Apprentice programs prepare the next generation of leaders for church ministry
A veterinarian from Scotland senses God’s call to ministry. Where does he start? Tim Proudlove began with education, moving to Vancouver to take an MDiv at Regent College. But in addition to studying, he wanted practical experience. He found it at Willingdon Church.
Proudlove participated in Willingdon Church’s pastoral apprenticeship, spending two years in the program that combines further study with hands-on experience in ministry for Bible college and seminary graduates.
And Willingdon is just one of many churches and institutions creating programs to help the next generation of leaders learn and practise under the guidance of more experienced and mature teachers.
Though sharing similarities with credentialing processes in trades or professional careers like medicine and education, the model for churches and schools developing these learners into masters is Jesus. His 12 disciples received both teaching and on-the-ground learning as they walked with the Master.
Willingdon Church, Burnaby, B.C., is entering its seventh year of offering the pastoral apprenticeship program that combines academic study and practical hands-on experiences and opportunities.
“Our goal is to be the step between Bible colleges and their first church,” says Jonathan Neufeld, coordinator of the program. “We want to be part of the process to help people who sense God’s call for ministry succeed in life-long ministry.”
The MB congregation connects with 4,800 people over its weekend services. About 2,000 people are involved in Willingdon Church’s small group ministries, Proudlove’s area of specialization. Each week, leaders of the 160 small groups guide conversations that focus on the weekend worship services.
“I love teaching and communicating,” says Proudlove, who resourced these small group leaders with support and training. “Adult ministries are a good fit for my gifts and personality.”
Apprentices are part of Willingdon Church’s pastoral team. They serve three-month rotations in four ministry areas – children, youth, adult and pastoral care and prayer. About 50 percent of their time is spent in continued academic and theological training.
Apprentices also receive ongoing feedback and training through working alongside pastors who have several years’ experience, and are paired with an elder.
“A year or two of training under people who are already doing ministry helps them develop a philosophy of ministry to guide the decisions they make,” says Neufeld. “When they complete the training, they have a solid and clear understanding of how they want to do ministry.”
Willingdon accepts up to four apprentices each year for the one-year program that can be extended to two years for pastors interested in a specialized ministry within the church. Of the program’s 15 graduates, only two are not involved in church ministry.
The congregation embraces the apprenticeship program as a ministry of the church. “It is an investment we make for the sake of the kingdom,” says Neufeld. “It is our hope that the person called to ministry becomes an effective, capable and confident minister of the gospel.”
Colton Willms is second-generation fruit of a partnership between at SunWest Christian Fellowship, Calgary, and Bethany College, Hepburn, Sask. Willms interned under campus pastor Matt Dyck in 2014, 10 years after Dyck himself began an internship that turned into employment as a youth pastor with the same congregation.
Recognizing the importance of experiential education, Bethany College began an internship program in 1999 as part of the required studies for students in church leadership, intercultural studies and ministry arts majors.
“This program gives students one season of ministry experience,” says Darlene Klassen, instructor in church ministries and internship director.
While some students like Willms hone ministry skills in a particular area, others like Ben Thielmann have a wide diversity of experiences. Serving with pastor Greg Bright at Gateway Community Church in tiny Canora, Sask., Thielman has opportunities to preach, teach, do hospital visitation and learn from a generalist how to be a missional presence in a rural community.
“Our desire is to make disciples of Jesus Christ and to train leaders to serve,” says Klassen.
The college partners with churches, mission agencies and other ministries, such as Bible camps, Mennonite Central Committee and Youth for Christ. Partner organizations generally support interns through student bursaries or allowances for food, housing and transportation.
“Internships are key stepping stones for students as they move from our community into vocations and service of Christ in new places,” says Klassen.
In 2004, Dana Krushel explored her passion for immigrants as an intern with MCC Saskatchewan, developing programs for children and being present in the community by living in an apartment building with multiple immigrant families as neighbours. It developed into a vocation; she’s now refugee assistance program coordinator for MCC.
In the 2014/2015 school year, eight Bethany students are following internships, four in churches.
