Paul wrote to young Timothy after prescribing his pastoral duties, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:15). Timothy was just starting out his first pastoral ministry, but Paul knew that with continual effort and practice he would improve. And this is the duty of all young pastors like me – to practice, practice, practice. But, this does not just begin when a young pastor starts his first pastorate. Practice begins the minute he starts sensing the call into ministry. And, I firmly believe this practice should involve finding a solid internship at a local church.
This was my own experience. I sensed a call into ministry when I was thirteen years old and began to prepare myself for Bible education. By the grace of God, I also took an internship with my home church where they gave me hands-on opportunities to have ministry training. These were good opportunities as well, the kind where the leadership of the church would have looked really bad if I would have failed. And, because of their generous efforts and love towards me, I can confidently say I have learned more from the pastors and staff that poured into me at church than I ever learned in formal Bible education.
Young men pursuing pastoral ministry do themselves a great service by being deeply involved in the trenches of church ministry during their years of Bible education. They fill their heads with all the knowledge and wisdom their professors can provide and then get immediate opportunities to test them out by teaching, discipling, and serving in the local church. They get realistic depictions of daily pastoral ministry with all of its mundane, eventful, awful, joyful seasons. Pastors who are wiser and more experienced than them teach them by their good example and, sometimes by their bad example. Church internships allow you to slowly wade out into the deep water without having to dive right in and flounder around.
I will never forget how I was unable to sleep for three nights after one of my pastors called me to ask if I would go along on a hospital visitation. One of our teenage boys was found floating facedown in a creek while vacationing with family friends on his birthday weekend. He had just turned sixteen. On the way there, we were notified by his father that he had passed away. Instantly I felt the weight of responsibility and helplessness as we got closer and closer to the hospital. I followed the pastor into the room where the young man’s lifeless body lay motionless on the cold steel table. His parents and sister were huddled around him weeping, and there were no words to say – not even from the pastor whom I thought knew what to do in every situation. We simply sat in silence for what seemed like an eternity. They simply cannot teach or expose you to these things in the classroom.
It does not make sense for young men pursuing pastoral ministry to not seek out a church internship. Not only do these internships enrich your educational experience, but it also provides you with a wonderful opportunity to do what you should be wanting to do anyway, and that is “to care for the church of God, which Christ obtained with his blood” (Acts 20:28). Brother, what do you have to lose?
Being involved in a church internship is a wonderful investment. Throw yourself at the mercy of seasoned pastors who know more than you, who love you, and who want to see you do well for the sake of Christ’s Church. Commit yourself to a body of believers and experience the sanctifying difficulties of staying faithful to them through adversity and sinfulness. Humble yourself and teach the little children, disciple some immature teenagers, eat meals with seniors who are practically deaf and repeat themselves a million times. Be a pastor before you’re a pastor. Practice. Practice. Practice.
Someday, by the grace of God, you will lead a ministry of your own. But for now, don’t waste time! Take advantage of submitting to and learning from faithful pastors who are willing to walk alongside and encourage you on your way towards pastoral ministry. You will not regret it. “Do not neglect the gift you have…Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:14-15).