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The Importance of Interning


Each summer in college, I was intentional about finding a place to intern in a church or ministry. After my freshman year, I literally spent $250 interning for a church plant that was meeting in a movie theater. Just to make money that summer, I took a second job and worked 7 days a week.
My internship the next year was much better. I served in a small church in rural Texas where I knew the pastor and his family. They took me in; he dragged me along on hospital visits, included me on issues rising up in the church, and gave me reign over the student ministry.

The summer before I graduated, I returned home to intern in the children’s ministry at my home church. It didn’t take long to realize I wasn’t called to work with kids but at least I figured it out.

Internships are a vital part of growing as a professional and as a person. In medicine or law, they require it. Many businesses and corporations prefer to see them on a new hire’s work history. Quite honestly, I wouldn’t even hire anyone who didn’t have an internship under his or her belt.

So let’s say you’re in college, graduate school, or seminary. You’re busy studying, making good grades, and trying to hold together some kind of a social life. Why add an internship into the mix?

It’s a chance to learn.

Whether we like to admit it or not, there is a difference between book smarts and street smarts and you need both. Your time in the classroom is important so you can learn the theories for doing your job well. But in the end, this will likely only account for 10% of what you really learn about your area of expertise.

I can tell you that I’ve seen many guys in ministry go into churches armed with theological knowledge but clueless when it comes to social skills, business principles, or just running a church. They think the classroom is all they need but they end up getting quickly fired in their first pastorate.

You need a place where you can test your theories and see how they play out in the office environment. You also need to learn how to dialogue with others in your field and with the people you’ll be serving. The classroom simply can’t offer those things.

It’s a chance to fail.

Believe it or not, this is an important thing. When you’re new at something you are going to mess up. You’ll say something you shouldn’t have said, make an accounting mistake, overlook an important component to a project, or even cross a line with someone.

An internship is a safe place to make these mistakes. No one expects you to have all the answers or to think through every detail to a problem. That’s why you’re interning. It’s a great place to examine where you need to grow and take note of your destructive patterns. It’s so much better to get that out of the way under the direction of a mentor than later in life when you have a staff depending on you.

It’s a chance to humble yourself.

We are a rather bratty generation. It’s probably best to just say that and get it out of the way. I mean come on; we grew up winning trophies for losing! We feel entitled just for participating. I’ve even heard of employers interviewing twentysomethings who have brought their parents along to vouch for them.

An internship is an opportunity to humble yourself and submit to the reality that you don’t know more than the guy who has been doing your job for 30 years. It’s a time to ask questions, seek honest criticism, and do the grunt work that others once had to do. It will give you a greater appreciation for those who work for you in later years and develop the humility that is often lacking in many office environments.

In each of my internships, I’ve walked away with a better picture of my strengths and failures. I’ve seen things in my bosses that I want to emulate and other traits I hope to contrast. I’ve learned about what to do and what not to do. They also helped me formulate an image of the type of man, minister, and boss I want to be. These lessons not only helped me grow as a minister but also as a husband, father, and a follower of Christ.

Aside from all of that, it has prepared me for interviews with other ministries. When asked about how I’d handle a situation, I can point my interviewers to similar problems I’ve worked through, not just the theories I learned in the classroom.

So before you go plan a month of backpacking in Europe this summer, consider rolling up your sleeves, humbling yourself, and working hard for little to no pay. You’ll be glad you did.

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  • journeyguy

    Great post. I’m sharing this over twitter and with our church staff. Thanks!

  • A la carte: Are you doing team leadership wrong?, Interns, and 3 Issues Churches Must Answer « Notes from the Trail Notes from the Trail

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