Every member of Christ’s church concerned for the future of their children and coming generations takes interest in the training and calling of new leaders. They long to see the Lord raise up laborers for the harvest (Matt. 9:37-38), and to see the gospel entrusted to them so that they can teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2). We desperately need every congregation to be involved in the process of training new leaders. How can ordinary church members joyfully support and participate in this work?
More important than the details of an internship curriculum in a church is an organic internship culture. Church leaders must develop appropriate curricula, but every member is part of the culture. The needs of each intern will be different, but each can be nurtured if those around him have the right attitude and approach. All of the members of leadership and the congregation are part of that culture. What are key elements of a healthy internship culture?
Expectant Prayer. God’s people who earnestly ask God to raise up laborers among them tend to expect God will do it, and they keep pleading with the Lord through the whole process. They generally pray because they don’t see any perfect candidates and trust the Lord will take less-than-perfect-men and shape them his way. Thus, beginning in prayer, they are willing to give a wide range of candidates a shot, as the Lord raises them up, with an expectation that God will equip and qualify new servants.
Sacrificial giving. Churches that sponsor interns inevitably give materially to those who are being trained, but more than that, they give of their time and resources. Interns take time. Pastors and elders will initially spend time with interns that they might otherwise spend with other members of the congregation. But, mature members who are excited about seeing the leaders of their children and grandchildren trained recognize that Jesus’ disciples spent time “with him” and that the “with him” principle still applies in relationships today. Members gain a vision for multiplication of spiritual care, and they willingly give to make it reality.
Welcoming Participation. A healthy internship culture grows when the saints expect to see interns participating in leadership activities with appropriate supervision. Whether interns are serving on leadership teams, organizing events, leading Bible studies, parts of worship, preaching, or are participating in pastoral visits, interns need experience. Jesus gave his disciples opportunities to serve and then evaluate what the Lord had done. Members of the congregation must recognize that first-timers in any activity probably won’t be as skilled as a senior leader, but they need to be given supervised opportunities to lead...and inevitably fail sometimes. But, members are willing to sit under sometimes-weak-but-growing leaders when they know they as members are part of the process. Elders who oversee internships healthy internships also quickly find that they too can profit greatly from the perspectives interns bring. Elders willing to learn from interns usually find interns especially willing to learn from them too.
Regular feedback. Members who pray, and give, and are involved in ministry with and under interns are ready to provide meaningful feedback. Usually, this means giving encouragement. Sometimes it means giving constructive criticism directly. Other times, it means asking questions of the elders overseeing the interns who are providing weekly reviews of the interns life and work. Often, interns have narrow views of ministry. They need the ministry of others in the congregation to help them understand how to serve a whole congregation. As members encourage interns, the intern grows in his sense of being informally called by the people of God to continue pursuing a calling to the eldership or pastoral ministry.
Mutual Growth. All of the partners in a healthy internship culture find that they grow together. Love and friendship grow, iron sharpens iron, and the capacity to grow increases exponentially for everyone. Further, as interns are sent forth and are eventually qualified to serve as elders and pastors, the sending congregation weeps over the physical distance that may come, but it rejoices in the fruit that is borne in many places as a result. A church with a healthy internship culture will always go forth sowing with tears, but because of the faithfulness of God, it will always reap with joy.
Varied Outcomes. Finally, a church with a healthy internship culture learns to expect the Lord’s outcome. Sometimes, pastoral internships result in the obvious success of a pastor being raised up. Other times, the internship will bring clarity to direct a man into other forms of service. Finally, the Lord could even use a season of training to reveal dangerous flaws or worse as in the case of Judas. The congregation that trusts the Lord will develop a culture that isn’t puffed up by successes or destroyed by one failure.
In summary, an attitude of willing, joyful sacrifice is what creates a healthy internship culture. Raising up leaders means laying down our lives. Congregations that wish to be involved in this work must learn to die to themselves. So must elders. So must interns. Churches must pray tirelessly. They must give sacrificially. They must receive less-than-the-best ministry (in technical terms) in the short-run because they trust the work of Christ. They must be engaged with love and care and concern, and they must trust the Lord for the outcome of their labor. A church that senses its call to serve rather than to be served is the best kind of place in which leaders can be raised. Churches that serve like Jesus tend to produce servants like Jesus. And you, wherever you are, can be part of it.