First things first: how two trainers help their apprentices settle in

The first few weeks of an MTS apprenticeship can be very daunting. Ministry is a very different lifestyle and way of working, making the transition from congregation member to paid staff member can have its complications, and new habits need to be formed so that spiritual growth continues.

That’s why it’s so important that MTS trainers dedicate time to intentionally orientating their apprentices to the new role they have taken on – enabling them to thrive in areas including the practical, relational and spiritual.

We spoke with two trainers, Stacey Chapman from St Michael’s Anglican Cathedral in Wollongong, and David Lynch from Summerleas Christian Church in Hobart, about how they get their apprentices settled – and what the most important things are to get right from day one.

Dave Lynch and Stacey Chapman

The practical

While an MTS apprenticeship is different from a normal job, some of the things that should form part of a standard workplace orientation need to be part of orienting apprentices as well.

At St Michael’s, Stacey says it’s important that they tell the apprentices “the little things we take for granted, like knowing where supplies are for the bathroom and the kitchen, and having a working knowledge of how to open the buildings and turn on the lights and the sound equipment. Even if you’re a member of a church before you start MTS, you don’t necessarily know all of those things.”

This type of orientation must also be tailored to the unique circumstances of the church or ministry location. “We’re right in the middle of Wollongong City,” says Stacey, “so one of the things you need to know is where sharps bin is, for things that we find out in the grounds!”

Dave particularly thinks getting a handle on email in the early weeks is vital. “Email is a massive communication tool for us at Summerleas,” Dave explains, “so we use a course called Email Ninja to help apprentices get up to speed, which I think has been really, really helpful.”

Many apprentices struggle initially with the unstructured nature of ministry work, and the inevitable work-life balance challenges. “I’ve seen apprentices who struggle to work out how to start things. More often, though, they struggle with switching off, and they need help to do that,” Stacey says.

Dave agrees. “There’s an ebb and flow of ministry life. I’ve had apprentices who have struggled to get their heads around that initially, figuring out what requests to answer and what to take on, and how to rest. It’s so different from any other job in terms of what hours look like.”

Setting goals, using a diary or calendar, and establishing a good task management system early on can be useful in helping to manage the ebbs and flows.

The relational

Establishing a positive relationship between the trainer and apprentice from Day 1 is also crucial. Dave works hard to ensure that his apprentices know that they can trust him and bring their worries and concerns to him no matter what.

“I want my apprentice to know I’m not out to extract everything I can get out of him or see him as a means to just getting a whole heap of ministries up and running and a whole heap of grunt work done that I don’t really want to do myself, or anything like that! I want to try and get across that ‘I’ve got your good at heart and I want to look after you. I want you to get through this in good shape, mentally and physically and emotionally’,” Dave explains.

While the trainer-apprentice relationship is certainly significant, it’s not the only relationships apprentices will have to manage. In churches, relationships can be especially challenging.

“I think it’s important for apprentices to realise that it will be a transition and that people will see them differently,” Stacey says. “People’s responses to that change will be different, and they need to be prepared for it. Some people will suddenly become more critical and some of them will suddenly really back away from relationships. I think that can be hurtful. If you’ve had people you’ve had close relationships with, but once you’re in ministry, they really back away, I think that’s really hard.”

Stacey urges trainers to help prepare their apprentices for any potential shifts in relationship so that it doesn’t come as a shock when those who were previously their peers start treating them differently, or when older brothers and sisters in Christ want to have input, both positive and negative.

The spiritual

Most importantly, it’s vital that apprentices are established in good spiritual habits right from the beginning. Stacey approaches this by putting the Bible first in meeting with her apprentice.

“What I generally tend to do is have one meeting that’s just for reading the Bible and praying together, talking about life things together, and another meeting that’s more of a training meeting. I think it’s good to do that right from the start in the training, to set the agenda from the beginning,” she explains. By taking this approach, setting aside significant time just to spend in God’s Word and in prayer, Stacey models to her apprentices the importance of developing a personal relationship with God above the smaller details of ministry.

Looking back, Dave remembers a time when “we kind of blew that in orientation.” In this case, after a few months, Dave realised that his apprentice had “collapsed all his spirituality into his work.”

“The tricky thing is that the curriculum calls for a certain amount of Bible reading and prayer time, which we scheduled time for, but we worked out that for this apprentice, scheduling the way that we did made it feel like his relationship with God had become part of his job. We needed to create time that was more free, just him doing what he felt like in the Bible, just the apprentice and his Heavenly Father,” Dave says.

Dave’s now learned from this, and intends to be more attentive to this issue with future apprentices. “Looking back that would’ve been a really good conversation to have that we didn’t have,” he reflects.

Is it working?

After spending time investing in getting an apprentice settled in their new position, a trainer might wonder – is it working? Are they established?

Stacey thinks there are a few things that indicate an apprentice is thriving in their role. “If they’re showing some initiative in ministry. Making progress in reading the Bible with other people. Seeing other people being challenged and encouraged by that. Participating in staff discussions” – these are a few of the things she names.

But it doesn’t need to happen overnight. “Establishing a healthy, sustainable pattern of ministry, I reckon that probably can take six or seven months,” Dave says.

Though that might seem like a long time, it’s important to remember that MTS apprenticeships are two years for this very reason!

Over to you 

Trainers: What do you do to help get your apprentices settled in their new roles?

Apprentices: What was the most useful thing your trainer did in your orientation?

Supporters: Thank you for praying for new apprentices as they begin their apprenticeships! It’s going a to big few weeks (and months!) for them, and your prayers are so appreciated to uphold them as they seek to adjust to serving and growing in Christ in this new way.