The first Sunday-morning sermon I ever preached was in the basement of a homeless shelter in the heart of London.
A seven-story homeless shelter is where the church plant had decided to hold its Sunday services when it outgrew the living room and then the pub. It was a good way for us as a church to make sure we were going to those in poverty. Plus, it was nicer than it sounds – a modern renovation included some windows that let in natural light from the street above us and pedestrians would marvel at the singing of hymns (and the occasional Johnny Cash song) that would rise out from them.
Serving as a Serge Missionary Apprentice, I stood up to preach and looked around at the 60 or so people of Camden Town Church.
In the midst of that gathering, an architect for Apple’s new headquarters rubbed shoulders with a talented local painter who hadn’t caught her break yet and was still squatting in condemned buildings.
A corporate lawyer sat next to the local drug dealer from the subsidized housing project down the street. We met the dealer when he was going through a major life crisis (his son was arrested for murder) – since then, he’d started coming to church and bringing his former clients with him.
My 60-year-old Ugandan friend – a refugee who had been tortured by Idi Amin – sat next to energetic university students, some of whom were experiencing a freedom of worship not possible in their home countries.
A young Englishman, one of our most faithful attenders, gently snored in his seat as he recovered from last night’s rave. Don’t worry, though, he would awake in time to raise remarkably adept theological questions during the “Question & Answer” time at the end of the service.
And this “normal Sunday” was my first time preaching.
After my experience as an apprentice with Serge, I came back to the States to attend Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. I often thought about this sermon and while the cusp of my last semester, it occurred to me that I could not have made it through seminary at all without the people of Camden Town Church.
Truthfully, without the people of Camden Town Church, I could not have kept going through the countless hours of studying, reading, writing, and testing in seminary.
Love for them refined my motives for my studies.
They helped me not just want to acquire biblical data or get a good grade in seminary, but to deeply engage with what my courses taught me about God, the whole of Scripture, and His Church.
Their questions had become my questions:
My Hindu friends asked if the God of the Bible is not simply the God of the West?
My university friends wondered if believing in Jesus was just like believing in Santa Claus now that we have science?
My New Age friends were curious about why I thought the Bible was not just another spiritual book we can glean from?
My homosexual friends puzzled over why the Bible showed a loving God that hates their lifestyle?
Their ache to truthfully ask these questions with integrity strengthened my own sense of integrity.
In that way, my apprenticeship experience prepared me to receive seminary training in a manner that would not have been possible otherwise.
So what about you? Are you or someone you love considering seminary?
Here are three questions that may help you decide whether an Apprenticeship or seminary is the right next step for you:
1. Do you have experience in ministry? If you are recently out of college, for the most part you’d be better served by an Apprenticeship than a seminary degree. Testing your gifts in ministry will make your seminary experience much richer.
2. Do you have a vision for what you want to be doing in 5 years? If not, Apprenticeships are a good way to cultivate that vision with skilled mentors to guide you. Pastors rarely have the time and energy to give to mentorship and training, Serge Apprenticeship staff come alongside you to provide this in addition to the experience of working alongside a pastor, church planter, or counselor.
3. Have you considered using your gifts outside your comfort zone? Have you given God space to envision you to work in a way that is different than what’s historically familiar to you? Many of us can experience cross-cultural ministry in the United States, but it is a very different experience to go, be the minority in another culture, and learn to serve from a place of weakness. Learning this perspective is invaluable for ministry and is very hard to experience in the seminary environment. Ministering from a place of weakness prepares you to learn as a servant rather than a critic of the Church.
This is not an either/or situation. I did an Apprenticeship first and then seminary, but the order could be reversed.
Either way, the why for going to seminary and doing an Apprenticeship is the same: to grow in love for God and our neighbors and see His Kingdom come.