Internships. There are many connotations of what an internship is. Lately, the discussion includes the use (or abuse) of unpaid internships (see the Toronto Star article from March 2, 2014). Some people see  internships as cheap (or free) labour. Others see internships no different than another paid position. What exactly makes an effective internship?

Internships in a ministry context (like youth ministry) are meant to provide a space for the intern to experience different facets of ministry with an experienced supervisor helping them process and unpack that experience. With that in mind, here are some factors to consider in structuring an effective ministry internship.

Relevant Field Application: There needs to be specific activities that utilize the intern’s  education so they can “test” what they know. They are not meant to just do all the grunt work (aka the work you don’t want to do). Almost every task needs a connection point back to their preparation into ministry as a profession. For instance, if the intern is working on a lot of data entry for an event, help them to see how this contributes to the big picture (vs just having them do clerical work because they can).

Temporary: Interns are only there for a relatively short period of time. There needs to be an end goal in sight. A question to ask: What are three concrete take-aways you want to gain by the end of the internship?

Supplements the Ministry: The intern can be a valuable contributor to the ministry but shouldn’t be the focal point. For instance, in youth ministry, the intern should not be the primary relational connection for your students unless the person is planning to serve their beyond their internship. Having students identify the intern as their primary connection point to your church and then having that intern leave afterwards will likely do some damage (a video by Dave Overholt gives some insights on the impact of youth ministry staff transitioning out). A better use of the intern may be to help solidify the administrative and leadership structure of the youth ministry while allowing others to deepen those relationships with students.

A Present Supervisor: W. Somerset Maugham once said, “You learn more quickly under the guidance of experienced teachers. You waste a lot of time going down blind alleys if you have no one to lead you.” Whoever supervises the intern needs to be present. This doesn’t mean that the supervisor needs to shadow the intern everywhere they go. It does mean the supervisor is regularly in the intern’s world to give feedback about how they are doing, and helping to unpack situations. Having regular, scheduled times with a supervisor is vital for the intern to appropriately process their experience.

What other components do you feel make an effective internship?