Summertime Means Intern-time…Are You Ready?


As summer is just around the corner, churches and students are finalizing internship arrangements. Does your ministry have an internship program? If not, you should consider it. It can be a beneficial development tool for students who are considering going into vocational ministry as well as a blessing to your team who can use the extra help around the office this summer.

Some internships are formalized with an established program and many students. Others are informal and small with no real organization or expectations. Some view their intern as the kid who goes on coffee runs and makes photocopies. Others view their relationship as a mentoring relationship.

Regardless, it’s important to think through these five issues regarding ministry Interns so that both they and you can have a fruitful and personally enriching summer internship experience.

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1. Pay

Money is typically a top concern for college or seminary students, and it’s important to be as upfront and clear as possible about this issue from the start.

Is the internship paid or unpaid? Is a housing stipend available? What about a book or material stipend? There are legal issues involved in unpaid internships, which should be reviewed to ensure your church is in compliance. Will the intern have access to expense reimbursement? If so, what procedure does he or she need to be reimbursed?

All of these issues should be explained in an internship handbook that you include in the intern's welcome packet on day one of the internship...or even before so that they can read through it before starting the internship.

2. Work Responsibilities

Is there a job description written for the Internship? If so, writing one would be a great first step. What are the day to day expectations of the intern? Who will he or she report to? What are the desired accomplishments of the internship? Will the Intern be rotating through various ministries during his or her time with you or will they be assigned to one specific area? Is there a required reading list? Is there an end of term deliverable, such as a paper or a journal expected? These position related questions and more should be addressed from the very beginning.

3. Behavior Expectations

As I discussed in my article on the importance of an Employee Handbook, it’s important to establish behavior expectations and communicate cultural norms for those working at your church, and that includes your interns. Remember, most interns have limited work experience, so it’s important to teach him or her what is expected in the work place and specifically your church.

Three important topics to cover are:

      • Relationships - Talk with him or her about the importance of maintaining positive relationships in ministry. Is it okay for an intern to date a congregant during the course of the internship? Talk about dating and romantic relationship expectations during the internship.
      • Dress and Grooming - What style and level of dress is expected in the office during the week? Casual? Business Casual? Business Professional? And how is that defined for your culture? What about on Sunday? Is there an expected hair length/style? What about facial hair? Are playoff beards acceptable?
      • Honor and Humility - What is your church’s culture regarding honor? As an intern, they are about as low on the totum pole as you can get. How are they expected to interact with those above them? Will they be treated as the lowest level employee or does your church treat every employee equally?

4. Personal Goals

It’s important to know, from the start, what the intern hopes to get out of his or her time with you. Are their specific academic requirements that he or she will need to fulfill? If so, make sure those requirements are communicated at the beginning of your time together so there are no last minute surprises. What are their personal goals for their time with you? Hear the heart of your intern – allow them to dream big for their time with you. Be an example of setting the bar high, working hard to achieve goals, and celebrating even small victories.

5. Intern Evaluation

In the end, how will the intern be evaluated? Will he or she have a review at set intervals or will there be just one final evaluation? Remember, internships are a time to allow students and others to learn and grow in their understanding of and experience in day to day ministry. As you should be doing with all of your employees, continually provide feedback in an organized way so that he or she can improve during your time together.

Internships can be a mutually beneficial time for you, the ministry, and the intern. Be sure to get the most out of your time together by communicating clear expectations and cultural norms so you can hit the ground running from day one.

For more information on internship legal issues, visit this website.