Working With Summer Interns: Growing in Theological Depth
In Acts 8, we meet one of my favorite minor characters in the Bible: the Ethiopian eunuch. An angel of the Lord instructs the apostle Philip to travel from Jerusalem to Gaza. Prompted by the Spirit, Philip approaches the Ethiopian eunuch as he is reading the scroll of Isaiah in his chariot. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asks him. In response, the eunuch poses a question back to Philip: “how can I, unless someone guides me?”
Philip then shares the good news of Jesus with this hungry learner; he explains Jesus as the fulfillment of not just what Isaiah had promised, but as the key to unlock all of the prophesies of the Old Testament. The eunuch is baptized and goes on his way rejoicing. While we do not know what became of this man, one can assume his life was dramatically changed after his encounter with Jesus in and through his Word.
Philip, of course, plays a key role in this story. Guided by and obedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, he meets this eunuch where he is—literally coming alongside him—and reveals to him the beauty of seeing Jesus in every page of Scripture. Philip’s simple question: “do you understand what you are reading?” changes everything for the eunuch. With the Holy Spirit’s help, Philip and the eunuch engage in a rich theological conversation, centered around God’s Word in the context of a side-by-side relationship.
When thinking about how we can nurture our summer interns’ theological depth, I would invite us all to become Philips. A summer internship is an opportunity to teach theology for the sake of growing in knowledge and love of Christ. Like the eunuch, your intern might need your guidance – and the Spirit’s as well. Like Philip, we can engage in biblical and theological dialogue with our interns, making sure that in all things, Christ is seen, known, and glorified. Plus, if we have interns who are considering a career in vocational ministry, it’s best to send them off with a robust theological toolkit.
This summer, consider a Philip-like approach in teaching your intern theology: one that is unassuming, relational, and Christo-centric.
You Know What They Say About Assuming
Had I been in Philip’s shoes, I would have assumed this Ethiopian eunuch did not need my help. Vs. 27 tells us that this man was “a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure.” In other words, this man was a big deal. Since he was most likely highly educated, one might have presumed that he had no trouble whatsoever reading from the scroll of Isaiah. And yet, though he could read the words on the page, he lacked biblical and theological knowledge to understand them.
The typical summer intern will be joining you fresh from another semester in college. They, like the eunuch, will be well-educated, bright, and eager to learn (we hope!). Some of them might have even grown up in your church and under your tutelage in youth group.
And yet—we cannot assume they know basic theology. Bright as they may be, it’s wise to start with the basics. Read a classic like Lewis’ Mere Christianity or Packer’s Knowing God with your intern. And never hesitate to clarify terms like “eschatology” or “sanctification.” These haven’t exactly been covered in Organic Chemistry 101! Even if a concept makes total sense to you, be sure to humbly ask your intern “do you understand what you are reading?”
Though you are by definition your intern’s superior, teaching them theological truths is best done in the context of side-by-side relationship.
The Holy Spirit is intentional in his instruction to Philip: “go over and join his chariot” (vs. 29. emphasis mine). In other words, the Spirit encourages Philip to meet this eunuch right where he is. The eunuch clearly is open to such relational learning, as he invites Philip to sit down next to him. Together, they open God’s Word and mine its depths.
We have the same opportunity with our interns. Like the eunuch, they too might be hungry for relational connection and theological knowledge. If we want to love our interns well and disciple them faithfully, we cannot do so at a distance.
In my church’s intern program, we have “theology workshop” every week. We do a brief lesson on a theological concept and discuss it as a group. This not only gives us an excuse to enrich our interns’ theological knowledge, it also allows us opportunity for relational discipleship.
While theology workshop might begin with a lesson on predestination, it often ends as discussion among brothers and sisters about the mysterious providence of God in our lives. These moments with our interns have shown me that the best theology is that which lives on the ground in the context of our day-to-day lives.
Theology workshop might not be best for your intern program, but maybe you and your intern meet once a week over lunch and work through a systematic theology book or Augustine’s Confessions. What you study can vary; how you study it should not. As their mentor—even if just for a few months—you are invited to sit beside your intern and ponder the things of God with them
Knowing Him, Not Just Knowing About Him
Important as theological depth is, we tread on thin ice when we seek after knowledge just for the sake of knowledge. Any theology that does not transform our hearts or make us look more like Jesus is really just vain philosophy and empty deceit.
Like Philip with his Ethiopian friend, we want to make sure that our interns see Jesus in all theology we study. We do this not because we want their theological jargon to impress their friends back in their college ministries, but because we desire for them to grow in their adoration of and service to Christ.
Maybe this looks like a summer study on a biblical theology of temple imagery in Scripture. Or maybe this looks like a survey of Church history to see how God has faithfully sustained his Church over the centuries. Maybe it simply means reading a passage like Romans 8 and walking through the theological concept of adoption in Christ.
As we do so, we can pray that the Spirit would transform our interns’ hearts as their theological knowledge deepens. While not every transformation will be as dramatic as the eunuch’s, we can be certain that our interns will be transformed by the renewing of their minds as we seek Jesus through side-by-side theological study.