by Doug Smith
In my last article on training pastors in the local church, we looked at one-on-one mentoring, where a pastor takes an aspiring pastor under his wing. This is the most direct way of training men in the context of the local church. However, it is not the only way. Another good way to train pastors is through an internship.
An internship can and should overlap with one-on-one mentoring, but factors that generally distinguish an internship are a defined purpose, length, and funding.
The internship needs a definite purpose, which may be broad or specific. For example, a “pastoral ministry” internship could have interns doing and observing, as well as reading and listening to, all sorts of things in relation to the pastorate. An internship can also fill a gap or focus on a specific area. For example, Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, provides a five-month, intensive “ecclesiological internship” that focuses on the local church through extensive reading, writing, discussion, and observation. Other internships may call for more public ministry. I had the privilege to intern with the New England Center for Expository Preaching, where a core component of the internship is preparing and delivering expository messages week after week.
In regard to length, internships can be for a summer, a semester, or otherwise agreed upon amount of time.
Interns need to food to eat and a place to live, so funding is a critical component of an internship. While it is conceivable that some internships could work without a stipend, let’s face it: most men seeking a theological education can’t afford several weeks or months with no income. And it is hard to hold down a job and derive much benefit from an intensive internship at the same time, since interns need to sleep. So, internships tend to provide housing and some sort of income on a weekly or monthly basis, although some require students to support themselves. A church can fund an internship if it has a large enough budget. Another option is for an individual or business to underwrite the stipend of an intern or interns.
Providing an Internship
For churches, pastors, or others seeking to provide ministry internships, there are several matters to consider, but they will all be grounded in the purpose of the internship.
Who will lead this program? Will the senior pastor, an associate pastor or other elder, or some combination of the pastoral staff? (It is probably most beneficial when all are involved, but having one person primarily responsible for an intern is helpful.)
What is the focus? Will it be broad, covering many facets of pastoral ministry, or will you focus on one or two specific areas, such as ecclesiology, preaching, or counseling?
Will the internship be a supplement to a seminary education or a part of an exclusively church-based model? If a supplement to seminary education, one could seek to fill in gaps by providing more in-depth training for areas in which students and schools may be weak. In some instances, one can partner with a seminary to provide applied ministry or supervised ministry experience credit toward a degree. Consider when the internship would work best: before entering seminary, during seminary, or after seminary (or any of those times).
Will your internship be more focused on observation or active ministry, or will it be a combination of both? Will the intern be allowed to sit in on leadership meetings? Will he be allowed to preach sermons in the church or teach a Sunday School class? Will you have reading or course requirements for the intern prior to his arrival? Consider implementing standards for accountability and assessment of the intern in assignments he is called to fulfill (time log, guidelines for response papers, evaluation forms for sermons/lessons, final debriefing, etc.). It should be clear what the intern should be walking away with: improved skills in one or more ministry areas, more of a first-hand idea of what it is like to be a pastor, a more biblical understanding of the local church, etc.
Will you aim to train men in your own congregation, men from churches in your association or denomination, or theological students at large? Will you have educational requirements (high school, bachelor’s degree, enrollment in seminary, etc.)? How will you screen the applicants (application form, phone interviews, checking references, etc.)? Will the internship be more suited to singles than husbands and fathers? Will it be too intensive for dads to fulfill their responsibilities in the home?
How will you publicize your internship? Obviously, if it is limited to men in your own local church, this is not a major issue, and might be most prudently spread by word of mouth. However, if you have a broader audience in mind, consider maintaining a website and sending information to various like-minded seminaries or Bible colleges.
How long will your internship run? This may depend on the availability of the one running the program as well as the church calendar. If partnering with a seminary for applied ministry credit, the school’s requirements may also factor in to this decision. A summer-only program may be better suited to some churches. Others may be able to have interns for two semesters or all year-round.
How will you fund the internship? Funding is important on several fronts, from how it will impact the interns (and possibly limit who can come because of financial reasons) as well as whether you will be able to have multiple interns at once. If you are a pastor and your church has a large enough budget, consider teaching on the importance of training other men and explain that an internship is a practical way to do that, as you seek to enlist the congregation to partner with you to provide such an opportunity. If you are a business owner or leader, consider helping make an internship possible for future pastors, particularly for churches where a godly leader would like to train others but cannot afford to fund an internship at the present.
However you proceed with an internship, be sure that requirements and expectations are clear up front for all involved or this could be an experience your intern and church would like to forget. The old adage “to fail to plan is to plan to fail” should be heeded here. Producing a written syllabus is one way to help ensure that you are not failing to plan.
Finally, an internship, at least in the beginning, should probably be considered to be a fairly fluid thing, always a work in progress. Whether starting from scratch or adapting another model, sensitivity to the particularities of the local context of the internship is prudent. Certain programs work where they work because of the context of their church as well as who is working them and whom they serve. Your education, experience, church, and students may have different needs, so you should structure and plan the internship accordingly. This may mean being willing to change some things mid-stream if needed, but it definitely means a post-internship evaluation is in order, by the intern and those who have overseen the internship (and possibly others who have had contact with him or sat under his ministry during that time). Over time, your internship can take on a shape that is more rigid. Reminding your interns that they are helping set the pace and pave the way for future interns is a good way to help them partake in the program with an eye toward future improvements. (And be sure to ask for their feedback at the conclusion of the program.)
Participating in an Internship
Students considering an internship must also think seriously about the matter. Asking the following questions can help in gathering necessary information.
What is my motive for pursuing this internship? Have I prayed concerning this potential opportunity? How will this particular internship help train me for ministry? How will it make me a more useful pastor? Will it glorify God for me to participate in this program?
What does the internship require? Have I met or am I working toward meeting the prerequisites?
What does my pastor recommend? What do my professors and trusted friends recommend?
What stage of life I am in? What does my wife think? Will I be able to spend adequate time with her and my children? What kind of arrangements are there for income and housing? Will I be able to maintain adequate income with the stipend? Will I be a full-time intern, or will I have to hold down a job at the same time? If I have health insurance, will I be able to maintain it?
How is the timing in relation to my theological education? Will I receive credit for the program (not the most important issue, but not an unimportant one if one is in the midst of a degree)? Is now the best time or should I wait?
Have I talked to interns who have gone through the program? Have I shared with them my situation and desire? What do they advise?
If one determines that a particular internship is right, then preparation is in order. Contact the appropriate people and offices. Apply early – some internships have waiting lists and encourage applying at least one year before the desired semester. And come prepared not only to receive, but to give. Come with the mindset that you are training to be more useful to the people of God and to be an encouragement to those you are placed around during your internship setting. Take assignments and opportunities seriously and thank God for providing training that not everyone is privileged to receive.
Patterns and Possibilities for Internships
Both those who are interested in offering internships and those who are interested in participating in internships would do well to take a look at some of the programs already in existence. Here are links to a few:
In my next article, I will examine the concept of church-based seminaries as another way to train pastors in the local church.
What do you think?
Are there other aspects that one should consider about offering or taking part in an internship? What are some other churches and ministries that offer internships relating to pastoral ministry?
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