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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

A Good Start: A Reflection on Beginning Well

As September begins, so do many internships. We want those internships to get off to a good start, so here are a few tips on starting well.

For Interns

Walk away from that computer screen! Get out and meet people. Ask your supervisor to give you a list of people you should visit. If a group is meeting in the building while you are there, introduce yourself and then do a lot of listening. If the church has a photo directory, use it to learn names. That tells people you care about them.

Take some time to learn the history of your congregation. When was it founded? By whom? What are the notable events in its history? Are there some skeletons in a closet somebody might be willing to tell you about?

Don’t panic. In the first weeks in your internship, it might seem like there isn’t much for you to do. As time passes, that situation will change and you will find yourself plenty busy.

Be understanding with your supervisor. Maybe the last intern was someone she really hit it off with. They worked well together and understood each other. Soon you might be that person and have that kind of relationship. But right now your supervisor might be grieving. Don’t take it personally. It isn’t about you. It’s a reflection of how much your supervisor cares about interns.

For Supervisors

This is a new intern. This intern has different strengths and weaknesses than last year’s intern. Allow him to be himself.

Don’t assume that the intern knows what he or she is supposed to be doing. While they might have some church work experience in the past, this is a new place and a new role. Be clear and up-front about what you expect of the intern. Take pains to orient the intern in how things are done in your church. Before the first Sunday, literally walk them through the service, reviewing where to stand, when to move, when to sit, and all those little details.

Give the intern some things to do right away: calls to make, people to meet, meetings to attend. Feel free to be directive for a while. Allow the intern to shadow you as you visit hospitals, shut-ins, etc.

For Lay Committees

You are eager to get acquainted with the intern and that is fine, but remember that the intern is also eager to get acquainted with you. That’s how the intern will get to know the congregation. At the first meeting of the committee, each member might answer these questions:

  • Name and occupation
  • Family
  • How long have you belonged to this church? Why did you join it in the first place?
  • What do you like best about this church? (By the way: when asked that question, the answer that often comes is “the people.” This is so vague as to be a non-answer. What is it about the people? Their musical aptitude? Their ethnic background? Their fondness for sauerkraut? Think hard and give a good answer.)

Make it a point to introduce the intern to at least three other people in the congregation in the first month!

Above I suggested that interns try to learn something about the history of the congregation. Help them!

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” the song says. But if you start well, that will point you toward a good finish!


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