Student ministry is a strange beast. For the uninitiated, a student minister (once called a catechist) is someone who studies full time at Bible College and works 1-1.5 days a week at their church. All ordination candidates in the Sydney Anglican Diocese (those wanting to be ordained as Anglican ministers- like me) are required to do four years of student ministry while studying at Moore College.
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To make things slightly more complex, the powers-at-be encourage ordination candidates to move churches every two years. Why? Because before they ordain you they want you to have had experience in at least three churches. This usually involves your home church and then two different churches during your four years at Moore College. Don’t worry if you lost me, the point is that you need to do student ministry somewhere if you ever want to get ordained.
So if you need to do student ministry, where should you go? As I’ve reflected on it, I think there are five things to consider when choosing a student ministry position. Few will ever tick all five, but the best positions will probably tick at least two or three:
1. Where can I be trained? This is the most important of the five. A bit like MTS, a well chosen trainer can make a hell of a difference (quite literally) to the kind of ministry you have in the long run. Quite frankly, if you know what you want to learn, pick the guy or girl who does that the best in Sydney and go there. If you want to learn preaching, do student ministry with a preacher. If you want to learn church planting, pick a planter. Be ruthless! After college you’re supposed to at least pretend you know what you’re doing. Don’t waste the opportunity to get trained by the best in the business.
2. Where can I do research? This question is different to asking where you can get the best training, since this one is more self directed. Many students have an idea of a region, a social class or an ethnic group that they want to work with in the future. Choosing a student ministry position that will enable you to gain experience working among these people can be another great way to gain experience. If you want to do ministry in Western Sydney, go to a church in Western Sydney. If you want to plant a church in the city, go to a city church. If you want to do ministry among Asians, go somewhere with a large population of Asians.
3. Where am I lacking experience? There are three ways to think about a lack of experience. First, if you know that you need experience in an area (say preaching) and you don’t have it, do whatever it takes to get it (preach to a brick wall if you have to). Second, if you know that you are lacking in experience but don’t think you need it, then don’t worry e.g. I have no experience ministering in Western Sydney, but we’re planting a city church so it probably doesn’t matter as much. Third, if you have no idea what you want to do when you leave college, your best bet is to become an all-rounder. Pick somewhere you can learn a new skill and hope it comes in use in the future.
4. Where can I get a job? Unless you’re planting a church, you’re probably going to be looking for employment after you finish college. A good way to solve that problem is to work somewhere that will need a new staff member around the time that you graduate. Now there’s rarely any guarantee on this type of thing, but most rectors would rather hire someone that they know and trust than some random they don’t. Another major benefit of this option is that you don’t have to move on to another church after you graduate. Leaving good relationships behind is a major downside to starting at a new church.
5. Where am I needed? For some reason this tends to be most people’s first consideration. Now this will be controversial, but I actually think it’s the least important of the five factors to consider. Why? Perhaps I’m just heartless and pagan, but I think of student ministry as your one opportunity to get the training you need before you’re given some serious responsibility. Now obviously you want to be of service wherever you go, but don’t compromise on training just to fill a short term need. If you have to choose, pick a position that offers training before one that pays you, every time. It’s more valuable in the long run!
To a large degree, the factors that you take into consideration will probably depend upon your personality and how much you know about where you want to end up. I knew that I wanted to plant a church after college, so we chose two places that would train me to do just that.
At Church By The Bridge we saw Paul Dale plant a new congregation at Lavender Bay. At York Street I’ve been able to watch Matt Straw plant Something New in Walsh Bay. Furthermore, through York Street’s affiliation with Redeemer City to City, I’ve also be able to participate in the Redeemer Incubator. This is 2 year training course for church planters that meets for a full day once a month to talk about church planting. It’s awesome.
Question: what are some other things to take into consideration when choosing a student ministry location? You can leave a comment by clicking here.