7 words of wisdom as you move from a ministry trainee programme to a different workplace
You’ve just come to the end of a year or two working full-time for a local church and growing in gospel ministry. You’ve come to the conclusion that your next step won’t be into another church-based role or into further theological training. At least for now, you’re going to head into (or return to) the corporate world or school teaching or healthcare or construction or some other workplace.
We asked a few former ministry trainees who have made this transition for their wisdom – things they wish they had been told:
1) Have a strong theology of work.
As the Reformers rediscovered, there is no ‘sacred’ workplace and ‘secular’ workplace. All Christians are priests and ministers (1 Pet. 2:9; Eph. 4:12). All kinds of work can be worship (just as they can be idolatry). All kinds of work can glorify God and serve his people (just as they can be used to glorify and serve ourselves). “As I came towards the end of my apprenticeship I was becoming surer and surer that full-time paid church ministry wasn’t where God was calling me. It was difficult not to feel guilty. My placement church had housed and supported me for two years as well as paying for me to study at the Cornhill Training Course. So I was more than grateful for the words of our Vicar who told me in no uncertain terms that it didn’t bother him if I ended up as a stock broker or a missionary. He said that if I was living faithfully for Him then God could use me in any work environment I might choose. It was, and is, great advice.”
2) Rediscover the security of your identity in Christ.
“If you stay at the church where you have been a ministry trainee then you will have the experience of no longer being on the ‘inside’ of the working life of a church – not being at staff meetings, feeling out of the loop, not privy to decision-making, finding things out later than you’ve been used to. That can be a humbling and difficult experience. If you move from the church you’ve been serving at to another one then you have the experience of not being ‘known’ at your new church, much less rated by others for ministry things or invited to preach. On top of this you may have feelings of failure or resentment if there are no clear ‘next steps’. All this can rock your sense of identity. You may have to confront how much of your confidence has been placed in your position in church.” Use this time to rediscover your identity in Christ – a beloved child of the Father, known and loved as much as the Son of God himself (John 10:15; 17:23).
3) Rediscover the joy of your calling in Christ.
There is a particular danger for those of us in paid gospel ministry that we can professionalise the Christian life. We can slip into a mind-set where we read God’s word, attend church, pray, evangelise because it is our job. “Once you finish being a ministry apprentice you will no longer ‘have’ to be at church each Sunday. You will no longer have the privilege of being ‘forced’ to spend hours in the Bible. You will no longer be ‘required’ to serve.” The end of a ministry apprenticeship can be a great time to check whether we’ve slipped into professionalising the Christian life and to rediscover the joy of the Great Calling: the call out of darkness into marvellous light, the call to belong to Christ, the call to be a holy people. This is the main way that the New Testament uses the word ‘calling’ – not for a sub-group, but for all Christians. Before we are anything else, we are forgiven sinners on our way to the New Creation, urged to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph. 4:1) – not a 9-to-5 but a whole joy-fuelled life of love for the church and obedience to Christ.
4) Review the training you have received.
It’s very easy to run into the next chapter of our lives but it is well worth stopping and sitting down with a notebook and taking stock of how you have grown in convictions, character and skills over the course of the apprenticeship. Not only does it help things to sink in, it will help you see how valuable the last year or two have been and most importantly you’ll be able to give God the thanks and glory for it. “Take time to jot down the lessons you’ve learnt during/as a result of your traineeship – whether that’s how to do a particular administrative/practical task, how to keep your temper when you’re tired, or something new about God – and thank God for each one. Make a list of things you’ve learnt about yourself – e.g. what you’re good at (as well as what you’re not!). And jot down the blessings you’ve received – friendships, experiences, material – during/as a result of your traineeship and thank God for each one of those too.”
5) Invest the training you have received.
“From everyone who has been given much…” The training that you have received during your apprenticeship is not wasted if you don’t go into full-time paid church work. It has prepared you to be an extremely useful member of a congregation. “What my apprenticeship equipped me for more than anything else was to be useful in the local church context. I was only too aware of the investment my host church made in me and that convinced me I mustn’t sit back and just be a consumer at church, especially a large, thriving one. When it came to us moving house a few years later it wasn’t so daunting to move to a smaller and somewhat less theologically ‘solid’ church but one where there were opportunities to use many of the skills I’d been equipped with in terms of teaching children’s groups, preaching and leading home-groups.” So invest your training. Don’t dig a hole and hide it in the ground. “You have had opportunities and experiences that ought to enable you to serve a church wonderfully: what kind of church member can you / should you be?”
6) Be the church member you most admired and appreciated when you were a trainee.
Think of the church member who makes you smile when you remember them: the church member who, despite a tough job and family commitments, was always there at church meetings and Bible studies, on time, always helpful and encouraging, always willing to serve in whatever way was needed, quietly, humbly and cheerfully. The church member who loves Jesus, loves talking about him, stands boldly for him in their family and workplace. Be that church member. And as someone who used to be a ministry trainee, you can be the church member who is specially sympathetic and encouraging to (new) trainees at your church. “You know the trainees often have all the rubbish tasks left to them, with people assuming it’s their job. Help them with the cleaning or admin. Answer their emails quickly and with an encouraging word. You know they don’t get much by way of finances, so be the one to offer to buy them a drink or invite them round for a meal.”
7) See the harvest field around you.
Jesus said, “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35). Over 70% of the UK population have no intention of going anywhere near a church, even for a Christmas carol service. The only way they will be reached is outside church buildings, in homes, in workplaces. “I do not consider myself a great witness in the workplace but I see others who are and the impact they have is amazing. Whether it be inviting colleagues to lunchtime services, running Christianity Explored courses in their offices or simply striving to be salt and light knowing that they may be the only Christian that their colleagues know.” As you enter a new role, be intentional, figure out your purpose – how you will serve others and glorify God through this job and how you can advance the gospel in this part of the needy, plentiful harvest field.