by Jason Sansbury

Click here to read the companion to this article, How2: Hire Summer Interns for Your Ministry.

Once you have hired someone for the role of intern, there is still work to do!  Here are some ways to get the most out of a summer intern for your ministry, as well as benefit the intern the most.

1. Establish the specific ways the intern can help and what his or her responsibilities are.

More than once I have had a ministry friend call me halfway through the summer and say, “I hired the intern but I don’t know what to do with him!” Take the time to really figure out some of the ways an intern can be beneficial to your youth group. Here are some of the specifics that we ask of our summer interns at my own church:

  • Lead a small group Bible study once a week with students of the same gender.  Help them think through their curriculum and set them up to succeed! Especially early in the summer, ask the intern to lead you through what the lesson will be ahead of time.
  • If he or she is gifted musically, allow him or her to take on leading worship for the summer.
  • Schedule some specific times when the intern will be speaking and leading at youth group. You can help her succeed by scheduling this far in advance, preparing her, and empowering her to do her best.  (If on Wednesday morning you hand an intern the responsibility of speaking at youth group on Wednesday night, it probably won’t end well!)
  • Know what other areas of the church the intern will be helping in. Our interns are always heavily involved in our church’s Vacation Bible School, so we try hard to match the intern’s passions, gifts, and personality to an area of that ministry where they will thrive. (Asking an introvert to be an energetic, up-front personality is a bad idea!)
  • Know what the grunt, manual labor part of the job is and be honest about it. There are parts of an intern’s role where the reality is that he just needs to be hands and feet and help you get stuff done. Owning that and communicating it early helps him recognize it is part of the job and work through it.

2. Prepare for the intern’s arrival

Make sure you are prepared with things like housing, office supplies, and a space to work in. When an intern shows up, you want him to know that you take him seriously by being prepared for his arrival. When an intern shows up and you are shoving stuff into a pile to create a small space for her to work in, it says you don’t value her. Rightly or wrongly, you want to set the tone with a great first impression.

Help your interns know and understand your church’s child protection policies. Walk them through various scenarios and how you expect them to react and deal with those instances. With our ministry’s interns, after teaching them these policies, I explain that any violation of them is grounds for immediate dismissal, no questions asked. Most of your summer interns will have never been around these kinds of policies and for their safety and yours, you need to express these policies ahead of time and train them well.

Handle the paperwork.  There are tax forms, human resource issues, etc. that all need to be handled. Do that the first day. Additionally, you want to make sure you and your leadership have emergency contact numbers for your intern’s parents, etc. in case there ever is an emergency.

3. Invest in the intern and his or her ministry.

If the only one who benefits from the internship is you as the leader, you are missing the opportunity to invest in the next generation of ministry leaders. To put it another way, if the only benefit the intern gets is a salary, you are doing it wrong. Here are some ways to invest in your intern:

  • Encourage her in her spiritual growth. We try hard in our hectic summer to make it a point at the beginning of most workdays to have a time to pull away to reflect on scripture, to pray, and to rest. Ministry leaders, myself included, can be awful at this practice and we want to set good examples for our interns. Relatedly, we also work hard to schedule a Sabbath during every week in the summer and take appropriate levels of time off following retreats and events.
  • Read and discuss some ministry books together. We tend to use Doug Fields’ Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry.  The chapters are short, there are some discussion questions after each chapter, and for students who are starting out in youth ministry, it is a great primer.
  • Read and discuss some soul tending-types of books as well.  We have used a large variety of these.
  • Give him feedback. No matter how small a part is, when your intern leads, you need to give him quality feedback. Be specific, encourage him, and offer to help make him better. For example, I tell our interns that when they start, I don’t expect them to be great speakers or communicators. However, after a summer watching me, doing it themselves, and being coached through it, I do expect them to do well in this arena.
  • Give them permission to speak. One of the unspoken benefits of interns is that they bring new eyes to your church and its various ministries. I try to include our interns in some of our staff meetings and I specifically tell them that I want them to speak up. If something doesn’t make sense to them, it likely isn’t making sense to your people. If your interns don’t point out places where they see a need for improvement, you haven’t empowered them enough. I sometimes ask them come to staff with specific questions. Especially for my church, interns are generally in an age bracket that we don’t have within the church membership and their input is invaluable!

4. Celebrate their ministry, especially at the end.

If you have made a good hire, interns are going to be a part of shaping your youth ministry. Spend time at the close of their time in your ministry celebrating with them privately the ways you have seen them grow and lead. Also make sure that your students and leaders have a time to celebrate and affirm them as well. None of our interns at my current church have come from within our faith community. Yet at the end of their summer with us, we celebrate that they are a part of who we are by praying for them and sending them out into ministry! That affirmation has been one of the most meaningful parts of the summer for every intern we have had. So work hard to end the internship as well as you started the whole process of looking for and hiring them!

Jason Sansbury is the youth minister at Belle Meade United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn.  Previously, Jason has served churches in Franklin, Tenn. and Georgia and has been on staff with YoungLife.  Additionally, Jason was one of the founding partners of Crossed-Up Ministries, a ministry specializing in putting together large worship events for youth groups.  He has a heart for helping young people find their call into ministry and succeeding early in their ministry and careers. For fun, Jason loves movies, music, and television. He is a fount of useless pop culture trivia and dreams of being a winner on the TV show Jeopardy.