Working With Summer Interns: Intergenerational Integration Is Key

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As a college student I had the wonderful opportunity of coming home and working as a summer youth intern at my home church. It was a formative time for me, and like countless others who have interned in some capacity during the summer, it helped confirm my call to vocational ministry. In the Lords grace and kindness, I am the man, husband, father, minister, and friend I am today because of my time as a summer youth intern at my home church. I later had the privilege of serving on staff there for five years in large part due to my wonderful experience as an intern.

One of the greatest gifts I received from that church was how intergenerationally-connected the people are. To put it in the words of our dear, late pastor, intergenerational connection and community is in the churchs DNA.” Intergenerational integration is all about how well people across different stages of life love, support, and encourage one another in the faith as members of the body of Christ. Having summer interns experience intergenerational integration across their respective churches is key for a healthy summer internship.

If you’re hiring a youth ministry intern this summer, I want to encourage you to make training him or her in intergenerational integration a priority. Helping summer interns experience and value the whole family of God provides benefits and equips men and women for a lifetime of service and devotion to the church.

A Biblical Perspective

While it may be tempting for your intern to want to focus solely on his or her own area of direct ministry, it is important to help him or her see that Scripture teaches the importance of intergenerational integration. For interns in particular (who tend to be younger), older, wiser mentors are able to coach” them in the faith and help them become intergenerationally competent. For example, Elijah trained Elisha in large part by providing him with a consistent and persistent presence (1 Kings 19:19-21; 2 Kings 2:1-18) to help him grow as one of the Lord’s chosen prophets. The apostle Paul was a mentor to many, including Timothy, his true son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2). Paul even goes so far as to commend Timothy for the way his family and church helped him grow in the faith (Acts 16:1-5).

From Scripture, we see that mentoring is a key component of intergenerational integration. But we also see how believers as a whole grow together in the Lord when they commit to loving, supporting, and encouraging one another across ages and life stages. You don’t have to look further than the early church and how, despite their brokenness, limitation, and sin, Gods chosen people can do more than they can ask or imagine by the power of the Spirit when they devote themselves fully to the whole life of the church and have everything in common (Acts 2:42-44).

The Interns Wisdom

Like all disciples of Jesus, interns need to be trained biblically, theologically, relationally, emotionally, and in ministry skills. This is an all-encompassing process that entails everybody in all parts of the church.

Sadly, it is far too easy for different ministries and groups within the church to become siloed. This can be the case especially with youth ministries that want to operate independently and do their own thing.” If we want to build up intergenerationally connected interns and students, then we must make sure our youth ministries are not just a single part of the church but are a reflection of the church at large.

A healthy youth ministry should itself be a connection point for the whole church. Not only do interns have the opportunity to know students, they also get to know the parents of students. And since youth are sandwiched in the middle of children and college students, there are all sorts of relational touch-points for interns to invest in as they do youth ministry. At the end of the day, no one can do” ministry well if he or she does not understand how it fits in the overall life of the church.

Summer interns have the opportunity to discover their gifts and the ways that God has called them so that they can be faithful in ministry, whether that is vocational ministry or not. The more exposure to the whole church they receive, the better off interns will be in their summer ministry posts as well as any they might have in the future.

Practical Ideas for Engaging Interns

Here are some suggestions for summer youth interns to see and experience what the whole family of God and intergenerational integration is all about:

Have an active presence with vacation Bible school or any church summer camps.

In my experience with VBS at my home church, I am amazed every year the extent to which VBS is a church-wide event. Parents with kids of all ages, empty-nesters, and older adults all volunteer in one way or another. All the ministers on staff play a role, whether it is leading music, skits, or sports. Middle school and high school students help lead different groups and teams by age and grade. If interns need to see a beautiful picture of the whole church in action, look no further than VBS. If your church does not go “all-in” on VBS or other summer programs, consider brainstorming with your children’s ministry leaders about ways your students can serve the kids in your church.

Schedule structured prayer, reflection, and conversation time with interns.

Having focused time to reflect and pray with interns is essential. Whether its grabbing coffee or a meal or going on a walk, summer interns need to be checked on frequently because (like all of us) they are processing life and ministry in an intense, fast-paced setting. I think having a scheduled time once a week to check in is a good rule of thumb, and the goal is intentionality with a focus on how God is working. Perhaps reading a book like  Life Together  by Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a youth ministry or ministerial staff will facilitate discussion on how churches must fight “ideal” or “perfect” visions of Christian community as they strive to be intergenerationally connected. If interns are going to be trained in intergenerational integration, they need to process what they are seeing, learning, and experiencing as well as serving in a community at large.

Be Intentional About Hospitality
If possible, provide housing for interns with a family in the church. There is no better way for an intern to become intergenerationally connected than spending time with a family that cares and provides for them during his or her internship. If intergenerational integration is about modeling the family God wants his people to be, then there is no better way to do this than spending time with actual families in within the church.

You could also ask various church members to host meals for interns throughout the summer. If families are unable to host an intern, then providing meals is an excellent way to support interns. What college kid doesn’t want meals prepared for them to take some of the burden off? Meanwhile it offers a great opportunity for both an intern and the people hosting meals to build relationships across the entire church.

Invite interns to brainstorm ways your church can foster intergenerational connection.
Oftentimes, interns who are coming in for the summer have great ideas and perspectives because they have not been around the church that long, if at all. Whether it happens in a church staff meeting or in grabbing coffee with older members of the church, providing interns with opportunities to voice their thoughts and perspectives is a great way for interns to grow as ministers and leaders while allowing the church to continue to explore ways to be intergenerationally connected.

There are of course, numerous ways that youth ministers can help their summer interns experience the value of a truly intergenerational church. Still, as important as intergenerational community is to a healthy church, we do not pursue such community out of thin air. The gospel calls us to unity in the family of God. Because of his great love for us and his desire for us to be unified, God calls us his children (1 John 3:1) and into his family. Because of Christs atoning death and resurrection from the grave, we are called to live lives worthy of such a tremendous sacrifice. Our charge is to make the effort necessary to keep the unity of Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3). In doing so, may we all strive to serve in a way that integrates the many generations of the church.

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