The intern supervisor training event

A fresh approach from the Pacific Union

David VanDenburgh is senior pastor of the Campus Hill church in Loma Linda, California.

An effective pastorate is crucial to the mission of the church. An effective training program for young pastors is crucial to the pastor ate. An effective internship is crucial to pastoral training.

Does that sequence of statements seem plausible? Then keep reading as we evaluate the training program of pastoral interns.

It takes about 10 years to train and equip a Seventh-day Adventist pastor. The process begins with four years of college as a theology major earning a bachelor's degree, typically followed by a year or two of field experience before the aspiring pastor goes off to seminary. There he or she spends the equivalent of three years (nine quarters) at the graduate level learning theology, church leadership, preaching, worship, counseling, and many of the other specialties of the modern pastor. Upon receiving the master's degree, a graduate enters internship. This is where theology and life meet, as classroom learning is applied in serving the needs of people.

Pastoral training has strong analogies to medical education, during which for six years (four years of college and the first two years of medical school) the prospective physician learns the theory that undergirds the practice of medicine. Then in the last two years of medical school and the year of internship he or she increasingly engages in the craft of medicine under the supervision of experienced physicians. In both pastoral ministry and medicine, internship is critical. Here the future physicians, whether of the soul or the body, learn to care for people and then apply what they have learned, as the theoretical and the practical come together.

Don't bother me?

An internship is only as good as the intern supervisor(s), and all too often that isn't good enough. Again and again our Pacific Union ministerial training review committee hears young pastors report that their internship was of little value. While some got an excellent introduction with supervising pastors who thoroughly taught and demonstrated the practice of ministry, other interns spent their time painting the church, doing secretarial work, or simply doing their own thing, without coherent supervision. The motto of the supervisor was, in effect, "Just don't bother me."

All told, too often internship training seems an unpredictable proposition. The General Conference Ministerial Association has recognized the need for improvement in the quality of intern ships. Former association secretary Floyd Bresee was the guiding light be hind the production of the Manual for Seventh-day Adventist Ministerial In terns and Intern Supervisors, prepared in 1990 by the Ministerial Training Advisory Committee and the General Conference Ministerial Association. The 116-page manual is intended to regularize and improve the internship experience for the intern by covering 50 ministerial skills/functions in a supervisory setting. When they all have been signed off by the supervisor, the intern has received a general introduction to the tasks of ministry.

Pacific Union training workshop

The Pacific Union, in revising the 10- year plan for pastoral training, has created a workshop to train and credential intern supervisors. Conference presidents selected pastors from their fields to train as supervisors, sending them for four days to Pine Springs Ranch in California's San Bernardino Mountains. The training program was created and conducted by a subcommittee of the Pacific Union ministerial training review committee and consisted of three ministerial directors: Lynn Mallery (now president of the Southeastern California Conference), Lloyd Wyman (now coordinator of the Adventist Evangelistic Association), and Hubert Cisneros (Arizona Conference); along with Jerry Davis (clinical pastoral education supervisor from Loma Linda University Medical Center), David Taylor (now president of the Atlantic Union), and pastors Louis Venden and David VanDenburgh. The keynote speaker was Allen Stones, until recently director of the field education program for Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

The focus of the workshop was not on developing skills, but on developing persons, both the person of the intern and the person of the supervisor. Another goal was to enable a growth-promoting relationship between intern and super visor. By means of presentations on and participation in story listening, supervisory conversations, verbatims, role playing, and theological reflection, participants enhanced their abilities to help a younger colleague gain competency in pastoral ministry.

The business of "equipping saints for ministry" is complex, requiring a variety of well-developed skills in wise and capable pastors who train interns. The workshop aimed at fostering a supervisory relationship that could best be characterized as a combination of mentoring, spiritual friendship, and teaching. We sought to enhance authentic relation ships by storytelling. Participants learned how to conduct a supervisory conversation, beginning with some critical incident and moving through the description of what really happened, the analysis of the problem, the exploration of options, theological reflection on the meaning of the incident, and finally the choosing of a ministry response. Through the use of verbatims and role playing, we explored the dynamics of ministry incidents and creative ways to handle them. The one "lecture" of the week was on pastoral theology and its foundational importance to our role and goals as pastors.

Perhaps the most significant event at the workshop was the interaction among the pastors. Over dinner, between sessions, and in question-and-answer opportunities during the sessions, years of experience contributed wisdom and insight that was as helpful as anything planned by the presenters. I think that a group of the right pastors brought together in an open and honest setting, thinking and talking about an issue of ministry, can generate material more valuable than any teacher or teachers could bring. I was tremendously impressed by the choices made by the conferences when they sent this particular collection of pastors to our workshop. With such people in the pastorate, we truly are blessed.

Credentials and Communion

On the last day participants received certificates credentialing them as licensed intern supervisors. The plan is that conferences will assign interns only to credentialed supervisors, either as part of their staff (in larger churches) or in separate churches where the in tern may serve as the sole or associate pastor under the ongoing supervision of one of these credentialed supervisors. One conference already has followed up with a workshop for supervisors and interns, yielding good results. Perhaps other conferences will keep the flame burning.

In recognition of the high level of fellowship and love experienced during the workshop, a spontaneous Communion service was proposed by one of the pastors. With canned grape juice and crackers we remembered the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ and what He means in our own lives and ministries. We felt a sense of continuity with those who for 20 centuries have proclaimed the gospel and sought to nurture saints for Christ, and we each vowed to do our utmost to transmit faithfully the call and the craft to future generations.

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David VanDenburgh is senior pastor of the Campus Hill church in Loma Linda, California.

October 1995

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