"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Interns

Working With Interns

Michael Holt

My Passion for Internships

Interns go as far back as Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha. In 1979 I was serving as the Campus Life director at Central Florida Youth For Christ when my boss said; "Hire some staff to help you." Although we called them "staff" they were really interns, in that they were mostly students, pretty inexperienced, and worked like dogs. They actually raised support for this opportunity! If we had called them interns, I think I might have had a totally different perspective on the whole situation. After all, aren?t interns mostly student types, with little experience, willing to work ungodly hours for cheap or even free? At least that was what I usually picked up from the occasional youth ministry professionals I met who had these unusual creatures tagging along beside them. An intern; now that was an idea. Someone to do all the stuff I didn?t want to do or didn?t have the time to do. (Or even the ability to do!) And yet something inside me rejected that idea.

A year later, while serving on the youth ministry staff of a large church with three "full-time" youth ministry interns, I saw enough of that "gofer" ("go for this, go for that") mentality to really turn my stomach. We used these poor people; two young men, one in college and one in seminary, and one young woman, wanting to go to seminary. We gave them little in return; low pay, long hours, little training or guidance, far too much responsibility, and worst of all, no respect! Often, I would come back to the office for a staff meeting and discover that my senior pastor had given our interns tasks to do that had little or nothing to do with their job descriptions. When I voiced my concerns I was informed that he was the boss, end of discussion!

I left that church after two years, almost burned out on ministry and committed to never getting in a situation like that again. My next church had a wonderful congregation, with a godly pastor who loved and mentored me, which was a taste of heaven. Although the church was a fourth the size of the one I?d left, the blessings far outweighed the loss of prestige. I hadn?t been there very long when a businessman in the congregation approached me, wanting to give a financial gift to the youth ministry. I shared several ideas, one of which was funding an intern. He had experience with interns and thought that was a good idea. "How much would that cost?" The only figure I could think of was "$100 a week." and he wrote a check for $5200!

Yikes! I had no hot prospects, no job description, no ?Philosophy of Internship Ministry? paper to pass around at the Church Board meeting, and worse, no permission to even have an intern! I went to my pastor, who listened to my idea, wisely asked for the philosophy paper and gave me time to write it before he took me to the Board and endorsed what I wanted to do. In ministry it always helps to have the pastor on your side and the funding in your pocket!

Soon after, I had my intern, a college guy in the church who was teachable, responsible, and who enjoyed hanging out together. I took him with me to campuses, ball games, even on my weekly hospital rounds. We prayed together, laughed together, led students to Christ together, and planned ministry together. He was an intern. We had few expectations of him (he was a rookie, after all.) We treated him with dignity and respect, bragged on him in public, corrected him in private, gave him a day off, apologized for the low pay and even offered to have him live with a church family.

When one of our members said it was a waste of money, my pastor replied "He is a young man in training for ministry, and that is never a waste of money!" I was at that church almost six years and I had six "full-time" interns, six college guys who worked beside me, like sons in the ministry. In the summers, we had other college students who worked for $50 a week, living with a church family and thanking us over and over for the experience. I taught them everything I knew about youth work and probably some things I wasn?t sure of, but twenty years later, many of them are still like sons and daughters to me.

I?ve lost count of how many interns I?ve had over the years. Some were terrible disappointments. I had to fire two of them for moral compromise. Some have crashed and burned, disqualifying themselves for ministry. Others have gone into secular business, discovering they were not called into full-time ministry. Most are doing well in the field to which God has led them, and I?m reminded of the Apostle John saying; "I have no greater joy than to know my children are following after the Truth." (3 John 4).

In 1987, I became a full-time youth speaker with Reach Out Youth Solutions, and each summer I asked God to entrust to me a young man who had a passion for students and a desire to become an effective communicator. As a result, today I can walk down the hall of my home and reminisce as I look at the photographs on the wall - pictures of smiling students and laughing interns.

My wife says Lance was the ultimate intern. I think Nathan was the funniest intern. Was Ken the smartest? Each was different, unique, and special. Each had his particular challenges, and frankly there were times when I wondered if my investment was worth it. It has proven to be more than worth it. All of them are dear friends today, like sons in the faith. I have performed their weddings, spoken at their ordinations and held their sons - one was even named after me!

Placing and Supervising Interns at Columbia International University

In 1991 I moved to Columbia, South Carolina to teach Youth Ministry at Columbia International University. Part of my responsibility was placing and supervising students from our program in an internship. Since it was required for graduation, I had to agree to the location, job description and field mentor for dozens of our undergraduates and seminarians. I was often amazed at the naivet? of students as they pursued opportunities of service. Sometimes, it seemed they were willing to take anything that came along, as long as it paid a decent salary and kept them near their girlfriend or boyfriend.

I lost count of how many churches asked me to get them a "youth director" for their summer program. They were often willing to pay big bucks but I knew that our students were more valuable than any amount of money, that that summer experience might make them or break them, and money was not the bottom line. Several times I had to say to an earnest young student; "No, I won?t allow you to do that. It will bomb and you?ll get burned. I will not let you go to that church/camp/mission/whatever, unless I believe it is the best situation for you to learn and grow and experience ministry in a positive setting."

One student called me from the camp where he was the "Counseling Staff Discipler" to tell me all he did was take the garbage to the dump and pick up people at the airport. Looking over the job description that I had approved, I drove 165 miles to confront the camp director, but I was unable to reconcile the situation. The student suffered, and almost failed his internship, because I failed to do a better job at checking out ministry opportunities. I spent seven years at Columbia. Thankfully, most of the internship situations worked out better than that one. We developed standards and guidelines for the intern program that helped as safeguards for future situations. I did make certain, however, that one camp never got one of our students again.

