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Uncategorized – Going to Damascus

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I’ve reached the point in my ministry where I consider myself a seasoned veteran of pastoral internships. Although I start my first pastorate in a little less than a month, the path I’ve taken to get there has exposed me to many different churches across multiple denominations. See, I’ve served in four churches now in the same number of years – both in pseudo as well as formal internships. This has not been by choice. Intense church conflict and poor leadership – in combination with my own sin and prideful ambition – has led me through the revolving doors of many churches.

While it would be easy to wax cynical and bitter about the whole experience, there is something to be said about the lessons the Lord has taught me through it all. Sometimes the best lessons are learned from the hardest circumstances. As I’ve sat under the ministry of multiple pastors and served multiple congregations, I’ve been exposed to both the best and worst ways to handle pastoral interns. In the process, God has helped me capture a vision for pastoral internships that I now hope to employ in my future ministry.

Let me be clear about something from the start: a veteran pastoral intern I may be, but green to the whole of pastoral ministry I still am. The goal of this article is not to sound off pompously as if I have all the answers to a broken system. My goal is to share what has worked and what has not worked in my experience, as well as provide a voice into an often neglected area of ministry in our churches.

It has become evident to me that when it comes to pastoral internships we are facing a systemic crisis. Poorly trained pastoral interns leads to poorly trained pastors. I’ve seen it and experienced it firsthand. On the whole, young men are simply not being shepherded to become pastors today. And I can tell you this much – it would be difficult to find a Christian who is more discouraged than a young man in a bad pastoral internship. I regularly talk with other young men from the local seminary who have given up a career in order to be trained as a pastor. They’re trying to lead their families through financial strain, complete seminary, and find opportunity to serve others with their gifts. But rather than being blessed by the churches they serve, they’re forgotten. They’re given few – if any – opportunities. They’re uncared for by the church and its members. They receive the brunt of Christian cynicism from those who have been hurt by shepherds in the past. “You won’t be ready for a long time,” they’re told, not because of any flaw of their own but simply because these sheep harbor deep wounds. The result is a heap of young men who consistently doubt their calling, doubt their gifts, and are lost in a slough of despond.

I think there are a handful of reasons for the present crisis facing pastoral internships in churches today. First, this is a generational problem. Young men are not being shepherded to be shepherds because their shepherds were never shepherded to be shepherds (say that 10 times fast). Much like a family with generational sin, God gives us the opportunity to pursue a new direction of life and good fruit rather than living under the burden of failure and sin from our past. But such a change requires intentionality. This crisis will never be abated unless a generation of pastors becomes intentional about changing the course of pastoral internships in their churches (Gen-X and older millennial pastors, I’m looking at you). If we don’t do something now, this crisis will persist into the next generation.

Second, pastoral internships aren’t flashy. They’re not sexy. And we evangelicals love flash. We devote our best resources and time to the things we think are most important, and we do it with style. We write large checks to the best speakers to ensure high attendance at big events with the best musicians and modern stage décor. If we survey the bulk of these events that are tailored specifically for ministry training, what will we find? Plenty of conferences and seminars for church planting and missionaries to be sure. Both of which are extremely important, and I want that training to continue. But underneath the excitement of church planting and missionary work, pastoral interns are often forgotten. Yet there may be nothing more important to ensuring the fruitfulness of the church in the future than by investing today in the pastors of tomorrow. Where are the conferences for young pastoral interns? Where are the seminars training pastors to mentor and shepherd future pastors? They don’t exist, because we don’t think it is all that important of a work.

Third, many pastors are too busy trying to build their own platform. Let’s just be honest here for a second: every shepherd with a pulpit struggles with a temptation to make a name for himself. This is especially true in the age of celebrity pastors with blogs and podcasts. While I often talk to young men who have been told things like, “The church isn’t ready yet,” or “I’m not ready to train you yet,” or “There isn’t enough opportunity yet,” the reality is these pastors are more concerned with their platform and the success of their one church than the future of Christ’s church. A vision for pastoral internships is born out of a Kingdom vision that desires to see more healthy churches that are led by healthy shepherds. More healthy churches means more healthy church planters and missionaries. More healthy pastors means more healthy sheep with Kingdom values and virtues shaping the world around us.

