For the last eighteen months, I have had the wonderful privilege of serving in my church’s intern/resident program. It is a large church in Knoxville, TN, and I primarily serve on one of our two planted campuses, with my internship focus being on multiplication and church planting. This has been a great season for me to clarify my ministry calling, get the chance to preach, teach, shepherd, and discover the passions God has placed in my heart. It has been a remarkable experience to say the least.
I could write an entire blog post series on just how much I have been blessed by this church! But for now, I hope to encourage potential or current church interns and residents to make the most of such an opportunity, and to encourage churches and pastors to consider the benefits of creating a place for church internships.
If a guy was sitting across the table from me, asking me for some keys to remember for his upcoming church internship, here is what I would tell him:
When you become a church intern you are essentially being invited to shadow the men and women that make up the church staff and leadership. They have been gracious enough to be open-handed with their resources, but even more importantly, their time. The time that these men and women offer us is invaluable. To not use it to grow in wisdom and leadership would be a total waste. Interns are like Timothy, and their pastors like Paul. The opportunity to be discipled is rich, so be a sponge.
The way my internship is set up, I get to participate in a host of staff meetings; everything from staff chapel to various ministry team meetings. Interns are graciously matched up to mentors from the pastoral staff to meet monthly to talk through life and ministry. It would be easy to coast through these kinds of meetings without fully engaging or asking many questions. But from my experience, the most beneficial component of my internship is how available our staff has been to helping me learn and grow. Internships are not often years long, so we have to be willing to leverage their offered wisdom to our benefit before it runs out.
This is an extension of the first point, but nonetheless important to highlight. Sometimes the perception of interns is that they are only there to take in, to keep their mouths closed, to watch and learn. These qualities are critical for healthy internships, but this shouldn’t be how we operate as interns full stop. In fact, now, more than ever is the time for us to ask questions, to put our ideas to the test, and to be refined.
One reason my church has an intern/resident program to begin with is because they recognize the value of the younger generation’s voice. If disciple-making is about training up and equipping the next generation and generations to come, then young leaders must be able offer their own creativity and ideas to the mission.
Ultimately, there is a balance of speaking and listening that we all must find.
One of the hardest things about being an intern is resisting the temptation to fall into auditioning. Many times in the corporate world internships are designed to be an on-ramp for getting people long-term positions with the company. So, in such internships, the interns goal is to do everything he or she can to secure the position. If we’re not careful, this kind of mindset can creep into the ministry world as well.
Working hard and striving for excellence is not a bad thing. And being honest about your desires isn’t either. But our job in being interns should be rooted in faithfulness, not in currying favor or seeking to prove our worthiness. If we spend every day trying to “win” something in our internship, we will grow tired, and we will forget that this actually is the best season for us to experience failure and growth, when the consequences are far less than they will be later.
Be a Pastor
I sat down with a good friend of mine who was on staff at the time, talking to him about some of the ministry functions I was involved in and some of the people I was meeting with. As we talked, I made a comment saying something to the effect of, “When I eventually become a pastor…” He stopped me. “You have to start looking at yourself as a pastor, Zach. You’re not just trying to become a pastor one day…You are a pastor now. You’re doing the same things that pastors do!”
This was a huge lesson for me. He was right. I was so caught up in the title of “Intern” that I missed the reality that what I was doing was indeed the work of pastoral ministry. And little did I know, doing so affected how I was pastoring! It created a healthy confidence in me, but also helped me realize that pastoral ministry is not unique to a title, or a pulpit, or a salary. We have the opportunity, in our internships, to be pastors. It doesn’t matter our area of concentration; children’s ministry, missions, worship, students. We all pastor to some degree, and pastoring is not just a hope or a goal, but a reality.
The list doesn’t stop here, but these four tips will help the Church recognize the many values these internship opportunities offer to those called to the ministry. Disciple-making for a church not only means training laypeople to grow in the knowledge and love of God, but helping equip the next generation of pastors and church leaders too.