all ministry staff. They need your companionship, perspective and prayers – and they need someone to go to the movies with, too.
I’m so grateful to God for the ways he urged me through his people and circumstances to do an apprenticeship. It is already proving to be the best foundation for the theological study I’ve started this year.
As my mind wanders back to fond memories of praying with exhausted new mums, or learning how to operate video streaming software in four days, I’m reminded that the head knowledge I gain is to be put into practice in the messy, joyful, slow-burn of Christian ministry.
Please join me in praying for more people to step into this wonderful program (Matt 9:37-38).
*not her real name