Ingredients of a Meaningful and Successful Intern Program
Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 6, no. 2 (April 1997)
It has become my fervently held conviction that a pastoral internship should be considered indispensable to a mans preparation for the ministry: a rule that has, I believe, few exceptions. I hold this strong opinion as one who has just recently completed the first year of his first pastorate, and who can attest to the immeasurable benefit received from a well-placed internship in a local church. If my own experience gained as an intern could be likened to a well, then I could say that the bucket over it has rarely been still, as Ive dipped innumerable times into it for assistance in adjusting to new pastoral responsibilities. As every minister will attest, the first year of ministry is filled with unique challenges, perhaps chief among them simply being the number of routine responsibilities assumed for the first time. Ive called these the endless first timers that confronted me at the beginning of my pastorate: the first time to administer the Lords Supper, the first time to teach a Membership Class, the first time to moderate a congregational meeting, and so on, all of which require that extra thought and effort to perform, and which, when in quick succession, can be somewhat overwhelming to a new pastor. An internship is at the very least an effective way to reduce the harrying number of first timers that a new pastor encounters in the his first pastorate.
However, Im convinced that an internship provides much more than this. Though I could write here, in as many words, in support of the traditional structure of seminary education in which men undergo rigorous academic training for the ministry (I am not a critic of the seminary model!), I would yet insist that no formal educational program should be considered the sole means by which men are rendered prepared for the ministry. Such a program is invaluable for the equipping of men with many tools needed for the ministry, but it should not be assumed (or even expected, I would suggest) to fully prepare men for the pastorate. That, it seems to me, falls to the work of the local church: to the oversight and instruction that can be best provided through the attention given to a candidate for the ministry in an internship program. Only through such an internship that specializes in the day-to-day applications of the tools and methods learned in seminary do I believe a man can be fully prepared for the day-to-day responsibilities of the ministry.
So what are the ingredients of a meaningful, successful internship? It has become clear to me, through my awareness of the experience of many of my colleagues in their pursuit of the ministry, that not all the church programs that bear the name ministerial internship prove to be either meaningful or successful. Based on the happy experience I myself have had in a solid internship programstill somewhat fresh in my memory and the further insight Ive gleaned in my first year of becoming acclimated to the pastorate, Id like to submit what I would consider to be 8 essential ingredients to a meaningful and successful internship program.
1. Concerted time and attention from a mentoring elder. For an internship to have a meaningful role in a mans preparation for the ministry, it must be more than the typical staff position in a local church. The greatest need of a candidate for the ministry is to be taken under the wing of the minister himself, or one of the teaching elders, who can provide him the instruction and feedback that is vital to the assessment and improvement of his gifts. The ministerial candidate needs a mentor! For this reason, though in many ways the addition of an intern to the staff of the church can lessen the load of a minister, in other ways it should be expected to increase it. A mentoring minister or elder should schedule weekly blocks of time with the intern to, among other things, (a) review the sermons preached, and provide encouragement and critique, (b) consider the sermons being prepared, and provide direction, (c) review and discuss other designated responsibilities, andwhat I found highly profitable for myself ( d) conduct a course of study and discussion on a topic relating to the ministry (for example: study together Charles Bridges The Christian Ministry, or similar work). An alert and inquisitive intern will be brimming with How do you...? and What about...? questions, and this would naturally furnish opportunity for the mentor to download invaluable experience to his disciple. Any and all such opportunities to converse on the responsibilities of the pastorate will be prove invaluable for the intern.
2. Consistent preaching and teaching responsibilities. Not only is this at the heart of the gospel ministry itself, but for many (certainly for me) it is also the most daunting of responsibilities to assume at the start of the pastorate. Even the best practical theology department in seminary cannot provide the consistency of preaching experience necessary to the steady improvement of a mans gifts. Preaching at least once a week should be the goal, in my opinion, for it provides that critical opportunity for weekly assessment and progress. Here it is vital for the intern to receive straightforward critique of the clarity and exegetical integrity of his sermons, as well as practical pointers concerning delivery and pulpit demeanor. Strengths should be warmly reinforced and weaknesses gently corrected. If preaching is to be at the center of the ministry, it should also be central to an internship, and the greatest energy of the mentor should be focused on the further development and refinement of the interns preaching gifts.
3. Frequent leadership in worship. Since a certain ease and presence of mind before people is necessary for most any form of leadership in the church, an intern will only benefit from all responsibilities which put him on the platform. However, it is of special importance, I would suggest, for an intern to cultivate an effective manner of leading in worship. As much as possible, the intern should be given responsibility for leading the congregation in worship, including the so-called pastoral prayer. (If one is licensed to preach, presumably that includes the license to lead in the pastoral prayer!) The principles of Samuel Millers book Thoughts on Public Prayer, as well as Spurgeons remarks on the subject in Lectures to My Students, would be helpful to underscore at this point, along with the regular doing of it.