Fourth, church members haven’t been taught to know why this work is important. If pastors aren’t investing in future pastors, then the members certainly won’t either. One of the reasons I hear most often for why churches aren’t investing in interns is because they don’t have the resources for it. Now, I understand that there are exceptional circumstances with churches that are nearly closing their doors and are pinching every penny they can. But generally speaking, if pastors sold a robust vision for pastoral internships to the members, I think they would buy in. Remember, we devote our best resources and time to the things we think are most important. Or, in Augustine-speak, we devote our resources to what we love most. If your people love Christ’s church and want to see it grow into the future, they’ll invest in interns.

At the root of each of these reasons – and the several others not listed here – is the fact that we’ve simply forgotten the importance of pastoral internships. My pastor – who I believe has caught the vision – often reminds our church that if we don’t invest in young pastors now, then there won’t be any good pastors around to shepherd his grandchildren. Yet somehow we’ve forgotten that one day these young men in our care will be the undershepherds of God’s people. We’ve forgotten that they will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1), and that they must be able to rightly handle God’s word (2 Tim. 2:15). These young men need to grow and mature in such a way that all may see their progress (1 Tim. 4:15). This requires more than just a formal education, it also requires learning how to love people well. It requires learning how to be holy. This kind of training needs to come from pastors who know how to train young men to do all this well.

What we need is a big, robust vision of pastoral internships that is worthy of the high calling which Christ has given to his church. We need a vision that seeks to display the glory of God through the proclamation of the gospel and the building of the church into the next generation. I don’t know what that will look like for you and your church, nor do I want to pretend that I have all the answers. However, I do want to offer several pieces of advice for you and your church as you seek to invest in your interns. My hope is it will at least start a conversation for you, your elders and your members. Maybe it will even help you create a beautiful vision for interns in your congregation.

