Intern 101: Hiring an Intern

Mentoring and pouring into an intern can be one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of youth ministry. As I write this post, I find myself preparing for my eight intern during my 13-year tenure at Hazelwood Christian church.  I absolutely love the opportunity to invest in students and future ministry leaders, and I value the friendships that I have forged through internships even to this day. As I have experienced the highs and lows of internships, I have learned a few tips that may be helpful to you as you seek to invest in interns as well.

This first post will focus on the steps leading up to the internship, including the hiring process. Subsequent posts will talk about what to do during the internship and even how to be a mentor after the internship is over.
1. Convince your church leaders of the value of internships.
The first step is to make sure that your church leaders are on board with the idea of having an intern. While every church is different, I would recommend waiting until you have been at the church for at least a couple years before requesting an intern. That gives you time to learn the culture and the people and get your stride before bringing in an intern.  As you approach your church leadership about hosting an intern, here are a few of the benefits you might want to point out to them.

  • Having interns is a great way for your church to invest in future ministry. Your church can play a major part in the next generation of ministry.  I currently have 6 former interns serving in local ministry, and that brings me great joy.
  • Interns are cheap and helpful. Interns typically work over 40 hours a week for very little pay. While I think you should take good care of your intern (more about this in the second post), your church leaders should know that this is very inexpensive help.
  • We expect other churches to do this for OUR students. We encourage students to enter full time Christian ministry, and we assume that other churches are going to provide a great internship for them. We should be doing the same for others.

Once your church leaders are on board with the idea of an intern, it’s time to begin the hiring process. The next few steps deal with how to do that well.

2.  Get really good information from applicants.
Most times, colleges will have an online database of internships and job openings. You can use this resource to invite students to apply for your internship. Once they contact you, make sure you get really good information from them so that you can learn a little bit about who they are and what their talents may be. Make sure you have an application that asks some good questions right from the start. Also, be sure to include some questions about their spiritual background, their previous experiences, references, and why they desire to go into ministry. Do the hard work and contact references, professors, previous employers, and even other contacts that you might just share a connection with. Doing the hard work here may save you heartache later.

3.  Don’t underestimate the importance of chemistry.
Through the application process, you will probably encounter a number of very talented and qualified individuals. But not all of these individuals are going to fit well with your personality, your context, your philosophy of ministry, or your staff. Chemistry is an intangible element in this process, but it is also the most important in my opinion. Make sure you speak regularly with your potential intern, do online hangouts so that you can see them face to face, and meet them personally whenever it is possible. Whenever I have multiple applicants that are talented and equally qualified, I always go with my gut in terms of chemistry.

4.  Communicate regularly.
One of the most common things I hear from people seeking employment with churches is that the communication is rare and usually unclear. Break the mold! Communicate with your applicants regularly, letting them know where you are in the process and what the next steps will be. Also, communicate your expectations and guidelines as well as any compensation packages early on so that everyone has the information that they need to pray and make a wise decision.

5.  Involve others in the process.
Sometimes, God uses others to speak into our lives. Make sure that you involve others in this process. I typically do all of the hard work when it comes to references and interviews. However, as I narrow my search, I invite our senior minister to sit in on an interview. It is always helpful to get another opinion from someone you respect.

6.  Make your decision and offer a clear invitation
Once you have decided which young person you are going to mentor, make sure to call them and let them know the good news. Don’t allow any room for confusion. Make your invitation clear, and make sure that they clearly accept the position so that you can move forward together. Once you have all of this confirmed, make sure to call the other applicants and let them down easy. Be honest, but be encouraging.

Internships can be a formative and life-changing experience both for you and the intern.  Make the most of the hiring process, and you will be blessed throughout.  What has been your experience with interns?  Is there anything you would add to the hiring process that I missed?

Ministry Under Fire: Responding to Criticism

Let’s start with a simple truth.  It doesn’t matter what type of church you serve in, what denomination, what size, how many staff you serve with, or how healthy your ministry may be.  One thing about ministry is universal: we will all face criticism.  Criticism comes in all sorts of forms.  It may come from a student who just doesn’t want to plug into your ministry and wants the world to know it.  It may come from a parent who is just not on board with your philosophy, your personality, or your leadership style.  It may come from another staff member who thinks you aren’t pulling your weight.  It might even come from one of your youth leaders who thinks they can do your job better than you can.  No matter your situation, you WILL face criticism at some point in your ministry.  When you face that criticism in its various forms, here are a few things to remember:

1.  No one is immune

Believe it or not, George W. Bush holds the record for the highest Presidential approval rating at 92% after the 9/11 attacks.  That means that 8% of the population still didn’t approve of his leadership.  And we all know that  his high approval rating was short-lived.  Leaders are targets.  This is true of youth ministry as well.  As you lead, guide, mentor, and work with people, you are going to have your detractors.  Understanding this truth doesn’t kill the pain of criticism, but it can help take the sting out of it.

