I am currently in my sixth year of full-time student ministry. It’s been a great first six years and I’m grateful for all the ministry God has allowed me to be a part of thus far. For the last two and a half years I’ve had the privilege of having some interns on my team. It’s been a blast working with them and they have brought a lot of needed energy and support to our student ministry. I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned so far in my short time of working with interns. I hope these things help you as you work with them as well.
Listen to them. Interns join your team because they want to learn and gain experience. It’s appropriate then for them listen to us as we lead and direct them. Interns should have a teachable spirit and always be open to our guidance, instruction, and even correction. However, how many times do we actually stop talking and do the listening? I’ve learned in my short time of working with interns that they often bring a lot of great ideas to the table. These are usually ideas that I should listen to and even consider. There has been numerous times where my interns have put an idea before me and my knee jerk reaction was to push back. However, I’m learning that’s an unwise thing to do. Instead, I should listen and consider.
Don’t be afraid to implement their ideas. As I said before, we should listen and consider when our interns bring us an idea. If their idea is a good one and we have decided it’s something we should do then we got to take the step and actually do it. It’s ok that’s it not “your idea.” In fact, have the integrity and humility to admit that and even make it known this was their idea. Leadership isn’t always about having “the idea.” Many times we as leaders need to get the right people on our team and empower them and their ideas.
Give them ownership. I stated earlier that interns join your team to learn and gain experience. The best way for them to do that is not to read books or just sit back watch you lead. Those things can be helpful but the best way for an intern to learn and gain experience is through them actually doing something. This is why we must give them ownership over things in our ministry. This should be a mix of random things but also something that can be all theirs. Let me explain how this looks in our ministry. First, my interns do a bunch of random stuff. It may be teaching one week and then the next week they could be creating graphics. The beauty of student ministry (or church ministry in general) is it’s the type of environment where interns can get experience doing a lot of different things. However, we also give our interns something that is all theirs to run with. For our ministry that is a Sunday morning worship option for middle school students called Tank Time. Our interns run it week in and week out. They come up with the ideas for games, teaching, and other elements. I obviously give oversight to it but I try and stay hands off so they can run with it. Whatever you do just give your interns ownership. This will help them gain the experience they are looking for.
Let them make mistakes. Another way they can learn and gain experience is through making mistakes. There has been times I could have stopped an intern from making a mistake but I let them move forward and make the mistake so they can have the experience of failing and learning from it. This isn’t an easy thing to do. As leaders we want things to be done right and smooth but sometimes we need to be ok with something going wrong for the sake of learning and growing. I’m not suggesting we do this without discernment. There are times and some situations we need to stop our interns from making a mistakes. There are some things we have to not let happen. This is where knowing your own context and knowing what things must go smooth and what things can go wrong and it still be ok. Use discernment but at the end of the day give your interns space to fail. They may not like it but it will help them.
Push them. Interns are usually worked harder then they would wish. However, that’s part of them gaining experience. They need to be pushed. However, this doesn’t mean just being pushed to work long days and hours. This also means being pushed to do new things and things they may not be comfortable with. This also includes them doing things outside their passion and gifting. Interns need to be pushed. That is part of them growing and learning.
Working with interns is fun. If you’re in student ministry I hope you have a team of either paid staff or volunteer surrounding you. In addition to those people I hope you have the chance to work with some interns. They will bring an element to your team that is not only fun but very beneficial.