Written in 2010, but just as true today:
The Benefits of Having a Church Intern by Pastor Dave Johnston, Bible Fellowship Church, Greentown, PA
We tried to come up with all the downsides to using a pastoral intern fresh out of seminary. Our elders sat with our deacons to pool our collective pessimism. “He’ll make mistakes.” “He’ll say the wrong things.” “He’ll cost us time and money.” “Nobody will listen to him.” So far, we came up with all the reasons not to have me as pastor. We finally decided to call one of our sister churches that had a long experience in the ministry of interns. The summary quote from that pastor was, “There is no downside.” We decided to seek out a young man to serve a prolonged internship as a pastoral assistant. It was one of the best gifts the Lord ever gave to this local church. If some of the benefits we have received could convince other churches to invest in one of these young men, it would add to our sense of blessing. To paraphrase Proverbs, who finds an intern finds a good thing”.
We are a congregation of some 60 members. We are located in northeast Pennsylvania in an area that is more rural than urban. We want to make a contribution to the broader Body of Christ. We have not been able to provide a gifted man for the ministry. Nor could we provide adequate training for a young pastor. All we could offer is a field of service. Experience in a protected context seemed like our division of labor. We contacted Dr. Renihan. He put us in touch with [an IRBS graduate who became our intern]. The benefits to our congregation have been significant.
An intern benefits a church by becoming a community project. His nurture, growth, and development are not the sole responsibility of the elders. The whole Body undertakes this stewardship. The church helps self-consciously to foster a positive environment for ministry. What was especially encouraging to us was the way most people took to this almost by reflex. We did remind them at the outset that their relationship to our brother could have long term consequences. They could either alleviate his fears and deepen his joy in ministry or dampen his zeal. It has happened before that a church has left such a bad taste in the mouth of a young man as to totally discourage him. Interns seem to bring out the exact opposite. Something of a parental instinct seemed to surface in many of our people. They wanted to encourage him. His success became their success. We were able to watch them play their role in the work of the Lord of the harvest sending out this laborer into His harvest.
Labor is the operative word when it comes to the benefit our congregation has received. Interns are not mannequins to be dressed up for show. From their perspective, they are anxious to see whether the Lord’s blessing will attend their work. From our perspective, we are anxious to see the church edified and the ministry expanded. Our intern shares actively in the labor. He preaches often, here and in other churches. He has taught our adult and high school Sunday school classes. He has developed an outreach to the local public school. He leads one of our small group prayer meetings. He has started a college age Bible study. He is assisting in our Vacation Bible School. He schedules and attends most of our pastoral visitations. He planned and organized a week of classes on our confession taught by Dr. Renihan. Perhaps the most important contribution is the direct personal input he has brought to the spiritual life of individuals. No matter how approachable we pastors think we are, some individuals will always relate better to somebody else. His age, past experience, freshness of expression and difference of personality opens doors for an intern that are half closed to a pastor. He learns by doing. What he does is good for the whole congregation.
The presence of an intern broadens the perspective of a congregation. The first time he stands behind the pulpit he becomes a corrective lens through which our people view the relationship of our churches. It is never good when our vision is exclusively local. Our associational fellowship can be more of a theory than a practice. An intern is living evidence of the broader church and our place in it. That is an unfailing encouragement. Our intern came to Pennsylvania from our sister church in Escondido, California. That automatically created a connection between our congregations. We have benefited from the Lord’s gift to them of this godly young man. They have been blessed by the care and opportunity we extend to one for their own. The clearer our congregations see that we are co-laborers in a greater program of redemption the healthier they are. The bond of relationship between the churches is part of the blessing of having an intern.
Somewhat related to the above is the fact that our particular intern is a living advertisement for IRBS. We have often asked our people to pray for the training of future Reformed Baptist pastors. Most of our congregations do as well. Our intern is our first taste of the answer to those prayers. Our awareness of the necessity and the benefit of ministerial training has been upgraded to high definition clarity. For some, he represents hope for the next generation. For me, he represents the excellent level of training he has received. The educational foundation reflected in his doctrinal understanding and competence in the Scriptures is very solid. One of the many benefits an intern brings to pastors is the fruit of his theological training. As a recent graduate he is up on the current debates and controversies. He is aware of books and authors that are helpful. These young men are well equipped, gifted brothers. Dr. Renihan and all those associated with IRBS deserve prayers and gratitude.
Finally, it is difficult to exaggerate the benefit provided by a good role model. Serious minded godliness cannot be taught by words alone. It is the Lord’s way to put truth into shoe leather. To have a man in his twenties who loves truth, righteousness and the church is a blessing to any congregation. To have him visible and involved is invaluable. He is an object lesson, used by parents to challenge their teenagers. He models a high standard of spiritual life and biblical churchmanship for young believers. He makes the prospects of a call to pastoral work seem more reasonable to people. He keeps in front of us everything that we want our young people to be. No honest believer can despise the youth of an individual who is a good example to the believers. We have lost our pessimism about interns.