Someone asked me last year what my top ten tips were for someone starting a Ministry Apprenticeship. I’d never thought about it before and managed to come up with 3 or 4 points that I thought might be helpful. But as those two who asked me are starting their Apprenticeships soon, I should keep my promise and write down some hopefully helpful things (hopefully for guys as well, this is all from my experience). I think these are helpful for anyone in any kind of ministry (paid or lay) as well; I’m thankful for what I’ve learned and the impact it will have on ministries in the future.
1. Remember God is in control: This seems a bit cliche and obvious, and trust in God is something that you learn more and more as you face difficult times in your life, but it’s worth being number 1. As an MTSer, you get thrown in the deep end a bit and will feel out of your depth a lot, as well as emotionally and mentally exhausted, and sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that, while you feel out of control, God is not. He will use whatever situation for his glory, even if that means something doesn’t work out how you wanted or expected, but you grow. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him… to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…” Romans 28,29.
2. Be thankful for others’ gifts and strengths: I found I was comparing and judging myself against my colleagues a lot, which led me to feel quite down about myself. I was bitter and envious and felt like I was not a useful member of the team. I spent a lot of time working through my attitude about being a part of the body of Christ. When you feel inadequate next to someone else because their strength is your weakness, give thanks to God for them and learn from them, but don’t expect to be like them. Of course you will grow (and you will be asked to do things that are specifically not your strengths). It took me a long time to work out the value of this.
3. Be clear about expectations: Often we have much higher expectations of ourselves than others do of us (especially in ministry – our trainers are very gracious). A lot of my anxiety in first year came from thinking I wasn’t doing enough or wasn’t meeting expectations. My mistake was not talking to my trainer about it, because when I finally did, she said “oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t expect you to be able to do that yet, just to give it a go!” It was a relief, and a bit of a slap-forehead moment. If you’re given a responsibility, and you’re not entirely sure what it involves, ask. I’m not very good at asking.
4. Remember your supporters: It’s so comforting, especially when you feel out of your depth and alone, to know that you have so many people who are praying for you and encouraging and paying for you to be doing gospel work. There will be times when you need to step up your support raising or focus on thanking and informing your supporters, but you have so many other things to do that it gets pushed further down your list. But you couldn’t do it without them.
5. Be honest with people about your sins: As you spend more time among godly Christians, and in God’s word, you will likely feel the weight of your own sin more than you ever have. It can be such a relief to confess your sins to Christians you trust, even those sins you think no one else will be feeling, because often they know personally how you feel (especially at Apprentice Conference – best conference of your MTS years). It can be so weight-lifting to share it with others. Not only that, but often, our sins are very deep and internal, and others may not see it. It can be encouraging for other Christians (especially younger Christians) to know that you struggle with sin as well and you’re definitely not perfect. Sharing our sin with others means we can pray for each other and ask periodically how you are growing and repenting in those areas. “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” 1 Timothy 4:15
6. Rest well: One of the things that stand out of things I learned was how important rest is, and what is restful for me. There were a few things that I did that helped:
- separating my work and rest space
- allowed myself to do things that I like but wouldn’t usually feel I have time for (e.g. baking, craft, reading books, watching dvds). I even made this a goal (try a new recipe every two weeks);
- forcing myself to do my exercises – I have a weak core and my body often aches, but there was a vicious cycle of feeling that I didn’t have time to do them, and then the extra aches made me less productive and meant that things took longer, so I felt like I didn’t have enough time. Better to still have things to do and feel well rather than having things to do and feeling sick and sore. I learned that the hard way a few times.
- saying no to other conferences and meetings and even catch-ups with friends, so that I could have time off and alone. I liked to have the occasional whole day where I didn’t have any commitments;
- trying not to do any work after 8pm (it takes me a long time to wind down);
- reading fiction before bedtime; it helped me to clear my head so I could sleep well;
- joined the girls’ soccer team – I don’t prioritise exercising well, so a team was good for me.
Everyone rests differently and you won’t always be able to. There are seasons where you will be run off your feet and will be looking forward to the window of light where you’ll have your next opportunity to rest. But if you can work out what your regular strategies will be, you’ll cope a lot better and able to be more godly. And as much as possible, do not work on your day off! Don’t touch anything, don’t even think about it. As my minister said (not exactly in these words): “Did you have a day off? No? God gives us 6 days to work; you can hand the kingdom over to him on the seventh.” Also, here is a book that helped.
7. Remember that Christ is the Lord: Again, very obvious. The reason it’s a separate point to number 1 is that it helped me a lot. Your faith can take a bit of a hit when you start ministry as work. My lowest moments often stemmed from my emotions and motivations – I’m not someone who gets really excited about things, and sometimes I feel guilty for it. I wonder if I really am a genuine Christian if I don’t desire and have joy in the things of God (but I’ve learned that joy doesn’t necessarily relate to emotions), which relate to my motivations. I often felt that I was doing the things I was doing because it was my job and I needed to be reliable and faithful in the commitments I’ve made (which you do), but I didn’t often feel I was doing things out of love for others, but my own pride. I questioned my faith. And then I asked myself, “do I believe in Christ Jesus, crucified, risen, reigning and returning?” If the answer is ‘yes’ then you’re alright. Then you can work on your weaknesses with a clearer mind and heart.
8. Catch up with someone regularly who is not connected to the ministry you’re doing: I was meeting with one of my best friends every week or two (I still do, it’s great) to catch up, vent (sometimes they’re called your “vomit bucket”, just to listen but not have to provide solutions), read the bible and pray. It helps you deal with the hard and frustrating things you face, and also helps with any feelings of loneliness. It’s interesting how in people ministry, you can feel alone. But you’re often giving so much of yourself and ‘ministering’ that you just need a friend. I think it helped me gain a bigger appreciation for my ministers.
9. Read your bible and pray: Again, super obvious. But when you’re busy (and everyone will know this), time with God is often the first thing to get left out of your day. You’ll feel the pressure of all the things you have to get done that you’ll feel guilty having your own time with God. Our logic is so flawed! If we are not spending time with God ourselves, how can we encourage or expect others to? And if we are not working on our own relationship with God, how can we be fit to be doing his work? This is the most important time to make sure you have a regular date with God. I find it helpful to make sure I do it before I do anything else (I now try to read the bible at breakfast and pray in the car when I get to work early).
10. Expect to hate it at first: Someone else who has done MTS was told (and told me at the end of my first year) that, “In the first 6 months, you’ll hate it, you’ll wonder why you ever agreed to do ministry and you’ll want to quit.” This was definitely true for me, though at the time, I didn’t want to share it (it was one of those things I felt really guilty about and then realised that others felt the same way). But as you get to know people and remember their names, as you get used to the things you’re responsible for and work out your rest and routines, it will get better! Persevere. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons… God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:7,10,11.