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Committee on Christian Education Feature

The Best Gauge of Pastoral Ministry

Pat Clawson

Seminarians may think that seminary provides all the training they need to become a pastor. Two seminary graduates who recently served as summer and yearlong interns beg to differ. They urge seminary students and graduates to apply before the February 28 deadline for internships in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Cris Simpson knew that seminary taught him a lot, but there was still much he didn’t know. That’s why he wanted to serve both as a summer and as a yearlong intern. “It’s a great chance to work out how to apply your theology on a day-to-day basis with normal people (i.e., those who don’t spend their spare time reading Turretin),” said Simpson, who was a yearlong intern at Trinity OPC in Hatboro, Pennsylvania. “The teaching and preaching opportunities are very valuable.”

Internships for Austin Britton, who completed his yearlong internship at Grace OPC in Mount Vernon, Washington, “gave me the opportunity to be functioning in full-time ministry at a local church, which is something I was not able to do in seminary or ever before as a layperson,” said Britton. “This full-time service for me has truly been the best gauge as to what pastoral ministry is like.”

Britton also appreciated walking in a pastor’s shoes. “One of the great advantages that I saw to an internship was being closely mentored by a pastor on the ins and outs of ministry,” said Britton. “Being present at all the Session meetings, sitting in on many counseling situations, and having to walk through Sunday after Sunday with the pastor, really gave me the most accurate view of what it may be like to be a pastor one day.”

While in seminary, both men were summer interns. “A summer internship is a good opportunity to see how the local church works and to have opportunities for teaching, leading worship, and exhorting,” said Simpson, who served at Cornerstone OPC in Ambler, Pennsylvania. “But about the time you start to figure things out, the summer is over.”

Britton’s internship at Harvest OPC in San Marcos, California, intensified his focus on seminary studies. “For three months, my summer internship allowed me to preach and teach on a weekly basis, and thus allowed me to put into practice what I was learning in seminary about exegesis and homiletics,” said Britton. “It definitely showed me where I needed to improve, so I went back to seminary hungry to work and improve.”

During their last year in seminary, they applied for yearlong internships. Britton found that the experience in Mount Vernon, Washington, “allowed me lots of opportunity to do discipleship, counseling, evangelism, etc. (in addition to preaching and teaching), in a way that was not possible in my summer internship.”

Simpson appreciated the opportunity to learn the week-to-week flow of a pastor’s life and to develop deeper relationships while serving in Hatboro, Pennsylvania. “No matter what emergencies may come up, no matter how ready you feel, Sunday is coming,” said Simpson.

An internship also benefits the seminarian’s family. “They get to see what it’s like for a husband and for daddy to be
doing pastoral stuff,” said Britton. “They get to see what ministry is like, and they begin to get a vision for what it will be like to be the pastor’s family in the future.”

But isn’t one internship enough? “Serving two internships has given me the experience of seeing how different churches and pastors operate,” said Simpson.

Britton agrees. “Both types of internships give a man the opportunity to get to know a congregation and a presbytery, as well as the denomination of the OPC, which can only help in a man’s pursuit of a call later on,” said Britton. “There is no substitute for mentoring when it comes to grooming men for pastoral ministry.”

When internships become available, Britton advises seminarians: “Go for it. You will grow and benefit greatly from the experience. Don’t feel strange if you think you are being blessed more by the congregation than they are being blessed by you! My experience is that churches love their interns and love caring for them, and you absolutely are a blessing to them.”

By the end of their yearlong internships, the men completed their licensure exams, so that they were licensed to preach and to seek a call from an OP church. Britton is now pastor of Calvary OPC in La Mirada, California. Simpson is seeking a call. Britton adds, “After doing two internships, I am more a believer than ever that men coming right out of seminary need to intern.”

Seminarians seeking internships and churches seeking interns must complete their applications by Thursday, February 28. Applications are available at www.OPC.org or by e-mailing Pat Clawson at ccesec@opc.org.

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