MTS is glad to partner with the Sydney Anglican diocese in training and recruiting people for vocational ministry. So we were delighted to see this chapter in a recently published book, The Mission Before Us: Why Sydney Anglican Ministry?
Gary Koo has written an excellent explanation of why ministry apprenticeships are so valuable. We republish this chapter here with permission.
Why a ministry apprenticeship?
I cannot think of a better way to enter Sydney Anglican ministry, or indeed any ministry, than having done a ministry apprenticeship. Having done one myself, the benefits have been obvious, and I believe that even if you are convinced of your suitability for ministry, or you think that you’ve had more than enough experience in life, ministry or the workplace, an apprenticeship is still something you need to consider.
It involves a two-year ‘delay’ in entering theological college or vocational ministry, but the two years you invest will be more than worth it because the beating heart of any ministry apprenticeship is 2 Timothy 2:2
…what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
A ministry apprenticeship is really an exercise in ‘passing the baton’ from one person to another. It is about making disciples who make disciples.
As a result, given our desire to reach Sydney and beyond for the glory of Jesus, a ministry apprenticeship will not only help you take good first steps towards vocational ministry, but also help you create life-long patterns of ministry that focus on training and discipleship that will hopefully, under God, raise up more and more workers for his harvest field.
There are many advantages to doing a ministry apprenticeship, but let me highlight the following to further my point:
1. It models personal discipleship
A ministry apprenticeship is never about the provision of ‘cheap labour’ or the ‘plugging of holes’. It is about a relationship between a trainer and trainee as they serve Jesus together. However, it goes beyond just doing ministry together: most apprenticeships go for two years and involve regular meetings with one’s trainer and the sharing of life. It encompasses the whole of one’s life as a person in ministry.
This relationship is shaped by the Bible and rooted in prayer, the ultimate goal being maturity in Christ. As a result, the relationship between a trainer and trainee models how one is to disciple another Christian and reinforces that ministry and discipleship are ultimately about people.
2. It highlights the importance of character in ministry
While a ministry apprenticeship is an opportunity for someone to develop their skills in things such as teaching, evangelism and leading teams, the main focus of the relationship between a trainer and trainee is to develop the trainee in terms of their 1 Timothy 3 character.
This is one of the major advantages of doing a ministry apprenticeship. While many people have the opportunity to develop their skills by being active participants in a church, what an apprenticeship offers is the presence of someone more mature and experienced in ministry, to help the trainee reflect on who they are while doing ministry. They do this by asking them hard questions, helping them to reflect, encouraging them to look beyond the task and their gifting to see the priority of Christian character.
An apprenticeship can also function as a filter, to discourage people of poor character from entering Christian leadership.
3. It encourages people to be self-starters in ministry
If we are going to reach Sydney we will need to explore new ways of doing things. We won’t reach Sydney by just doing what we’re doing.
A good ministry apprenticeship encourages a trainee to go beyond a ‘public service’ mentality when it comes to ministry but to become a ‘self-starter’ by identifying opportunities for the gospel and then having the courage, wisdom and initiative to do something about it.
While there is much to be learnt in the running of existing structures, even within those structures opportunities may arise, and we want an apprentice to learn how to be able to make the most of those opportunities.
An apprenticeship which not only allows this approach but encourages it, provides significant advantages on the other side of theological college, especially when the trainee is eventually given the responsibility of leading a ministry or church.
4. It provides a safe place for people to grow and explore
I was always taught that if a trainee doesn’t make significant mistakes during their apprenticeship then they haven’t had the best experience they can, because they haven’t had the opportunity to test their limits and try new things.
While we don’t wish harm on anyone or for anyone to suffer from an apprentice’s mistakes, by the same token, if you’re going to make a mistake it’s best to do this during an apprenticeship, where you have your trainer who is both able to address your mistakes and help you to reflect on them.
It’s hard to know what you’re good at till you give it a go. It’s hard to know your limits are until you get close to reaching them. It’s also hard to know what you’re bad at until you give it a go.
All of these things can be carefully explored within the context of an apprenticeship. It is far more dangerous to do this on the other side of theological college.
Related to this is the notion of an apprenticeship being a testing ground, a place where a person may explore whether they are suitable for vocational ministry. It is far better to discover one’s lack of suitability before further training. To be discouraged from vocational ministry in this situation is both loving and practical.
5. It provides context for further theological study
Experiencing the challenges of ministry and the questions of ministry, in relationship with a trainer, is a great way for someone to enter theological education. It provides the student with an idea of what they need to know and areas of interest for further exploration, having encountered these as issues during their apprenticeship.
6. It allows for a smoother transition to ministry
Two years of an apprenticeship is great preparation for ministry. It is hard to either explain or understand what ministry life is truly like without having experienced it. Things will come up such as the need for good relational boundaries; the pattern of working six days a week and the impact of this; whether to regard the people in your church as your ‘friends’. It is good to have developed an approach to issues such as these before entering ministry.
