Working With Summer Interns: A Guide to Relational Discipleship

I once heard a question posed, “How do we value women?” Without missing a beat, my pastor answered, “We value them.” 

When thinking about what I would say to encourage youth ministry workers in relational discipleship with their interns, I had a similar thought. “The best way to train someone to relationally disciple others is to relationally disciple them.” Though it sounds overly simplified, I’ve found it to be the truth.

Over the course of my tenure in local church ministry, I have had the privilege of having quite a few interns. I have noticed how most people in ministry speak of interns as someone who will remove items from their to-do list or make their jobs easier. The college student shows up, answers emails, files some papers, and sets up tables and chairs. This removes items from your to-do list, sure. But what has the intern actually learned? How has this actually prepared them for future ministry? How have they grown as a disciple of Jesus?

“Future ministers need to understand the grind before the glory,” some will say. “Let them clean toilets before ascending to the pulpit.” Believe me- I understand the need of future ministers to see how the sausage is made before hopping into full-time, public, vocational ministry. I’ve even said some of those things myself. 

However, I believe the most fruitful and gospel-centered way to bring on summer interns is to see them as your disciple. If we are to be “making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19)” and “iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17),” we cannot simply relegate our younger, less experienced brothers and sisters to the menial tasks, keep them at arm’s length from robust theological discussion, or not allow them to state their opinion on strategy. 

What they need is true mentorship, and an internship is a prime way of receiving it. Yes, ask them to make the coffee, but also go to coffee with them. Yes, they need to file the papers, but they also need to know what the papers say. They need access- access to you and access to meaningful ministry. 

Access to You. 

I spent one of my college summers interning at my hometown’s local newspaper. As a Public Relations major considering switching to Journalism, I decided that having my “boots on the ground,” would be a great way of knowing if the switch was a good one. I’m glad I did. I spent the six weeks of my internship mostly by myself in the conference room and from time to time driving to the local jail to see if anything interesting had happened. It never did, except the one time a woman was arrested for chasing her husband with an ax, but that’s an article for another day. 

Each day I would clock out at 5 p.m. and inevitably drive back by my office on my way to a friend’s house or dinner. Almost all of the cars in the parking lot would be there at 6:00 pm., then 7:00 p.m., and sometimes even as late at 9:00 p.m. Seeing what the real lives of my coworkers looked like made me realize that it was not the career path I desired. 

I keep this in mind when bringing in interns. While I want my interns to gather meaningful ministry experience, I also want them to see what a life of local church ministry practically looks like. One day, they may be working parents like myself, so I want them to see me coming into the office with two cups of coffee, an overflowing bag, and an oatmeal stain on my shirt from my kid’s breakfast. As Christ followers, they need to see what a regular follower of Jesus looks like- not just at work- but in all things. 

The interns who have turned into babysitters and the number one option of my Venmo from all the shared lunches are the ones who learned the most. Relationally discipling them- really sharing all aspects of my life and work with them- shows them how to do the same with students.

Access to Meaningful Ministry. 

I want other people to almost feel uncomfortable with the access I give my interns. How will they learn, if they haven’t been shown or taught? One of my ministry friends recently shared with me, “seminary prepared me for a lot, but the leadership needed to lead my ministry is something I am having to learn on my own.” 

While books, sermons, and lectures can certainly enlighten the brain, doing the actual relational ministry is mostly learned from seeing and experiencing. Therefore, I lean into allowing my interns to sit in on just about any meeting they can- strategy, vision, event planning, etc. I truly want their opinion and a set of fresh eyes, but I also want them to “catch” every good thing I have to offer.

Jesus himself allowed his disciples to participate in his ministry. He had disciples doing practical, “administrative” tasks like handing out and cleaning up food in the feeding of 5,000 (Mark 6:30-44). He also sent them out to do relational, meaningful ministry like healing and casting out demons (Mark 6:12-13). By all intents and purposes, the disciples were Jesus’ interns, and he gave them access to all of himself and all of his ministry. We can do the same. 

Please don’t hold back from letting your intern lead. Let them try, while you serve as their safe landing place. That’s all I’ve wanted from leaders and mentors in church ministry, so why wouldn’t I do the same for my less experienced brothers and sisters? Give them all of yourself relationally and practically, and watch as your relationships and ministries grow and change and flourish- while your intern is doing the same.

Paige serves as the Kids and Families Coordinator at Grace Fellowship Church in Birmingham, AL. She is married to Josh, and they have three children, John, Anna and Joe, and two dogs, Miller and Sam. Paige enjoys hosting friends and family, trying new restaurants, and drinking lots of coffee. Connect with Paige on Instagram (@prbierman).

More From This Author