Recruiting and Training Interns
Having interns in a youth ministry program offers myriad benefits. It’s great hands-on experience for the interns as they get a glimpse of what youth ministry looks like on a day-to-day basis, and they get to see how they would do in that setting. It’s great for the students to have someone new to connect to and learn from. And it’s great for the full-time youth leaders as they get to pour into the next generation of youth leaders and share the wisdom they’ve gained from their tenure in ministry.
However, recruiting and training interns can be far from easy. Finding an intern who will be good to work with is the first challenge. Once you have your intern, the next challenge is to figure out what to do with them. It’s important that the experience is valuable for them, for you, and for your students. This can be a struggle for newer youth pastors. You may not know where to find potential interns or have a plan for how to effectively train them. It’s to your benefit to establish a solid recruiting and training program that you can use for years to come.
Let’s address the challenge of recruitment. How do you find interns?
- Look at who has graduated from your ministry in the last few years and see if there are any students planning to go into full-time youth ministry or looking to get involved in a local church as a youth group volunteer. Specifically look at former students who served as part of the student leadership team while in high school. Your current students already view them as leaders, you and your adult leaders have already mentored them, and they’ll come in with a solid set of skills in place.
- Reach out to other youth pastors or youth workers you know to ask if they know any good potential interns. These interns won’t know your program as well as those who came out of that program, but it can sometimes be an advantage to have a fresh perspective from someone outside your ministry.
- Connect with various colleges (in your state or fairly close by) and speak to their career development department or program chairs (especially at Christian colleges with Bible or Christian Education degrees). Advertise and network with these students to gain an additional pool of applicants.
Once you’ve found a potential intern, interview them and learn who they are, where they see God leading them, their skill set, etc. Figure out whether or not this person would be a good match for your ministry.
Once you have your intern, what do you do with them? I’m very upfront with my interns and let them know right away that their focus will not be getting me coffee or making photocopies for me—I want them to know they’ll have real hands-on experience leading a youth ministry. I want to make my interns’ experiences as practical as I can and give them tools that will benefit them as they go into ministry as either youth pastors or volunteer leaders.
Before the internship starts, go over your goals and expectations. What do you expect from your interns? What are your goals for them? Outlining these things at the beginning of the internship helps interns understand what they’re getting into and brings direction to their experience. Also talk about what their goals and expectations are. What do they want to accomplish and learn? What do they expect from you? What do they expect from their time with your church staff and the students in your ministry? Provide a week-by-week calendar of what you hope to accomplish during the internship. It’s kind of like getting the syllabus at the start of the semester. Make sure it’s flexible enough that it can change as things come up and goals are possibly modified.
Allow your interns to lead in front during their time with you. Have them make announcements and teach in both large group and small group contexts. If mentoring is something your intern is passionate about, help them connect with a few students to mentor. Help them learn how to develop their own lessons, create a youth budget, develop planning strategies for a balanced youth program, participate in mission trips, shadow other members of your church staff, brainstorm new ideas for your ministry, and help you prep for the next youth ministry year. For those interns looking to go into full-time youth ministry, have them write a short paper on their philosophy of ministry. This is something that will benefit them down the line when they’re applying for jobs. It will also help them articulate their approach to youth ministry.
Spend a lot of time with your intern. I share an office with my interns, so as questions come up I can quickly answer them—this also allows for an ongoing conversation about their experiences. Mentor your interns and help them grow personally and spiritually beyond their role as intern. Choose a book to read together. Some of the ones I’ve read with my interns include Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry by Doug Fields, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, and Teaching to Change Lives by Howard Hendricks. Walk your interns through assessments to help them better understand how they’re gifted and how to effectively use those gifts in youth ministry. Spend some time each week evaluating how the experience is going so you can pinpoint areas of growth and areas to continue to develop. This helps your interns see the progress they’re making towards accomplishing their goals.
This is a template for one possible way you can train your interns. You can use the whole thing or just the pieces that fit your needs. Based on your interns and their goals, you can tweak the focus of your training.
The Benefits of Having an Intern
Having an intern can be more work, but the benefits can be huge for all involved. Many of my interns have gone on to full-time youth ministry positions or are serving in a volunteer capacity using the skills they developed as interns. Because of the time I took with these former interns, they’re able to help others for the kingdom. My students love having interns around, and they’ve benefitted from the relationships they’ve developed with them. I’m also still in contact with my former interns and am a resource for them as they minister to those under their care.
Bottom line: Interns can be a win-win for everyone involved, but it’s important to know how best to recruit and train the interns under your watch. If done right, internships can be a life-changing experience for the intern, for you, and for your students.
Frank Newburn is a husband, father of 3, and youth director for Wesley United Methodist Church in Bloomington, IL. His ministry focuses include mentoring and discipleship, student leadership, and missions and has over 25 years of youth ministry experience. You can contact Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his ministry at http://wesley-umc.com/wesley/index.php/get-connected/youth.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.