Intern 101: During the Internship

In my previous post, I pointed out how important the process of hiring an intern can be.  By working hard on the front end and hiring someone who is on board with your philosophy of ministry and works well with your personality, you can be relatively certain of a successful internship experience.  However, once you’ve hired your intern, it’s important to put together a deliberate and meaningful plan for his or her arrival.  By planning ahead and employing some deliberate strategies, you can maximize the effectiveness of the internship experience.

Below are the top ten tips and tricks I’ve learned through the many internships I’ve experienced that can enhance the internship WHILE your intern is onsite.  Maybe these can spur some great ideas for your next internship.

1.  Have clear-cut guidelines and expectations.
One of the best things you can do for your intern is to provide a solid framework for them to flourish in.  Clearly communicate to them about your expectations.  What should they wear to the office?  What does a normal week look like?  What are their responsibilities?  How should they interact with their host family?  Are there rules concerning hosting guests or spending time with students?  What is the schedule for the summer?  Answering these questions up front will help put your intern at ease and make “unwritten expectations” minimal.  Be clear and thorough.

2.  Have a comprehensive “to-do” list for them on day one.
In the same way you should be clear about guidelines and expectations, you should also be clear about the tasks your intern should accomplish throughout his or her time with you.  While this gives your intern clarity and purpose during the internship, it also helps you throughout the internship.  When your intern enters your office to “hang out” during a busy day, you can remind them of their task list and challenge them to work ahead.  This methodology can also aid your intern in learning how to be a “self-starter.”

3.  Make every moment a teachable one.
Never underestimate the power of example, and never miss out on a great teachable moment.  Sometimes in ministry, crazy things happen.  Sometimes in ministry, you have to do things you may not really “want” to do.  By bringing your intern along and walking through your thought process with them, you can help them formulate their own opinions and philosophies for future ministry.  Talk about ministry over a burrito, in the car, in the office, as you travel to a meeting or at a family dinner.  Don’t be afraid to do the hard work and make those ministry moments teachable ones.

4.  Emphasize the spiritual.
It’s easy to break ministry down to the nuts and bolts or the “how-tos,” particularly when interacting with your intern.  But the truth is that you could probably train a monkey to “do” youth ministry.  Planning events, making phone calls, reserving the retreat space…all of that is pretty pedestrian when you boil it down.  Teach your intern to “be” youth ministry by emphasizing the spiritual.  Challenge them to grow in Christ, to rely on prayer, to study the Word, to disciple with love.  The spiritual is where the power comes from, so don’t overlook it for simple nuts and bolts.  Among other things, we start every day of the internship with prayer together, just as a small way to make the spiritual a priority.  I challenge you to find ways to emphasize the spiritual for your intern.

5.  Give them responsibility, but not too much.
This is probably the most difficult balance to find, but it can make or break the internship.  Your intern needs to have an opportunity to spread his wings, to try out her own methods, or to figure out a new plan when things go awry.  When you intervene at every turn, your intern won’t really learn how to handle tough situations.  Give them responsibility and trust them, but be ready to intervene if things get out of hand.  Don’t micromanage them, but be sure to “have their back” in a pinch.  I require my intern to plan, recruit, budget, and execute at least one major youth event during the internship, while I act as a “youth leader” under his leadership.  Find your own balance, but let them learn by leading.

6.  Have hard conversations.
In every internship I have experienced, there has been the need for at least one “difficult” conversation.  Office etiquette, curfew, host family issues, distractions, word choice, and preaching evaluations all have the potential to be “difficult” conversations.  By clearly and lovingly communicating “constructive criticism” to your intern, you can help form their methods and habits for the future.  Confrontation isn’t always fun, but it’s usually formative.  Tough conversations are just part of the mentoring process, so be prepared to make the most of them.

7.  Connect them with a variety of people within your church.
Your church is full of unique individuals.  My knee-jerk reaction to hosting an intern was to guard them from some of the more “colorful” personalities in our congregation.  Recently, however, I have changed my tactics.  Truthfully, EVERY church is full of unique people, and your intern is going to deal with “colorful” people in her own church someday.  Allow them to interact with these folks in small doses, and then let them work through their thoughts with you afterwards.  This can have positive impact for years to come.

8.  Evaluate and communicate regularly.
Your intern is spending this time with you so that they can grow, learn, and be challenged toward future ministry.  Make sure you give them plenty of feedback.  My intern and I spend the first part of each day together praying and talking through things.  In addition, we schedule multiple “evaluation lunches” during the internship where I can share with them and they can share with me honestly.  This type of open communication sets a great tone for the internship and a relationship in the future.

9.  Listen and learn from your intern.
If you’ve got ministry entirely figured out, then you can skip this part.  However, if you’re like me and are learning new things about ministry every day, then your intern might be a great place from which to learn.  Your intern potentially comes from a different context and has a viewpoint of your church and your ministry that you simply do not have.  Listen to them, pick their brain, ask them questions, and hear them out.  I’ve made many ministry changes based on the recommendations of my interns.  Listen and learn.

10.  Show them ministry, and not just yours.
One of the greatest things about the Kingdom of God is that it extends far beyond your church’s four walls.  Make deliberate efforts to show your intern the greater Kingdom.  Schedule lunches with other Youth Ministers from your area.  Encourage involvement with other youth groups at camps, retreats, and conferences.  Invite other ministers to speak to your group as an example to your intern.  Show your intern the joy of collaborating with other co-laborers in Christ.

These top ten tips and tricks are important to me, but I’m certain many of you would add other things to the list.  What would you recommend adding to this list?

5 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for this series. I've been working with interns for a few years now and have definitely made good use of trial and error. I'm going for less error this year. Your thoughts have been really helpful for me in constructing a good internship and realizing what having an intern is all about. One thing I've learned is that sometimes having an intern is more about them than you. Sure, it's nice to have another pair of hands to do the ministry work, but sometimes it's a make work project to find things for the intern to do. If no one gives interns a chance, how are they supposed to gain ministry experience and get a ministry job down the road? You never know what seeds you are sowing into future leaders. God can use the most unlikely people, even those "difficult" interns.
    • So many good thoughts there, Mike. I think it's crucial that we see internships as our opportunity to invest in future Kingdom leaders and not "cheap labor." When we see them that way, it changes the way we utilize them, challenge them, and encourage them. Thanks for the read. One more post coming in the series!
  2. Thanks so much for this series. I've been working with interns for a few years now and have definitely made good use of trial and error. I'm going for less error this year. Your thoughts have been really helpful for me in constructing a good internship and realizing what having an intern is all about. One thing I've learned is that sometimes having an intern is more about them than you. Sure, it's nice to have another pair of hands to do the ministry work, but sometimes it's a make work project to find things for the intern to do. If no one gives interns a chance, how are they supposed to gain ministry experience and get a ministry job down the road? You never know what seeds you are sowing into future leaders. God can use the most unlikely people, even those "difficult" interns.
    • So many good thoughts there, Mike. I think it's crucial that we see internships as our opportunity to invest in future Kingdom leaders and not "cheap labor." When we see them that way, it changes the way we utilize them, challenge them, and encourage them. Thanks for the read. One more post coming in the series!

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