4. Regular participation in the Sessions business. It may be of concern to some to allow an intern to be privy to all the deliberations of a Session, but there is undoubtedly no better way to prepare a man to be a member and moderator of a Session than to give him prior exposure to the inner workings of one. As a recent intern, I was granted privilege of the floor as a matter of routine, presented monthly reports along with the pastor, and entered fully into the discussions (and occasional debates) of the elders. Such a setting provides the intern with invaluable insight into the rudimentary elements of parliamentary procedure, as well as allows him to gain a feel for the leadership role of the moderator. On countless occasions in my own internship it was in the Session meetings that I learned about those duties of church leadership that they never teach you in seminaryas we used to say with humor.
5. Regular exposure to the work of the Deacons. I do not say participation in the deacons business out of recognition of the differences in office, and the fact that a pastoral intern is one who aspires to the office of an overseer, not a deacon. However, Im quite strongly inclined to think that an intern will benefit greatly from being at least exposed on a regular basis to the work of the deacons. Attendance at their stated business should be a minimal goal. But further direct exposure to the diaconal ministries themselves, along with the deliberations and decision making that accompanies them, will stand the future minister in good stead, especially as he begins to interact with a diaconal board within his own congregation.
6. Assistance in counseling and pastoral oversight. This is an area in which a measure of discernment is necessary, of course, but which ought not be excluded in a normal internship. While there are some counseling situations in which it would be inadvisable to include an intern, there are certainly a number in which his presence would be welcomed by all involved. In such situations, the intern will inevitably learn a great deal about how to address pastoral issues in more personal setting, as he observesand perhaps even participates witha ministers or ruling elders work. A particularly good opportunity for this kind of experience is in the pastoral visits of the elders. A practical suggestion would be that the overseeing elders as a matter of routine, when scheduling a visit, ask something to the effect: Would you mind if I came with John, our ministerial intern? This practice of including the intern in such pastoral situations will, if nothing else, serve to give him even more of a pastors heart."
7. Responsibility for administrative duties. If an intern has preaching and teaching gifts, but weakness in administrative duties, he might as well be confronted with this, and begin to account for it in an internship program! Otherwise, in countless ways he will be ill-equipped for the work of a pastor. An excellent way to develop the organizational and administrative gifts of an intern is to build into his job description a certain project or task. My intern experience included the organization and supervision of a new Vacation Bible School program for the church: a project which tested and strengthened my ability to supervise and motivate other people in a working relationship. The development of a specific evangelistic program, or small group ministry, or the like, could be similar ways to develop the administrative gifts of an intern. But a note of caution is also in order: Some such projects can become all-consuming, and should not be allowed to distract the intern from what are even more central duties of the ministry, as his preaching and prayer.
8. Attendance at meetings of the regional church. For reasons similar to those given regarding participation with the Session, the intern will benefit greatly from being exposed to the work of the Presbytery, and even of the General Assembly. It should be a priority of the mentoring Session to provide for the attendance of the intern to all such meetings, if possible. He hopefully thereby get a valuable head start on his growth as a functioning member of the regional church.
These are what I would propose as the main ingredients of a meaningful internship. But there is one further element needed to make an internship truly successful. At times, it may prove to be the most difficult part of the role of mentoring minister or Session, for it will require serious deliberation and sometimes very sensitive dealing with an intern. Im referring to the honest, summary assessment of an interns character and gifts that ought to come at some point during the internship program. Whether an internship is pursued before, during, or after the completion of a mans seminary education, the church and its leaders who provide such oversight and assistance ought to have this question as their fundamental concern: Can we see in this man, by virtue of his character and the gifts manifested among us, evidence of Gods call upon him to the gospel ministry." In a day in which the call to the ministry is all too often seen as a merely private matter between God and a mans heart, churches who provide internship programs should take to themselves the difficult responsibility of providing either outward confirmation, orwhen necessarya disapproval of his call to the ministry. In the latter case, the Session, after careful deliberation, and informed by the judgment of the church as a whole, will need to submit its serious reservations that the one serving as an intern is truly called to the ministry. In the former, more pleasant case, the Session will be able to offer a ringing affirmation of his sense of the call. But in either case it is here, in the context of the local church, and specifically a local church that has received a well-rounded representation of the mans character and gifts, that a mans desire and personal sense of call to the ministry can be given its needed external counterpart: the recognition and affirmation of the Church. It is particularly for this reason that I remain convinced that an internship program is indispensable in the preparation for the ministry.
Born in Columbus, GA (1969), and raised in the greater Roanoke, VA area, Nathan Trice came to Christ at an early age. Raised in a covenant home, he was educated in both a home-school and Christian school setting, graduating from Covenant College in 1991 and Knox Theological Seminary, Ft. Lauderdale, FL in 1994. He interned at Franklin Square OPC from June 1994 to December 1995, and was ordained and installed as pastor of the OPC in Matthews, NC in 1996. He is now completing work in the Th.M. program at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia.