Five Reasons I’m not doing MTS

I’ve had a number of conversations with Ministry Training Scheme apologists telling me that MTS is an essential. They do it lovingly and genuinely. And MTS is a terrific program for people thinking about vocational ministry. But I don’t think it’s for me. I think it’s probably for others. I don’t think of this as a double standard. I’m not sure when MTS became an essential. I’ve no doubt it’s helpful. I just doubt that it’s necessary.

MTS apologists have also, on occasion suggested the effectiveness of one’s ministry is tied to whether or not one undertook MTS. This is rubbish.

I don’t think setting up anything as a compulsory step in the path to ministry is right.

These apologists think my reasoning is weak. And it’s hard to argue with their reasoning without sounding arrogant (which I am, and which MTS would help) – but our minds are pretty made up. We’re already well underway with the college process. I’m not sure what these guys hoped to gain outside of unsettling us.

I would have gladly done MTS if I was still single and was asked 3 years ago. But I’m not, and I wasn’t. Well, not in any convincing way.

Here is my reasoning.

  1. Finances
    Training for ministry is a significant financial sacrifice – four years living below the poverty line while potentially trying to start a family doesn’t sound like much fun – six years sounds crazy. I’m not completely driven by finances but I am a pragmatist.
  2. Time
    I want to go to college because I want to be in full time ministry (and I want to be appropriately equipped for a lifetime of doing that). College is four years of not doing the job that I want to be doing – and not taking responsibility for a ministry. 

    I am headstrong, stubborn and confident (also known as arrogant) – I don’t want to spend two years as an apprentice before spending another four years essentially being an apprentice while at college. We feel a little bit like we’ve left the college decision a year late anyway – Robyn wants to study with me, and we want to fit a family in somewhere (God willing), and adding another two years to the schedule doesn’t work.

  3. Experience
    This reason is twofold – one, our plan, prior to college – is to end up in parish ministry and I think the most important experience for parish ministry is in the workplace – not a couple of years of extra years of ministry training. 

    Two – MTS is great for giving people an experience of the lifestyle that comes with full time ministry – and the costs involved, as well as hands on responsibility for programs. I think I’ve done a fair bit of the latter – and I grew up in the former. I don’t know how much MTS could possibly teach me about life in ministry that I haven’t experienced directly or vicariously.

  4. Pragmatics
    There are practicalities and external factors driving our decision to head to college (QTC) next year. The college is in its infancy (following significant strategic and cultural change), it needs students to keep this momentum, and I’d like to be part of that.
    If we’re thinking about Townsville as a long term option (and it’s on the list) then I’d like to be in a position to be back here sooner rather than later.
  5. I have plenty of “mentors”
    MTS National Director, Ben Pharlet, was in Townsville over the weekend – his MTS apologetic was that it’s a great chance to be spiritually “fathered” ala Paul and Timothy. He may have a point on this as a “mentoring” type role – and it has made me reconsider my ill conceived mentoring rant last week. I was probably wrong there.

    But I don’t feel like this is a massive gap in my ministry armour – I’ve benefited greatly from close relationships with people in Ministry in various roles with AFES and church. I know what Christ centred gospel focused ministry looks like. I know what it costs. I know people can be draining and hard.

    From what I’ve observed in the ministry of people I know it’s brotherhood that sustains ministry in the long term. And my peers are going through college (or finishing MTS) now – or will be in the near future. I have no doubt I could find new peers later on – but why put in the relational hard yards when I’ve got a ready made group of friends already in the throes of ministry training.   

While I love and appreciate many people who have MTS’d in the past – and think it did them (and would do me) the world of good – I just don’t think

that two years of training prior to training will have a massive effect in the long term. Having spoken to many MTS graduates I’m sure it’s a good thing – I just don’t think it’s a necessary thing. Your thoughts (especially you Izaac)?