  1. Create an internship description. Nearly all of the problems I hear and see with interns involve miscommunication and expectations that don’t align. Treat the internship like a real vocation with real goals, objectives, expectations, and ways to be evaluated. This is going to save you and the intern a lot of heartache and stress in the future.
  2. Get excited about it. If you’re excited about what God might do through the training of future pastors, your people will feel it. They’ll get excited too. Talk about it at congregational meetings. In the weeks leading up to the intern starting at the church, use time in your announcements to talk about it with your people. Scheme and dream with your elders about the opportunities you could provide to a future pastor in Christ’s church.
  3. Get an intern. This sounds obvious, but it all starts here. And remember, there are a lot of teaching opportunities that present itself when a church brings on an intern. It serves as a chance for you to teach your people that Christ’s church is bigger than your congregation, and that it extends from generation to generation. It allows you to teach your people (and remind yourself) what exactly a pastor/elder is and how the church is supposed to function.
  4. Don’t take on more interns than you or the church can handle. I’ve seen many churches – with good intention – take on more interns than the church is ready for. Remember, it is your responsibility to invest in, mentor, and provide feedback for each intern. Don’t take on more interns than you’re able to invest in and observe. If you can’t provide personal feedback for much of the interns work, then you’re spread too thin. If your interns are only getting one or two opportunities to preach per year because the opportunities are spread across 5 interns, you might have too many – even though you have good intentions.
  5. Affirm the gifts and calling of the intern. For whatever reason, many pastors treat the pastoral calling as a high bar to be reached, rather than a gracious calling that Christ bestows on unqualified men. Rather than holding out affirmation from young men until they meet your personal standards, affirm them quickly and often. It is between them and the Lord to make their calling sure; it is on you to remind them of God’s grace in the midst of doubt, to affirm their gifts when they feel giftless, to remind them that the reason why they’re an intern at all is because you believe they’re called by God to the ministry. One of the best ways to do this is from the pulpit. When you affirm the gifts and calling of your intern(s), the members will start to do the same. It will also help create a church culture that isn’t focused on you alone as the pastor.
  6. Be generous with encouragement. Interns will make mistakes. They will doubt themselves. They will be discouraged. Strengthen their souls with your speech. Even if their first sermon is a train wreck, start your feedback with as much encouragement as you can muster. Just as a son wants nothing more than to hear his father say, “I’m proud of you,” so too does an intern want to hear the same from his mentor.
  7. Spare them your cynicism. After enough sheep attacks, messy pastoral counseling, personal failures, and being sinned against – pastors start to nurse a bitter bone in their spirit. Try to spare your intern from the bitterness of your wounds. They don’t need to be cynical before their first pastorate even starts. Instead, remind them of all the privileges of frontline pastoral ministry and what we get to witness: the joy of new birth, seeing nominal Christians take Jesus seriously for the first time in their life, sin defeated, wounds healed, relationships restored. This will create a steady reservoir for your intern to draw on when they start encountering the mess of ministry, and it will nourish your bitter soul as you are reminded of what the Lord has done through your ministry.
  8. Use their gifts – don’t leave them on the bench. If we take the Apostle Paul at his word, then the church is one body with many members. Each member has gifts and a unique role to play in the church (1 Cor. 12:12ff). Any ministry philosophy which says that the gifts of some members are less important (or unimportant) is defunct. And yet, so many pastoral interns are given excuses for why they can’t serve. They’re left on the bench. I was told repeatedly that I wasn’t needed because “the church doesn’t need interns.” Can the pastor say to the intern, “We have no need of you?” No, but by casting the intern to the side that is the message they’re being given. Take risks for the sake of building the intern. Let them stutter through a Call to Worship. Let them say something in a sermon that you might have to correct. Let them run with a new ministry idea and see what happens.
  9. Treat it like a teaching hospital. The best analogy I’ve ever heard for pastoral internships is that the church should be like a teaching hospital. A teaching hospital is a place where young medical students can observe professionals and be mentored under close supervision. The patient may get pricked a few extra times before the student finds the vein, but how else will we have well-trained doctors? The church should be a teaching hospital for pastors. This appears to be the biblical model, for every time Jesus or any of the Apostles rolled into town, they had their whole crew behind them. It was the expectation that when Paul showed up that Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Tertius, and the whole gang would be there. Why? Because they were apprenticing under Paul to eventually take up the work of a ministry leader. So, bring your intern everywhere that you can. Give your members the expectation that when you show up, the intern will probably be there too. Let them know they might get pricked a few extra times while the intern makes mistakes. Bring him to elders meetings and counseling sessions. Let him into your sermon writing process. As time goes on, let him begin to do the work. Let him speak up during counseling sessions while you observe him. Let him share his opinions in elders meetings. Provide him detailed feedback with his strengths and weaknesses.
  10. Pay them. I get it, money is tight. But as I’ve said repeatedly, our spending reflects what we believe is important. And if this is one of the most important tasks of the church, then we’ll back that up with finances. The intern may not be ordained yet, but they’re still doing the work of the ministry. In most cases, they’re working 20-40 hours for the church rather than working 20-40 hours for a different job. We should try to pay them as such. Being a 20- or 30-something intern is already humiliating enough, but being a 20- or 30-something unpaid intern that can’t provide for his family is even worse. And we can be (more) creative about this. Take up a special offering a few times a year, or set aside a special giving fund in the church. Even if 10 members gave an extra $25 a month toward the intern fund, that is still a few weeks of groceries for the intern and his family each month. Encourage your members to be on a weekly meal rotation for the intern. Help them find cheap housing from a member within the church. There are plenty of ways to provide for interns, even if a salary isn’t one of them.
  11. Send them. A successful internship ends by sending the intern out to their own pastorate. In rare circumstances the church will have the funds to bring on its intern, but this is rare and should not be the ultimate goal. If getting a job at your church is the ultimate goal, then the scope of the internship will be narrow and will by its very nature be inward focused (the needs of our church) rather than outward focused (the needs of Christ’s church).

Pastors, one of the most important tasks before you is to build a gospel legacy into the next generation. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by capturing a God-glorifying vision of pastoral internships for your people. If you don’t stand up now for the future generations of the church, who will?


I walked onto my first shift in the hospital with a sense of fearful confidence. My blue shirt was freshly ironed, and my “New Volunteer” badge was hanging from my neck. It felt like a safety net in case anything went wrong.

