Why consider a Ministry Internship? (Part 3): Next Steps
In Part 1, we considered the need for people to consider a ministry internship and the goals a ministry internship seeks to achieve. In Part 2, I shared more of my own journey towards doing a ministry internship and the fruit it bore in my life. In Part 3, we consider next steps you may take as you consider the possibility of pursuing a ministry internship.
So perhaps you’re considering vocational ministry but you’re unsure about the next steps.
If you’re a young person like me, I believe that a ministry internship would be very beneficial. It’s a huge commitment, but like anything, huge commitments reap huge rewards. However, before you make your decision, here are two factors that you could consider in your decision-making process.
One of the most natural questions is ‘where should I do it’? This is fairly complex because you have the option of doing it at your own church, doing it at another church, or in some cases, doing it at an educational institution like a university (with a ministry like FES).
This is further complicated if you are in a context where options may be limited.
But all things being equal, here is my advice: if you are able to, regardless of what you envision your future ministry will look like, my suggestion would be to do a ministry internship at a local church. I should note that parachurch-based internships are very helpful, and I know many godly men and women who have been trained in these institutions and are all doing exceptional ministry work. However, in terms of the people you come in contact with, the reality is that churches by nature are general while parachurch organisations are specific. And if you want to have a diverse colour palette to paint as creatively as you can in the future, then I’d recommend a generalist training early on.
Ministry in churches and parachurch organisations are quite different. The people, programmes, and possibilities have overlaps but are distinct. For example, the people you come into contact with will be very different. In a parachurch organisation like a university Christian Fellowship (CF), your primary audience will naturally be university students. They are well-educated, sharp thinkers, young, ambitious, creative, and time rich (they have more time during this stage of their lives than they ever will have). In other parachurch groups like mission organisations, not-for-profits, and the like, you’ll meet people who are closely aligned with the vision and mission of these groups. These are not bad things. They are in fact very good. However, the downside is that the scope of your inter-personal relationships will be skewed, and thus the type of ministry work you’ll learn will be similarly narrowed.
In sharp contrast, churches are very different. It’s Sunday morning at 9:00am (pre-COVID-19). We park the car. My wife and I get out and start walking to the church building. On the way, a middle-aged uncle from the Mandarin congregation is opening the gate to a shared parking space that a nearby factory allows us to use on Sundays. As we walk into the foyer of the building, I see two young mothers. One is chasing her son around (not because they’re playing but because he is trying to get out of trouble) and the other is nursing a newborn. I walk past the kitchen and the aroma of church lunch makes my stomach cry out for food even though I just had breakfast. I pop my head through the door to say ‘hi’ to the uncle who cooks every single week to serve our church.
On my way to my office, I walk past our office ladies who are putting some final touches to some bulletin print outs, and I skip over some plastic toys that are scattered across the floor because the kid who was running around on my way in had obviously left stuff all over the place. Afterwards, I walk into the hall where we worship, and I say ‘good morning’ to our AV team. The one looking after the projector screen is a university professor and the one looking after the sound desk works at a local biscuit factory. The lady who greets everyone at the door is a stay-at-home mother who occasionally helps with her husband’s business, and the one handing me the bulletin is a 12-year-old boy who wanted to get more involved in serving. I make my way to the front where I see a group of girls gathered around a mobile phone looking at something (I think they were checking out Lee Min Ho’s Instagram account) and another group of boys are playing PUBG. I get up to preach and as I look across the room, I see Caucasians, mainland Chinese, Malaysians, Indonesians, Koreans, Indians, Sri-Lankans, and the like. And for the next 45 minutes, I need to expound God’s Word and apply the Gospel to all of their lives.
It is hard work. But wow is it the best thing to do ever! This is a realistic view of ministry. Though I know of many great pastors who have been trained by university-based internships, I strongly believe that the local church context will give you a better simulation of what pastoral ministry will look like. You will ‘practice with real bullets’, get involved in the diversity that is the body of Christ, and learn lots during that process.
If your current local church pastor is not familiar with this training model or is hesitant to train future pastors, then perhaps it’s worth considering another church that is more well-resourced to do so. I know of one generous church in Sydney that has an annual budget of over $400,000 and a team of trainers invested in training the next generation of ministry workers. The fruit of this programme is evident, with many graduates of the program currently running great ministries throughout the state. Is there a church like that near you?
Your church doesn’t need to have resources like that, but it should have a view of training leaders. My church is not as well-resourced as that particular church, but the board of elders and pastors are invested in training leaders. They are willing to take risks in young people like me and are committed to doing whatever is necessary to raise them up. More importantly, the trainers know the benefits of training and are completely committed to doing so.
Have a close look at your trainer and ask yourself:
- Would I like to be a pastor like him?
- More generally, your trainer will teach you things that he is used to and methods that has proven success in his ministry. Do you agree with them? Do you see value in them?
- Does this pastor exemplify a kind of godliness that I would like to emulate?
- The godliness of a trainer can sometimes be sadly overlooked. How does this pastor exemplify the fruit of the Spirit? Does he have an air of arrogance that suggests he knows it all or is he humble and willing to receive feedback? An arrogant trainer will be difficult to work with and learn from, but a humble trainer will understand that you’re still learning and give you space to grow, make mistakes, and thrive.
- Does this pastor have the skills to train?
- Is there evidence of this type of skill? Has he trained others before? It may not have to be formal training like internships. It could be as simple as mentoring lay leaders and the like.
- Will this pastor give me access to his life?
- This doesn’t mean he lets you in on everything. But will this pastor give me an honest view of how ministry impacts their personal life, family, and relationships? Because if not, you may end up having a disillusioned view of ministry.
- A more personal question: Will I have fun with my trainer?
- You are going to be spending a lot of time with your trainer, and if you can’t relax around him or be yourself when you’re in the same room, then he can’t really see you for who you are and as a result, won’t be able to train you effectively. Find a pastor whom you feel comfortable with because he will have authority to speak into your life.
Deciding to enrol in a ministry internship is a huge life decision, and I know that different individuals will have other factors to consider. But remember that vocational ministry is an honourable call (1 Timothy 3:1). As such, those who are preparing to engage in it need to be as well-trained and well-prepared as possible!
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Elliot is a pastor at GracePoint Presbyterian Church (Sydney, Australia) and an adjunct lecturer at Christ College. He is married to Sherilyn and they love the privilege of serving the Lord together.
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