Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Six Key Components for Youth Ministry Internships

Intern feels like a loaded word. It comes with all sorts of baggage attached to it; words like thankless, grunt work, and temporary come to mind. Interns often are viewed as the underpaid--if paid at all--young leaders who run errands for those with real responsibility.

This isn't how it should be.

I believe internships in a youth ministry context can be some of the best ways to raise up new leaders within the church. Having mentored/discipled numerous interns in my junior high ministry--and having been an intern myself--I'm convinced that an internship program as part of your youth ministry's strategy for discipleship is vital for leadership development within your church.

I haven't figured everything out, and I'm sure there are plenty of aspects about my philosophy of internships that need changing, but here are six key components of what I believe a healthy internship program involves:
  • Mutual benefit. When an internship is healthy, both the church community and the individual intern will be better for their experience. It's not just the ministry using the intern to get extra work done. It's also not the intern simply following ministry leaders around and taking notes. By the end of the internship, one should be able to point out tangible spiritual fruit in both the intern and the church. Ideally, the intern should be able to put their internship experience on a resume and have you be a great reference.
  • Clear expectations from the start. Give a clear and concise job description that includes hours, responsibilities, policies and procedures, and your own personal expectations for the internship. It's better to set up a lot of boundaries and guidelines from the get-go, then ease up and be change as the internship goes on; the opposite approach of just "going for it" is much more difficult. When expectations are unclear and unmet, both the intern and the ministry leader can end up needlessly frustrated or hurt.
  • Environment for questions. Interns need to be able to ask a lot of questions that run the gamut from practical ministry to theology to culture to parenting to dating to friends (and everything in between). Interns also need to be asked a lot of questions. Ask about what they think, what they're feeling, how life is going, how they're doing spiritually. Listen well, as some of the most significant ministry changes I've made stemmed from an intern's insights. This all requires a foundation of trust between the ministry leader and the intern; without trust, asking questions is unsafe.
  • Discipleship. I'm a junior high pastor, but I'm also doing college ministry. This is what Paul did with Timothy--someone with more ministry and life experience pours themselves into someone eager to learn and grow. I'm not just the intern's employer; I'm their spiritual mentor. This includes conversations about life infused with the Word, holding one another accountable, praying daily for the intern, and potentially continuing to disciple them after their internship is complete.
  • The Four E's: Equip, Experience, Evaluate, Exhort. Equip the intern by giving them practical ministry tools--books, training sessions, case studies, etc. Then give them a variety of ministry experiences to practice those tools, from administration to teaching to worship to service projects to counseling to small groups, etc. This requires good delegation skills. After every experience, evaluate successes, failures, possibilities for change, and God's role in the experience; this should be an ongoing dialogue, not going through an evaluation sheet. Exhortation is like giving a high-five and a kick in the butt--it's both encouragement and discipline, recognizing the interns' value while also spurring them on in the Lord. This isn't a step-by-step process as much as it is a cycle that permeates the internship. (I guess if you include "expectations" and "environment for questions," from above, it's really six E's. Love me some alliteration!)
  • Love them. Maybe I don't do a good job of employer/employee boundaries, but I end up viewing the intern as a younger brother or sister. Somewhere along the line, they became family to me. (I just had a Skype conversation with a junior high intern from this past year, Allison. She's in Europe right now and we're still hanging out!) This is just my experience, but I believe the best internships turn into great friendships. When you're doing ministry together, sharing the Gospel and life, our love should grow for one another. Reminds me of one of my favorite Bible passages on ministry, 1 Thessalonians 2:8:
We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.
What's been your experience either as an intern or with church internships? Anything you could add?

No comments:

Post a Comment