‘What on earth have I let myself in for?’ If you’ve just started a new role as a ministry trainee, you may have found yourself asking that question a bit more than usual! It’s 23 years since I was in that position, but we have 10 associates (apprentices / MTs) with us on staff at Christ Church Southampton, and each year I sit down with the new team to help set expectations for their two years on the scheme. How do I want them to approach things? Here are four of the steers I tend to give them.
Don’t hold back
It’s very easy to play it safe in ministry life. You can just paddle in the shallows, while away your hours doing things you’re comfortable with and meeting people you like (and who like you). You like reading? Bury yourself in the books! You like students? Spend all your time on campus!
don’t be afraid to jump in the deep end. Be the first to volunteer for roles that terrify you.
It’s a pleasant zone to live in. You’ll likely be commended for your work by many. After all, you’re pretty good at it. This is what you know. But that approach will not prove a great trailer of ministry life. And you won’t benefit as much as you might. Sure, you can learn from successes and encouragements. But you’ll likely learn more from failure and disappointment.
So don’t be afraid to jump in the deep end. Be the first to volunteer for roles that terrify you. Meet up with the character you struggle to click with. Most long-term ministry roles require generalists not specialists – so you’ll need to work on your weaknesses as well as build on your strengths.
Do be hungry
Be hungry for the transforming work of God’s word. Chances are your training scheme has similar aims to ours: to develop you in the three Cs (character, convictions and competences), whether or not it’s put like that. New trainees are often very excited about the Bible teaching they’re going to receive (building their convictions) and about developing various skills (building their competences). But the third C, ‘character’, can often feel like just an also-ran.
The reality is, though, that the most important thing that will happen during this year or two will almost certainly be the intangible character changes God’s Spirit effects in you. So make sure you’re up for this! What do you need to learn about love, or joy, or peace, or patience…?
But be hungry too for opportunities to bring God’s word to others. Try new things. Experiment with new ways and places to engage with people. Just because an idea’s crazy doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. Churches need self-starters and gospel entrepreneurs. This is a great time for you to get thinking outside the box.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to fill your time with ministry, reading and time with fellow-believers.
Here’s a disturbing truth that just might resonate with you. Becoming a ministry trainee can be a very effective way to hide from the world. It’s the easiest thing in the world to fill your time with ministry, reading and time with fellow-believers. Maybe, if you’re honest, there was more than a little of that motivating you to take up this role.
Don’t do it. Make sure there’s some structured, planned time in your diary every week that ensures that you’re rubbing shoulders with unbelievers. We’ve had associates join a juggling club, an opera society, a running group, a netball team, a band and all sorts of other things. Yes, evenings are busy, but you can prioritise – and your trainer will understand!
And by the way, don’t hide from critique either. If your trainer is a busy church pastor, he may have other things on his plate that means he’s not quick to volunteer comments on your ministry activities. Or you may find that colleagues are so anxious to avoid discouraging you that they’re unwilling to say what needs to be said. They need two things from you: pestering, and permission. And they need it again and again. Unpleasant as the prospect may seem, you need feedback, so don’t hide from it.
Do be helpful
Ministry is a team effort. So do be prepared to play your part in making things easier for others. You will likely spot things others miss, and have opportunity to put things right, or fill a gap, or relieve a pressure. Remember: ministry is a privilege, and many would give their right arm for the time and space you have to think, read, pray and serve. So do delight in the opportunities that present themselves to lend a hand.
But here’s the thing you can do which is the most helpful thing of all to your church leaders. Are you ready? It’s simply this: be a model church member. Be there, and on time (ie early), for every meeting. Bring some encouragement to everyone you discover is struggling. Show a warm welcome to every newcomer. Have a friend to bring to every evangelistic event.
You get the picture.
This year or two will change you, without a doubt. That’s what you’ve let yourself in for. But how much, and in which direction – to some extent that’s up to you!
Orlando Saer is the senior pastor at Christ Church Southampton and often helps as a leader on the annual 9:38 Ministry Trainee Conference. Want to think more about starting well as a Ministry Trainee? Read what Tim, having just finished two years at St Mary’s Maidenhead, writes here.