Well-structured pastoral internships prepare men for ministry with their long-term health in view. Healthy churches are led by healthy pastors. Sadly, many of the well-intentioned men coming out of today’s seminaries are not fit for long term ministry. Pastoral internships should focus on six critical factors which sustain pastoral health in ministry.
1. Spiritual Disciplines: During the internship, personal sanctification must be emphasized. Learning to pray, personally applying God’s Word, and fighting sin are critical practices. Faithful ministry blossoms in the soil of holy habits. Seasons of prayer and weekly conversations with a spiritual mentor help monitor progress and foster transparency.
2. Family Care: The typical seminary model fails to train men to prioritize their time well, which strains marriages when they take on pastorates. Churches can do better. Pastors and lay leaders can model healthy marriages and train interns to manage ministry pressures as they rightly prioritize the home.
3. Financial Freedom: School loans limit many pastors’ ability to serve God. We want our interns to enter ministry debt free. The church pays a livable wage so the interns can give themselves fully to the learning process. Applicants are sometimes encouraged to take a “gap year” between college and the start of the internship to pay down debt before they begin.
4. Academic Preparation: Pastors should be educated. Our interns average 20 hours a week working on their degree. In three years, they earn a Master of Divinity from a fully-accredited institution that provides their classes online. Most seminaries now offer degrees that can be completed online, eliminating the need for families to move away from their home church. Young pastors will need the confidence they develop from tackling hard theological issues and learning original languages when they face ministry challenges.
5. Ministry Opportunities: Interns develop skills to serve in a wide variety of ways. They may learn how to counsel someone through a crisis, lead a care group, manage church finances, mow the lawn, and prepare a sermon all in the same week. Internships should be practical. At the start of the internship ask questions, assess skills, and develop a plan for growth. Install them in areas they can succeed, and let them know more opportunities will come. When they graduate, pastoral interns will often step into churches where they are the only one on staff, so plan to give them as much ministry exposure as they can handle.
6. Congregational Involvement: I’ve found that the internship program has taught the congregation how to think about the long-term health of pastors and churches. They are more responsive to my pastoral health, and they understand how churches can be revitalized. Just as healthy churches are led by healthy pastors, healthy churches produce healthy future pastors. Congregational involvement is essential to train men for ministry.
No two internships look the same, but these factors provide good structure for training spiritually healthy pastors to serve Christ’s church well into the future.