While typing my thesis, I suddenly sensed someone behind me. Turning around in my chair, I saw a large homeless man, blank-faced, dazed by drug use. He had entered the church building—and my office—silently. Engaging him in conversation, I called down the hall for the senior and associate pastors to join me and was soon busy helping and learning how to assist someone in this situation.
A young couple with our first child, we were welcomed into this warm and loving Presbyterian congregation. About a year later, the session of the church invited me into a multi-year, full-time ministry internship. It was a small church of just over a hundred, but healthy and vital, engaged in gospel ministry to one another and the surrounding community. The years in that congregation were profoundly influential, not only growing in pulpit and pastoral ministry, but also in seeing Christ at work through the lives of men and women committed to him. This internship was easily as valuable as all of my seminary education. It continues to impact my life today.
Having experienced so much blessing has given me a passion to replicate the same in teaching and church ministry. As a relatively new seminary professor, a first local church ministry opportunity came through a church planting effort that involved three interns: an American, an Indian, and a Malawian. This is one of the reasons that it is a joy to see MRN’s work in developing coordination with Christ Presbyterian Church in Blantyre and University Reformed Church in East Lansing.
Pastoral internships in healthy churches with faithful, humble leaders are a rare opportunity. Internships remain less common than they should be, and good ones are even more rare. Some are too short to give a real taste and experience of pastoral ministry. Some treat the intern as a glorified secretary. Others are too comfortable. I recently read a church advertisement for an internship program with its “world-class staff”—a recipe for interns being set up in pride, rather than leading by example as servants of Christ in his church (Phil. 2:7).
Sessions and congregations should pray that they would be increasingly shaped to become places that will be useful in preparing men for gospel ministry—knowing the glory of God, rather than the “glory” of someone’s ministry. Seminarians should pray and look for the Lord to open doors to where they will be shaped in communion with Christ—and when such a door opens, make the most of the opportunity.