Just days before, I had received my assignment: Child Life Services, Pediatric Oncology and Hematology. Up to that point, being around children who were wrestling to get free from death was only a distant idea. I’ve watched the show “Scrubs” 3 or 4 times over, but that can only prepare you so much. There are moments in a person’s life that shape and define them. I did not know that day I would experience one of those moments.

I stepped onto the unit and walked over to the patient board. At first I was happy – I saw that in just a few minutes a magician would be coming to entertain the kids. The fear in me wanted to wait to do anything until he got there. Maybe I can just disappear behind him today, after all he is a magician and it is my first day.

I knew that wasn’t what I was there for, so I set myself to the task of looking over the patient board. That’s when I was hit with a punch right to my sternum. The first patient on the list: 3-year-old. Female. Are you kidding me? Perhaps noticing a look of shock on my face, the nurse standing next to me looked over and said, “She’s been having a really rough morning and has been crying non-stop. There’s probably nothing you can do.”

Maybe not, but I wanted to try. I walked over to her door, squirting the hand sanitizer in my hands along the way (foam in, foam out). I knocked – no response. I slowly opened the door, and like a tidal wave I was hit by multiple forces all at the same time.

There she was on the bed, tears in her eyes. She had a look of sadness and confusion across her face. What can a 3-year-old possibly grasp in terms of what it means to have cancer? It took everything I had to repress the human instinct of shock and disbelief about what was playing out before me. What kind of world would be so cruel to allow this poor girl to be in so much pain?

Her father – perhaps thinking I was on the medical staff – rushed to the door with a huge sigh of simultaneous despair and relief. He had been waiting for someone to come and relieve him so he could go check on her food. I promised I would stay with her until he got back.

As I walked over to her bedside, I began to take it all in. There were tubes and wires hooked up to every limb of her body. She had those sticker fake-earrings on, highlighting the beauty and innocence of such a small child. Strands of her hair covered the bed.

The crying never stopped. I tried everything I could possibly think of. Noticing the sparkling glitter paint near her bedside, I even began to draw things on my face. It only brought a few seconds of relief. Eventually the poor child ran out of energy, and She laid down and quietly sobbed to herself. It was all I could do to just rub her back and pray for her silently as we waited for her dad to return.

As I was rubbing her back, I looked over to the nightstand and saw a book. I drew closer and saw that it was a book by a popular “health and wealth” preacher. This book promised that Jesus would heal you if you simply had strong enough faith. Rage welled up inside of me, followed by incredible sadness.

“Have strong enough faith, and you will be healed!” – that’s what they all say. But what happens when healing never comes? Well, the implication is obvious: your faith isn’t strong enough. Your daughter died, even though you believed? Where was your faith? You’ve failed her.

It is a repulsive and damnable teaching.

And yet, we are all prone to believe this to one degree or another. Our default setting as human beings is to believe that we can earn something from God or manipulate him to meet our needs. The self-help messages of our day which we see plastered all over social media tell us to look inside of ourselves for hope and strength. These messages only feed our default responses in times of great distress and sorrow.

Now here is the great dilemma: your faith – your strength – it will fail. I promise you. When the diagnosis comes, when the car accident happens, when you get that phone call – your faith will fail. Maybe not within the first hour, maybe not on the first day, maybe not even in the first week. But it will. We must learn how to turn to the promises of God rather than our own strength each and every day. The Psalmist said it well:

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)

Where will you turn when suffering and affliction comes? Who will you trust? The power and strength of your faith? Or the eternal and trustworthy promises of God?

Promises concerning who you are: loved (Deuteronomy 7:7-8, Jeremiah 31:3), adopted (Romans 8:15, Ephesians 1:5), chosen before time began (Ephesians 1:4).

Promises concerning whose who are: brothers and sisters of Christ, sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:16-17).

He knew you – therefore you are no accident. He chose you – therefore you are not a zero.

Todd Billings is a Christian Theologian who has been diagnosed with an incurable cancer. In his book Rejoicing in Lament, he recalls a sermon from one of his professors many years ago. The professor was reminding his students that their life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). The professor then said, “Remember that, please, when you’re only in your thirties or forties, or your fifties or sixties, and the doctor says it may not be benign.”

