Make the most of -- and give
the most to -- interns in your ministry.
My first experience as a church intern was the summer after my
freshman year of college. The church was small and the staff
consisted of the senior pastor, his wife (who served as the church
secretary) -- and me. Within the first month of my internship, the
pastor and his wife went away on a two-week vacation. As a
19-year-old intern, I was thrown into the deep end of ministry.
During those two weeks I served as the church receptionist and
secretary, pastor of the day for every crisis, facilities manager,
greeter, song leader, weekend service coordinator...you name it and
I did it. I learned an important lesson that summer: Churches don't
always know what to do with interns.
The problem may be due to the fact that children's ministers often
simply don't understand what sets an intern apart from a paid staff
member. Often, churches recruit volunteer interns or pay them a
small stipend because they need help in a certain area and,
frankly, that's all they can afford. They see interns as an avenue
for free help or cheap labor. From this standpoint, the only
difference between an intern and a paid staff member is the amount
they're paid. In fact, there are a lot more factors that set apart
an intern from a staff member.
What Is an Intern?
By definition, an intern participates in a structured learning
experience that provides on-the-job training, mentoring, and
supervision, making it similar to an apprenticeship.
Apprenticeships were first developed in the later Middle Ages. A
master craftsman was entitled to employ young people as an
inexpensive form of labor in exchange for providing them formal
training in a craft. Apprentices were young, usually about 14 to
21, unmarried, and would live in the master craftsman's household.
Most apprentices aspired to become master craftsmen themselves on
completion of their contract, which was usually a term of seven
Similarly, ministry interns are typically young college or
seminary students who are pursuing a degree program in Christian
ministry or some related field, and who ultimately aspire to pursue
a career in vocational ministry. In essence interns obtain
theoretical training through an educational institution and
practical training through in-the-field ministry experiences. The
site supervisor is much like the master craftsman, providing the
intern with opportunities to work alongside a seasoned veteran
who'll train, mentor, and supervise the intern.
Are You Ready for an Intern?
One common complaint exists among interns who've had poor
internship experiences in the past: "My supervisor never had time
for me." If you're considering taking on an intern, first ask
yourself if you have time for one. There are seasons in our lives
when ministry demands are high and energy levels are low, when the
challenges of ministry are all-consuming and we barely have time to
surface for a breath. And yet, there are seasons when as veteran
leaders, we sense a deep desire to make an investment in the next
generation of children's ministry leaders.
Interns take time and effort. And while most ministry leaders
believe that having an intern will reduce their workload, few find
this to be the case. They forget that having an intern requires
weekly mentoring, structured learning experiences, and ongoing
supervision and feedback.
What season are you in? Are you energized or energy-depleted? Is
your ministry overwhelmingly busy right now? Do you have time and
energy to devote to a younger person who's eager to learn? Taking
on an intern is a worthwhile investment that comes with many
rewards. Realistically assess your situation before you dive
Where Are Interns?
The best time to locate an intern is at the beginning of a school
semester. Contact colleges, universities, and seminaries in your
area, especially those who have degree programs in Christian
ministry. Many degree programs require students to complete some
type of fieldwork, practicum, or internship requirement, so they
may be actively seeking placements. Provide the school or seminary
with a one-page internship overview that briefly describes your
church and ministry, outlines specific experiences available to the
intern, includes length of commitment you desire (summer, one
semester, one to two years), and details what the intern will
obtain (skills, pay, experiences). Many colleges and seminaries
have specific expectations and requirements for the internship site
and the supervisor. Before you take on an intern, have a clear
understanding of these requirements and whether you can meet