Being pushed on to the conveyor belt at Hunter Bible Church (HBC) was one of the greatest privileges of my life. In fact, it was life-giving.
I was swept into a menacing ministry machine that would slice and dice me, push and prod me and lovingly lacerate me until I was reprogrammed to endorse this very experience as the best possible production-line for anyone’s life.
Let me tell you about that journey.
I began a ministry apprenticeship at HBC in 2010, but was I ready?
Flicking through old emails a decade on, I find one written to the church interview panel, before I met them face-to-face, explaining my mysterious wisdom, beyond them, as to why they should not make me an apprentice. The brief suggestion in reply: “come along, be interviewed and be yourself.”
It was too late to escape, because, looking back, the process had begun on me long before that step which took me inside the machine. The apprenticeship helped me to realise that.
Right from my first day there at HBC, years earlier, even with hindsight I cannot easily see where I could possibly have alighted, though I always suspected quality control might snatch me away at any moment!
I never felt ready, but the gospel is powerful fuel. Otherwise, the sage advice of my interviewer, “be yourself,” would never have been right. It was myself that was the problem – it was myself who was not yet ready to serve.
In that old email, I see good, even godly reasoning to resist an apprenticeship (I’m rather encouraged by my argument even today) but what my godlier advisers gently indicated was that godliness will never lead you away from ministry!
If you follow Jesus, you serve. He changes you. It’s not HBC’s conveyor belt, it’s his!
As I hear the gospel, by grace I put off sin and am transformed into his glorious likeness – my friends and I prayed and still pray regularly for this.
Over time I was offered increasing opportunities to serve. I was asked to read the Bible 1-1. I was asked to ask someone else to read 1-1. I was asked to be involved in a ministry team. I was asked to lead a ministry team. I was asked to lead a team of leaders.
I was served wonderfully by that gospel air-I-breathed at HBC. As I served as an apprentice I was served this mindset: if life following Jesus is about serving (because Jesus so wonderfully first served us), as you serve, the best way to serve others is to help them serve. If you are not helping others serve Jesus with their lives, are you really serving Jesus?
This was seen in some of the common expressions in our training: “put yourself out of a job”, “how are you working to replace yourself?” and “who are you bringing to Mission Minded?”
It was embedded in the culture. Mid-year, every year, around the winter school holidays, someone would always begin asking the question, “Who are you bringing to Mission Minded this year?” Every ministry leader would be made to answer; Growth Group leaders too would be expected to consider who they should tap on the shoulder. By the end of July there’d be a list of 100 names of people who needed to be invited.
I remember Richard Sweatman and Evan McFarlane independently running ministry workshops at separate Mission Minded Conferences. They both said that this list was a key starting point in the cycle. “Even if you don’t think there are any, sit down with a sheet of paper and write 10 names, your 10 best-shots. Invite them to Mission Minded.”
From there a tremendous momentum developed. Jesus’ call to “take up your cross” is strengthened by fellowship with those making radical decisions to follow him. That is why finding the first 10 is the hardest. But once the cycle is rolling, it becomes easier to continue than to stop.
At HBC, it became the expectation that there would be a bunch of people stepping up into ministries each year, and always some taking steps towards apprenticeships. There was always movement.
As someone who much prefers doing it myself over asking someone else (doing it myself is usually much easier), there were times that this constant movement was incredibly uncomfortable. But that’s service. And I am working at overcoming my selfishness.
Since those days, I have left the Hunter Bible Conveyor, finished Moore College and now continue serving with the team at Auburn and Newington Anglican. Outwardly, the machine looks very different here (dare I say, less shiny), but I have discovered that even Anglicans have the same fuel. The gospel challenges us to give up our lives and serve our Lord Jesus.
We are faced with all kinds of ‘wisdom’ as to why people are not ready to serve. They are past uni-age, they don’t speak our language, they read the Bible differently, they think the church ‘minister’ serves them, they are busy forging lives for themselves in a new country.
These barriers are significant, but life is found in serving Jesus so godliness will never lead you away from ministry.
My first apprentice, in his second year, is currently curating a Google doc with the list for our ministry retreat later in the year. COVID-19 is not allowing for a big conference, but this might provide a new opportunity for us with some of those who don’t quite fit the Mission Minded mould. I just looked at his list and there are people born in 10 different countries from 4 continents.
Ministry training here is very long and slow and we have fumbled through countless faux pas crossing cultures. The ever-present temptation to DIY is real, as no one is ever ‘ready’. But the machine is running and Jesus graciously moves us along his production-line. As people from many nations are reprogrammed to serve him day and night, we rejoice to sample a sweet taste of the heavenly life.
This article is from the ACR’s 2020 Winter Journal