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

14 thoughts on “Five Reasons I’m not doing MTS”

  1. Your points make a lot of sense, without really knowing much at all about MTS. But just in regards to finances and kids, the Government is quite generous with the assistance they give to families, especially families on low incomes. And small children don’t cost much to run, really.

  2. I don’t think that MTS gets rid of the arrogance. What gets rid of the arrogance is being out on your own in a church and realising that you suck at it.

    Trouble with MTS, student ministry positions and even assistant minister positions is that the buck still doesn’t stop with you. Everything wrong with your church is still someone else’s fault.

    1. “What gets rid of the arrogance is being out on your own in a church and realising that you suck at it.”

      Does this mean people who don’t suck stay arrogant?

      “Trouble with MTS, student ministry positions and even assistant minister positions is that the buck still doesn’t stop with you.”

      That’s kind of my biggest problem with it – it’s two more years of not being in charge. I’m a frustrated 2-I-C, and frustrated not-I-C.

  3. Ministry is a job that is almost impossible not to suck at.

    The most gifted ministers I know have huge areas of incompetence.

    The people who stay arrogant are those who won’t accept that the problem is with them. Such people blame their congregations and tend to move around a bit.

    1. If everybody sucks then it’s not really “sucking” – sucking in my mind involves being below average.

      “The most gifted ministers I know have huge areas of incompetence. ”

      That would be an interesting list to read in the context of Brisbane Presbyterianism. Blanket statements like that are dangerous. I think discussions on the basis of “competence” are dangerous too – different people’s ministry will be different based on individual personalities. I don’t think – other than Jesus and the apostles – that there’s a Holy Grail of ministry practice – it’s just a matter of serving in the way you’re capable of doing so.

      I know (personally and by reputation) plenty of older, arrogant, successful ministers who haven’t moved around a great deal… and have been successful.

  4. Maybe it depends on how you describe arrogance. Take the example of my pet frustration. That’s arrogance.

    Then there’s confidence, which I think is a different thing and can be nicely combined with humility.

    Don’t worry Nathan. I think you’ll suck at ministry. By that, I mean that you will find yourself unable to do the task of leading people to Christ and providing a consistent model of godliness for your congregation. [This will get you down.] You’ll need to trust God to do for your people what you can’t do and any arrogance you have at the moment will turn into something better.

  5. Thanks Nathan,
    I was already planning my reply based purely upon the title. Specifically that the main reason you should do an apprenticeship is that you don’t want to. Someone else should be the one to tell you don’t pass go, do not collect $200, go straight to college. For the record, there are people who I’ve encouraged not to do an MTS apprenticeship for various reasons. You are not one of them. Though you may have slightly swayed me. In terms of pragmatics, especially that you both want to study together it seems good to go to QTC next year.

    I would however disagree with you that the cost of ministry can be learnt vicariously. Especially being married, it is priceless to learn how you operate together under the pressures of ministry. Also, financially, there is no reason you wouldn’t be able to support yourself on an MTS salary (maybe not save, but survive without dipping into savings). If not, your church should pay you more.

    Also there a few errors about your view of MTS.
    – It is not a program as it looks different for everyone.
    – An apprenticeship is not a waste of time (point 2). It is full-time ministry. Just the same as when you get out of college. The question is, will you begin your steep learning curve before or after college?
    – MTS is real responsibility. The majority of my ministry is conducted apart from supervision. I predominantly roam free and at times talk through what I’m doing later. You are responsible for people. If you leave them be, there is not always someone to clean up after you.

    This is actually the area I think you would benefit most from doing MTS (while acknowledging that it isn’t essential, and you have some good reasons not to). I know you’re thought out theologically, I know you’ve seen (and no doubt experienced) the cost of ministry, I know you have solid biblical priorities. But doing an apprenticeship teaches you about people. It exposes you to pastoral issues and a range of people and opportunities that you can only learn through experience. Sitting down and reading the Bible with people. But not just one person; as many as you can. Non-Christians, baby Christians, Christians from different denominational backgrounds, nominal Christians who don’t know they aren’t Christian, those struggling with specific sins, those thinking about full-time ministry, those keen to serve but not sure where, atheists, other religious backgrounds. What does it mean for each of these people that Jesus died for their sin? What would it mean for them to serve Jesus as Lord?

