The ministerial intern—trainee or handyman?

How one pastor answered the question

Robert C. Clarke is a pastor-evangelist in the Pennsylvania Conference.
Dan Smith was an intern at the Stone Tower church in Oregon when he wrote this article.


The life of the intern minister has run the gamut of experience in the ranks of the Seventh-day Adventist ministry. Every kind of job has been deemed proper for him. Everything from washing the supervisor's car to a solo ministry without supervision has been termed "internship." Many reading these words can re member their own particular brand of "infamy" when required to per form tasks unrelated to developing art and skills of pastoral care.

I believe that every minister's intern year should give him a "hands-on feeling" for a growing and productive life of service. After searching every place I could think of and finding nothing that satisfied me, I designed a ministerial-intern year of study-practice. When a ministerial intern leaves my district, I expect that none of the normal or even the extra-normal activities will come as surprises in his own district. He will have seen me handle such a thing, he will have asked questions about the handling, and finally he will have handled such a situation himself, with me looking on and evaluating.

This ministerial-intern year is fifty-two weeks—the same as he will experience when he is directing the activities of his own district. The year combines theory in study set tings, "shadowing" of the supervisor, and hands-on practice in real parish life overseen by the supervisor. At every event there is evaluation in both directions—supervisor to intern and intern to pastor-super visor.

The plan is simple. Fifty areas of pastoral ministry are assigned, each to a different week of the intern's year. The concentration for the week is coordinated with the annual church calendar. When Ingathering season comes up on the calendar, the core of concentration will be In gathering for one week of intern training.

Other relationships and activities are affected by this core of concentration. The first event of the week is staff meeting. Here we divide our time into three segments. First, forty-five minutes in review of the past week; second, forty-five minutes in projection of the coming week and weeks; and third, a segment of one and one-half hours spent on the core of concentration.

In this third segment we develop one, two, or three goals relating to the core of concentration. They are mainly task-oriented. Subsequently, we also write out a half dozen or more specific tasks that lead to successful accomplishment of the goals. We, intern and supervisor, study any materials and documents that assist in fully understanding the core. A bibliography for each week is developed for further study.

During the week I supervise the intern as he tackles specific tasks. A good illustration is the week spent on church boards and committees. One goal for that week was to develop competent leadership in con ducting a church board.

A related specific task was to build an agenda for the monthly meeting of the church board. During the staff meeting, after discussing the philosophy of church boards, we set about to build the agenda for the next board meeting. There, the intern ob served how I used the agenda to direct business. The following month, the intern built the agenda for the board of the small church in our district. I observed as he directed the board based on the model he had seen in the larger church. Following the meeting, the intern and I evaluated his performance.

It is in this evaluation that the greatest learning takes place. Now the questions he has asked can be answered from his own experience. In some instances the supervisor may feel it important to model the board-leadership role several times before the intern minister picks up the gavel for the first time.

It is exciting to watch and shape the growth of young ministers through their intern year. To hear them admit that they thought they had a good grasp of the ministry before arriving and then discovered that a typical day was more than textbook procedures is rewarding to the supervising pastor. Most intern ministers want direction, but we who supervise often assume too much in assigning them an unfamiliar task.

I dream of the day when all intern ministers will follow as rigorous and beneficial a training program as medical interns do. The day must come soon when they will not be expected in their first year to do more than learn the craft of their profession under the leadership of a senior pastor willing to evaluate the work of his ministerial trainee and, in turn, be evaluated.


An intern reviews his experience

by Dan Smith

Everyone can point to people who have left an indelible mark on them—parents, teachers, class mates, a football coach, or a girl who wrote a "Dear John" note. I have been in the ministry for only a little more than two years, but I can easily pick out those who have put their stamp on me. Most of them come from my own family—my dad, who is a pastor in California, and my grandfather, Elder D. E. Venden, had a great deal to do with inspiring me to become a minister. But one man did more than anyone to show me how it was done, and to help me do it—my head pastor during my intern years, Elder Don Gray.

I first met Pastor Gray when he taught witnessing to our group of student youth assistants in Los Angeles the summer of 1973. A few weeks later he came to the Eagle Rock church to train the laymen in preparation for meetings to be held that fall. I soon began to catch the thrill of soul winning as a result of his enthusiasm, encouragement, and obvious experience and ability.

