Embracing uncertainty and trusting in the Spirit

Catherine with trainer Jo.

For Catherine Burley, university became a foundational place for her as a follower of Jesus. After finishing high school Catherine left home and studied Occupational Therapy at the University of Newcastle. 

She describes leaving home as a ‘baby Christian’ and finding her feet in faith as a young adult. Catherine reflects, “God slowly worked in my heart and used his people around me at church to encourage me and help me understand that salvation is found through grace alone and I contribute nothing to it.”

Unichurch (run by Hunter Bible Church) at the University of Newcastle was also where Catherine first encountered MTS. 

The personal impact of apprentices

As a student involved in Unichurch, Catherine was quickly exposed to MTS apprentices who were working in her service and on campus. However, this idea of an apprenticeship in gospel work was really foreign to her.

She recalls, “There was a couple that ran ministry on campus [that I knew], she was an occupational therapist (OT) and he was a physio and they were both doing MTS. At first, I was a bit confused why.” 

Catherine said she couldn’t understand why they would have just worked for a year and then done a ministry thing. However over the years as she built friendships with MTS apprentices she started to understand it more. 

Chloe Hearne, the apprentice who used to be an OT, and Catherine soon became friends. Over the time Chloe did the second year of her apprenticeship in 2018, they had many conversations about ministry. 

Catherine shares, “I just started having chats with Chloe and I said something like, ‘Oh, I could never do [an apprenticeship].’ Because I thought you had to be some sort of special Christian to be able to do something like that. But Chloe said – ‘You don’t have to be anything special. You just need to be convicted that serving Jesus is something Christians do for all of their lives, and it’s an opportunity to spend two years doing that.”

This marked the beginning of many conversations and thoughts about what the application of that conviction would be for Catherine. Chloe finished her apprenticeship and another MTS-er named Lucy Langfield started. Catherine and Lucy started to read the bible together and conversations about the future came up too. 

“I read the Bible with her over three years and she just slowly chipped away and continued to bring it up.” Catherine said. “Gradually we talked about what are the barriers that would stop you from doing something like MTS? And just worked through those.” 

For Catherine, one of the barriers was what her parents would think. They’d been a huge support to her while she was doing OT at university and she wanted to honour that. However their response was really positive, and after further conversations, they encouraged Catherine to go do it!

After a year working as an OT Catherine was further convinced to do a ministry apprenticeship. In 2022 she started as an apprentice at Hunter Bible Church. 

She shares her own convictions, “I thought [working as an OT] I would get lots of opportunities to have gospel conversations and be a witness in the workplace, but I found the time pressures of the job and how physically and emotionally draining it was meant I instead was just continually frustrated with my lack of capacity and then lack of opportunities. It made me realise the opportunity to get equipped was super worthwhile.”

The highs and lows of being a worker in the harvest

Catherine was trained by Jo Clark and involved in two congregations, Unichurch and the HBC Morning service. Her work in Unichurch also saw her do ministry to university students on campus. 

Over the two years, Catherine’s ministry included maturity ministries like overseeing growth groups and training leaders, pastoral care and church culture initiatives. She was also involved in evangelism and discipleship, particularly with Unichurch, and campus initiatives like walk-up evangelism and toasties & chats. 

Catherine particularly enjoyed 1-1 ministry and seeing how God grew people through his Word. She reflects, “One of my roles in the maturity space was catching up with the leaders of the growth group leaders. Some of them were quite young leaders to begin with, and some girls lacked a bit of confidence. They felt like they didn’t have much to offer. Seeing them step up and have conversations knowing that they had the Spirit and that God could use them even in their feelings of incompetency was amazing. I did see God grow those girls over that time.”

With all the highs of being used by God as a co-worker in his work, there were also challenges. Catherine reflects on grappling with imposter syndrome when leading those older than her in age and maturity, as well as hard conversations of rebuke. In all these things, her trainer Jo was helping to shape and support her – even when it was hard advice to take!

When reflecting on having hard conversations with those she led Catherine says, “Jo just encouraged me by explaining that the most loving thing to do [is to encourage them] to honour God in the way they live. Jo also reminded me the only way I was going to grow in my confidence and competence was by just having a go at these conversations and God can and will work through me.” 

Jo presenting Catherine with her MTS baton at Graduation.

Equipped and empowered

During the two years of MTS Catherine learnt to trust more in the Spirit at work in her, and grew in her prayerfulness and reliance on God. The apprenticeship also grew her ministry convictions. 

She shares, “I grew in my sense of urgency of the gospel. We are in the last days and Jesus is going to come back at any time and there are millions of people who don’t know him and are facing eternal condemnation. I felt like I could go back to OT [as a career] and in a way that might be easier- but I’m convicted that the gospel needs to go out. Yes, ministry is challenging and relationally taxing at times, but people need to hear that there’s salvation in Christ alone!”

Catherine also has a particular conviction for going to a less-resourced area. She says, “I grew up in the country and recognise the gap in well-equipped Bible teaching churches in rural, regional Australia.”

With these convictions in mind, Catherine is looking to do theological study in 2025. This year she’s gone back to do a year of work in OT as she assesses which college and mode of study is best for her. This also enables her to keep her license to practise OT which she is keen to maintain with the plan to live in a regional or rural area. 

Of making plans after MTS Catherine says, “You want to make sacrifices, but also be wise and know your limits.”

For people considering doing an apprenticeship but feeling unsure, Catherine encourages you to do it! She says, “You don’t have to ‘have it all together’ to do something like MTS. Nobody does! It will grow you and challenge you lots, but it’s such a great opportunity and is incredibly worthwhile!”