    On the way you will learn that people suck. But predominantly MTS is a Bible-reading movement. An apprenticeship that teaches you how to bring the gospel to bear in the lives of people.

    Yes, much of this will come in the years after college. But I’m glad I’ve begun learning it already.

    I also think you need to rethink how you’re going to be spending your college years. It is certainly a decreased time of public ministry. I’m a big fan of setting away time for study rather than doing it on the fly. But it is my hope my 1-1 ministry will continue in a decreased capacity over my time at college. Especially in the relationships I’ve begun during my MTS apprenticeship. There are guys who God has saved through me reading the Bible with them who I want to help not get choked by the weeds, non-Christians who I hope to read the Bible with further and others who I’ve encouraged to think about vocational ministry who are still thinking it through. College need not be a ministry black hole that you crawl out of after 4 years.

    Is that enough ranting and raving?

    That said, I can see why you’ve chosen to go straight to college. But when uni kicks off again in a fortnight I’m going to be sitting down and reading the Bible one-to-one with about eight different guys including at least 2 non-Christians, leading two small group Bible studies, working on a sermon, leading a training course on biblical theology and more. You just can’t get that amount of experience as a married man working a full-time job. It’s made me hunger for college, hunger to know God more, hunger to know his word, hunger to know more answers! I’m a man ready to soak in the Bible even more at College.

    Conclusion: You are going to college next year. My challenge would be (if you aren’t already) to try and meet a couple of guys to read the Bible with individually each week. Any new visitors to church the past few weeks? Start with them.

    —DISCLAIMER—
    This is not a paid advertisement.

    1. Ahh, the apologetics begins…

      Thanks for the long comment and “balance” Izaac – it would have been better were it in list form, but oh well.

      Now to address your points…

      “It exposes you to pastoral issues and a range of people and opportunities that you can only learn through experience. Sitting down and reading the Bible with people. But not just one person; as many as you can. Non-Christians, baby Christians, Christians from different denominational backgrounds, nominal Christians who don’t know they aren’t Christian, those struggling with specific sins, those thinking about full-time ministry, those keen to serve but not sure where, atheists, other religious backgrounds. What does it mean for each of these people that Jesus died for their sin? What would it mean for them to serve Jesus as Lord?”

      You don’t need MTS to do any of that – and in fact if you haven’t done all of those things and come through still wanting to go to college then don’t plan to go to college. That comes into the “experience” side of things. Not all of my experience is vicarious. But the vicarious stuff counts for something. Other than “vicarious” stuff I have been involved in some capacity in all of those facets of Christian life. But this isn’t really just about me. MTS is a luxury not a necessity. MTS is so far from being a necessity that I would recommend it as a “testing the waters” deal rather than a pathway for those committed to full time ministry.

      “On the way you will learn that people suck. But predominantly MTS is a Bible-reading movement. An apprenticeship that teaches you how to bring the gospel to bear in the lives of people.”

      The nature of your MTS experience is shaped largely by its context – MTS in a church context would not enjoy the same freedom you’re enjoying in your campus/church set up. Pastoral care in the church context will no doubt involve the bible (as all pastoral care should) – but the structure of bible time is different.

      “I’m going to be sitting down and reading the Bible one-to-one with about eight different guys including at least 2 non-Christians, leading two small group Bible studies, working on a sermon, leading a training course on biblical theology and more. You just can’t get that amount of experience as a married man working a full-time job.”

      Not sure that’s true – I’d say my experience over 8 years of heavy involvement in church and AFES ministries has more than filled out that particular list of roles.

      “I also think you need to rethink how you’re going to be spending your college years. It is certainly a decreased time of public ministry.”

      Again, not sure that’s true. I would say it’s much increased – though some discretionary time becomes study time in most courses you’ll be involved in a church ministry and every college student I talk to feels a tension between ministry and study – I don’t think it’s “decreased” in fact, I think college – and being a college student – will open up great avenues for casual evangelism… because “what do you do” questions will at times lead to that.

      “Specifically that the main reason you should do an apprenticeship is that you don’t want to.”

      That’s a catch 22 isn’t it.

      ” It is full-time ministry. Just the same as when you get out of college. The question is, will you begin your steep learning curve before or after college?”

      It’s not the same – see Simone’s comment. I’d much rather be making my mistakes (and tackling the learning curve) where the responsibility is mine and the pressure is greater. I want the responsibility of post-college ministry where the mistakes are mine to own. My inner entrerpreneur wants the ability to take risks and assess the results myself – not have them called out as “areas for development”… it is full time, yes… I agree, I don’t know why it’s necessary to taste full time ministry without all the good bits (like ownership and the ability to set strategy/direction) in order to make an educated decision.

      “Conclusion: You are going to college next year. My challenge would be (if you aren’t already) to try and meet a couple of guys to read the Bible with individually each week. Any new visitors to church the past few weeks? Start with them.”

      The problem with advice – even with the disclaimer – is that can come with too many assumptions. I didn’t list the number of things I’m already doing ministry wise because I don’t think that’s the point – and I won’t – but I’m pretty confident that I’m not going to be too far behind the practical curve simply because I didn’t sign up for a year or two of apprenticing.

      I don’t think I’m a special case – if you’re considering ministry, other people are encouraging you down that pathway and you’re not a 2-I-C type then earn your degree and head to a regional parish where you can make your mistakes under your own steam. MTS is a great scheme for city ministries where you’ll spend your ministry life (or the first 10 years) marching to the beat of somebody else’s drum. It’s good practice for that sort of ministry. That’s the problem with the current MTS ideology – it’s driven by the strategic direction of the SydAng movement and training people for a life time of service in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

  6. Okay, so I forgot for a second that the opportunity to comment free from fear of reprisal is lost when you know the person whose blog you’re commenting on. In the words of Bob Franklin in the movie Bad Eggs, “I retract the contemptuous glare I just gave you.”

    Okay, in point form.
    “MTS is a luxury not a necessity. MTS is so far from being a necessity that I would recommend it as a “testing the waters” deal rather than a pathway for those committed to full time ministry.”
    – I agree that MTS is a luxury. One which I’m convinced makes for better ministers who end up serving in vocational ministry for longer. I think I was also a tad unclear. An apprenticeship is not about exposure to various experiences but instead is about getting experience. This means it can serve as testing the waters, but would not be the main reason I suggest people do an apprenticeship.

    “The nature of your MTS experience is shaped largely by its context – MTS in a church context would not enjoy the same freedom you’re enjoying in your campus/church set up. Pastoral care in the church context will no doubt involve the bible (as all pastoral care should) – but the structure of bible time is different.”
    – Christian are sometimes over cared for. It would be dissatisfying to not have evangelism as the major part of your apprenticeship. It is still all gospel and all Bible-reading but working with AFES ensures evangelism is a high priority. This should be more common in churches than it is.

    “I would say it’s (public ministry during college) much increased – though some discretionary time becomes study time in most courses you’ll be involved in a church ministry and every college student I talk to feels a tension between ministry and study – I don’t think it’s “decreased” in fact, I think college – and being a college student – will open up great avenues for casual evangelism”
    – Certainly if you’ve come straight from the workforce it is an increase. Not if you were previously an apprentice.

    ““Specifically that the main reason you should do an apprenticeship is that you don’t want to.”
    That’s a catch 22 isn’t it.”
    – Yes.

    “It’s not the same – see Simone’s comment. I’d much rather be making my mistakes (and tackling the learning curve) where the responsibility is mine and the pressure is greater. I want the responsibility of post-college ministry where the mistakes are mine to own.”
    – No doubt you will learn much at the other end of college. Who you are and what you are like will determine what your trainer would be hoping for you to learn in two years of an apprenticeship. It might be deemed success for someone to dismally fail at everything they try where the damage can be minimal, just to bring them down a few pegs. Their first congregation post-college will thank us in heaven.

    “I didn’t list the number of things I’m already doing ministry wise because I don’t think that’s the point – and I won’t – but I’m pretty confident that I’m not going to be too far behind the practical curve simply because I didn’t sign up for a year or two of apprenticing. I don’t think I’m a special case – if you’re considering ministry, other people are encouraging you down that pathway”
    – It is easy to see from your blog (and knowing) you, that you are cut out for ministry. I understand why if MTS is just testing the waters why you would not consider it. I don’t think that has to be the goal of an apprenticeship.

    “MTS is a great scheme for city ministries where you’ll spend your ministry life (or the first 10 years) marching to the beat of somebody else’s drum. It’s good practice for that sort of ministry. That’s the problem with the current MTS ideology – it’s driven by the strategic direction of the SydAng movement and training people for a life time of service in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.”
    – Wrong. Thanks for trying to make me bite, but I’m going to let this one through to the keeper.

    I am however looking forward to one of the side benefits of you not doing an apprenticeship; coming out of college at similar times even though potentially in different cities.

    1. Think of it more as “robust” discussion – and the opportunity to convince others that MTS is a good thing in the light of our decision not to do it. Not that I think this post will play any part in that decision. I hoped that it would preempt more attempts to convert us to the path of MTS.

      I think MTS apologists are too sold on the Star Wars model of training. This whole “spiritual guidance” thing is to Yoda-esque for me.

      “That’s the problem with the current MTS ideology – it’s driven by the strategic direction of the SydAng movement and training people for a life time of service in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.”

      I actually think this is true. It’s my biggest criticism of the scheme – I know it has been appropriated elsewhere – but it’s designed to make worker bees serving the hive that is Sydney’s diocese (or if you’re less cynical about the inability to get a proportional number of reformed evangelical workers out of Sydney – the Sydney diocese, AFES and CMS). It requires significant changes outside that context.

      It doesn’t, from what I’ve seen, engender responsibility, ownership and entrepreneurial endeavour. Ministry is reading the Bible and bringing it to bear on people’s lives – but it’s more than that. If it’s 100% reading the Bible with people then why is Paul’s ministry to Timothy the model? They didn’t have “the Bible” as we know it… I know Paul encourages Timothy and mentions that he has “known the scriptures” since birth, but there’s more to the role than the scriptural corrections, rebukes and training – there’s other stuff like shouldering responsibility, caring for temporal needs, understanding culture (like workplace culture) in order to train people better.

      I’d trade two extra years in the workforce with non-Christians for two years of reading the Bible with Christians and cold call evangelism.

      I’m not sure when MTS started to be viewed like this – as an “essential”. But I know that the first generation of guys pushing MTS didn’t do MTS themselves… and their ministries have all turned out in a way that I’d like to reproduce – arrogantly, and humanly, I’d like to do better, but that doesn’t fit with my theology of ministry… ultimately my ministry won’t stand and fall on whether or not I’ve done MTS – I can’t see it having any real impact at all. It will stand on my faithfulness to God’s word and my role as a worker in his field – and his decision to bless that work (or not). I can see how MTS might be helpful in the “standing” part – but not in the outcome part. And I respectfully decline to take part on the basis that I’d rather be standing out in my section of the field sooner rather than later. I can’t wait that extra two years – the work is urgent.

  7. Being brief (I’m over my allotted blogging time for the day)
    1. You’re right; MTS is now thought of too much as a pastoral based model. Which is partly because people don’t see those in AFES as prominently and those overseas are also not the face of MTS.
    But also, the strength and weakness of a Paul/Timothy model of training is you replicate yourself. So when you start training up the next generation they will inherit many of your good and bad traits.

    2. There is great weaknesses as apprenticeships have moved away from an evangelistic focus. Read Mikey Lynch on his xnreflections.blogspot.com from late June recapping the old man of MTS Col Marshall’s thoughts on a radical reshaping of MTS.

    3. How can I disagree with you that Jesus will build his church. He will. But through people. It’s clear that Godly wisdom leads to more people in ministry. You could similarly argue that you could skip Bible college altogether because God will use you as he wants and the work is urgent.

  8. And I still can’t help but think you are suggesting more than just choose MTS or don’t, but rather it’s pretty much a waste a time taking two years away from real ministry.

    1. “And I still can’t help but think you are suggesting more than just choose MTS or don’t, but rather it’s pretty much a waste a time taking two years away from real ministry.”

      It’s more than possible that in order to try to move the understanding of MTS from where I currently see it ie compulsory precursor to a vocational life time of evangelical ministry – I am being a bit polemic.

      But I have tried to point out that I think my case is an exception – rather than a rule. I don’t want to pretend to be “exceptional” but there are certain benefits of being a preacher’s kid that only preachers kids can really understand – I’m sure there are preacher’s kids out there who think MTS is important still (and are in fact doing them). I think if you add up the sum of the parts of the MTS experience you only come out slightly ahead in terms of training and stuff to where I think I’d come out if I add my heritage to my particular experience with AFES and church based ministry.

      I think MTS is great. We have just decided it’s not for us – and I’d like people to respect that decision, understand that it wasn’t made without consideration and be prepared to accept that we, and those advising us, know best about where we’re at. MTS apologists typically fail to do that – and the intro paragraph of your first comment was pretty much on par with what those people are saying… note that “those people” are typically either wanting to recruit me to do MTS with them, the head of MTS in Australia, or friends currently doing MTS. In other words they’re not particularly agenda free objective people…

      “But also, the strength and weakness of a Paul/Timothy model of training is you replicate yourself.”

      I’d like to think that over the years I’ve been part of enough conversations about the nuts and bolts of people’s ministry through the different churches I’ve been involved in and the different family connections and the different friends I have in ministry to be able to pick and choose things that do and don’t work from their ministries.

      I may be myopic but I don’t think that purely reproducing my dad’s ministry would be a bad thing – even producing something 50% as good as his, by any measure of success, would be terrific and humbling. If it’s purely on pragmatics and strategies and “experience” then I have a lifetime of watching my dad work in the home I grew up in and being part of the “post church breakdown” conversation to have some idea what the mechanics of a successful church look like.

      There are plenty of things I’d like to try that are different to his approach. Some of them probably won’t work. MTS would not be an avenue to try them.

      MTS wouldn’t give me any more preaching opportunities than I’m currently getting (monthly), and I’ve done my fair share of one to one ministry and “pastoral care” of people struggling with weird, wacky and distressing sins and doctrinal issues. Obviously its not appropriate to go into specifics – but uni campuses and monoculture unichurches are not where I’m looking to end up so the “experience” I’m looking for isn’t the same as the experience you are, or that you’re getting.

      “You could similarly argue that you could skip Bible college altogether because God will use you as he wants and the work is urgent.”

      There is a school of thought that suggests the same thing – I believe Mikey Lynch – the very man you reference – may be from that school of “non school” thought.

      I’m not convinced – I’d like a robust understanding of doctrine to be underpinning whatever ministry programming and teaching I put into place in the context of my own full time ministry. Not to mention the “on the job” training that you’d get in the pseudo MTS you do while at college. That’s my pragmatic side.

      If I wasn’t convinced of the need for the education part then I’d just do MTS and look to plant a church. Or I’d just plant a church. I’m not sure that’s a laughable idea (which is the impression your comment gave me) – Driscoll did it, and plenty of other less successful people like him. There’s apparently an Asian college that requires a successful church plant prior to accepting students.

Comments are closed.