Mentoring and pouring into an intern can be one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of youth ministry. As I write this post, I find myself preparing for my eight intern during my 13-year tenure at Hazelwood Christian church.  I absolutely love the opportunity to invest in students and future ministry leaders, and I value the friendships that I have forged through internships even to this day. As I have experienced the highs and lows of internships, I have learned a few tips that may be helpful to you as you seek to invest in interns as well.

This first post will focus on the steps leading up to the internship, including the hiring process. Subsequent posts will talk about what to do during the internship and even how to be a mentor after the internship is over.
1. Convince your church leaders of the value of internships.
The first step is to make sure that your church leaders are on board with the idea of having an intern. While every church is different, I would recommend waiting until you have been at the church for at least a couple years before requesting an intern. That gives you time to learn the culture and the people and get your stride before bringing in an intern.  As you approach your church leadership about hosting an intern, here are a few of the benefits you might want to point out to them.

  • Having interns is a great way for your church to invest in future ministry. Your church can play a major part in the next generation of ministry.  I currently have 6 former interns serving in local ministry, and that brings me great joy.
  • Interns are cheap and helpful. Interns typically work over 40 hours a week for very little pay. While I think you should take good care of your intern (more about this in the second post), your church leaders should know that this is very inexpensive help.
  • We expect other churches to do this for OUR students. We encourage students to enter full time Christian ministry, and we assume that other churches are going to provide a great internship for them. We should be doing the same for others.

Once your church leaders are on board with the idea of an intern, it’s time to begin the hiring process. The next few steps deal with how to do that well.

2.  Get really good information from applicants.
Most times, colleges will have an online database of internships and job openings. You can use this resource to invite students to apply for your internship. Once they contact you, make sure you get really good information from them so that you can learn a little bit about who they are and what their talents may be. Make sure you have an application that asks some good questions right from the start. Also, be sure to include some questions about their spiritual background, their previous experiences, references, and why they desire to go into ministry. Do the hard work and contact references, professors, previous employers, and even other contacts that you might just share a connection with. Doing the hard work here may save you heartache later.

3.  Don’t underestimate the importance of chemistry.
Through the application process, you will probably encounter a number of very talented and qualified individuals. But not all of these individuals are going to fit well with your personality, your context, your philosophy of ministry, or your staff. Chemistry is an intangible element in this process, but it is also the most important in my opinion. Make sure you speak regularly with your potential intern, do online hangouts so that you can see them face to face, and meet them personally whenever it is possible. Whenever I have multiple applicants that are talented and equally qualified, I always go with my gut in terms of chemistry.

4.  Communicate regularly.
One of the most common things I hear from people seeking employment with churches is that the communication is rare and usually unclear. Break the mold! Communicate with your applicants regularly, letting them know where you are in the process and what the next steps will be. Also, communicate your expectations and guidelines as well as any compensation packages early on so that everyone has the information that they need to pray and make a wise decision.

5.  Involve others in the process.
Sometimes, God uses others to speak into our lives. Make sure that you involve others in this process. I typically do all of the hard work when it comes to references and interviews. However, as I narrow my search, I invite our senior minister to sit in on an interview. It is always helpful to get another opinion from someone you respect.

6.  Make your decision and offer a clear invitation
Once you have decided which young person you are going to mentor, make sure to call them and let them know the good news. Don’t allow any room for confusion. Make your invitation clear, and make sure that they clearly accept the position so that you can move forward together. Once you have all of this confirmed, make sure to call the other applicants and let them down easy. Be honest, but be encouraging.

Internships can be a formative and life-changing experience both for you and the intern.  Make the most of the hiring process, and you will be blessed throughout.  What has been your experience with interns?  Is there anything you would add to the hiring process that I missed?

7 Comments

  1. Good thoughts here Keith. The only thought I would add is in the search process. Taking time to ask "who is worth investing in?" It can't be simply finding the most talented intern on the planet. The pool of students we are choosing from all are in need of shaping for kingdom leadership. I sometimes fear that churches just choose selfishly by picking the most charismatic or seemingly talented. God never picked his leaders this way (see Moses, Gideon, David, etc). When it comes to interns, a healthy church should be looking for a good fit. Not just for the church, but a fit in what they have to offer an intern as well. Definitely a prayerful journey.
    • Great call, Brian. While every college student is probably in need of a little "shaping" (and aren't we all), you can't set aside the importance of the investment you are making. Part of the joy is watching the intern grow and make an impact in the Kingdom. Good words, brother.
  2. Thanks for the post Keith. I've done my fair share of hiring interns in the past and I couldn't agree with you more on your points. Numbers #2 & 3 are the ones that have ended up bitting me in the end when an Intern hasn't worked out. I've hired Interns without looking into their background better and ones that have not clicked well with me before and honestly I wish I never did. It ends up being a painful experience, not just for me, but for them as well. Thanks for the post!

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