(this is part one of a two part post)
When I began in ministry there was this thing that churches did called, “summer internships.” I started in ministry the year Bill Clinton began his first term. Many of you reading this are too young to remember Bill Clinton as President, and yet, churches are still doing summer internships.
Ways in which summer internships work:
- Cheap (yet questionable) labor
- Keeps the college student out of his parents’ basement
Now, occasionally I’ll meet someone who is awesome and in his tenth year of ministry or something, and he’ll tell me that it worked for him. But looking more closely at the cause/effect, I would suspect that this person would have been great anyway. Did the 8-11 weeks working at that church actually help develop this individual? I’d vote no.
We need to continue to find better ways to actually develop future leaders, and in so doing, I’d like to offer up reasons why summer internships no longer work:
- Ministry Schedule. Summer is about camp, vacation, conferences, retreats, and some more vacation. A future leader never gets to the regular rhythm of meetings, ministry, and normal programming.
- Conflict Avoidance. Both the future leader and the supervisor are more likely to avoid difficult conversations that lead to development because, “she’s going to be gone in a few weeks.” This is probably the biggest issue. Future leaders need safe, healthy, and difficult conflict in order to grow and learn.
- Supervising. I’ve had countless Student Pastors tell me that they felt the “pressure to find something for him or her to do” every week. This is a bit tied to point one, but it puts ministry leaders (and especially youth pastors!) in a difficult spot because they tend to rely on a summer intern to help with camp. But what about the week after camp? This leads to busy work for both parties.
- Investment. Any of us can do anything for a short season. Go to Haiti for 3 weeks, exercise for two days, or be an intern for a summer. However, when a future leader is going some place, and it’s going to be a one or two-year (even better) commitment, then it begins to feel a bit more like a tour of duty. And we need more of that level of commitment by both parties.
So, if all you can do is summer internships, and that’s all the budget you have, then go for it. But I’d consult you to reserve internships for people who are in-house to your church already. Consider changing it to be a leadership development next step to those with whom you are already working. Who knows, maybe an internship will open her eyes to vocational ministry. This would be a good thing, but we need something more to actually address the question of preparing the next leader.
We need thousands of churches embracing the developmental path of residency. We'll address how in the next post.