How to make your internship count

Ryan Kearns » Scripture Church Wisdom Calling

Most who intern do so at great personal cost and have both implicit and explicit expectations for what they will glean from it, so the question of how to make an internship count is a crucial one.

Looking back on my experience years ago as an intern and hearing the stories of many others, I have come to see seven critical things that make all the difference in how the intern experience plays out.

1. Have humility

It is impossible to be taught anything when you think you already know everything (Prov. 11:2). While the leader in you may struggle at times with the methods of the leaders you are interning under, remember this is a time for you to learn and serve, not direct. It is important to keep in mind that the Lord is teaching you a posture of how to serve and submit to authority, more than teaching you how to lead a ministry (1 Peter 5:5). Humility is often the key formative matter that the Lord wants to cultivate in you, so you may flourish over the long haul in ministry.

2. Be a generalist, not a specialist

While you may intern in a specific area or department, keep in mind that you are there to serve the whole church. At times you may be asked to serve in ways you did not expect. Don’t worry as much about what your role is, but rather where you can be of service. The best interns are looking to get exposure and learn as much as they can about all of the church and her mission. This leads to the next point.

3. It’s always your job

Be ready to take on any task as an intern. Keeping this attitude will prevent you from getting bitter or grumbling when something is asked of you that you don’t want to do. “It’s not my job” should never be a phrase that comes out of your mouth when your leaders have a need. Besides, being a person who can get things done and is known as such will serve you well for the rest of your life and ministry (Col. 3:23–24).

4. Talk about expectations

Know what is expected of you, and communicate what you are expecting. The frustrations of many interns come from having unrealistic or vague expectations of what their internship will look like. You will likely not be preaching regularly, setting the vision for the church, or making important church-wide decisions. Write out what your expectations are and find out if they are realistic. 

5. Get feedback

There is nothing more painful and at the same time beneficial as honest feedback (Prov. 27:6). Yet many avoid it because they just don’t want to hear it. You must know that it is through critical feedback that your greatest growth is (Prov. 19:20). If you are serious about becoming a leader, finding out how God has wired you, and getting to where God wants you, then you will be dogmatic in asking for brutally honest feedback—and not just asking once, but constantly.

6. Have a sense of self-awareness

Out of getting good feedback should come the most underrated leadership quality of all: self-awareness. Your internship is a prime opportunity to truly be honest about who you are and who you aren’t (Rom. 12:3). Let your leaders, the experiences you are having, and the voices of community chime in during your internship to reveal to you what you are actually good at, not what you want to be good at. Self-awareness is growing in contentment with the gifts that God has actually given you and not dwelling on the gifts you wish he did. God did not get it wrong when he gave you the gifts he gave you.

7. Own it

And if you really want to catapult your self-awareness through feedback, then own your development and initiate the conversations and relationships that you need to. Often, an intern can feel like he or she is not being developed or poured into, and while that may be the case, take responsibility for your own development and seek out the leaders, books, and people you need to learn from. This will be how ministry looks anyway for the rest of your life, so begin to build the habit now of proactively owning your development. It is you whom Jesus expects to best steward and cultivate the gifts that he has given you (2 Tim. 2:15).

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