When I went to seminary I did not have an internship in a church that was a formal, full-time position where I was mentored by a church pastor and staff to take the content I had learned in the classroom and implement it in real ministry and develop my leadership skills. Looking back, I really needed one. While I respect the small windows of application that I received along the way, it turns out that my first real internship was the first church where I served as lead pastor! They deserved better…much better. For five years and three months I learned how not to do church. The church members were the recipients of my halting yet occasionally effective ministry. They deserve more than a medal.
I had learned to appreciate internships during my last year of undergraduate work at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. A math major, my senior year I took part in a co-op program (internship) where I worked across the street from the University in Research Park at Teledyne Brown Engineering. There I worked for a group of thermal engineers working on the Space Shuttle back before they ever built one. My fledgling computer/engineering career started firmly with inside experience which helped me immensely. At that first church I pastored I started an internship program working with Bible college students because I recognized the need in my own life and had also seen it work in the engineering field. Why wouldn’t it work in the ministry?
Thus, when I interviewed to teach at Baptist Bible Seminary back in 1994, I was elated when I saw the intense interest in internship training. At BBS, we still have a one year internship for our standard Master of Divinity degree. The seminary cooperates with a local church in training the student in both academic content during that year and in practical implementation of ministry efforts. Both seminary faculty and church staff members evaluate the student in real time ministry. One great thing about the BBS internship is that it is a FULL TIME PAID POSITION during that year. No students work at UPS or Walmart during this time. Their focus is totally on the ministry of that church. The tuition for the internship courses are also REDUCED BY HALF for that year. That makes the overall tuition price per credit hour less for the entire program. But the main benefit of an internship for a student who has never had a full-time position in a church is to learn his way without the pressure of being the lead pastor. One of my greatest regrets in my own ministry is that I never had such an internship ministry experience. The people under my ministry in my first church would have been better served.