Church internships are great. For the church and for the intern.
If they’re done right (yes, that’s a big “if”), they can confirm or define a call to ministry, provide real-life experience, enhance classroom learning, and bless a local church.
If you’re a pastor who thinks you can’t run an internship program because your church is small, think again.
And if you’re a college student or high school senior considering a church internship, a small church may be your best option.
For instance, the small church I pastor offers three different types of internships. A year-long residential, a summer intensive and a school year option.
In the last decade-plus, we’ve seen over 100 interns come through our doors and bless our church. We’ve also been a blessing to them. Not in spite of being a small church, but in a lot of ways because we’re a small church.
(This is the first in a series about small church internships. For more info, check out 10 Steps to Get an Internship Ministry Started In a Small Church and 10 Essential Ingredients for Running an Effective Small Church Internship.)
Yes, big churches have a lot to offer an intern. They have options, programs and benefits that no small church can match. But a big church internship isn’t for everyone. And small churches offer some significant benefits of our own. Advantages that big churches can’t compete with.
So, why should students consider an internship in a small church? Here are 7 reasons:
1. You’ll Learn About Multiple Aspects of Church Life
The bigger the church, the more narrowly-focused the internship is likely to be. They might even have separate tracks for worship, youth, administration, etc.
But in a small church, you’ll touch every aspect of church life. Even if your main ministry focus is narrow, it will impact and be impacted by other ministries.
This will broaden your understanding of church life in a way that a narrow sliver of ministry exposure just can’t do.
2. You’ll Build Life-Long Relationships With People Who are Different from You
In a big church, worship team members get to know other worship team members, youth workers get to know youth, etc.
In a small church, you’ll interact with people of all ages, backgrounds and tastes. Sometimes that will be a challenge. But that challenge will stretch you. And it will introduce you to wonderful people who you might not meet otherwise.
Getting to know, appreciate and build life-long relationships with people who are different than us is a big part of what being in the body of Christ is all about.
3. You’ll Be Learning In the Kind of Church You’ll Probably Pastor
If your plans for future ministry include the possibility being a church planter or the lead pastor of an existing congregation, you need to be aware of one of the undeniable realities of pastoral ministry:
For some, maybe most of your ministry.
Even if you have plans to grow a church to mega-size, it won’t start out that way. It will start small. And it may stay small much longer than you expect.
That small church you’re going to pastor deserves to be led well. But it’s hard to do that if the only experience you’ve had is in bigger churches. Small churches have unique characteristics, quirks and blessings that can only be learned by having ministry experience in them.
4. You Can Make Mistakes and Learn By Doing
An intern won’t get to preach on a Sunday morning in a big church. Or lead in worship. Or run a youth group. But you might have that chance in a small church.
In a big church, there’s an expectation of expertise that can’t be compromised by giving newbies the reins – and rightly so.
But when there’s been no one leading in worship for years – as is the case in many small churches – someone who shows up with a guitar and a willing heart can lead in worship right away. The same thing applies in almost any other area of small church ministry.
There’s no faster way to learn something than to jump into the deep end and make mistakes as you’re doing the job.
No, you might not feel ready for that yet. But if we all waited until we felt ready before we started doing something, nothing would ever get done.
5. You Can Bless the Church as Much as They’ll Bless You
Most of the small churches you will contact about an internship won’t have a program set up already. It’s not because they don’t want one, but because no one has ever offered to be an intern for them before.
Call them anyway.
If you want your internship to count for something – not just for you and your future, but for the church you’ll be working with – there’s no better place to be a blessing than in a small church where you can meet some real needs.
Let’s face the facts. A big church doesn’t really need you. They have people and systems in place already. They’ll be a blessing to you, but that’s it. I’m grateful to big churches for offering internship programs when it often costs them more than it benefits them.
But in most small churches you will be needed and used in essential ministry from the day you arrive.
6. Your Impact Will Be Huge
When interns show up at our church, we tell them that we want them to leave their fingerprints all over the place by the time their internship is over. And that’s exactly what they do.
In a big church, one intern might barely be noticed. In a small church an intern can impact people, ministries and even the church building in ways that will last for years – not to mention eternity.
7. You Will Be Loved and Appreciated
Most small churches get very little help. So when someone shows up with a willing heart and gives it their all, they are usually met with massive love and appreciation.
A ministerial internship in a small church won’t be easy. As I mentioned earlier, most of them don’t even have an internship system in place. Some of it will be made up by you and the pastor as you go along.
But if you’re in a healthy small church (and be sure to check that out first – doing an internship in a dysfunctional church won’t help you or them) and you give it your all, you can have one of the most positive, loving, affirming experiences of your life.
Copyright © 2017 by the author or Christianity Today.
Click here to read our guidelines concerning reprint permissions.