Apprenticeship v. Internship: why we made the change

Recently I was interviewed on Sunday morning by our Youth Pastor, Sean Young about the new ministry apprenticeship track we have started at our church.  It’s a deliberate move away from internships (the classic model that has been used in churches for decades) to something that is more robust and intentional.

Here’s how the interview went:

Why have we started an apprenticeship program at Grace?

It’s the best training model.  And it’s proven.  Let me explain: when young people desire to enter into Christian ministry, the first thing they ask themselves is “How can I be trained?  How can I be prepared?”  They need two main things: 1) theological training, and 2) ministry experience.  So they sign up with a bible college somewhere and then work for a Christian camp or if they are lucky, get a part-time paid position in a local church.  But often the two aren’t connected.  So they’re learning all this head knowledge over here and trying to run a youth program over here with no one helping them to connect the two.  That’s why we’ve come up with an apprenticeship scheme.

I wanted to be Fitter-Turner engineer, so I signed up for an apprenticeship – 8000 hours (approx. 4 years) of training.  It was on training on the job, under a qualified tradesman.  He showed me how turn and cut steel on a lathe, how to sharpen drills, how to mill gears etc.  I went to block courses during the year where I learned all the theory – you know, the technical stuff and then came back to work and put that into practice, still watched by a tradesman.  By the end of it I could do everything a qualified tradesman could do.  This is how you train doctors and teachers and many other professions.  We simply want to do the same in the local church.  Put a young person under someone more experienced and train them on the job.

Why apprenticeship and not internship?

Because internships don’t equip people.  Here’s how an internship typically works:  you take an eager and promising young person who is keen for ministry.  He or she says, “I want to go into ministry.  I need some experience.  I’ll do anything.”  You say, “Great, we need someone to run this program over here.  We can pay you 15 hours.  But things are tight (you know how it is in the church…), we can only afford $6.00 an hour.  You start on Monday.  Oh, and by the way, if you have any problems, don’t call me.”  And what happens?  In 6 months the person is burnt out.  Or, if they do somehow survive, it’s by a miracle.  No one has invested in them.  No one has mentored them.  No one has explained what to do when ministry gets hard.  They throw their hands in the air and say, “I’m obviously not cut out for this.”

Sound familiar?  Happened to you?  We don’t want to do that here.  That’s why we are doing apprenticeships.  It’s an investment.

What does the program look like?

We are going to invest in a young person’s life and help form them in 3 critical areas:

  1. Conviction
  2. Character
  3. Competency

We bring them into the staff team, we absorb them in local church ministry, and we expose them to everything that happens in the local church, so they get to see how church ministry works, how they need to be led, how to deal with problem people and issues etc.   It’s a test run for them.  So, at the end of the apprenticeship they can say, “I sense that God is calling me to this full-time” or “I don’t sense the call to full-time ministry but I am now much better equipped for lay leadership in the local church.”  We also put those individuals under key leaders of ministry, so they can be discipled and mentored.  If they are young women, we put them under Francelle and Rochelle.  If they are young men, we put them under the likes of you or another male ministry leader.

We also want to direct them into good theological training.  I don’t want them signing up with any old place.  If they are going to study theology, let’s have them studying bible-based, gospel-grounded, Christ-centred theology that will provide them with a foundation that will last the journey.  Most Christian workers bail out – not because it was too hard or because they weren’t cut out of it, but because of inadequate theological preparation.  It’s the sole reason (aside from the grace of God) that I’m still sitting here after 25 years of ministry.

How does this all fit with our church’s mission – “God’s grace, to us, for the world?”

That’s a theological statement.  It’s a soundly biblical statement.  And it’s from the heart of God.  It will keep our church on track and on mission with God, as long as we remain faithful to it.  That’s where you need leadership – solid leaders, gospel-grounded leaders who will remain faithful to the mission.  What happens when all the present leaders die?  Who’s going to carry it on?  We need to raise up another generation of faithful leaders who clearly understand the church’s mandate and who are committed to gospel ministry who will lead God’s people forward and raise up another generation of faithful leaders who will then raise up another generation of leaders etc.

Why Mel? Why have we chosen her to be our first ministry apprentice?

She’s here.  She’s available.  And most importantly, she’s teachable.  Mel is one of us.  She is not an outsider.  She knows our church and she knows the people.  And she’s already proven to be faithful in the ministries she has served in.  What better person to start with?

Meet Melody Phipps, our new ministry apprentice at Grace.  Mel helps run our FUSE ministry, is part of the leadership team at DETONATE youth and serves in our children’s ministry on Sunday mornings.  She also works at Waimea Intermediate with 24/7, a program designed to place young Christian leaders in state schools for the purpose of mentoring and support.  Mel is studying toward a Diploma in Ministry Leadership through Pathways College and is being discipled by Sean Young and my wife Francelle. 

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