2.  Consider the source

A dear woman in my church named Grandma Crowe lived by this adage for years, and it seemed to serve her pretty well.  When you are criticized, consider the person who is criticizing you before you do something you might regret.  Some people aren’t happy unless they are making someone else unhappy.  Some people are overly critical.  Some people lash out when they are hurt.  Sometimes, people just have a bad day.  Consider the source before taking a criticism too personally.

3.  Respond positively

If we are being honest, our initial reaction to criticism is to defend and lash out.  We invest our time, resources, energy, and our lives into ministry, so it’s nearly impossible to separate ministry from our identity.  But remember the wise words of Proverbs 15:1 – “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  Responding negatively in the moment will only lead to more negativity, and will certainly not contribute to your “approachability” points.  Choose to respond positively, validate that you hear their concerns, and think it through later.

4.  Mine out the valid points

Even though we probably hate to admit it, most criticism does have at least a small amount of validity.  Even the harshest, most unfounded criticism might be something you can learn from to become a better leader.  Take some time to see things from their perspective.  Be objective, and see if there might be any validity to their criticism.  If there is, learn from it and grow moving forward.

5.  Communicate and clear the air

Once you’ve responded positively to the criticism, considered the source, and mined out the possible valid concerns, it’s time to move forward, make changes, and mend the relationship with the critic.  Set up a time to meet with them, or try to catch them naturally next week.  Let them know you appreciate their perspective, communicate any changes you might be making because of their concern, and clear the air so that you can move forward together.

As a leader, you can expect some criticism from time to time.  Choose to respond in a godly, humble way, and see how people respond.  You may see people lining up to support your ministry like never before.

What are some positive things that have come from a criticism you’ve received?  Comment below with a way God has blessed your ministry through criticism.

5 Ways to Make Your Ministry Better This Year

Whether you are a big proponent of New Year’s resolutions or not, one must admit that the turning of the calendar seems to be a mental reset for most of us. Most times, we focus on our weight, our finances, or our family. Today, I thought it would be good to focus on our ministry instead. I am eager to take our Youth Ministry to the next level, and I’m sure you desire the same thing. So, I have compiled a list of a few ways you can improve your ministry this year. Know that I am writing this list as much to myself as I am to you, and I can’t wait to see God at work in the coming year.

1.  Try a brand new approach to an old event or program.

If your ministry calendar is like mine, there are certain events and activities that are annual “staples.” It can be easy to get into a rut, to do the same old thing in the same way, and fall back on what we know. This year, let me encourage you to approach your calendar with a fresh perspective. Shake it up, try something new, seek input from other Youth Ministers and get ideas from them that might breathe fresh air into that “same old” retreat.

After 13 years of mission trips over Spring Break, we are doing something completely different this year, emphasizing the mission field in our own community. It’s bold, challenging, and very different, but I think it could have a huge impact on our community and our ministry.

Try something new and creative – God may use it in a big way!

2. Give more ministry away to your leaders.

One of the most powerful things you can do as a leader is to multiply other leaders around you.  It becomes easy in ministry to try to be the hero, to do everything on your own.  If we aren’t careful, we will be setting up the chairs, doing the tech, leading the worship, teaching the lesson, stirring the lemonade, greeting the students, and counseling every student.  This, in my opinion, is egocentric ministry at its worst, and is a trap of the evil one.

This year, take your ministry to another level by giving more ministry away to your leaders.  Ask them to lead some of the upfront games and activities.  Challenge them to lead your small group even when you are there.  Encourage them and guide them as they try new things.  You may find out they are way better at certain aspects of ministry than you are!  And what better picture of the Body of Christ exists?  Try it – you might love it!

3. Commit to praying over your students and leaders with renewed fervor

Prayer is something I think we could all do better, so why not make this a fervent commitment this year?  Maybe you could use an app like Evernote or Reminders to record prayer requests your students mention so that you can recall them later.  Print a list of your students and commit to praying for a few of them by name each week.  Send them a card to let them know they’ve been prayed for.  Challenge your adult leaders to show up early to pray over the room before youth group.