There is good news that our life is hidden with Christ in God. As Billings reminded me in his book, it’s not our job to write out the chapters of our lives nor to control God when we feel like we need him the most. Our job and highest act of faith is to be satisfied in knowing who and whose we are.

Dear friend, whom will you trust? Where will you turn?


Sitting in my basement there is a box of trophies and medals from sports teams I played on growing up. Teams that never won any championships. Teams that I never scored a single goal on.

Why? Because I’m supposed to feel special.

With the shifts in technology and the desire for Gen-X parents to be more involved than their Boomer parents came the new trend: Millennials were wanted and we were special. Every moment of our lives was caught on camera. Our birthday parties were well attended and well documented. As one author said it, there was more flash photography at his daughter’s dance recital than an Olympic event. We were the center of attention – and we loved it.

Not only were we the apple of our parent’s eyes, but we were the hope of the world as well. For twenty years we were told that no dream is too small, that we could do anything we set our minds to. “You can be difference makers!,” they said. “Change the world!” That was the vision we were sold, and we ate it up like candy.

How did our society make it possible for us to feel so special, so wanted – as if we really could make a difference? It’s really quite simple – they never let us fail. That’s why I have so many trophies – its a confidence booster. If I can succeed simply by trying my hardest, then what is standing in my way? In one recent survey, a whopping 96 percent of Millennials agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement, “I can do something great.” 96 percent!

We grazed our way through high school and college programs which are nearly impossible to fail, and then we were unleashed upon the world. As if our delicate upbringing wasn’t padded enough, it was too hard for us to adapt to the real world. We moved back in with our parents in order to return to the easy lifestyle of which we were accustomed. Since we had been programmed to change the world, we bounced around from job to job in the hopes that we would finally find a place where we could make a difference. As one author highlighted, twentysomethings go through an average of seven jobs during that decade of their life.

It’s no wonder we’re stereotyped as being entitled and lazy – everything has been handed to us since before we can even remember being alive.

Why do I say all this? Is it because I want to poo poo all over my generation? Not at all. But I do want to highlight a lesson that many of us are already learning: we were set up for failure. For all of our confidence-boosting-center-of-attention upbringing, we were not prepared for the real world.

I was recently in a group discussion where the question was asked, “If you could go back to take one class in high school that was never offered, what would you take?” Most people answered something related to a trade skill. My answer was that I wish I had taken a class taught by guest lecturers whose lives hadn’t worked out they way they had wanted or wished, but had learned to adapt and get past whatever hardships life had thrown their way. A healthy dose of realism would have been a much more realistic way to prepare us for the life ahead.

I’m reminded of the words from the legendary Rocky Balboa. As he said: Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. 

Most researchers agree that Millennials are those of us who were born between 1980 and 2000. That means the oldest of us are 36 and have been in the workforce for some time. As one born in 1987, I think I can speak for my jaded peers in saying what we’ve all learned – this world is in fact a very mean and nasty place. As it turns out, we really can’t do anything we set our mind to. We will not succeed simply by putting our best foot forward. There are no rewards for second place.

But this doesn’t mean we should stop dreaming – in fact, quite the opposite. Rather than being known as the entitled, arrogant and lazy generation who gives up at the first sign of trouble – what if we became known as the generation who never stopped dreaming even when things looked impossible? Someone (not Einstein, as is commonly believed) once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” In a similar way, I think Millennials have their own kind of insanity: we never stop trying to make a difference, even when no one says we can. That’s a trait I’m proud of – I hope we never lose it.

Are we special? No. Are we the center of attention? Absolutely not. Will we be rewarded simply if we try? Hah! What a joke.

But can we make a difference? Can we “do something great”? Could we even change the world? I think so. However, I think we have our best shot if those who sold us this idea – Traditionalists, Boomers and Gen-Xers – came along side of us and taught us how to get there. After all, they’ve already been through the grinder and we still have much to learn.


I owe many of my thoughts here to Haydn Shaw’s Generational IQ.