What to Do with Worship Ministry Interns

hellointernI was recently asked to speak on a panel to a group of pastors and worship leaders about various worship ministry topics. The one topic that generated the most discussion was on interns. How do you find them?... what to do with them?... what to do when they keep messing up your coffee order?…etc. These questions reminded me of how inept of a leader to interns I was 8-10 years ago. I was a part of a thriving college ministry, so some of our students who wanted to go into vocational ministry asked if they could spend time with me. Although I wanted to impart all kinds of worship leadership or pastoral wisdom to these guys, I didn't have much to draw from. Granted, I was very young as well and a bit of a ministry novice, so most of our time together was spent practicing songs, listening to songs, printing music, discussing theology and drinking coffee. I'm not sure if that's what those guys were looking for, but I wasn't sure what more to give. Even though my methods fell a bit short, training people for ministry in the context of the local church is one of the most healthy ways for them to grow. I think all pastors should have training/mentoring on their radar at some level. I would urge all pastors to sharpen their competency in leading those they're investing in. I am certainly no expert on what it means to run an internship program. But I have found that focusing on three particular areas in my training has given me the ability to invest in men in ways that benefit them the most. Those three areas are Training, Opportunity/Authority and Evaluation. Below are some of my thoughts on those areas.

Training

I usually think of training in two ways, bookish training and life-on-life training. Both are very important, but you'll probably find that one comes more naturally to you than the other. For that reason, I would keep in mind that this is your chance to impart both your ministry philosophy and your ministry life to another person. So be intentional. Give them a good amount of each type of training.

When it comes to bookish training, I know that every church has books that define what they do and why, so I won't give you an exhaustive list of books here. I have found that Worship By The Book by Carson and Worship Matters by Kauflin are great resources for kick-starting good worship ministry discussions. I also love reading John Piper's article, The Marks Of A Spiritual Leader with interns or men I'm discipling. This article gives so many helpful thoughts on what it means to express leadership in our own lives and then how to exert leadership towards other people.

Life training is a good bit messier and more costly. It will cost you time and energy, and it will probably make your days less seamless and a bit more clunky. But, these are the times we put our book knowledge to work. For instance, I might meet with an intern and talk about what it means to exert leadership towards others on Monday. Then on Tuesday I could take that guy along with me as I meet with someone else. As I ride to the meeting I can tell the intern what I want to accomplish when I meet with this person. Then in the meeting he can see if I actually do what I want to do. On the ride back we get to talk about what I did or could have done differently. Or, if you have an intern that you don't see face to face during the week, you can invite him to help you write out your prayers or exhortations for your worship service. In the process you can let him in on what you're saying and why. This kind of training can be clunky and time-consuming, but it is so helpful to young men trying to figure out how to put into practice the things they're learning. They don't offer classes like this in seminary, so time with you might be the only place he sees this training in action.

Opportunity/Authority

I'm dating myself here, but do you remember how frustrated Danielson was as he went through Mr. Miyagi's training in "The Karate Kid"? Why did he feel like it was so meaningless?...Because he practiced all the karate moves while he painted a house and not on a real person. Obviously that worked out pretty well for him in the end, but this frustration is how most interns feel. Lots of busywork and not much live practice. I think you'll find that the training you give people will come to life as they have an opportunity to use what they're learning. This will obviously take much wisdom on your part. Some of you serve at very large churches and the expectations on leadership capabilities are much higher than at a smaller church. But however it looks, I would seek for ways to give opportunities for your interns to lead, and then authority to carry out the tasks you've given them.

By opportunity I just mean giving your intern a chance to do a leadership task that you or someone else would normally do. You might give them the chance to lead one song, or exhort the congregation in the call to worship, or take one of the prayer slots. At First Durham we talk about it in terms of reps or batting practice. In order to get ready to play major league baseball, players need lots of reps before they feel ready to play the first game. It's the same with leading in a church service. Whatever it looks like at your church, find those opportunities for interns to lead.

Giving them authority can be a little more tricky. As the worship pastor, my church has entrusted me as the gatekeeper for what is said, prayed and sung in the worship service. So it might not be wise to hand over complete authority as interns lead part of the service or do some leadership task. But it is so important for them to feel like they have the ability to think for themselves and plan the way God is leading them. If not, you'll spend the time micro-managing them and they'll end up doing the task the way that you would do it. That's no way to learn. I would suggest that you give them a task and then articulate the perimeters. How long should they speak, what resources should they think about, what comes before and after them, etc. Once you give them those perimeters and training let them come up with the best way to accomplish the task. Giving them authority to make decisions means that you won't end up with a bunch of clones of yourself. You'll end up with strong, thoughtful leaders.

And of course a vital aspect of the opportunity/authority process is giving clear expectations and instructions. A seminary professors of mine said that one of the most damaging things to a relationship is unspoken expectations. I've seen the truthfulness of that at times in my marriage. And I've experienced the frustration of unspoken expectations as I've served under other people in the past. If you give leadership to an intern make sure you are explicit about how you see them functioning and thriving in their position. It's unfair and unhelpful for us to be frustrated that someone "just doesn't get it" if we haven't been explicitly clear on what we expect. This can seem like really tedious work, but you will have clear opportunities for evaluation if you do.

Evaluation

Most of us have given training and opportunity/authority to an intern or disciple. What I've found not as common is giving evaluation after you've given that opportunity. Some leaders have a hard time giving evaluation because they're too kind and others because they're too busy. But it's important to give evaluation after you have given a leadership task because they need to know how to grow from their chance to lead. Without loving evaluation they won't know if they've done what you asked them to do.

Evaluation can be really painful, especially if the person has a lot of self-worth wrapped up in how they did their task. If you sense that the person is taking your evaluation inordinately hard I would consider helping them dissect what it means to have an idolatry of approval. Most of us that serve the church in a public way battle this idolatry. It's loving and helpful to walk them through how to battle this sin. One other way to make the process less difficult is to have a "cool-down" period before you give evaluation. No one wants to hear how they have messed up immediately after they've worked so hard on a task.

As you give evaluation, make sure you don't just, "tell someone like it is." Even the most thick-skinned person will have a hard time taking reckless and mean-spirited evaluation. Ephesians 4:29 says, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." Our aim in giving evaluation should be imparting grace. There is a way to give honest, loving, thorough evaluation that encourages the person and helps them grow at the same time. If you give leadership to anyone, I would work hard at building up that particular muscle. Work at giving kind, clear, sensitive, purposeful evaluation.

What makes evaluation stick though is relationship. If you have a significant investment in a person they're going to want to hear what you have to say once it comes time for evaluation. If you are sharp or relationally absent most of the time, then your eval will come across as just mindlessly lobbing grenades. In whatever way you can, help them realize that you are for them and not against them.

Finally, make sure to mingle specific encouragement in all your evaluation. Don't just say, "You did a good job." Tell them why and how they did a good job. For instance, "I thought your prayer was so meaningful. The words you used to describe sin and brokenness were really helpful. I found them very affecting." Or, "I loved the way you lead that song. You seemed to sing strongly when the melody was a little weird, and then backed off at the chorus they knew so that the congregation could hear themselves singing." It is as equally important to be as specific in your negative feedback as you are with positive feedback. Help them see very directly what the problem was, so they know how to specifically do it better next time.

I will be the first to tell you (followed closely by my current and former inters) that I fail in all 3 areas…a lot. But I have found it helpful to have these areas defined and articulated. When problems come up in my leadership, I can usually link it to an absence of one of these areas.

May God richly bless you as you invest in future leaders and pastors for the glory of God.