The list of ideas could go on and on, so be creative.  But, as Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”  Make this a renewed priority.

4. Get out of your office and be with students.

We know the to-do lists that face us each day in ministry.  There is no end to the things we CAN be doing for the Kingdom.  But being busy doing ministry tasks in our office often means we are missing time with our students.  Don’t get me wrong; it is VITAL to spend the right amount of time preparing the messages and crafting the vision of your ministry.  But we have to find a nice balance between “getting things done” and building relationships with our students.

Go visit your school cafeteria.  Make a plan to get to your students’ ball games.  Send personal letters of encouragement.  Invite students over to watch an appropriate movie.  Make being with students a priority, and see what happens.  You’ll build deep relationships with your students, and meet students you would have never known if you hadn’t made the extra effort.

5. Plan ahead further than you normally do.

Sometimes, our ministry looks a lot like our checkbooks.  We often live week-to-week and end up doing things at the last minute.  When we are unprepared, no one wins.  Creativity suffers, leaders are frustrated, and our students see right through it.  This year, plan ahead further than ever before.  Invite a group of creative people (they don’t even have to be youth leaders) to meet with you and walk through your ministry calendar for the year.  Have them brainstorm about some creative ways you can accomplish your ministry tasks, retreat themes, lesson series ideas, decoration concepts, and more.

By planning ahead, you free yourself up to dream and be creative.  You free yourself up to be with students, and to stop running around putting out fires all the time.  Plan WAY ahead and see how God frees you up this year.

These are just a few of the ways I’m going to try to take my ministry to the next level this year.  What steps make your list?

How To Keep Your Youth Ministry Small

Eight years ago I started at a small church with a small youth ministry.  I remember being terrified.  I had no idea what I was doing…even after 3 years of an internship, and 5+ years of school.  Bible college and seminary could never prepare me for what being a pastor was.  To be honest, it was a horrible year and a half start.  It was rocky, and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.  Once I got into the groove of ministry, I quickly realized that growing any size of youth ministry will have it’s challenges, but its worth it.  It’s worth it because we want to see student’s lives transformed by God.

Though there is no guaranteed recipe for how to grow a youth ministry, Here are a few things I learned along the way that will hinder the growth of your youth ministry.  

Make it all about you.

Everything you do in ministry is ego building.  Every instagram, facebook post, tweet, shows how awesome you are in youth ministry.  You preach more passionately about your life, and the things you have done,  than Jesus’ life.  You don’t have time for real relationships because you are trying to become the best youth pastor ever.

Don’t make ministry all about you.  Make it about Jesus.  Stop getting in the way.

Its all about the numbers. 

You throw around numbers like you are the king of the world.  I struggle when I am around youth pastors and they throw numbers around.  I know my numbers because I want to see growth happen, but I don’t what a number to be come the definition of success in my ministry.  Also, stop sharing numbers on facebook.  No one cares if you had 100 students out, or 50.

The teenagers that I work with need to know that they are more important than numbers.  They are not just number 50 on my quest to be the worlds best youth pastor.  There is a person there, who desperately needs Jesus as much as me.  The students you serve need to know that you love them no matter what.  That you might be the only person to show them how Jesus truly loves them.  That is worth more that numbers.

(On a side note, I worry about the next generation of youth pastors and if all we do is quantify what we do as a youth ministry is by our numbers, we will never fix the problem.  I try to be careful around my intern when it comes to numbers.  I don’t want him to think ministry is all about “numbers”.)

How can you guard your heart and mind not to focus on the numbers this week?

You don’t trust anyone. 

If you never bring people into your ministry that outshine you, you will never reach the students you need to reach.  Stop being insecure about your leaders, and let them lead.  The best part of trusting and passing things off to your leaders is that they will do things better than you!

I have been insecure in the past with leaders because I have worked with some of the best youth leaders.  They are better at me in so many areas.  It is easy to question your job because you are being out done by your leaders on a weekly basis.  In those moments I meditate on Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  Looking back on those insecurities I am ashamed that I ever felt that way to some of my closest friends.

Some of my most successful moments are when I was able to fade into the background and let my adult and student leaders truly lead.  I will always remember the moment when one of my adult leaders led a student to Christ on the way to his small group, when another leader led a intense prayer time at a camp retreat, and whenever I hear about leaders taking students out during the week one-on-one.  Hopefully, you have some amazing leaders.  It might be the time to trust them.

