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Teaching Church Internship Model

by Alison Burkhardt
Assistant Director, Center for Youth Ministry Studies

Some time ago, the Center for Youth Ministry Studies brought together a group of experienced youth workers to discuss a "teaching church" model for internships. The concept of the teaching church is one that embodies the role of the whole church in raising up new youth pastors for the Kingdom, with a full-time, experienced youth pastor to serve as mentor to the intern.

We piloted the program in a couple of churches and learned some lessons along the way. Below are some of these learnings to keep in mind if you are considering implementing a program like this in your ministry context.

Full Year

A teaching church should be prepared to commit to at least one year, with a stipend, housing, and a budget for spending time with students. This allows the intern to experience a full cycle of ministry under the guidance and mentorship of an experienced youth pastor. Preparation and communication should take place before the intern arrives to help the church body, leadership, and youth understand their role in the cycle of the intern and be ready to receive, nurture, and send them off in a way that is healthy for both the church and the intern.

Role of the Youth Pastor

The mentoring youth pastor is tasked with the role of helping the intern further develop his/her sense of call in the field of youth ministry, as well as their abilities in the variety of communication and leadership tasks necessary. The supervising youth pastor should be experienced; have established trust with the youth, their parents, and church leadership; and understand the priority is to help train the intern (not just use the intern as cheap labor). The supervisor should hold a bachelor’s degree and be credentialed (or in the process of being credentialed) in their denomination.

Experience and Skills of the Youth Pastor

The mentoring youth pastor should have strong communication skills and an understanding of the life stages of a youth pastor — and be willing to share these insights with the intern. The mentor should have recognition of his/her own strengths and weaknesses, and a process to help the intern discern their own strengths and weaknesses. Time should be spent exploring philosophy of youth ministry, different youth ministry models, contextual learning, and multiculturalism.

Role of the Intern

An youth ministry intern in a teaching church must be willing to learn, step outside his/her comfort zone, and acknowledge both the rewarding and mundane tasks involved with ministry. The intern should respect the church, its history, its leadership, and its statement of faith. The intern should be able to communicate their philosophy of ministry and come with a spirit of teachability. While any intern will make mistakes and experience moments of being unsure of themselves, they should also be able to stretch the thinking of church leadership with their ideas, and speak into the fabric of the church.

Learning Outcomes

Learning experiences should include opportunities for teaching, speaking, leading programs, planning events, and working with other church staff. The intern should be able to make healthy mistakes, and be guided by their mentor through them. The mentor should discern what conflicts are important for the intern to be a part of, and which ones they should be protected from. Time should be spent learning from, as well as teaching, spiritual disciplines and appropriate soul care, and how to work with volunteers and build the team. The intern should be made aware of their blind spots, and shown how to transition from season to season in the youth ministry cycle. They should be exposed to the church politics and meetings, and be expected to continue learning from books and conferences. Time should be spent exploring the intern’s call, with no expectations from the church. An internship can be very successful even if the intern decides that youth ministry ultimately isn’t their calling.

Having an intern can be a wonderful experience for a church. They can be an extra set of hands, provide leadership, speak into the future of your youth ministry, and stretch the leadership “box” we can often find ourselves in. There can be a sense of loss when they leave, but their imprint and what they bring can help shape the fabric of the teaching church model for future interns at your church.

Have Questions? Need assistance in establishing an internship program at your church? Contact CYMS by clicking here or calling (773) 244-5207.

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