This time last year, Matthew Nicholls was a newlywed, recently married to Lara. Entering marriage is a big change, but if that wasn’t enough, shortly after returning from his honeymoon, Matt embarked on another new stage of life: commencing an MTS apprenticeship at Crossroads Christian Church in Canberra.
So what helped Matt adjust to all this change in his life? How did he settle in to his new role at church?
The best way to start
“My first day of MTS was actually G8,” Matt says, referring to the MTS national conference for apprentices and trainers that takes place every January. “That was really awesome, I loved it. It was so cool to get the opportunity to talk to other apprentices from around Australia and see what their experiences were like. And I just got really keen for serving Jesus. It was so good to have G8 as a kickstarter to MTS.”
Upon returning from G8, Matt started at church properly. The first week was full of administration – getting organised with things like his computer password. But Matt’s trainer Simon Nixey also wanted him to get started as soon as possible with meeting one-on-one with other men at church to get to know them and to read the Bible together.
Matt also benefited from the advice of his mother Wendy Nicholls, an MTS trainer herself. “The advice she gave me a lot of the time was to be a self-starter. No one’s going to tell your job schedule or give you a 9-to-5 plan of what you have to do in ministry, you really have to create it,” Matt shares.
This is a challenge for many new apprentices, who struggle to balance the joys and demands of ministry with appropriate rest. “I remember I spoke to someone at G8, and he said, ‘Figure out your rest days because I haven’t had a day off in like something like four weeks’,” Matt says. With a new marriage to nurture, Matt tried his best to manage his time effectively from the very beginning.
Above all else, Matt knew he needed to make time for his own personal relationship with God. He read a book called The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero and a particular quote stood out to him:
Emotionally unhealthy leaders serve others in order to share the joy of Christ, but that joy remains elusive to themselves.
“To continue to find joy in Jesus outside of your job – I think is so important,” Matt says.
To that end, he has tried a number of ways to engage with God’s word. “In the MTS curriculum, you have to read the Bible in a year. I finished it last year, and that was such a cool thing. But I also think that Bible reading doesn’t have to be just one thing. Like if mornings suck, when you’ve finished work you could just read a whole book – read Ephesians or Colossians. Or Tim Keller suggests reading a Psalm each day and praying through the Psalms and I did that for a bit. There have been stages where I’ve felt like I’ve just been doing for God, and I haven’t been with God,” Matt admits. “But I think prayer really helps.”
There were several things about his first few months of MTS that surprised Matt. “I had done one sermon at my old church, and a few sermons at a retirement home, and I really enjoyed that. But sermon writing has been somewhat difficult,” Matt concedes. “I talked to my trainer about this and he says, all the time, you have this short period at the start where you feel like this is going to be the worst thing you’ve ever written! But somehow God just works.”
Matt has also been surprised by the ups and downs of engaging with congregation members of all different ages. “I’m part of the morning and evening congregation, and the morning congregation is mostly families and people older than me. It’s a little bit anxiety inducing because all these people are older than me and there’s a certain dynamic being a young person in leadership with older people. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, it’s just different,” Matt shares.
Second year and beyond
Matt does need to make some big decisions about what will be next after this year – whether theological education and full-time vocational ministry are right for him and his family.
But for now, Matt continues to enjoy his apprenticeship and the things he gets to be involved in as he is trained. “It’s exciting to see what God does in these ministries,” he expresses enthusiastically.
Matt recommends… The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero