The Ministry Training Strategy takes a number of different names around Australia. Whether you call it MAP (Adelaide), MTS (Sydney), a traineeship (Canberra) or Equip (Melbourne); whether it’s part-time or full-time; self-funded or not; straight out of uni or after some work experience, it’s ‘on the job’ training for ministry.
I’m a teacher; I love to teach; I love to see others teach well. So I think a program like MTS / MAP has tremendous potential. However, as suggested above, it is also a highly diverse program and I wonder whether this means it runs the danger of becoming ad hoc.
I’ve hadn’t seen a list of the goals of MTS until I did some research for this post (and, having done the full 2 year program, that does set off alarm bells!). I found this one which is quite theoretical and pretty similar to the anecdotal descriptions I’ve heard of MAP – that its purpose is to give those considering ministry in the future a chance to have a go and learn from those who are more experienced in order to see if it might be for them.
But if there is a list of goals for MAP, here’s what I reckon the goals might be:
- Give the trainee opportunities for further ministry experience. Depending on their prior experience this could be anything from leading a Bible study or discipling someone for the first time, to training others to do this, to preaching and teaching.
- Push the trainee in their theological thinking by getting them to read and discuss some basic (but not too basic!) theological texts.
- Help the trainee to live something of the ministry life and experience its struggles and difficulties.
- Encourage the trainee to think about Bible College and ministry in the future, possibly in a full time capacity.
- Provide a supportive environment for reflection and feedback on all of the above with their trainer.
I think Point 5 is the hinge on which the whole program turns. Partly, that’s because the Trainer / Trainee relationship has so much potential, but it’s also because it is in this situation that the other four categories can be integrated. I noticed in Sandy Grant’s suggested list of reading for his trainees, for example, that the books were primarily of a theological and reformed nature.
I am all for theological reading. (One of my greatest frustrations in MAP was that while I relished the opportunity to read and think about theological texts, this was not shared by some of my fellow trainees and so our discussions were less fruitful than they could have been.) And a sound theological framework is an essential building block for good practice. But theology in and of itself is incomplete. I found myself again and again asking, ‘What are the implications of this?’ – and not just implications for how we think or what we teach but for the realities of dirty, shameful lives. I would like to see some pastoral reading on an MTS reading list (and no, I don’t think a theology of gender counts as pastoral reading). I read Eugene Peterson’s ‘Under the Unpredictable Plant’ at the end of last year. While I found Peterson’s exegesis unconvincing, I appreciated his willingness to stare down the difficult issues of ministry and bring both biblical and personal wisdom to them.
I would like to see MTS (as I experienced it anyway) work hard at bringing theology together with ministry and pastoring. You can teach the wonders of the atonement all you want but what’s the implication for the Trainee who feels like a fraud because their prayer life is all over the place while they teach about the importance and joy of prayer to those in their care? Large training groups may not be the place to have that discussion but a trusting Trainer / Trainee relationship is a fantastic opportunity to work that one out! Likewise, as the Trainee comes across insightful, Christian material with questionable exegesis, what’s a helpful way to think about that theologically?
The danger of an MTS program is that there will be the ‘practical’ bit and the ‘thinking’ bit – and that these will operate independently from each other. The strength of an MTS program will lie in the ability of Trainee and Trainer to work together to blend these elements into a balance that best addresses the Trainee’s weaknesses and enhances their strengths. So I don’t think there’s a one size fits all reading list of MAP, but I do think that if there’s not a balance of theology and pastoral reflection in the reading list, the Trainer is making their own work a lot harder!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.