Let’s face it, no matter how talented, skilled or organized we are, we all need help to lead our people well and build our organizations. While many of us have a budget to hire other professionals to join us in God’s work, there are others who may need help that comes with a lower price tag. Interns can be one way to meet ministry needs, while at the same time developing leadership for future generations. Volunteers can also fill needs in a valuable way, but internships that are formalized can sometimes offer a greater degree of ownership and accountability.
To effectively use interns, however, there are several things to consider and put into place. Without these things, you risk wasting your own time, plus disappointing the intern whose heart is to serve. We know that leaders know how to give out tasks and get things done. However, let’s examine four key ways to make sure the interns working in ministry at your church are able to reach their highest potential during their time with you.
1) Set and Manage Expectations.
Every intern comes into the internship experience with some sort of expectations with regard to what they will be doing and the difference they will make in God’s Kingdom as a result of their ministry experience with you. Similarly, we as leaders approach the same situation with a different, yet equally valuable, set of expectations of what our new intern can contribute to the overall work. The key to success will be discussing expectations, creating documentation about roles and responsibilities, and frequently evaluating how things are going. Sometimes we don’t know what our expectations are until they have gone unmet. Dialoguing about unmet expectations can be helpful in moving forward in productive and meaningful ways. Taking the time to intentionally process expectations regarding duties, results, compensation, authority and accountability will go a long way in making the internship experience one that is positive for everyone involved.
2) Create Meaning.
Every intern wants to make a difference. They enter their internship experience with high hopes that the time and effort they put into their job will have eternal value for the Kingdom of God. Some internship experiences, while still a part of an overall ministry team, are more difficult to connect to transformation in the lives of others. Sometimes interns sit behind a desk doing mundane office work that, while valuable, seems too far removed from the action to fill the intern’s need for significance. It is our duty, therefore, as leaders, to create a sense of lasting meaning for our interns no matter what their job description. We must help them to see that their role on our team is a vital one, without which many others could not fulfill their purposes. Pointing them to the scripture’s exhortations to work with all our heart as if to the Lord becomes key in them seeing the significant ways their efforts are changing people’s lives. Interns will not find this on their own; we as leaders have to point the way. When our interns can see that they are truly involved in something meaningful, everyone benefits and our goals and objectives are met with enthusiasm.
3) Cast the Vision.
Similar to creating meaning, casting vision for the organization and all our employees, full time or intern, is crucial to both the success of our ministry and to the positive experience of those with whom we work. However, leaders must make the intentional effort to go beyond a simple distribution of the vision statement of the ministry. Leaders must do more than just talk about the vision. The leader must diligently work to foster deep understanding of the vision in all those he leads. Interns must not be overlooked in this process. Despite the possible short-term nature of their involvement with the ministry, it is important for them to know, understand, and embrace the vision so that they can carry out their duties with grit and determination. If interns do not embrace the vision of the ministry, they might accomplish some work, but it won’t be as meaningful for them or for your organization. Leaders must spend time with the interns, personally interacting with them to ensure they grasp the entirety of the ministry’s mission and vision. That personalized attention will go a long way in creating passion and developing ownership in ways that simply reading the company’s website will never do.
4) Foster a Sense of Team.
Interns must know from the start that they are an important part of a team of workers. Only by working as a unit will they be able to accomplish the great outcomes to which they all aspire. It is, of course, easy to see the contribution the leadership makes and other full time field workers are making. Interns, however, must see that they are also capable of being a powerful influence for the Kingdom of God, despite their short term, smaller level of involvement in the overall mission. Leaders must help their interns know they are a vital part of the team! This can be done by inviting them to staff meetings, allowing them to participate in strategy sessions, including them in big events, and spending time with them personally to glean their feedback. Show interns how the mission cannot be accomplished without them. Remind them that even the Bible states that we are all one Body made up of different parts all working together to the glory of God. Interns are a valuable part of the team. Make sure they know it.