Ashley Brooks now knows a thing or two about leadership. But fresh out of undergraduate and seminary programs at Indiana Wesleyan University, she wasn’t quite so equipped.
When mentors suggested she pursue residency, Ashley contacted Cypress Wesleyan Church near Columbus, Ohio. As a basketball star with a passion for ministry, she fit right into their sports ministry program.
The year-long residency program at Cypress Wesleyan provided the hands-on experience Ashley lacked, while surrounding her with mentors to keep her on track.
In her new position, Ashley was expected to juggle schedules and logistics for 250-500 community kids during three sports seasons. She quickly realized learning would be do-or-die. “I had a passion for sports and faith integration. But I had never run that kind of program before.”
Residency provided Ashley with the confidence, competence and safety net she needed to hone her skills. “People are messy; ministry is messy. In a residency program you’re experiencing this firsthand, but you can step back from it because you’re not the one in charge.”
Ashley advises ministry students to start their career with a residency position. “In reality, those who are prepared right out of college are few and far between. Finding a residency program is one of the best things any ministry student can do.”
But not all residency programs are created equal. Ashley advises future ministry candidates to look for four characteristics of a successful residency:
1. Find a program that coaches you: “A good program should allow you to take responsibility in your area, but also be there to mentor you. In my program, based on my skill sets and passions, they handed me my expectations. But they also guided me along the way. We met weekly with our mentors and coaches.”
2. Find a program where you can add value: Residencies should be a win-win situation for you and your hosting church. “It’s not just what you take from them, but what they learn from you. You want to be a person who can give back, with whatever skills you bring to your area.”
3. Find a program that values leadership: Look for a culture of leadership development, both for staff members and lay leaders. “Many of the nitty-gritty details aren’t done by us on staff; they’re done by volunteers. Ministry depends on equipping others to be solid leaders.”
4. Find a program that offers diversity: Look for a position that encourages you to participate in a few different ministries, whether in the church or in the community. Ashley’s experience was diversified through visits to other local churches, with congregations of 50 and then 500. “For two weeks, we lived and breathed those churches, participating in ministry and understanding the different dynamics at work. It allowed people to see themselves at churches of all sizes.”
Ashley found her fit at Cypress Wesleyan, and now serves on staff as GroupLife and Local Outreach Leader. In her staff role, skills learned during her residency have proved invaluable. “In the sports program, I was constantly evaluating whether someone would be a good coach or help the ministry.” Today, her knack for identifying potential leaders undergirds a ministry that depends on volunteers for its vitality.
Ashley’s time at Cypress Wesleyan has sharpened her vision and amplified her passion for her community. “It’s not perfect, but God does some crazy awesome things in the local church.”
Gabriela Garver is a staff writer for Education and Clergy Development. Recently returned from a year studying in Istanbul, Turkey, Gabriela is finishing her undergrad degree in International Relations at Indiana Wesleyan University. After graduation, she hopes to work with refugee resettlement. When she’s not writing, Gabriela enjoys walks, talks, and road trips.