The same could be said for setting up good patterns, not only for time management, but for the priority of reading your Bible and praying, trusting in God, keeping confidences, and being beyond reproach.
While all of these things can be explored and developed once a person leaves theological college, it is far better to do so well in advance with the assistance of one’s trainer.
7. It instils a mindset of recruiting and training
One of the major challenges we currently face in Sydney Anglican ministry is declining student numbers at Moore College, the reduction in ordination candidates and an insufficient number of suitably gifted presbyters to fill vacancies throughout the diocese.
The need for recruiting and training are critical for the ongoing effectiveness of our mission to Sydney. Doing a ministry apprenticeship can make a huge difference in this area. Here’s why:
Given the 2 Timothy 2:2 framework of an apprenticeship, an integral part of the training is to help a trainee identify and nurture future apprentices and leaders, as well as to encourage them to do this over a lifetime of ministry.
Research has shown that one of the major factors in someone entering an apprenticeship is having one of their ministers ask them to do that. Yet it is easy in Christian ministry to lose sight of the need to raise and recruit people, among all the competing demands for a minister’s time. So having done an apprenticeship and having that modelled as ‘normal’ ministry by one’s trainer, and not an additional extra, helps to keep recruiting and training on the agenda when the trainee enters ministry.
8. It reinforces the need for partnership in ministry
Christian ministry is rarely done alone. The paradigm we see in Paul’s letter to the Philippians is that ministry is done in partnership with other Christians. One of the ways that this principle can be reinforced through an apprenticeship is when an apprentice is given responsibility for raising a significant amount of their financial support.
Obviously, partnership isn’t only expressed through the giving of money. Paul also partners with others in service and prayer. But in our context often the most challenging form of partnership is financial in nature, with many apprentices finding the idea of raising money both confronting and difficult.
But given that any form of ministry requires the raising of financial support, whether that be in a local church, mission or a parachurch ministry, then needing to think through how to do this and then doing it is very important.
If a person isn’t willing to raise financial support or is unable to do so, serious questions need to be raised about their suitability for vocational ministry. This exercise may also lead to further conversations about the option of self- supported ministry, if the apprentice is suited to this kind of arrangement.
There are many other advantages to doing a ministry apprenticeship. Many of these are relational, including mutual encouragement with your fellow trainees, the development of life-long ministry relationships and partnerships, joining with others in the ‘fellowship of trainers’ through various parachurch ministries as you try to raise the next generation of gospel workers. But at the heart of all these is 2 Timothy 2:2 and the thing that motivates the making of disciples – the reality of Jesus and the good news of the gospel, which delivers people out of darkness and into his marvellous light.
This is why we need many, many more godly, gifted, and well-trained men and women who love the Lord Jesus to be landing well in our churches, ready to serve, less concerned for personal advancement and a fulfilling ‘career’; focused on being part of the chain in 2 Timothy 2:2.
Making disciples. Sharing the vision of the gospel. Calling people out of idolatry. Encouraging others to do what they did. In fellowship with others, raising up future leaders, so we can keep growing our churches and shepherding our people, reaching those around us with the good news of Jesus.
A ministry apprenticeship isn’t the only way to do this. Yet, the deeply relational, gospel-focused nature of an apprenticeship and the early investment of a good trainer can truly set a person up for a lifetime of fruitful ministry, with an impact that goes beyond this generation and into the next.
This is true even for those who do an apprenticeship and don’t take the next step to theological college. Those two years can also set up a person for extraordinarily effective lay ministry. Someone who’s done an apprenticeship and discovered that vocational ministry isn’t for them can be a wonderful asset for the cause of the gospel in a church.
As I said before, if we’re going to reach this city and beyond, we’re going to need to raise more workers for the Lord’s harvest field. I believe that ministry apprenticeships can be a catalyst and a multiplier that will aid us to do this. This is because an apprentice is discipled by a trainer who encourages them to disciple others, who themselves will be encouraged to find others to disciple and encourage to do the same. This is not only raising individuals for the work of the gospel, but it is creating a culture of discipleship and gospel clarity that can shape the DNA of a church: raising, recruiting, training, and sending the people we need to lead our churches into the future.
You may know that vocational ministry is what you want to do.
Others may have told you that you have the character, competency and convictions you need.
You may be very experienced. You may already have led a beach mission, a youth group, or preached regularly at your church.
But I still believe that there is no better way to enter Sydney Anglican ministry, or indeed any ministry, than having done a ministry apprenticeship, and even though it involves another two years of preparation and training, the impact of an apprenticeship not only lasts a lifetime of ministry, but it prepares people to be the type of people our diocese needs in its leadership.
Originally published in The Mission Before Us: Why Sydney Anglican Ministry? Ed. Mike Leite, Australian Church Record, 2020