Making the Mentor-Intern Relationship Work (for both of you)

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internsMatt was just generally a pain in my backside. It was my first year of youth ministry and Matt was my first college intern. He showed up late to youth group (when he showed up). He was a distraction. He committed to responsibilities and then flaked out. It’s not surprising that after a few months Matt found a new church to serve.

When I talk with fellow youth pastors their views on interns vary. Some see interns as a blessing. Others see them as a curse. Since my experience with Matt I’ve learned a few things about working with ministry interns. Here are five practices I’ve picked up working with interns so that the relationship works for both of us:

Interview the intern before you invite them to join your volunteer staff.

I typically take the intern out for coffee and we talk one-on-one. I ask them about all kinds of stuff: their call to ministry, passions for ministry, the degree they are pursuing, their level of schooling, where they grew up, their testimony, their home church, their family background, and many other details.

Then, I then tell them about our church – our vision, our strengths, our weakness, our history, and the particular experience they can expect when they intern with us. Next, I share with them my particular philosophy of ministry, my weakness, my strengths, what they can expect from me, and what I will expect from them.

After that meeting I give both of us a week or so to discern if we feel like the relationship will be a good fit.

Schedule regular times to meet for ministry planning and checking in.

I schedule regular meetings with all of my interns – either weekly (seminary interns) or bi-weekly (college interns). During those meetings we cover about four things: reviewing/evaluating past ministry responsibilities, talking about future ministry responsibilities, talking about ministry in general, and checking in with each other. If I have more than one intern I often put them into groups for our regular meetings. I always keep our meetings to one hour – for their sake and mine!

During the first meeting I try to be as intentional as possible in setting up the relationship. I ask the intern about their strengths and weakness, what they hope to learn, and what they are comfortable with. I let the intern know that any paperwork, deadlines, or school requirements are their responsibility and they must notify me when they need my official evaluation. Lastly, I invite the intern to risk and try new things. As an intern it is a great time to learn and grow in areas where they currently lack experience.

Assign tasks that increase in responsibility depending on their faithfulness.

When thinking about the responsibilities I give my interns I often think of the Luke 16:10, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.” I assign each intern small, easy tasks (sometimes insignificant tasks) on purpose to see how they respond. Depending on their reliability and faithfulness I am able to assign them more significant tasks in the future. The more significant tasks they can handle the more it helps me. If I have an intern that stays with the ministry for longer than one year, then by year two I can have them leading at high levels. I’ve been privileged to see three interns get to high levels of responsibility and then become full-time youth pastors at other churches. That is a great source of joy for a mentor!

Communicate clearly with them about their performance and ask them how you are performing.

There is an awesome opportunity in the mentor and intern relationship for learning from one another. I provide feedback regularly to my interns regarding their performance in the ministry. I also ask them to evaluate me. I will often phrase the question like this, “If you were me, how would you do things differently?” It is amazing how this question opens up a new level of depth in the mentor-intern relationship. I have asked that question of several interns over the years. It is almost as if I can see them thinking, “Okay, this guy is safe…I can be open and honest with him.” After those moments it’s amazing the level of depth I’ve gotten to with several interns.

Care for them holistically: spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally.

During our meetings I always “check in” with my interns and see how they are doing. We always end our meetings in prayer for each other. One of the things I stress to my interns is that I am more interested in the person they are becoming than their output of work. I believe that if I can help steward and guide who they are becoming as persons, then the work they provide will be higher quality anyway. My wife and I also try to have our interns over to our home for Sunday lunch at least once each year. This emphasizes what I believe about God – that he is most interested in truly knowing us, not our efficiency or productivity.

Well, there you go. There are five simple practices I utilize with my interns that have both helped me get the most out of them and helped further them as ministers of the gospel. I hope these practices are a blessing to you as you work with interns. I believe that the mentor-intern relationship can be a blessing to both you and your intern!

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John is an Associate Pastor (with responsibilities of Youth and Administration) at Shawnee Church of the Nazarene in Shawnee, KS. He has been on the pastoral staff at Shawnee since 2010. John is an Ordained Elder in the Church of the Nazarene graduating from MidAmerica Nazarene University and Nazarene Theological Seminary. He is married to Naomi and they have two awesome kiddos – Aaron and Claire. John enjoys spending time watching football, eating KC bbq, remodeling his house, hanging out with teens, and just being with his family. You can find John on Twitter @john_pickens and Instagram @therealjohnpickens. John and his father (a retired pastor) blog at faithfulpastor.com.

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