“The internship affords a candidate the closest experience he can have of pastoral ministry without actually being a pastor,” Nate Strom said. In 2019, Strom, a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary, served as a church-planting intern jointly for three churches: Immanuel OPC in Andover, Minnesota, Covenant Presbyterian in Hammond, Wisconsin, and Providence Reformed in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
Each of these churches have pastors with church-planting experience, and Strom spent time working with and learning from these wise men: Jim Hoekstra at Immanuel, Shane Lems at Covenant, and Kim Kuhfuss at Providence Reformed. He worked most closely with Hoekstra and Lems.
“Ironically, one of the most distinct moments of my internship was when I learned what I already knew,” Strom said. He saw clearly how important it is for the pastor to consider himself first as a sheep under the Great Shepherd—not as the church’s savior. But he also witnessed first-hand the power of God’s Word. “My seminary education certainly provided me with a robust doctrine of Scripture, but the internship helped me ‘feel’ the psychological battle for faith in God’s purpose, God’s Word, and God’s Spirit to accomplish what he intends,” he said.
As part of his internship, Strom exhorted regularly, joined session meetings, and met with various church members. He was involved in Immanuel OPC’s Leadership Training Class (which was one of Hoekstra’s favorite times with him). Despite the temporary nature of an internship, he was intentional about getting to know individual church members.
Throughout the internship, these three pastors saw firsthand Strom’s strengths and weaknesses. They taught “a healthy self-awareness by being humbly transparent and by lovingly and honestly evaluating my work,” Strom noted.
The relationship wasn’t just one-way. Both Hoekstra and Lems remarked that Strom also helped them to grow as ministers. Strom’s zeal and love for the people stimulated and encouraged them. In teaching Strom, they learned and saw things that they had overlooked or forgotten. Hoekstra in particular was encouraged to see how Strom cared for the congregation of Immanuel OPC, the body whom he spent the most time with during his internship.
Strom’s wife and children were folded into the church, too, making this internship feel like a family effort. Serving at Immanuel helped them to prepare as a family for Strom’s calling. “The internship provided Anna with the opportunity to test and grow in what it means for her, in particular, to be a pastor’s wife,” Strom said. And, as a family, they learned how to manage the Lord’s Days “when daddy is occupied with preaching and leading worship.”
The Stroms not only learned how to interact with the local congregations but also the wider community, believers and non-believers alike. As his internship was focused on church planting, Strom organized and participated in various outreach events. He also successfully started a Bible study in the southeastern metro area of the Twin Cities. Through it all, he was given the freedom to work independently, while still having three excellent pastors available to him. These many responsibilities gave Strom the opportunity to prioritize well and learn the skill that one of his mentors called “planned neglect.”
It may seem discouraging as a seminary graduate, eager to pastor his own church, to have to spend a year (or more) as an intern. However, Strom, Lems, and Hoekstra all agree that it is an excellent opportunity. It allows the graduate to get his feet damp. He is able to interact with real pastors in real congregations—as opposed to hypothetical situations in seminary—without bearing the full weight of responsibility.
“It was a wonderful way to get a foretaste for ministry, sharpen skills, grow in faith through doing things that made me uncomfortable, and observe godly men fighting the good fight,” Strom said.
The author is a member of Immanuel OPC in Andover, Minn.
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