I received my call to the Oregon Conference that fall, and began my work there in June, 1974, at Stone Tower church in Portland. The pas tor was Elder Gray, who had decided to leave departmental work for the pulpit.

I had heard horror stories of interns asked to do all the Ingathering and whatever else the pastor didn't want to do. Elder Gray had quite a different philosophy. As I look back on my experience with him, I can see six well-defined factors that led to a pleasant relationship between us and made my internship a constructive, learning experience.

First, he told me exactly what my duties would be. I would be in charge of the youth program; I would help with one third of the pastoral visitation (we had three pastors on the staff); I would have one third of the hospital calls; and I would be a part of the regular meetings of the church. He told me that he would be there to help and to give advice when I asked for it, and that I would not need to ask permission for everything I wanted to do.

Second, he placed primary emphasis on learning by doing. He asked me to establish goals for my work. I would learn as I sought to meet them. I soon learned that he did expect the "doing" to get done! At the first staff meeting, which we had each Monday morning, he divided the church file into thirds, gave me my third, and told me to start visiting. I asked Pastor Gray what he expected me to do in the homes. I wasn't sure that older people would appreciate an intern asking them how their spiritual life was going. This question brought me to the third factor in our relationship: I had to ask for help.

Pastor Gray held a loose rein. He would assign work, but if I didn't know how to do it I would either have to figure it out for myself or ask him—he wouldn't usually detail it beforehand. And often, even after I asked for help, he would not tell me enough; I would have to persist until I had his instruction clear in my mind. But he was patient with me, and his approach to training forced me to develop initiative.

The fourth factor in our success was that Pastor Gray asked for a report on what had happened. At the beginning, this was usually during the staff meeting on Monday. Later, as our relationship grew, we would call each other and report, and let each other know what our plans were for the next day. There were times during the first few weeks when I had neglected to make calls he had expected me to make, and I was taken to task for my negligence, but in a tactful, often humorous way. It didn't take long to realize that I should put priority on his re quests and then do my other jobs later.

He taught by example, the fifth factor in my development. When we visited together, I did little talking. He led out, and showed me what to do by example. On the way to the next call we would analyze what had happened. Often he would ask me to make a judgment, and then he would point out things I had not noticed. During the two years we visited together, I got so that I nearly always made the same analysis he did. And, in addition, I learned how to interpret the interest card, what to say at the door, how to go through FORT (asking questions about Family, Occupation, Religion, and Testimony), how to present the gospel, how to initiate Bible studies, how to pray, and, very important—how to leave!

As we drove between calls, we talked about the ethics of ministry, what hours should be spent in study and visiting, the necessity of night calls, how to run a witnessing training program, the ins and outs of church administration, how to buy houses and cars, how to save money, and many other things that will be a great help to me throughout my ministry.

The sixth factor: He strongly sup ported me and my youth program. He was always suggesting projects, and then helping me implement them. He suggested changes in the youth room moving out the pews, carpeting the floor, getting stacking chairs, et cetera, and then he helped me get it done. Later I wanted to have a witnessing team during the summer, and he helped me work out the financial arrangements. The summer before I left Stone Tower, we got the idea of a youth center down the street from the church, and by the end of the summer we were meeting in it. He would drop in to see how things were going, he would find youth for me to study with, and he would give us time for testimonies, and group singing during the church service—as well as several youth church services. He expected us to do a lot—and he helped us do it.

An ingredient common to all these factors was our close personal relationship. Having common goals helped bridge thirty years of generation gap and several inches of hair length. We were both pragmatic idealists, constantly looking for ways to get the job done better. We both were willing to work hard, and then rest when the job was done> though I probably rested a little more than he did! But the main reason we hit it off so well was that we were both committed to winning souls. And though we sometimes disagreed on how to do that best, the simple fact that soul winning was our number-one priority enabled us to work together harmoniously.

And work we did. The Lord used us and our church members to win 160 people during the two years we were at Stone Tower, 60 of those won by our youth group and myself. The church grew (net increase) about 27 percent, with 200 people joining the church from one source or another.

I praise the Lord for the privilege I had of being part of a successful program. There is nothing like success to get someone started in the right direction in the ministry. I am thankful that God saw fit to include Pastor Gray in His blueprint for my life.

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Robert C. Clarke is a pastor-evangelist in the Pennsylvania Conference.
Dan Smith was an intern at the Stone Tower church in Oregon when he wrote this article.

April 1978

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