Ministry in Context

Sharing Voices: A Guest Post by Intern Daniel Nelson

Conflict with an Internship Supervisor: Learning and Growing Nonetheless

Perhaps you are now finding yourself in a relationship that is tense. Whether you are an intern or a supervisor, there are very real challenges when the visions of two people called to preach the Gospel of Christ do not match up. What do we do with the dissonance and hurt that comes with a shattering of expectations of a year in ministry together?

My supervisor left just after the mid-point of my internship. He prepared me for this and I learned a lot from him and respect him and his call away from the congregation that he was serving. I was then the lone “pastoral” figure in the office for over a month. When we got an interim, that’s when my internship really started to be get challenging.

Rather than going into all the details of my relationship to the interim, let me just say: we were two people called to (short-term) ministry who did not share a vision of what it means to serve a church and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

There were many times in the first couple weeks that clued me in that we were going to have a challenging relationship. I attempted to articulate the conflict to the interim (my new supervisor) and work with him. However, one Sunday I felt I needed to be fully direct and clear about my own emotions and perception of his actions. I spoke with him after the activities of Sunday morning were over, owned my feelings (and mistakes). His response to my plea was very disappointing.

By the grace of God, I was able to leave the congregation for a few days after the incident and go to my spring intern cluster retreat without my new supervisor. I talked with other interns and internship directors about the new challenges I was facing and we vented and prayed. While I was out, my intern committee became aware of the situation and truly did more than enough to see that I and my wife and son had all the support we needed to finish the internship.

Through my committee’s support and the wonderful congregation (which had little or no knowledge our tensions on staff) I was able to make and live into a critical distinction: I had a bad relationship with my supervisor; I did not have a bad internship. There were some very difficult days, but to quote a line given to me by Region 1 Internship Coordinator Julie Josund, “I learned more than I ever imagined.”

Perhaps you are now finding yourself in a relationship that is tense. Whether you are an intern or a supervisor, there are very real challenges when the visions of two people called to preach the Gospel of Christ do not match up. What do we do with the dissonance and hurt that comes with a shattering of expectations of a year in ministry together? There were many places in Scripture that began speaking to me last year in the midst of my hurt and confusion but I’d like to offer two of my favorites: Mark 9:2-8 and Romans 8:26-27.

At the transfiguration Peter was confused and terrified. He did not know what to do with his experience but in the midst of the cloud that encircled him he said to Jesus, “It is good for us to be here”. By the peace that passes understanding I was able to serve God in newness of life each day. I didn’t and couldn’t accomplish this; this was the forgiveness of sins that is created by the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit praying for me “with sighs too deep words” that allowed me to not just survive or tolerate the rest of my internship but truly learn what it means to be the body of Christ even in the presence of real conflict and hurt. It caused me to confess my sins of wanting to justify my own behavior and not accepting blame for my mistakes. The Holy Spirit called me to be bold and speak up for the sake of the congregation, for the sake of the Gospel.

There were days when it certainly felt like it was a battle: Supervisor vs. Intern. But out of the cloud of my own sins of pride and arrogance I am called to hear the good news that I am forgiven and that it is truly good to be here!

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