Wise Counsel from Youth Ministry Professionals

In preparation for writing this article, I reflected back on years of memories, looking for what made the difference in an intern?s experience. I e-mailed all of my former interns for whom I have addresses. I contacted 67 professional youth ministry friends to ask them for advice and insight and guidelines to how they do internships. I received 30 pages of information and was amazed at how far ministry to, for, and with interns has come. Let?s look at the bad side first so that the good side looks even better, because it certainly is.

When Internships Fail

Listen closely to these negative experiences related to me by interns that I interviewed. They will give you ideas for what to avoid with your own interns.

  • "I was in a church that viewed us as free slaves. We really weren't taken seriously by the church staff, and there were times that I had needs that I had hoped the church could help out with, like paying the heating bill for the run down house we lived in. We worked 30-hour weeks for a rental trade in the house. I would have liked the church to have invested more in us and less in facilities."

  • "Anytime you get up close and personal there are things that surprise you - the disappointments. I saw the politics that take place within staff relationships and in the church. I walked away from the church with less respect for their upper leadership, and a realization that this is a "big dog eats small dog world". This was an awesome learning experience as I sat back and observed a church pastoral staff wipe their feet all over two youth ministry pastors. The worst thing was that my learning experience was at the expense of two men who were trying to serve the Lord and ended up broken and discouraged."

  • "The down side was that I didn't have very much supervision and accountability and was expected to know what to do."

  • "The lack of leadership to instruct me. Lots of busy work".

  • "The worst thing about being an intern is not having the ability to change things you see that you believe need to be changed. (Learning to work through those feelings and discovering diplomatic ways to work toward addressing personal concerns is something I learned through that experience as well.)"

When Internships Succeed

And now for the good experiences that we can learn from. I?ll begin with a a friend in Texas who told me of the wonderful experience he had for two summers at a large church (are there any small ones in TX?) and how his youth pastor trained him and taught him and loved him and affirmed him.

  • "The variety of ministry experiences is a plus. I was able to lead small group bible studies, large topical studies, and even larger worship services. The challenge of working on talks for specific themes sharpened me and increased my confidence. The one-on-one counseling sessions I got to sit in on challenged me to put words to my faith and adapt it so that others could understand and benefit spiritually. All of these events helped affirm God's calling on my life to teach his word to others."

  • "The relationship my mentor and I had was very stretching, loving, and sometimes humbling. He was my teacher, yet my friend. He opened his heart for me to see him with his struggles, victories, joys and fears. He made himself vulnerable to me. It was difficult at times but that's how the fire is and that's how rough edges are smoothed out! I learned about discipleship and mentoring and the importance of investing in one person's life at a time."

  • "While I learned much about how to run and lead a youth ministry, the greatest impacts on my life were my youth pastor?s commitment to intimacy with the Lord, his desire for purity of heart and mind, and his deep love for, and commitment to his wife. My internship experience was formative for my Christian life and ministry because of both what he taught and what he modeled."

  • "The church where I served my internship is unique in striving for excellence in its ministry. I needed to see a large church at work, up close and personal. Technology, promotion, and the "how to do it right" things were learned by their example and pursuit of excelling for God. It was an awesome experience!"

  • "The best part was doing ministry and trying things without the fear of failing. Yeah, you might get an earful, but it?s nothing like being in charge, responsible for the whole deal! Also, the relationships made with those that I did ministry with are some of the best friends that I have in ministry."

  • "I have always felt like it was one of the greatest "hands on" experiences I could have had. It allowed me to be guided by a mentor in ministry. I was able to work within a team approach and I truly felt as if my suggestions and opinions were important and factored into the ministry. I was given the freedom to create, to delegate to other students and to do ministry using my strengths. I felt confident in what I did because I knew I was under my youth pastors? umbrella of protection, so to speak. In other words, the buck didn?t stop with me and that was comforting.

  • "One of the best things that happened was the relationship that developed between my mentor and me. Spiritually, I grew a great deal. I learned the importance of working as a team. I saw students? lives radically transformed by the power of God, and was able to walk alongside them in as they began their discipling process."

  • "I was able to learn to work together with my youth pastor and two other interns, to grow with them, and learn what a blockhead I was. I really saw my own inadequacies as a minister, realized what a jerk I could be to those guys, and didn't have to grow up being the full time youth minister. For me to have learned those lessons with the visibility that comes from being the full time staff member, well, it would have been pretty ugly."

  • "My youth pastor made an extra effort to direct me in the study of God?s word by supplying me with books and tapes and holding me accountable on a regular basis to tell him what I was learning. He impressed upon me the importance of personal devotion and personal study and application of what I was learning."

  • "Another positive was the senior pastors? visible and vocal support of my youth pastor. That was so important because I saw that they were a team and that they liked each other as friends as opposed to simply being employees of an organization. Plus, the pastor invested time in me as well."

  • "One thing that my youth pastor did that was a huge influence was how he made me a part of his family. I learned a lot by being with his family and by observing their life away from church."



This article is owned by Michael Holt, copyright June, 2001. Used by permission.


Michael is a Youth Communicator/Youth Ministry Consultant with Reach Out Youth Solutions. He has worked with teens and their families for over 27 years and formerly taught in the youth ministry department of Columbia International University.

He can be reached by e-mail at
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