By Nate Frederick
Internship. The word brings back memories for every minister who saw God’s work during ministry internships in their student days. They went on trips, spoke into people’s lives, and saw the kingdom grow. They learned what a kingdom worker looks like and had the opportunity to live that out, either in a local church or on the global mission field. They were placed in an environment that fostered their gifts and were allowed to lead in some context. Their internship was a time of learning and development that could not have been achieved in the classroom.
But some others shudder at the memory of their internship. These folks were cheap labor for a church or organization and spent their summer doing things church leaders did not want to do—menial tasks that had little to do with developing their skills as Christian workers. They were not given an opportunity to lead or use their gifts. After their internship, these students were no better equipped to serve in a church than when they started.
We, as church leaders, have a responsibility to pour into the next generation of leaders graduating from our Bible colleges. God has given these students amazing gifts and has trusted us with guiding and fostering those gifts. When we agree to take on an intern, their growth over the summer is our responsibility. We are agreeing to impart and instill the things we have learned over the years. An internship, for many students, is their first experience working in a church environment. They have never seen what the minister does Monday through Friday. What we show them during their internship shapes the way and process by which they will serve their church one day.
That’s how it was for me. The things I learned during my summer internship were incredibly valuable to the way I serve today.
I think about this every time our church gets an intern. In fact, I’ve made a short list of principles for hosting a meaningful internship.
Pay them. Interns are students who have bills and expenses, and an end-of-summer “love offering” might not even cover their living expenses.
Salaries for ministry interns should be a part of the church budget. These interns represent the future of our churches. Invest in them now, and their future growth will be exponential. You will also attract more serious and better quality interns if you offer to pay them.
Invest in them spiritually. Any intern you bring in will be looking at your current staff to see how things are done. If they see you reading and studying, they will mimic that. If they see you open a Bible only when you preach on Sunday, that will transfer to them also. Help them walk with God while they are with you. If they leave at the end of summer without any growth, it is partially the fault of the church and ministers the intern served with.
Be intentional. Take your intern to lunch weekly. Talk with them about the work they are doing. Provide feedback. Listen to what they are struggling with. Celebrate their victories in ministry. Form a relationship that will last longer than the few months your intern is serving with you.
Let them lead. Your intern will have some pencil-pushing duties, but also give them a chance to lead. If God has given them the talent to play an instrument, get them on stage. If they have the gifts of teaching and preaching, allow them to prepare lessons and deliver sermons. Their growth as a minister rests on your shoulders while they are interning with you. You are essential to what they get out of their internship.
Teach them how to operate an office. Leading a staff or board meeting is rarely covered in Bible college. This will probably be the first time your intern has ever seen the inner workings of a church staff. You have the opportunity to instill the habits and behaviors you want to see in any minister that you hire, while also weeding out some of the things that frustrated you about your last two youth ministers. Teach your intern how to be a contributing and successful part of your office.
Follow up. After your intern has spent countless hours working at VBS, enduring numerous sleepless nights at camp, and devoting his summer to your ministry, make sure you follow up with him. Check in with him when classes begin. Call him when he gets his first real job in ministry. Be a continual resource for that student as he builds the kingdom.
We have an opportunity to pour into the lives of the future leaders of the church. Let us seize that chance and help shape these amazing students into warriors who will be feared at the gates of Hell.
Nate Frederick serves as kids minister with Cicero (Indiana) Christian Church.