Cultivating Church Leadership Through Internships

By Kevin Stone

As Christ’s Church of the Valley’s executive pastor, I receive e-mails like this all the time from church leaders around the country:

“I’m looking to release a new employee manual, do you have anything I can use?” “We’re revising our bylaws; can I get a copy of yours to read for input?” “We’re about to begin a capital campaign, what consultant do you recommend?”

By far, though, the queries I receive most are from pastors with key leadership positions to fill. Good people are hard to find and lack of leadership people can and will hamper a church’s ability to grow!

Raising Up Leaders

Over the first seven years of our existence in this church plant close to Philadelphia, staffing has been the biggest challenge in fueling a more than 35 percent annual growth rate. There is a continuous, ever-increasing need for people to lead stuff! But, as I sit here at our weekly staff lunch, I am in awe over what God has accomplished! We have 16 staff members, and all of them, except for one, came from within the church.

How did this happen? From the very beginning it has been all about identifying and raising up leaders. And a new church focused on reaching the lost often is developing leaders and leading them to Christ all at the same time. Fueling the growth of the church requires us, as church leaders, to get very good at identifying potential leaders, getting them across the line of faith, and plugging them into significant areas of ministry. We believe God provides people with the necessary gifts and our job as leaders is to identify and cultivate those gifts.

By far, the key around here has been the recognition and cultivation of an individual’s desire to serve through establishing progressively more formal employment relationships we call internships. The difference between a volunteer leader and an intern is in how each is treated and the level of responsibility given.

For example, over the past year most of our pastoral care needs have been met by an unpaid intern. This individual is currently going to school for his ministry degree and doesn’t have need for a salary. He’s not paid, so how is he different from any other volunteer? It’s a matter of how his role is recognized by the church and viewed by the staff and congregation.

He is treated more like a staff member and less like a volunteer. He has a church e-mail address, a phone, and access to everything—budget, database, and other tools and resources—a paid staff person has.

The church has a need, and God has provided a person with the gifts. All that was needed was a staff leader willing to cultivate those gifts.

In this and similar cases, a formal relationship is established and a number of requirements are met by the individual. They go through a fairly extensive assessment process, including a formal application, a thorough questionnaire, a criminal background screening (depending on the area of ministry), reference checks, interviews, and other forms of assessment.

When a salary is required or an increase in the level of accountability to the church is needed, a paid internship might be the best solution. It can be surprising how much a relatively small hourly salary can increase a person’s commitment and work contribution. Paid interns are required to maintain regular hours and are asked to participate in all staff activities. A paid intern also is mentored by a ministry leader and most often has some access to the senior pastor. He is almost always given a formal title and his role on staff is communicated to the congregation.

Recently a two-year paid internship concluded with our hiring that person as a full-time student arts leader. After graduating from college, the former intern joined the staff in a full-time capacity in June. During his internship he regularly led in the arts and student ministry areas. He routinely led worship during adult services. It’s possible at some point he may become one of our adult worship leaders. Progression from paid intern to full-time staff member in two years is a great example of the success of the process.

Following A Process

The necessity to continuously fill an increasing number of leadership needs has resulted in our development of a six-step process: (1) leadership evangelism; (2) volunteer leader; (3) unpaid intern; (4) paid intern; (5) part-time staff; (6) full-time staff.

Every ministry leader is expected to “leadership evangelize” by continuously identifying potential leaders and plugging them into significant leadership roles. The process begins with identifying individuals who look, talk, and act like leaders. This is done in a number of ways, ranging from an introduction in the lobby on Sunday morning to a more strategic method of generating lists of people from the church database categorized in any number of ways.

After a person has been identified, meeting with him to discover leadership potential is the next step. This usually is done with a specific leadership position or list of needed leadership positions in mind. Over the course of a few meetings, the ministry leader works to discover the potential leader’s personality, passion, and if they’ve been baptized, spiritual gifts. Of course if he or she has not yet crossed the line of faith, taking that step becomes the focus.

Depending on the need and the leader’s gifting, he or she can be plugged in at almost any step in the process. Most everyone, though, starts as a volunteer leader.

That was the case with me. Long before I was asked to join the staff, I served as a volunteer leader in the arts area. Senior pastor Brian Jones began meeting with me over breakfast shortly after that. I was a corporate vice president and—to Brian at least—must have looked, acted, and talked like a leader. Little did I know at the time that I was being “leadership evangelized”!

The first few times Brian talked about the church’s future need for a “business guy,” I said, “That will be a good job for someone someday. Good luck with that!” The next thing I knew I was taking time off work to lead CCV staff through a strategic planning session or working with Brian on financial planning for the church. I had made the transition from volunteer leader to unpaid intern. It wasn’t until he asked me to lead the church’s building program in late 2002 that I felt God calling me to be CCV’s executive pastor.

So, the key is to identify leadership potential; discover personality, passion, and gifts; and recognize that potential through establishing an internship.

If you have a leadership challenge you are trying to meet, don’t underestimate the power of “fifty bucks.” Hire an intern; pay him $50 a week; give him an office, computer, and cell phone; and watch him develop into a staff member. Don’t underestimate how the power of giving someone “a seat at the leadership table” will call for premier levels of effort for the kingdom!

Kevin Stone is executive pastor with Christ’s Church of the Valley, Royersford, Pennsylvania.

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