Growing Pastors for the OPC

Patricia E. Clawson

A church that supports a pastoral intern not only helps the young seminarian to grow into his future calling as a pastor, but also benefits his subsequent Orthodox Presbyterian congregations.

Imagine sitting in your pew, listening to the preaching of your new pastor, a recent seminary graduate who never had the advantage of a ministerial internship. He may have deep doctrinal knowledge, but unless he is particularly gifted, communicating that knowledge with clarity, compassion, and conviction may be a challenge. The first time he officiates at a wedding or a funeral could be difficult, as would be visiting the dying or overseeing a session meeting. That’s because seminary education emphasizes the principles of ministry, rather than how to put those principles into practice.

Now picture a young seminarian/intern preaching to a church that is striving to help mold him into a minister. Under the oversight of an experienced OP pastor, his ability to prepare and deliver a sermon that points people to Christ would have matured over his summer or yearlong internship. He would have joined the pastor in visiting the sick and witnessed a session meeting. When he has his own congregation and deals with a difficult passage or session disagreement, he could ask his former mentoring pastor for advice.

Churches that provide pastoral internships serve OP congregations as well as the broader denomination through the pastor’s subsequent service to his presbytery and the General Assembly. But many churches don’t have the funds to pay for an intern.

That’s when churches with a heart to help seminarians get creative. Funding an intern wasn’t easy for the ninety-member Reformation OPC in Olympia, Washington. A single man with an extra room housed Brian Guinto and developed a deep friendship with him. “This meant that we just had to provide salary and, though we were stretched, with the help of the Committee on Christian Education we were able to make it work,” said Pastor Brett McNeill. “Brian developed his gifts while he was with us, which the congregation loved being a part of. Beyond this, they came to love him as part of the congregation. There were tears when he left.”

Although New Hope OPC has 170 members, hosting a summer intern in expensive Frederick, Maryland, was a challenge. The congregation responded to the session’s request for housing. “Getting a single man made it easier, and having free housing was essential for us to make it work that first time,” said Pastor Francis VanDelden. Having an intern “helped us connect with the broader church, look outwardly, and develop our role of discipling by investing in a future minister.”

At another OP church, the housing of their summer intern and his family was split between their two elders’ families. This helped prepare the intern’s wife for her future as a pastor’s wife by giving her the opportunity to observe how the elders’ wives prepared for Sunday guests, trained their children, and structured their domestic tasks.

Providence OPC in Madison, Wisconsin, has sixty communicant members, so to finance an internship they partnered with a Chinese church that shares their building. This worked well because their summer intern was interested in mission work in China. Pastor Mark Jenkins wonders if other small OP churches that are near each other might share an intern. One congregation could serve as the overseeing church with the mentoring pastor, while the other would cover a portion of the cost. The intern, in turn, would preach regularly in both congregations.

“Our intern was a blessing by his word ministry and by giving our small congregation a tangible means of contributing to the larger church,” said Jenkins. “We are able to give to denominational missions, but often don’t feel we contribute much. Having an intern enabled us to see a contribution at work, quite literally.”

With more than one hundred members, Amoskeag Presbyterian Church in Manchester, New Hampshire, had the funds for an intern after they added intern costs to their budget and asked the congregation to make up for the small increase. “It was tight, but it worked,” said Pastor Gregory Reynolds. “He needed lots of work on his preaching, but his enthusiasm for the gospel was contagious. Also his love for people and evangelism was a great example to all.”

First Church of Merrimack in Merrimack, New Hampshire, with 180 members, annually budgets for an intern. Pastor Allen Tomlinson appreciates his interns’ help with the ministerial load. Having an intern “gave the congregation an opportunity to hear the same truth from different lips, which reinforced my preaching in the long run,” said Tomlinson. “Instructing and setting an example for younger men helps keep me sharp.”

Before the 230-member Oakland Hills Community Church in Farmington Hills, Michigan, placed a line item in their budget for interns, they tapped individuals who were supportive of ministry for help. The church owns a home, which provided living space for an intern, said Pastor Ralph Rebandt II. He appreciated having another caring staff member who helped him meet the congregation’s needs.

Support for interns comes in various ways, including from the youth. Nine-year-old Joshua Bryan, a student in Mrs. Bacon’s Sunday school class at Westminster OPC in Hamden, Connecticut, encouraged Michael Spangler, a summer intern in Greensboro, North Carolina. Spangler received a cheerful card from Josh, which mentioned that his class was praying for him, his family, and his congregation. “What a joy to hear the next generation calling on Christ to bless his church!” said Spangler. “I am grateful for the personal note and for the prayers. The Lord answered and gave us an excellent summer.”

OP churches that desire to help train an intern for either the summer or an entire year may apply for an intern if their pastor has served in an OP church for five years. Seminary students under care of an OPC or PCA presbytery may apply for a summer internship. Those who are under care or licensed in the OPC may apply for a yearlong internship.

The Subcommittee on Ministerial Training of the Committee on Christian Education helps to fund interns up to $1,000 per month for summer interns and $1,250 per month for yearlong interns. The church must at least match the CCE’s support.

Church and seminarian applications are available online at www.opc.org/cce/intern.html. The application deadline is February 28, 2017.