The Summer Internship Gone Amuck

October 9th, 2009


Ok. I’m a total nimrod…though deafening warning alarms had sounded, the desperation for assistance numbed my otherwise dependable senses. You see, I needed help with our growing youth mission program. I was worn to a frazzle. In my dazed condition, it seemed like the perfect win-win solution. She wanted a summer internship and I needed help. She wanted to get college credit and I needed help. She was even a former member of my youth group, one of the really active ones, and I would’ve done almost anything for help!

That’s when I ventured into the ever-popular land of “Nimrod.” I ignored all of my training and experience and, most of all, my better judgement. With no time to spare, I quickly convinced our church to hire our very first summer intern. With twenty-twenty hindsight, there are several things I should have done differently.

Over the past few years, our youth mission program has experienced incredible growth. From a weekend trip to inner city Houston in 1996, we have expanded to four annual mission trips. And last summer we even added the “God Squad,” a youth-led ministry that prepares and delivers over 500 free sack lunches to needy families in our community. Without question, this is a remarkable group of teenagers!

But keep this in mind: this is a church that runs under 200 in Sunday school. For us, four trips, a major mission project, and numerous smaller projects represent a lot of mission work! To put it mildly, I’m surrounded by a bunch of mission maniacs! I’ve always dreamed of serving in such an exciting environment. However, the additional load this has placed on my already busy schedule has been crushing. By the end of each summer, I’m doing good just to hang on.

I work with youth, education, and have other miscellaneous duties, and I’ve dreamed of hiring a summer youth intern to help out. However, our church doesn’t have the money to hire one, so, other than pulling out another large patch of gray hair, what’s a guy to do?

The series of mistakes

Looking back, I’m amazed at the number of blatant mistakes I made. And I didn’t just make one blunder (that’s excusable); there were a whole string of them. While traversing blissfully through Nimrod, I managed to make the following blunders:

I reacted impulsively. I pride myself in being a logical person, but logic had little to do with my decision. The promise of instant relief was intoxicating.

I acted alone. Typically, I like to work through small groups (i.e., committees, councils, teams, whatever). I’ve found them to be helpful in building support, refining projects, developing unity, and deflecting bullets. However, this is one situation in which I acted alone. Once I got a glimpse of Nirvana (a.k.a. Nimrod), I quickly passed it by my youth and youth workers, and the powers-that-be. And before I knew it, everyone had agreed to my proposal. I was set.

I failed to negotiate clear-cut parameters. I know, I know. This is probably the dumbest thing I did (or didn’t do). With little time to spare, I didn’t have time (or rather, didn’t make time) to negotiate a proper learning covenant; so one was never developed. Therefore, she didn’t have a clue what I wanted, and I only had a vague idea of what she expected to accomplish.

I failed to address problems as they arose. With no clear job description, I felt awkward about addressing any of my unmet expectations. With no parameters, evaluation was virtually impossible—not to mention arbitrary.

I didn’t check references, study her proposal, or even really talk with her at length about what she was looking for. She was a volunteer, and I needed help. How could I have known that her goals and my goals were so different? I didn’t even bother to ask about her gifts, abilities, or interests. I was simply thriving on the short-lived bliss of Nirvana (Nimrod, that is). By the way, Nimrod’s national anthem sounds a whole lot like the Smurfs’ theme song. “La la, la la la la.”

The lessons

If I had it to do all over again, I’m afraid that Nimrod would still have its magnetic appeal. I wish I could promise that similar mistakes wouldn’t be made. I can’t say for certain. But with a clearer mind, here’s what I hope to do:

Consult with others. Wise counsel is a good thing. Even if it meant postponing the position, it would’ve been better to solicit counsel from trusted friends, proper support from my volunteer youth workers, and insightful information about her goals and gifts. And above all, I should have allowed more time for God to speak.

Proceed thoughtfully and methodically. Though ecclesiastical bureaucracy (committees, councils, task forces) often frustrates me, this is one time that bureaucratic red tape may have helped. Had I allowed more time for reflection, more questions to be asked, more persons to have input, etc., maybe, just maybe, I would have been diverted from the gates of Nimrod.

Negotiate a mutually acceptable learning covenant. Obviously, it’s always better to develop a job description first before hiring someone. Therefore, we should have developed a comprehensive job description. That should have been ground zero. A carefully crafted learning covenant could have provided clear parameters, a means of support, and a basis for fair-handed evaluation.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m lambasting summer interns in general or this intern, in particular. She’s a very kind person, and a remarkable Christian. This story is about my blunders, not hers. The problems I faced were the ones I allowed or created for myself. I was the person in authority who could have slowed down or shut down the process. I, alone, was the one who ventured into Nimrod.

Next time, I hope I do things differently. But I do know one thing for sure. The allure of Nimrod can be oh so appealing! “La la, la la la la.”


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