With a degree in engineering under his belt, Tom Cooper found himself at a crossroads: How was God preparing him to live and work in his world?
Tom was considering retraining in public health but had also been tapped on the shoulder by staff at the Sydney University Evangelical Union to consider a ministry apprenticeship. Tom reflects on his decision, “I might as well take two years and consider ministry, and also be equipped to serve the church while doing it.”
His church, Trinity Chapel Macquarie, was looking for two MTS apprentices, so Tom raised his hand and in 2020 began his apprenticeship.
Giving full-time ministry a go
While MTS is a great stepping stone into full-time ministry, full-time ministry is certainly not the only destination for apprentices – and it’s always helpful for apprentices to go into their training with an open mind about where God might take them.
Tom certainly had an open mind when he started his apprenticeship: he was unsure about whether he was cut out for the emotional load of ministry, and didn’t yet understand the day-to-day work of a minister.
MTS has been a training ground for Tom to consider whether he should pursue vocational ministry. Given that he was planning to work as an engineer for a few years after his apprenticeship, it’s a chance for him to ask important questions of himself:
“Can I use the gifts I have while working to serve the church, or am I better used by doing full-time ministry? Am I being effective in ministry while working in a secular field, or do the specific gifts that I have work best when I’m dedicated to full-time work? Those are the questions I’m thinking through.”
Reimagined ministry opportunities
Like all of us, Tom and the staff team at Trinity Chapel have navigated a great deal of change over the past 18 months. As services moved online, Tom has been able to use his apprenticeship as an opportunity to reimagine how to teach and serve God’s people.
While Tom has served in Bible study coordinating and preaching, he has also become heavily involved with the setting up and streaming of online church services.
Evangelism at Trinity Chapel has been reshaped as well. Tom had been serving with other members of his church in an evangelistic board game ministry, which transitioned into video games throughout the Sydney lockdowns.
While it has been challenging to have elements of his training disrupted, along with uncertainty around future events, Tom has been encouraged in many ways. He reflects on a particular story of reaching out to first year students studying at Macquarie University:
“We were worried because we had all the first years came along to a weekend away right before lockdown hit [in 2020]. And so we built all these connections and we were anticipating that, now it’s lockdown, the connections might not stick, but they did. So that was a pleasant surprise.”
While COVID has been a challenge, the lockdowns and restrictions have helped Tom and the church focus on pastoral care and building relationships. It has also enabled Tom to take on more one-to-one ministry, which he enjoys.
Preaching training at Cornhill
A particular area that Tom hoped to gain skills in during MTS was preaching. Before his apprenticeship, Tom had given a few short talks at youth group, but he had never preached a sermon to a congregation.
Tom’s eagerness to be trained in this ministry led him to do one day a week of practical preaching training and study at Cornhill Sydney (an organisation in partnership with MTS training people to preach and teach the Bible). It has been a valuable opportunity to focus in on a ministry which most theological colleges can only devote limited time to.
Reflecting on his background in drama and public speaking at school, Tom wondered if preaching would really be all that difficult. But he quickly realised his naivety about the significant process in getting the main point of a passage right, and then getting it across to those listening.
The value of honest feedback
One of the wonderful things about Cornhill is the ample room students have to experiment and practice their preaching. Students receive detailed feedback as soon as they sit down after delivering a sermon, which can be a little intimidating! Yet Tom sees this as one of the great strengths of Cornhill:
“There’s a real focus on building each other up and trying to get people to give the best sermons they can. Because everybody knows they’re here as a learning opportunity, they’ll be pedantic about why you used a particular illustration or structure. It’s been quite helpful because we can think our stories are better than they actually are and more relevant than they actually are. And when somebody says ‘that wasn’t relevant’, it’s hard to hear, but it’s good to hear.”
Studying alongside a diverse group of students – men and women, retirees, practicing ministers and MTS apprentices – has enabled Tom to hear a variety of perspectives. Together the students learn from some of the best preachers in Sydney (such as Simon Manchester, David Cook and Luke Tattersall) and develop their appreciation of the Bible as they teach it to others.
The value of an apprenticeship
With a few months left of his MTS apprenticeship, Tom is looking forward to starting an engineering job next year. He hopes to spend the next few years working out where he might be best placed to serve God. It might lead him to continue working while serving in a lay capacity in an under-resourced church, or he might head to theological college with solid training already under his belt from his apprenticeship.
But wherever he ends up, Tom has deeply valued the opportunity to be trained in ministry and to undertake some formal practical training with theological education at Cornhill as part of his apprenticeship.
Will you pray for Tom, and other MTS apprentices, seeking to make wise decisions about how to serve in God’s glorious kingdom? Pray that they will use their training from MTS in the workplace, at home, at theological college, and for a lifetime of serving our Lord.
Cornhill develops new and future preachers to rightly understand and teach the word of God. MTS partners with Cornhill, and many MTS apprentices engage in practical training and theological study at Cornhill for one day a week as part of their apprenticeships. Find out more at cornhillsydney.com.au