A Greater Vision for Your Church: Pastoral internships

As a local church, dare to think beyond yourself. There is everything right about encouraging or inviting people to your church services, and promoting such outreach events as a summer VBS. In fact, it is good and right to focus on ministry in our own little portion of the vineyard. This is why the Lord placed your church in the particular neighborhood, city and county in which you live. Yet, a local church should also have a broader and more far-reaching view. There should be ministries and efforts in which we engage as a local church that may provide very little obvious "benefit" or "growth" for our own congregation. We determine to engage in these ministries because we do not labor for the glory of our own local church, but for that of the Kingdom and our Savior.

The Case

I would argue that one such ministry--in which almost every local church should be engaged--is that of a pastoral ministry internship program. What if every local church embraced this ministry as much as Evangelical churches have committed to supporting foreign missionaries over the last century? The impact for the sake of the Kingdom could be incalculably great.

Our Lord Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few" (Luke 10:2). A pastoral internship program in each local church--or in even fifty percent of our local Evangelical churches--would dramatically affect the number of workers we are sending out into the fields. These young men could populate pulpits, plant churches, and serve as missionaries at home and abroad.

The Benefits

A pastoral internship program provides many benefits for the sake of the Kingdom. Consider the following:

First, a church with a pastoral internship program will intentionally seek to raise up a new generation of faithful pastors. We all talk about it, but being intentional about it is something else all together. As a pastor in a church with a pastoral internship program, I find myself constantly looking for young men who might have this call upon their lives, pursuing them and then encouraging them to consider committing to it.

Second, a pastoral internship program yields the benefit of pastors being able to discourage young men who shouldn't enter the pastorate from entering it. There are too many young men who journey off to seminary, pass their classes with ease and enter the ministry with no perceived Divine call upon their life to do so. Yet, in some ways it isn't their fault. They never enjoyed the experience of laboring in the context of the local church--where godly men and women could speak into their lives and have their gifts tested. No one ever told them that they didn't appear to be gifted for the pastorate. The sad result is that they go into the ministry, suffer for want of self-knowledge, their families experience unnecessary trials and then they often make a mess of the local church.

Third, a pastoral internship provides an opportunity for a young man to tie together the theological with the practical, thereby tempering his idealism. Over a decade ago I was a pastoral intern. I entered the internship program thinking I knew more than I did and I possessed grand views about the way a church should function. This was challenged, refined, and ultimately changed by a one year pastoral internship program. I wasn't perfected as a pastor, but I was humbled. The theology mattered, but I had to learn how to bring it to bear upon hearts and souls. Reality quickly confronted the idealism with which my mind was occupied. Each of the churches that I have served--unbeknownst to them--benefited from a church in Dallas, Texas that was willing to give the time and effort to work with a young, zealous, and often proud pastoral intern.

Fourth, the local church does receive some benefit from a pastoral internship. Blessing accompanies a church that looks beyond itself. A church with a Kingdom mindset is freed from many internal conflicts and provincialism. It also excites a local congregation to send out a man, who they have trained, to seminary, to the mission field or to the pastorate. It also provides another teaching voice in the congregation. It will not be polished or steeped in experience, but the interns gifts will still have a positive impact. As Paul said to Timothy, "Let no one despise you for your youth" (1 Timothy 4:12).

What Does It Look Like? 

Some internship programs function as a training ground before seminary; others serve students while they attend seminary; and, still others serve the Kingdom as a kind of "finishing school." Its duration can also vary. It may be a summer internship program, a year full-time internship, or an intensive six-month program. Find what works for your church. The content of the programs also look different. In my experience, I believe most young men benefit from a format that emphasizes the areas of personal character, growth in theological and biblical knowledge and actual practical ministry experience. (Here is a link to URC's pastoral internship program)

Common Objections

  • "We don't have the time or resources?" Though it may not be true for every church, the vast majority of churches have adequate time and resources. A pastor, elder or faithful member of the congregation can "oversee" the program with as much or as little effort as he desires. Some pastoral internship programs are less than part-time and others are more than full-time. Many tasks can be assigned, papers written, books read, etc. with very little oversight. Money does not need to be an issue either. I know of churches that provide full salaries, churches that have men raise their support, and still others that have a volunteer pastoral internship program.
  • "Our congregation is too small?" If you have more than twenty people in your congregation, then there is ample room for a pastoral intern. He can learn as much ministering to twenty individuals as he can from a thousand. Different lessons are learned in each context and all are helpful.
  • "Our church isn't near a college, university, or seminary?" Young men are hungry to learn, and you would be surprised at the men that may journey to your church if you advertise your internship program with campus ministries or seminaries around the country. Regardless, you have families in your church. Are you willing to begin an internship program if one of the young teenage boys in your congregation shows potential?
  • "It takes our focus off of more important ministries?" I would suggest that there are few more important ministries than training the next generation of leaders in the church. The health of the church is often tied to its pastors. Your local church, by God's grace, could be one small force in helping to secure the future of our faith in the next generation.

A pastoral internship program may not be possible in all of our churches, but it should be possible in most of our churches. There are few better things your church could engage in for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

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