We interviewed Charlie Butler about his experiences going from bring a student to working for a church as a Minisrty Trainee.
1. Charlie, what are you currently doing?
I am currently in my 2nd year of training for ordained Anglican ministry at Oak Hill Theological College.
2. How did you decide to do a Ministry Traineeship straight after University?
I became a Christian just before going to university, so my student days were crucial for me to learn how to live as a Christian – including rethinking my future plans. In my final year the student pastor at my church suggested that working as a ministry trainee might help me decide if paid Christian work could be for me in the future, and, partly because I didn’t have a clearly worked out alternative option, I thought I’d give it a go.
3. What do you think were the benefits in working for a church at that stage in your life?
I am convinced that doing paid Christian work for a year or so straight after uni helps you make a wiser decision about that sort of work in the future – letting you either pursue it straight away, or go and get a job elsewhere, either for a few years or more long-term. That was certainly the case for me. It’s not uncommon anyway for people today to take a year out of ‘normal’ work – either after uni or mid-career – but when I applied for ministry trainee jobs, I didn’t have a career to leave or many financial commitments to consider – and that meant I was quite flexible in terms of where to live, exactly what sort of job to take, and what I might do afterwards.
4. What did you learn from your time as a Ministry Trainee?
For one thing, it was a wonderfully broad introduction to paid Christian work: I got a great insight into what working for a church actually looks like, and could try my hand at all sorts of different things – from giving talks to the old peoples’ lunch club to helping out at CU mission weeks. That helped me to see if I might have some of the necessary gifts for becoming a pastor. What was even more important, though, was learning more about my character: as I went through the ups and downs of doing gospel ministry on the ground, it showed me where I needed to grow, where I was less mature than I thought, and so on.
5. How has it been helpful to you in what you do now?
The base line is that it was helpful in not disqualifying me from paid Christian work in the future, and suggesting that I might have the necessary character and gifting to pursue it further. I don’t think it sealed the deal for me, but it certainly opened a door in that direction, put flesh on the bones of what it might look like, and, perhaps above all, helped me to see the need for further, more rigorous theological training – which is the stage I’m now at.
6. What would you say to a student considering doing a Ministry Trainee role after University?
Two things especially spring to mind:
(1) Remember that ministry trainee roles are not all the same. I think I treated them as one generic option, when actually there is a lot of variety in terms of the type of job you’d do, the nature of any training you’d get, the level of support you’d receive, etc. You need to investigate them more closely and work out what the distinctives of each one is – and whether it’s a good fit for you.
(2) Don’t put off thinking about what will happen afterwards. When I started out as a ministry trainee, I don’t think I had any idea what to do next, and while that might be valuable for staying open-minded, I think it’s worth having some ideas as to what you could do when your 1 or 2 year role is over – especially if you decide that not pursuing paid Christian work straight away is the right thing. On a practical level, it’s far fairer to choose between two concrete options (say, church work and a graduate scheme), than to have an offer of carrying on in paid Christian work, on the one hand, and a vague notion of ‘going to get a job’ on the other.