Most churches have interns at one time or another. This can either be a great experience, or a terrible one (though it will probably be somewhere in between).
Done well, an internship program can give you greater levels of effectiveness, train up next-gen leaders, and expand the possibilities for great future ministry in the church. Done poorly, it can eat up a ton of your time and waste a lot of theirs.
At our church, we get a fresh crop of 10 or more interns every summer. They serve in all different areas. About six serve with us in student ministries. We want to make it a) a great use of their time and a growing experience for them, and b) a blessing to the staff and not a burden.
Here are a few tips to make sure that its great for everyone:
1. Get to know them. Duh. This is connected to the second point.
2. Spend a lot of time doing an orientation process. Plan to spend about a week. It’s a lot, but it pays off: a day for walking through all the necessary rules and regulations; a day to give them a tour of the place; a few big lunches out to get them rolling; etc. Give them a detailed packet with a job description. Make sure you include clear expectations and guiding principles. (If you’re really curious what this looks like, email me and I’ll send you our intern packet as an example.)
3. Make sure that the interns get to help with the best parts of ministry around the church (not just the worst). The reason interns are there is to learn how to do the most life giving aspects of your job. Nobody gets into ministry to organize data or do mundane paperwork. This means handing over some big pieces of what you do. If you are in teaching ministry, find a way for them to teach. If its pastoral care, empower them to make contact with people. Interns should eventually be able to do significant work without constant supervision. If they can’t, it’s not worth having an intern. One of the worst things to hear from an intern is that there isn’t enough for them to do. If you can set them loose on some things they are passionate about, you won’t hear this complaint.
4. Include them in your regular ministry meetings. Interns should get to see how the sausage gets made. During the summer we have an abbreviated weekly strategic meeting they sit in on. It keeps everyone on the same page and hopefully gives them a deeper sense of the way ministry works without boring them to tears.
5. Have short review sessions regularly. (Perhaps right after your weekly meeting.)
6. Build time into your schedule for development. This could look like anything. Meet once a week and discuss a few chapters from Mere Christianity. Walk them through the top 10 things you’ve learned about your ministry. Last summer, we worked our way through the Apostle’s Creed using Tim Tennent’s book, This We Believe! This summer, it’s Sandra Richter’s Epic of Eden. This time is incredibly valuable for joining theological development with practical experience. Students need and want to grow intellectually as well as personally. It’s one of the things that make the internship truly special. If you don’t have time to dedicate to this, you probably shouldn’t have interns.
7. Plan a big celebration at the end of their stay. Do something they would want to do. With our summer interns, we get away to the lake or go white water rafting. It’s a reward for a lot of hard work with little pay, and it adds a strong positive feeling to the end of the experience.
All of this, of course, looks like a lot of work. And it is. Nothing hard is ever easy.