In many evangelical circles, programs like the Ministry Training Strategy (MTS) or Metro are usual pathways for those who have been identified to be suitable for pastoral ministry. For those who are less familiar with these programs, they are essentially 2 year pre-seminary (theological college) apprenticeships that enable candidates to have more hands-on ministry experience before they enter into 3-4 years of academic studies, thus enabling them to:
1) Get a better idea of what vocational ministry is like
2) So that they may have ministry and theological questions that they can wrestle with when they enter theological college (turning ministry from something that is abstract into something that is real)
Some would say that the purpose is also in order to identify or test to see if an individual is suitable for ministry. I’d argue that this identification or testing period should be conducted all throughout the individual’s church life, though I’m aware that this may be difficult if the individual has been to multiple churches.
In any case, these are excellent programs and they have trained some of the best pastors I know (one of which is my pastor). However, some people choose not to do them for various reasons, and I was one of those who was not thoroughly convinced of my need for it.
Throughout my time in senior high school, I wrestled with the idea of whether or not I should consider being trained for pastoral ministry. I had the surprising desire to do so (I say surprising because growing up as a pastor’s kid and seeing the challenges, I vouched to never become a pastor) and increasingly, people around me were affirming my gifts and suggesting that I give it more consideration. So when I finally realised that there would be no greater joy than to serve our great God, I mentally set out to complete my undergraduate degrees and enter theological college straight after that. Knowing that, I engaged in ministry as much as I could throughout my university studies to get a better grasp of what pastoral ministry would look like. I knew that most pastors had to be a ‘jack of all trades’, therefore I wanted to get a diverse ministry experience. Consequently, I was involved in leading my church’s youth group and kids Sunday school. I started a young adults (specifically university student) bible study group, got involved with the RICE Movement to experience working in a parachurch context, and was part of overseas short term mission teams.
I continued with this mentality until I met my current pastor, Peter Ko, in my second year of university. He saw that I didn’t have a mentor while being actively engaged in all these ministries and took me under his wing so that I had consistent input and feedback. As time went on, he challenged my plans and suggested that I should consider some form of apprenticeship. Even though I had expressed that it wasn’t something I was thinking about, he kept urging me and saying that I would really benefit from it, even if I couldn’t really see how it would just yet.
Although I didn’t think an apprenticeship was necessary for me, I toyed with the idea every now and then, weighing up the pros and the cons. From an educational perspective, I believed in the power of close teacher to student relationships, especially in a one-to-one context. Teachers in these relationships have a profound influence and are vital in forming the students’ mind. We see this in the relationship between PhD students and their supervisors, martial art masters and students, and Aristotle and Alexander the Great. This led me to a conclusion: if I ever did an internship/apprenticeship, it would be because of the pastor from whom I will be learning from. Yet, my stubborn mind kept fighting back as I justified being able to learn from Pete even while I was studying in theological college.
All this would change.
I was pushed over the edge by an online journal published by 9-marks ministries. I don’t remember how I stumbled across it or how I came across this specific issue of the journal, but it changed my life. The issue was published in early 2009 and was titled ‘Raising up the Next Generation of Pastors’. In it, Dr Mark Dever and others emphasised the point that ‘raising up pastors is the churches work’. This was revolutionary to me because I had always thought that pastors were raised in seminaries. This fact was further emphasised when I listened to a panel discussion titled ‘Training the Next Generation of Pastors and Church Leaders’ where Dr Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theology Seminary, emphasised that raising pastors is the Church’s responsibility. From then on, my entire theology of ministry calling and ministry training began to shift, which led me the conclusion:
1) If pastors are to be raised in local churches, then I need to be part of a local church that is committed to doing that
2) If I want to be a pastor who raises future leaders, then I need to be trained by a pastor in order to know how to do that well.
Soon after spending more time reading, thinking, and praying, I informed Pastor Pete that I would be delighted to serve as an intern at South-West Chinese Christian Church in order to see upfront what ministry was like in that specific context and to learn from him and the other pastors at our church.
I’m about to finish my internship and I can confidently say that I don’t regret my decision to spend time in an internship before entering college. I’ve learnt so much about ministry, discipleship, and myself throughout this entire process. The mentoring relationship between Pete and me has been incredible. He’s helped me process ministry ideas, journeyed with me through challenges in life, and has affirmed me in my calling.
It’s really great having an ‘older brother’ figure who you know will pick up after your mess, prop you up on his shoulders so you can see further, and push you to limits that you didn’t know you could reach (very much like lifting weights when you have a spotter. It makes you lift heavier because you know someone will give you a boost in case you fail).
What about you?
So perhaps you’re considering vocational pastoral ministry but you’re unsure about the next steps.
If you’re a young guy like me, I believe that an internship/apprenticeship would be very beneficial. It’s a huge commitment, but like anything, huge commitments reap huge rewards. However, before you make your decision, here are two factors that you could consider in your decision making process.
One of the most natural questions is ‘where should I do it’? This is fairly complex because you have the option of doing it at your own church, doing it at another church, or in some cases, doing it at an educational institution like universities.
If you are considering the pastorate, my suggestion would be to do it at a local church. The primary reason is that doing so will allow you to ‘practice with real bullets’. Ministry in churches and universities are quite different. The people you come in contact with in churches and universities will be very different. In universities, your primary audience will naturally be university students. It is fantastic and I know of many great pastors who have been trained by university-based apprenticeships. That being said, I think the local church context will give you a better simulation of what pastoral ministry will look like.
When you graduate from theological college, the reality is that most of whom you spend your time with will not be a specific age group. It will be very diverse. You may very well be preaching to a congregation of newborns, retirees, and everything in between. You may very well be having a hand in multiple ministries attempting to reach multiple groups of people, ranging from youth group, kids group, creche, men’s group, etc etc…And if you believe that ministry is fundamentally about people, then knowing how to work with a diverse group of people is extremely important!
Therefore, being in a local church that has a hand on all these things will give you a more realistic view of what ministry will be like, and hence better prepare you for the challenges ahead.
As I mentioned before, one of the large determining factors for my consideration was my trainer.
Put it simply, your internship experience will be as good as your trainer.
If your current local church pastor is not familiar with this training model or is hesitant to train future pastors, then perhaps it’s worth considering another church that is more well resourced to do so. I know of a specific generous church in Sydney that has an annual budget of over $400,000 and a team of trainers invested in training the next generation of ministry workers. The fruit of the program is evident, with many graduates of the program currently running great ministries throughout the state.
Your church doesn’t need to have resources like that, but it should have a view of training leaders. My church is not as well-resourced as that particular church mentioned, but the board of elders and pastors are invested in training leaders. They are willing to take risks in young men like me and are sold-out to doing whatever is necessary to raise them up. And more importantly, the trainer knows the benefits of training and is completely committed to doing so.
Thus, have a close look at your trainer and ask yourself
- ‘Would I like to be a pastor like him?’
- More generally, your trainer will teach you things that he is used to and methods that has proven success in his ministry. Do you agree with them? Do you see value in them?
- ‘Does this pastor exemplify a kind of godliness that I would like to emulate?’
- The godliness of a trainer can sometimes be sadly overlooked. How does this pastor exemplify the fruit of the Spirit? Does he have an air of arrogance that suggests he knows it all or he is humble and willing to receive feedback? An arrogant trainer will be difficult to work with and learn from but a humble trainer will understand that you’re still learning and give you space to grow, make mistakes, and thrive.
- ‘Does this pastor have the skill to train?
- Are there evidences of this type of skill? Has he trained others before? (it may not have to be formal training like internships. It could be simple things like mentoring lay leaders and the like)
- ‘Will this pastor give me access to his life?’
- This doesn’t mean he lets you in on everything. But will this pastor give me an honest view of how ministry impacts their personal life, family, and relationships? Because if not, you may end up having a disillusioned view of ministry.
- And a more personal one: ‘Will I have fun with my trainer?’
- You are going to be spending a lot of time with your trainer, and if you can’t relax around him or be yourself when you’re in the same room, then he can’t really see you for who you are and thus won’t be able to train you effectively. Find a pastor whom you feel comfortable with because he will have authority to speak into your life.
Deciding to enrol in an internship can be a huge decision in your life, and I know that different individuals will have other factors to consider.
So if you’d like to chat more about your thoughts and journey, I’d love to be able to speak with you. If you feel like your church may not yet be resourced to train you, then I’m sure Pastor Pete would be willing to spend some time helping you process some alternatives. Remember that vocational ministry is an honourable call, therefore those who are preparing to engage in that need to be as well-trained and well-prepared as possible!