2/21/13

When interns run free

 

      I've spend many a year as either an intern or working with interns in a supervisory role. Recently, I've had the opportunity to spend 2 Sundays observing a youth program in a local church where a former intern is now the student ministry pastor. It was a beautiful thing. To see what happens when an intern leaves a completed internship and is unleashed into their own full fledged youth ministry. A few things came to mind as I saw a multitude of exciting things God is doing in this youth ministry led by a 22 year old.

Because their shoes might be a bit more relevant than yours. 
    First, when the sky is the limit, the sky REALLY is the limit. This church I was thrilled to visit is open to new ideas and will go to great lengths to reach un-churched teenagers. A church strategically making Sunday mornings feel less foreign to those who have no church experience. Less church-y  more relational. More relevant. Thus, there is a ton of openness and opportunity for this former intern to use her training, experience and gifts to really do whatever she wanted.  Without the confines of supervisors or "this is how we do it here." I was dazzled, impressed, and so excited to see what can be done when limitations and traditions are removed. When an intern launches into a ministry all their own. Of course this church has a different demographic and target audience than where she did her training, so much more room for "out of the box" ideas.

    After visiting the church, my 11 year old commented, "Wow mom, they do a lot here that people get grumpy about at our church." He was quite taken by this new found freedom. Not that our home church was restrictive at all, they just have a different target audience on Sunday mornings. Little differences like Monster energy drinks and Starbucks Frappuccinos given to visitors. Rap music (gasp... NON- Christian rap), Taylor Swift and Coldplay music played in the youth room. People skateboarding across the youth room floor, and a TON of noise blasting from the youth room. No one seemed to be bothered by the crazy loudness of it all. Halo being played on the video game system.  My 11 year old was all smiles.

     Every church is different and has to pay attention to the demographic, culture, and target audience of the people they are trying to reach. Making sure it also meshes well with the vision of church leadership. So I am not saying this is a ministry style you have to follow, nor necessarily should.  What struck me is that she has freedom and support from church leadership staff to run free. They trust her. Plus, it was working, and working really well!  Watching her have great freedom to strategically try new things, is so fun! If you sit down with her, she can give you a crystal clear strategy for why they do what they do on a Sunday morning, and quite frankly, it is compelling and genius. Instead of primarily keeping a bunch of conservative parents happy while trying to reach students, the goal is simply reaching un-churched teens. That changes everything.

     Secondly, when interns run free, they often do what you've been doing all along, but do it even better.  One thing which has sunk to a B minus level in my own ministry, is student leadership. Not that I wasn't doing a good job, I was just too busy keeping 13 middle school small groups, campus ministry, and the week to week ins and outs of event planning, and communication at an A+ level. Things like calling a bowling alley 3 times to remind them you are bringing an entire school bus of kids on Saturday night. When too much is on your plate, sometimes you inadvertently let some things slide. When interns run free, maybe they take your B-minuses to an A+. No cheesy student leader (SALT anyone?) acronyms  but "student staff" meeting early before service and having specific responsibilities each week.  I was able to partake in her "student staff" team meeting in the hallway to run through the Sunday morning agenda, and then they met again after service to recap and plan for next week.  What we've been doing all along, only better.  I began to wonder why I didn't  put interns completely in charge of student leadership already. Maybe, because they too have too much on their plate, as tons of ministry responsibilities are also on their shoulders.

     So the question for those who have interns..."Do you allow room in your ministry to let interns run free?" Why train them only to see them achieve their optimal impact once they LEAVE your ministry context? Give them tons of space and your blessing to run free and try new things, while they are WITH YOUR ministry still. Especially if you are an older youth worker. Their youthfulness, positive attitude, new ideas, and untainted zest for youth ministry will only make you better. Your experience, and knowledge of what your church culture is ok with (or not ok with) and input will only make them better. Sure, they might fall flat on their face with a terrible idea, but what if it turns out to be the next best thing you've ever done? Protect their time and give them room to shine.

     Ask, are your interns too busy? Make sure they are not completely bogged down with less fruitful ministry jobs. Things like making flyers, office hours, cleaning up rat poop under youth room sofas, stuffing 2,000 piece mailers, and helping out every other ministry because "you've got interns to spare" can stifle the time they have to do real ministry. Not that those types of things are bad, or that they are even things you can cut out, but if you can, protect the wiggle room in their schedule.  Honestly evaluate your ministry context and ask, can interns try new things? Can they spend more time WITH students, and less time in the office? Give interns freedom to dream youth ministry dreams, and be unleashed for maximum kingdom impact.  It might knock your socks off.

     Lastly...visit other youth groups at least once or twice a year. It's SOOOO worth it. All youth workers need to get out of their "we've always done it this way" rut and be inspired by the great ideas out there. See what other ministries are doing and keep it fresh.

 

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