Training Leaders: Internships Done Well
We all want interns. We think that having them around will make things easier. We think we can lean on them to do work we find uninspiring but necessary. We think it will be easy. And we’re wrong.
Worship Pastor, The Vineyard Church Syracuse
Internships Done Well
We all want interns. We think that having them around will make things easier. We think we can lean on them to do work we find uninspiring but necessary. We think it will be easy.
And we’re wrong.
Having interns isn’t a welcomed relief from work. It’s actually more work! It’s more time, more joy and heartache, more energy, more everything. Especially if you do it right. And it all starts with investment. Interns come around and stay around if you invest in them.
Having them work for you and lighten your load is secondary. First, you need to spend time with them, talking with them about both the transcendent and the mundane parts of their lives, and challenging them to grow personally.
While we’re not at the point of expertise in this area, we do have a robust cohort of eight interns in the worship and tech department this year. Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way.
- Prioritize spiritual formation. My number one goal for all of our interns is that they leave our church with good, foundational habits. What does their devotional life look like? Do they spend time personally investing in their craft (singing, playing an instrument, music theory)? As of late, all of our interns use the Read Scripture and Reimagining the Examen apps. We hope that they’ll read their Bibles regularly (and the RS app is paired with excellent, explanatory videos) and that they’ll spend time in reflection. Read Dan Wilt’s excellent post on the examen here: . We also arrange for them to have a spiritual director.
- Invest relationally. They don’t need to be my friends (it does happen more often than not), but they need to know I care for them. I pray for them regularly. I ask them how they’re doing. I tell them about my life and my joys and my struggles. They get to know my children and my children get to know them.
- Give them real responsibility. They need to own an area in your church. Help them to feel valued by giving them real, tangible decision making power. Put them on the line for something that matters and force them to own both the fun and hard parts of that job. Inevitably, what that shows your intern is that you trust them. And rather than enervate them by micromanaging their projects, give them wings. High expectations can make them feel like they have something important to contribute.
- Pay them (in some way). If you can’t afford to pay your interns a small stipend, pay them in other ways. Don’t ever let them pay for coffee when you’re hanging out with them. Purchase resources they’ll need in the internship process (like books or music lessons). Fund trips home (one year, we paid for a homesick intern to visit his parents in California). In addition, we always send our interns to the Worship Leader Retreat and we take care of their registration for them. It can be a lot of money, especially if your intern is working at the local coffee shop for minimum wage.
- Let them have a life beyond church. This is why our interns aren’t in the office everyday – we want them to have part time jobs in the community and have friends who don’t attend our church (especially if they’ve moved for the internship from out of state!). If the church subsumes all of their lives, they’re unlikely to be healthy for the long term.
Internships are a blessing to the church! We want them to be blessings for the interns, too. If you lean into that principle, you’ll have a waiting list for them every year.