Having once been an intern myself and, over the past 20 years of youth ministry training, been in contact with countless youth interns and youth pastors with interns, I would like to offer some thoughts on what I believe makes an effective youth internship. I’m currently working on a template for YouthTRAIN sponsored internships to be launched in 2014 that meets these criteria and I’d be interested in your comments either here or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. A balance between study and hands on ministry
These two elements of an internship are in constant conflict. Not surprisingly most students prefer the hands on aspect of their internship and when time demands clash, the tendency is to minimise the time devoted to study to a level at which they can do enough to at least pass. Yet the academic aspect of an internship is vital if students are to build a solid theological base to their ministry as well as grow in their understanding of the requirements of youth leadership. A good internship will allow significant time for both within a full time study programme, leaving the student enough time for their own personal life as well as part time work if required.
2. A balance between theological education and youth ministry training
Given that the academic component of an internship is important, a second area of conflict is the balance between theological and Biblical studies and youth ministry practice. Both are important for the youth intern. In studying Scripture and theology they need help to see how these relate to the ministry they are engaged in and so assignments need to be both practical and relevant to their youth ministry involvement. But this alone is not enough. They also need input in specific youth areas like adolescent development, youth culture and youth ministry programming.
3. Assignments that have practical application
Youth interns are generally young people still learning the ropes of leadership. While some understanding of youth ministry philosophy is desirable the priority for them is building a strong practical understanding of what youth ministry entails so that their effectiveness in youth ministry is immediately enhanced. Therefore it is important for their learning that assignments help them to gain insights and skills they can immediately put into practice. It is through application that deep and lasting learning of what has been studied takes place.
4. Regular block courses that provide face to face learning
Distance study has some wonderful advantages. Interns are not locked into a weekly lecture schedule and can easily fit their studies around other obligations. However distance study does take a good deal of discipline and can leave young interns in particular without the classroom dynamic they have been used to learning in. A good internship will provide a significant amount of face to face input, while recognising that interns outside of a college location must study by distance because they cannot attend weekly classes without leaving their home church. Such learning not only includes classroom based teaching, but also interactive activities, discussion and personal feedback.
5. A sense of community between students
The nature of most youth interns is that they are highly relational. They enjoy people contact and have a need for a sense of belonging. Block courses are the perfect environment to develop this sense of community and technology provides the means to maintain relationships between courses. By developing relationships with other interns they have the opportunity to share their experiences with people facing the same challenges as them and in so doing develop the support networks so essential for long term youth ministry.
6. Mentoring/supervision by experienced practitioners
A key dimension of leadership development for the intern is the availability of people who can offer personal guidance and support. They need input from experienced youth ministry practitioners who have a grasp of the theory and practice of youth ministry. They need an experienced mentor who can teach by example and can offer practical advice as the intern takes on leadership responsibilities. They also need a wise and mature Christian who can offer personal and spiritual direction as they come up against the challenges youth ministry provides.
7. Regular skill based assessment
In order for the youth intern to grow in their ministry effectiveness they need regular feedback. They need to know what is required of a youth pastor and how their own competency matches up to these requirements. By regular informal and formal feedback (monthly is ideal) they get to measure their progress and work with their mentor in setting goals and developing their skill base to the required level.