Ministry matchmaking: Students find churches
Only, the matchmaking does not involve potential romances.
Instead, ministry intern job fairs — hosted by most colleges and universities associated with Churches of Christ — allow students to interview with a number of churches in one day.
For church leaders, the benefit is mutual.
“An intern job fair … offers the opportunity for me to meet with a larger number of candidates in one setting than if I had to track down students and set up interviews on my own,” said Jennifer Schroeder, children’s education director with the McDermott Road Church of Christ in Plano, Texas.
Here in West Texas, Lubbock Christian University drew about 30 churches to its recent ministry intern job fair — conducted as part of the annual Betenbough Lectures on Youth and Family Ministry.
“I had the opportunity to interview with five different churches in about a two-hour time frame,” said Ryan Robertson, 21, a youth and family ministry major.
“There is simply no way to be prepared to work in a church until you have been mentored and trained in an environment comparable to an internship,” said Robertson, who served last semester as a college ministry intern with the Greenlawn Church of Christ in Lubbock.
Brittney Warren, 19, a children’s ministry major, said she gained interview experience and connected with ministers she would not have otherwise.
“You can read all about the mission field and ministry from others, and you can take class after class … but immersing yourself in a ministry can be a completely different playing field,” Warren said. “Being able to have this opportunity better prepares and equips us as students for future ministry.”
MINISTERS AS MENTORS
At Harding University in Searcy, Ark., a ministry fair each January is set up “much like a speed-dating event where students move from table to table during 30-minute interviews,” said Deb Bashaw, director of career services.
“We encourage the churches to be open about their programs and where they would fall in what we commonly call ‘conservative to liberal,’” Bashaw said, “so that the students can choose places where they will feel at home philosophically. (That way), the internship can be a good experience for all.”
Increasingly, churches hire female as well as male youth ministry interns, said Walter Surdacki, who teaches in the College of Bible and Ministry at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. In fact, he said, “There are far more internships for females than we are able to fill.”
Internship programs also allow many non-ministry majors to work with a church for the summer, Surdacki said.
“Many non-youth ministry majors find a calling in youth ministry that they may not have otherwise known existed,” he said. “Once they get their hands dirty in the trenches of ministry, they find this is exactly how God has shaped them, and they stick with it.”
Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City hosts ministry intern job fairs throughout the year, youth ministry professor Dudley Chancey said. But networking between congregations and Bible professors — to identify talented ministry majors — plays an equally important role, he said.
“The smart youth ministers do not wait around for the fairs,” Chancey said. “They call me and ask who is the best girl or guy that needs an internship, and they fly up here … and hire them.”
Many churches wait until after spring break to begin inquiring about interns, he said. That’s too late, in Chancey’s opinion.
He urges churches to have a job description and be clear about expectations.
“Please mentor them in ministry,” he said of students hired. “The internship is as much for them as it is for the church they are serving.”
EXPERIENCE ON A CHURCH STAFF
Several ministers who interviewed students at Lubbock Christian said they see internships as important to Kingdom building.
“Our ability to invest in and raise Christian leaders who desire to serve full time in ministry should not be overlooked,” said Lantz Howard, youth and family minister for the High Pointe Church of Christ in McKinney, Texas. “The universities are preparing them mentally and spiritually for full-time work, but we could help prepare them emotionally and give them real-life experience.”
Like Howard, Brandon Baker, youth and family minister for the Western Hills Church of Christ in Temple, Texas, said he places a high value on mentoring the next generation of church leaders.
Baker spent time with potential interns at LCU and its West Texas sister college: Abilene Christian University.
“Our staff team enjoys the fresh ideas and perspectives that interns bring, and we hope to offer the internship that we wish we had had,” Baker said. “Our hope is that interns experience a summer with us as a legitimate role on a staff team as opposed to a support position that doesn’t reflect the actual role of a minister.”
Lubbock Christian has more than 100 Bible majors — 90 percent focused on youth and family ministry, said Steven Bonner, director of LCU’s Youth and Family Ministry Program.
“It has always been important, and it is growing in its necessity,” Bonner said of ministry majors interning with churches, “particularly for students to get field experience.”
Bonner said he encourages his students to seek church internships — or to work with Christian camps — early in their college years.
Internships can help students determine if ministry is right for them, he said.
“Sometimes, negative experiences are good experiences as well,” he said. “You tend to learn a lot. … Some of them come back and say, ‘This wasn’t for me.’ But most of them come back and say, ‘Wow, this was great.’ It affirms their calling, and they drive forward.”