By Josh Quade
After completing her internship interview process, a college student wanted to discuss her options. She’s pursuing both a Bible college and regular university degree for a career in media and graphics arts, ideally in a church’s creative arts department.
On the surface, her description of potential internships lined up well with what our church could offer—some elements amazingly so. We had brought her in, introduced her to the team over several get-togethers, conducted personality profiles and orientations, and discussed logistics. All quite helpful and good. But I found the team’s questions for her the most encouraging: What are your dreams? What are your one-year, three-year, and five-year plans? How would you characterize your faith? Can you tell us about your story?
The team members were more interested in her than the role she would fill, focusing most of the get-togethers around how they can help her develop and grow. Healthy internships are about the holistic development of the individual, about maturing a disciple of Jesus into a powerful kingdom worker.
Developing a Great Internship Process
Every fall the local colleges and universities host community expos and invite local businesses, churches, and student organizations to meet, inform, and recruit students. I have come to loathe these events.
Many of the recruiting organizations are so strapped for leadership that they hand out internships and leadership roles to underdeveloped, immature, and unknown individuals simply because a spot needs to be filled. The recruiters scramble for the most gifted and dynamic leaders in an attempt to impact their organization as quickly as possible.
I often wonder: Is this best for the student? If not, Is it best for the organization? And ultimately, Is it best for the kingdom?
I have never found a great intern at a community expo, for great interns are made. Every year our community gets a new influx of college students, most of whom are underdeveloped and immature. Regardless, all of them can make a huge kingdom impact in this season and beyond.
Even in towns without colleges, young adults are looking to discover the part they can play in the local church. The best intern recruiting tool I use is discipleship—a multiyear process of developing the whole person in the context of their gifts and the church.
Healthy leaders must take responsibility for developing great internships that holistically equip the next generation of kingdom workers. An organization doesn’t need a robust internship program, a large budget, or a week-by-week curriculum to achieve this. Instead, it needs time, intentionality, and a commitment to kingdom work that goes beyond the walls of their organization. But first, it needs to be up to the task.
Most potential interns are very moldable. They have their own ideas of what the local church is and what it can do, but these can be shaped by your leadership and congregation. I have occasionally directed students away from particular areas of leadership in my own church because it wasn’t what was best for the student.
If churches aren’t careful and intentional, some students may walk away from internships less sure of themselves and having lost hope in what the local church can accomplish. It may be wise to improve the health of your church before bringing an intern onto your team.
Developing and Choosing Potential Interns
Once your church leadership is ready to take on interns, start by weaving those potential interns into the fabric of the church by incorporating them into low-commitment service opportunities in their areas of interest and passion, and invite them to connect with the beautiful generational diversity of the church. Through those two roads—service and sharing life with others—they can be developed personally, spiritually, relationally, and even professionally. As the semesters go by, they become valuable parts of the congregation. They are leaders who aren’t recruited, they are raised from within.
When we focus on servant leadership, we make leadership accessible to more people as they simply use the gifts God has given them. College-age adults especially need those low-level volunteer opportunities to discover more about themselves and to grow personally before they can move into greater levels of responsibilities.
When we become familiar with a person’s strengths, weaknesses, and passions, and actively assist in their growth, we will naturally begin to rely on them more. We engage them as key leaders who are instrumental to the church’s regular programming. A handful of these key leaders rise to the top, and from those individuals we choose interns.
Intentional Development: The Four Ps
An internship is a mutual agreement for the shared development of the intern, the supervisor, the team, and the church. All share in the learning and growth together. To help guide us, we intentionally focus on four Ps: prayer, personal engagement, philosophical discernment, and professional development.
Prayer: We consistently pray with the intern. The church’s leadership models the necessity of seeking the Lord together, demonstrating where true leadership finds its source and power.
Personal engagement: We create space to talk through the life experiences of the intern. College-age adults are at a critical stage of development. They are asking foundational questions that will shape the rest of their lives: What do I believe? What career will I pursue? What type of person do I want to become? What type of person do I want to marry (if they choose that path)?As their supervisor, you will play a key role in helping them decipher some, if not all, of these questions. Interns find this type of personal engagement results in some of the most rewarding and impactful moments for their long-term development.
Philosophical discernment: We communicate the “why.” It isn’t enough to assign tasks for the intern to accomplish; they need to know why those tasks exist. Allowing them to wrestle with the “whys” can give them the principles of leadership and ministry that transcend the internship. Many interns have taken the “why”—that is, the DNA of our church—into leadership roles all over the world.
Professional development: We prepare the intern for their unique calling. While some will ultimately serve in vocational ministry, all can be kingdom workers in and through the local church. Leadership principles transcend occupation. Careers may change, but the local church is the vessel through which God has chosen to change the world. Seeing these students step into their new communities after graduation and hearing how they serve/lead their new local churches (whether vocationally or not) is tremendous affirmation that we are doing something right and worthwhile.
Making the Commitment
The four Ps require setting aside focused time. Our internships are generally yearlong commitments that offer a complete picture of the ministry rhythm. There can be value in summer internship programs or one outside their normal context, particularly early in their development (when they can be exposed to different ways to influence the kingdom) or toward the end (as they circle their specialties). Regardless, intentional engagement with the four Ps is infused in each experience.
Practically speaking, my church can’t afford to pay interns, but we make sure all of their ministry-related costs are covered. We also regularly work with their colleges (not just Bible colleges) to help them receive credit. Other creative benefits and perks—housing, Christmas bonuses, ministry stipends, and occasional meals or coffee—can mean a lot. I’ve never had a student who received key investment really complain about not being paid. That we are helping them gain skills and advance toward their goals is worth more than money.
Our church believes we share a responsibility with our local colleges and universities to empower the next generation of kingdom workers. Beyond that, we feel responsible to the broader kingdom to empower those leaders. While we appreciate the interns’ many hours of service and how it blesses the church, we most look forward to sending them out year after year. They are better because of it, and so are the kingdom and the church. And I, also, am better because of it.
Josh Quade serves as college age & young adult minister with College Heights Christian Church in Joplin, Missouri.
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