1. Be careful with who you accept as an intern.
Interns are role models to your kids. Before you unleash anyone on your students, you must be confident that they will serve as respectful Godly examples. Internships are not a loophole for letting graduating seniors hang out at youth group longer.
2. Each internship should be unique to the individual.
There should not be a standard “once size fits all” internship program because every intern is different with unique gifts, passions and ministry focus. When I have an intern, I usually meet with them first just to find out where their heart is, what they enjoy doing, what makes them tick, what they think they need from the internship, what they think would be most beneficial to them and what they need to learn most. And then I come up with a plan to help meet all those things. Really, this isn’t much different from what I do with my own volunteers.
3. View the internship as a teaching opportunity.
Interns are not people who do the work you don’t like doing. In fact, having interns should probably cost you more time as you invest into each individual. Don’t give an assignment and then turn them loose for the summer without teaching them how to do it well. Ensure that they successful.
4. Always back your interns 100%.
Your intern needs to know that you believe in them, that you support them and that you trust them. After you’ve equipped them, remain as hands-off as possible in their area of ministry. When they fail and make mistakes, see #3.
5. Prepare your interns for life, not just for ministry.
Ministry training is important, but developing their spiritual lives, their character, their knowledge of scripture, and their prayer life is even more important.
6. Meet with each intern once a week.
Don’t just give your interns a couple youth group assignments and let them go for the summer. Meet regularly to review, debrief, follow-up on assignments, pray together, study scripture, encourage them and thank them for their investment into teenagers (even if it does cause you more work!).
7. Push your interns to go a little further than they think they can go.
Don’t let them stay in their comfort zone. Find out what they feel comfortable with and make them take it to the next level. We all need to be stretched from time to time.
8. Find areas of weakness, but focus on strengths.
It’s necessary to address areas of weakness, but don’t focus on making those areas strong. Instead, use the strengths God’s already given them. We all have weaknesses and that’s okay. That’s why we’re a part of the body of Christ.
9. Let your intern tag along side of you.
Some of the best teaching opportunities will come as they just hang out with you and shadow you in ministry. They’ll start to ask questions, observe what you do, and even provide insights to your routine that you never thought of before. Remember, passion for ministry is caught more than it is taught. I’m in ministry today because of this.
10. Invite them to critically evaluate the ministry.
Interns become more involved in the ministry than a regular volunteer, so encourage them to always offer their perspective for improvement and necessary changes. It’s amazing the observations they make that you’ll never see.
11. Keep your expectations high.
Hold them accountable to their commitment and make sure they follow through in their areas of ministry. As you attempt to be as hands-off as possible, remind them that there is no backup plan if they drop the ball. When they don’t follow-through, address it frankly with the intern and remember that there’s always room for mercy.
12. Make it age-appropriate.
If you have an intern who is a freshman or sophomore in college, assign them to the Jr. High. It’s difficult for a young intern to earn respect as a leader with high school students who are so close to their own age, especially if the intern graduated from your ministry and knows the underclassmen. Plus, it may be tough for an intern to successfully exercise authority over their own peer group (i.e. discipline situations). I experienced this first-hand back when I was an intern in college.
A REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE
To help make all of this a little more concrete, here is a summer internship plan I put together for a guy who worked with me a couple summers ago. He was in his mid-20s working as a middle school teacher, but felt a calling to youth ministry and wanted to check it out a little closer. You’ll notice that the program is geared toward that end.
Posted on May 21, 2007