How Ministry Trainees can be a help and a hindrance

by | 7 May, 2018

Ben is Office Manager at Christ Church Cambridge and line-manages the Ministry Trainees as well as keeping an eye on the church’s administration and internal operations. His favourite travel destination is San Francisco (he loves the Golden Gate Bridge, the music scene and the Sea Lions).

At a prayer meeting I recently had the privilege of joining, we flicked through a passage from 1 Thessalonians 2. Paul here is reflecting on his short, but rich time with the people of Thessalonica (cheeky picture below if you can’t visualise it). He spent just four weeks with this group, and as a result experienced strong emotions of love towards them. 

In verse 7 he writes: ‘Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well’. Looking slightly earlier in verse 5, he talks through how he and others went about pouring out their care: ‘not by flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed, we were not looking for praise, instead we were like young children’.

This is an extraordinary picture of a four-week community experience, and a reorientation for any church member or staff worker. We live in a culture where ‘living for the weekend’ is real, clinging on with every fibre of our being for that next holiday away from the pressures of work. We do ourselves out of the fullness to be had today, as we pull down the veil over our eyes by thinking ahead towards the time where our burden of responsibility is lifted.

As we yearn and strive for the church to be built up, two questions come to mind:

  • How does that change our mind-set in the plain day-to-day?
  • How might that shape a ministry trainee’s view of their roller-coaster week of service?

Being a help

Every trainee is an essential cog in the church engine, the oil of operation and the wind in the church’s sails. I often marvel watching a tireless trainee, churning away out of love, delighting in sharing the gospel. So then, how can a trainee be of a help to a staff team and church family in this short season of service?

1. Bringing your enthusiasm, perspective and energy to weary people

Ministry is hard and comes with a fair amount of discouragement. When the hoped-for fruit of evangelistic events and courses doesn’t materialise, the arrival of an enthusiastic new trainee with a lot of passion for Jesus can be a huge encouragement. The temptation in church life is to follow a pattern over many years, ‘because we have always done it this way’. I would say to all trainees: be yourself, don’t hold back, and use the experience you have to help inspire.

2. Being a catalyst for service

I have seen some excellent trainees during my short time in the role, and I am struck by their ability to take people with them on their service-journey. Inviting an individual to help cook for a church group, to get in involved at the church café, or to encourage someone to start reading the bible one-to-one with someone – it’s all part of being that catalyst in service, inspiring a movement in the building up of God’s church. We bless people by inviting them to join us and by encouraging them to try something new.

Service is a great driver for drilling down the gospel deep as we imitate our Servant King and build a strong church community. Time and time again we have seen people on the fringe of church life become an integral part of ministry because someone offered them the chance of serving.

3. Laying our lives down

We just read in 1 Thessalonians of Paul approaching the people of Greece like a mother seeking to care and share. It’s almost as if Paul did a year or two as a trainee demonstrating for us what it means to be a true servant of the church. I could imagine Paul with a pair of marigolds on, couldn’t you? There will be times of much joy and encouragement, seeing people come to faith, running exciting events, leading a Bible study – doing things that we love. But, there will be times where we might find our arm down a toilet after a busy weekend or completing a rather dull admin task wishing the day would be over.

In both situations we are called to lay our lives down for the sake of Jesus: not to have the easy life or making it your aim to be on the hunt for praise, but to approach this role humbly, with the prayer, ‘Father, please make me more like your son today’. We need to be ready to greet that person in distress at the church door, delighting in gospel work whether big or small. Church life is messy, and it is in that mess that we share our lives and remain flexible to what the Lord brings our way.

Being a hindrance

1. Strengthening the church family ‘opt out’

Whilst having enthusiastic trainees around is a huge blessing, it can cause an ‘Oh, the trainees will do that’ mentality. Things such as cleaning the building, shifting chairs, and making refreshments are all easy and basic ways to serve, but are also easy to leave to church staff. And this can gradually create a dangerous consumer church culture. This is completely counter-productive, and against what every-member ministry church should look like. I would advise trainees to keep a watching brief on this and ensure it is flagged. We aren’t loving our churches by doing everything!

2. Stepping down? Stepping up?

In some situations, there will be new trainees that begin 1 September 2018 with a wide breadth of experience in Christian leadership, possibly having been part of Christian Union committee, or leading a small group. These are great things to have done and will certainly set you in good stead for serving a church. But the danger is that you may miss the importance of stepping into this role with the ‘I’m here to learn’ approach. Your senior staff will have walked this path for some time and will want to help you grow in godliness as you serve and get involved. Start with your eyes wide open and hands out ready to receive, serve and love.

3. Playing the compare game

The Ministry Trainee scheme is a rich training ground for ministry with huge potential for learning and adapting under the care of a senior staff team. It is designed to be extremely fun, intense and demanding providing a space for genuine spiritual growth. Out of the rough comes the smooth, right? With this can come a feeling of resentment against other staff and church family members when it comes to critiquing others’ workload and attitude. This mindset is toxic – it will completely jeopardise your relationship with those around you. Trainees who adopt this feeling will cheat themselves out of a time that God wants to be nourishing them in every way.

Much of your work as trainees is in the spiritual realm, and therefore unseen. We won’t know the full results until we see him face-to-face.

We are servants of a sovereign God: he knows all, sees all and will reward those who are faithful in their calling. Much of your work as trainees is in the spiritual realm, and therefore unseen. We won’t know the full results until we see him face-to-face. It is good to highlight, however, the importance of having the right support in place for trainees. Churches that have thought hard about their traineeships should have robust and adequate supervisory relationships in place. More shouldn’t be expected of you than from another member of staff or a plugged-in congregation member. If you feel overburdened and are starting to view requests from others as problems rather than opportunities, then it is probably time to talk to someone about your working patterns – flexibility is essential.

Capture the vision, this is kingdom work. Keep your eyes totally fixed on the Son of Righteousness so you can share not only the gospel, but your lives as well.

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