A time traveller's reflection

Colin Buchanan was left feeling like he’d travelled through time when he attended a recent MTS information session at Engadine Anglican Church in southern Sydney …

I did a bit of time travelling at our church’s recent Ministry Training Strategy (MTS) Partnership Night. Let me set the scene…

It’s a thrill for Engadine Anglican Church to currently be supporting four MTS apprentices. MTS gives those considering full-time ministry a chance to do a two-year “work experience” placement. Not only does it give a taste of what might lie ahead, but it also lays a helpful foundation for their ministry future, whatever shape it might take.

Over the years, Engadine and Heathcote Anglican have supported a significant number of our members as they’ve headed into full-time Christian service. Just over 18 months ago Samantha Begg and Tim Griffith embarked on their MTS adventure. Late last year Ben Warren and Alec De Gennaro decided to do likewise.

It’s a precious thing when the local church gathers, prays, supports and sends. I’ve known Sam and Tim most of their lives. I’ve seen Ben and Alec play drums, rally the youth, play their part, discover and use their gifts of leading and preaching.

Col Marshall, right, passes the gold baton to, from left, Tim Griffiths, Michael Dodd and James Warren

A lot of the MTS message happens at the “front end” – encouraging us to consider MTS for ourselves. The Partnership Night was different. This was a chance to “drop in” on the experiences of our friends, mid-stream. And that’s where the time travel happened for me.

I could rewind to when Sam returned from a student exchange in Hong Kong in 2017, bolder and more confident and shining with the experience of seeing Jesus walk with her through it. Fast forward to 2019 when she shared her decision to move to ANU (Australian National University) in Canberra for ministry mentoring with AFES (the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students). And here she is now, sharing what she’s learnt about people and programs and herself in the real time of uni life.

They’ve got a bit of a Paul and Timothy thing going on.

Then it’s Alec’s turn: “In the last six months, I’ve seen my church family really invest in my growth. Sometimes it’s been pretty direct. But I want to show them I’m invested, too.” He speaks with honesty and conviction. What he’s saying and how he says it is evidence of how he’s growing. I fast forward and imagine the journey ahead. Dan Bishop, our youth minister, did MTS at Jannali Anglican. Now he’s mentoring Alec.

Tim is a year further down the same road at Engadine. It didn’t take long for us to get used to the idea that Tim was one of the ministry team. As he sits next to his trainer, our pastor Michael Dodd, another MTS alumnus, you can see the rapport and respect they share. They’ve got a bit of a Paul and Timothy thing going on.

And Ben. Measured, thoughtful, motivated. He’s been at Uni Church at UNSW (University of NSW) for the last six months and my guess is, as much as we’re missing him at Engadine, they’re grateful for his presence. He shares about a friend who became a Christian as a student and the encouragement of seeing growth in others. He’s doing some time travelling of his own, letting the years roll back and forth and show him what God’s up to.

Suddenly, the time-travelling steps up a notch. MTS National Director Ben Pfahlert explains that, as a picture of the MTS model, graduates are presented with a blue relay baton. They run the race, they pass the baton to those who follow. It’s engraved with 2 Timothy 2:2 – “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Tonight, there is a special presentation – the gold baton. This is for someone who has trained an MTS apprentice who has, in time, trained another MTS apprentice who has gone on to train a further MTS apprentice. A gospel grandfather, a ministry multiplier!

He’s doing some time travelling of his own, letting the years roll back and forth and show him what God’s up to.

The recipient is MTS architect, stalwart and visionary Col Marshall. (If anything, he’s an MTS great grandfather!) Col kicked the evening off by sharing with us from Philippians 1. He reminded us that, in Christ, we all share a partnership in the grace and work of the gospel. He told us how we are partners with our MTS apprentices, through prayer, financial support and fighting with them for the truth of the gospel. He helped us to see that the four young people before us are jumping off, jumping in and they call us to join them in a unique and precious partnership.

Col’s gold baton achievement gives us decades to ponder, play back and forth in our minds. But seeing our friends in the midst of their MTS adventures makes it all very real, very personal, very now. Jesus said, “Follow me.” MTS is about heeding and heralding that call of Christ. What an opportunity, a delight and a privilege.

But how about one last travel through time? Imagine decades have passed. Sam, Tim, Alec, Ben stand in Col Marshall’s place. They’ve come back to Engadine, their old home church. And, as Col did all those years ago, they read the words of Paul in Philippians 1. “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now…” And maybe one or two there imagine their way back to an MTS Partnership gathering on chilly winter’s evening in 2022 …”