Klassen admits that some students encounter struggles and difficulty in their placements. But overall, “the program increases love for Christ, develops ministry skills and clarifies their gift mix.”
For Willms, as for Dyck before him, it did just that. He’s accepted the role of junior high youth pastor at SunWest.
C2C Network – West
Brett Landry is an example of how the C2C Network’s apprentice-based models help to reach people for Jesus Christ through multiplying church plants. Landry, his wife Alison and their three young daughters moved from Alberta to serve an apprenticeship with Norm Funk, pastor of Westside Church, Vancouver, himself a leader trained and sent by Willingdon Church.
One of the benefits of apprenticing, Landry says, is the opportunity to live and work in the city before planting a church. “The great thing about the apprenticeship season is that it gives you time to get to know the city,” he says. “I just wanted to get started – so the time of waiting was the hardest part, but it was also the best part.”
The C2C Network, launched in 2011 by the Canadian Conference of MB Churches, grew out of the church-planting ministry started by MB churches in British Columbia.
All potential church planters, regardless of age or experience, are required to attend a three-day assessment where they are interviewed and observed to discern gifts, skills, abilities and maturity.
Those affirmed in the necessary gifts for church planting proceed to the C2C apprenticeship program in the city or town of the future plant location. Here, church planters build a core team and learn to better understand the community while working alongside a more experienced church planter or pastor. They receive additional teaching through monthly one-day training sessions planned by the C2C Network.
Apprentices serve a role similar to associate pastors by helping their mentor in every area of ministry. The difference is that apprentice planters are planning to leave.
Now the pastor of Christ City, a church he launched in South Vancouver in 2013, Landry approaches his ministry as an urban missionary. One of the challenges, he says, is making biblical truths relevant in a city where many embrace post-Christian values and worldview.
“It is important to understand the culture and find ways to make the gospel relevant to the people in that culture,” he says. “Christ City Church exists to create opportunities for people to encounter Jesus. We want people to not only hear the truth but also experience the truth.”
“The model of Jesus in ministry is to come alongside and do this together,” he says. “We are always learners of the way of Jesus. We will never graduate as an apprentice.”
C2C Network – East
When Simon Nadeau began meeting weekly to discuss religious issues with four or five friends from ETEM-IBVIE, he hadn’t envisioned the gatherings would become a church plant. He was studying theology and religious studies at Laval University when the group began in 2009. But as more people joined the gatherings, he realized something bigger than a Bible study between friends was happening.
“That’s how the church got started,” says Nadeau, pastor of Echad Montreal. “I didn’t read books on how to start a missional church. We just got together to ask questions about our faith and pray together.”
Now in its fifth year, the church has grown to a community of faith that connects with up to 100 people a week. Echad Montreal held its first Sunday worship service in May 2014.
Nadeau is eager to learn from others who share his passion to plant, grow and multiply Christ-centred churches. Having heard about C2C Network’s apprenticeship for church planters through ETEM-IBVIE, Nadeau started his C2C Network apprenticeship in September 2013.
“What is important to me is that I have mentors around me,” says Nadeau.
He spent the first four months with Dave Harder, pastor of The Journey in Ottawa and then began apprenticing under Dwight Bernier, pastor of Initiative 22 in Montreal.
“Dave and Dwight are my advisors, my counsellors, but I also have regular meetings with other church planters. I’m part of a team; I’m part of a network, that’s helping me a lot.”
He looks forward to the day when Echad Montreal plants its first church. “Jesus sent us to be the light of the world,” he says. “To be this light, we need to serve others and to build friendships. The Christian faith is not meant to be lived alone. It is meant to be lived in community.”
At the other end of the country, Proudlove agrees with the importance of relationships in following Jesus. He learned a lot from writing discussion questions and preparing videos and podcasts for Willingdon Church’s small group leaders. However, the mutually supportive friendships he developed with mentors and peers are the greatest benefits he’ll take from his apprenticeship at Willingdon Church as he embarks on full-time cross-cultural ministry.
“I expect these friendships and relationships will last a lifetime,” Proudlove says.