What is one thing you can pass off your full plate this week?  How can you empower and enable a leader to use a gift that you could never use?

Your too busy for discipleship.  

Being a disciple maker takes time.  It takes being intentional.  Who do you have in your life who calls you out on the things that matter?  My wife asks me all the time if I have been in the office too much.  She asks that question that hurts…because it is true.  It is easy to get stuck behind a desk in the office.  That isn’t what I am called to do.  I am called to disciple students who disciple students.

Looking back on my last ministry the only thing I wish I did more of was hangout with students, leaders, and parents.

Who are 3 students this week you can make time for?  How are you going to intentionally disciple them?

Those are a few things that will keep your youth ministry small.  Looking back at your ministry what are some of the barriers that kept your ministry from growing?  

An Open Letter to Church Leaders

You might assume by the title of this post that I’m concurrently working on my resume and a blog post, but I’m excited about sharing this post with you and with my own church leaders as we seek to make Christ famous.  I am also eager to hear back from you on what you would share with your church leaders, and I hope this post will be a great conversation starter.

I know that every denomination and every church has a different structure and different definitions of “leadership.”  In my church, we are locally governed by a group of elders, as qualified by 1 Timothy 3.  These are men that I respect, love, and am honored to serve with.  With that context in place, here we go.

Dear Church Leaders,

Let me start by saying that I am honored to serve in the Kingdom with you.  You have been called by God, appointed, and affirmed by our congregation to lead and govern us as a Body.  You bear a heavy burden, and I am thankful for your leadership, your devotion to our Lord and His church, and I write this letter with a submissive heart.  As a co-laborer in Christ, I’d like to share some things from my heart that may encourage and challenge you.  I hope this can open the door to more collaboration in the future.

1.  Your interest in the Youth Ministry means more than you know.  As I speak with fellow Youth Ministers, one of the most common mantras I hear is “I wish my leadership was more aware of what we are doing.”  I know you are busy, and there is no way you can be involved with every ministry in our church.  But you have no idea how encouraging it is to see our leaders stick their head into youth group on a Wednesday or Sunday night, to volunteer to run an inflatable at a 5th Quarter, or even just to ask us in the hallway how the ministry is going.  Those little connections make a BIG difference!

2.  Embrace our differences.  One of the greatest things about the Body of Christ is that it is full of very different people serving One God in very different ways.  There are a lot of things about the students I minister to that would probably blow your mind, and the methods I employ may not make sense to you, but I hope I have proven that you can trust me.  Students live online through smartphones and tablets.  They spend HOURS on Snapchat, Kik, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and more.  I know we may be very different, but I’m certain we both have a place for ministry in this congregation.  So, forgive me when it sounds like I’m speaking Greek, or when I’m asking for some gadget in my budget that weirds you out.  Hear me out, and I guarantee I’ll have a reason for it.  Then, we can go from there.

3.  Give me feedback…any feedback…please.  I believe with all of my heart that God has called me to this ministry, and specifically to ministry in this church.  I think about youth ministry when I get up, when I go to bed, and almost every minute in between.  I’d love to hear from you about your perceptions concerning our youth ministry.  I have blind spots, and I need your feedback so that I can improve.  Be honest, be kind, but I want to be the absolute best Youth Minister possible.  You can help me with that.

4.  Don’t be afraid to try something crazy.  One truth about leadership that I learned early on was that you will never make everyone happy.  You have been given a huge responsibility to shepherd and lead the flock, and sometimes, that means shaking people up.  I challenge you to take a leap every now and then, think outside the box, and make people uncomfortable.  Some of the best decisions I’ve ever made in ministry seemed a little crazy at the start.  I know it may mean criticism from time to time, but don’t be afraid to try something new and different.

5.  Pray for our students.  Our students are in a crazy world.  Many of them have difficult home lives, some struggle with abuse and neglect.  Others are being pressured by coaches, parents, teachers, and school administrators to perform at near-perfect levels in every area of life.  It seems that the students’ calendars are more full than mine with academics, athletics, church, extracurriculars, and more.  Lift them up in prayer often.  It would be greatly appreciated.

I am praying for you, for our church, and for your leadership.  I believe we can do some amazing things together for the Kingdom, and I am eager and ready to follow your lead.  Let’s do this!