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Internships: Jubilee Fellows

When you're looking for a church internship, some opportunities may sound like they were made for you. But church internships also involve tasks that may feel tedious or push you out of your comfort zone.

When you're looking for a church internship, some opportunities may sound like they were made for you.

Help establish a modern style of worship. You will be part of a small team of interns learning together, growing together, writing songs, playing in the bands, and assisting in worship….Teach weekly church school classes and lead worship in the Korean language….Lead worship, edit videos, and nurture discipleship for high schoolers….Work with a host pastor to prepare sermons that you'll preach in several churches….Along with our congregation, work at addressing roots of violence by staying close to the people others see as victims.

But church internships also involve tasks that may feel tedious or push you out of your comfort zone. And many internships pay nothing or less than a regular job.

Whether an internship makes sense for your vocational path depends on several issues, according to two participants in Jubilee Fellows, a Calvin College summer ministry internship program for college juniors.

Look and listen for God

Rachel Bergman interned in Sacramento, California, at Bridge of Life Church, a multicultural church plant in a lower income neighborhood.

In her internship blog Bergman described her main task as conducting listening conversations with 20 people about where they see hope, brokenness, and God at work in their lives and neighborhood. "The interviews were a springboard for Bridge of Life to dream up new ways to interact with and serve the community,” she says.

She also tutored kids, ran Bible skits, and played with kids at The GreenHouse, a Christian community enrichment center. It's in an apartment complex that has 600 kids living within one square block—Latino, African American, and Slavic immigrants, most in poverty.

"My mentoring at Bridge of Life consisted largely of informal talks with David Lindner, my supervising pastor. He would take me on tours into the heart of Sacramento, pointing out homeless areas and challenging me to respond to what I saw in ways that reflected Christ. Once, on our way to a meeting, Dave offered to buy a homeless man a burrito and extended his friendship instead of simply extending some loose change in his hand,” she says.

"Live for people not tasks"

Interns often go into internships thinking about what they'll be able to add to their resumes. Lindner helped Bergman see that doing good work is part of but not the whole of ministry.

He let her preview what he'd written about her for a church newsletter. "He didn't say a thing about how many tasks I've accomplished," she blogged. "Instead, he said ‘The best thing she has given us is herself.' My being here has given them a chance to re-examine their vision and demonstrate it to somebody new with fresh enthusiasm."

Lindner wrote that the internship's best gift to Bergman was the neighborhood itself, because she experienced stories in ways that could only happen in person.

As she reflected on the "beautiful, unpredictable, broken, joy-filled people" she'd met and on a calendar with "a mind of its own," Bergman prayed, "Lord, keep re-teaching me how to live for people instead of tasks. To-do lists only last as long as it takes to finish them; people last forever. Give me your priorities. And give me the strength to not measure myself by any standards but yours."

She says that if she ever becomes a mentor for a church intern, she hopes to provide as eager a welcome as she received in Bridge of Life homes and free community dinners. "Living with and sharing everyday life with different church members gave me the opportunity to engage my unfamiliar surroundings with more courage than I would've otherwise had. More importantly, it showed me that a life of radical service is not only possible, but also vibrant and full of meaning," she says.

Be open to growth

Jubilee Fellow Brandon Haan served on a team of six summer interns at New Life Community Church in Artesia, California. It's an established church, so Haan had an amazing variety of opportunities to serve and lead. His main task was to be an assistant youth pastor, helping to lead Sunday Bible studies, informal Tuesday meetings, and a mission trip to San Francisco. He also preached a sermon, led a food distribution, made pastoral calls, sat in on a funeral planning session, and more.

Each week Haan got mentored in group and one-on-one sessions. He lived with various families and got to know church administrators, the youth pastor, and the children's pastor. "I had a posse of mentors who poured into me," he says.

Jubilee Fellows attend classes and discussions to prepare them for their summer internships. Haan says the preparation and internship taught him that "ministry isn't about an individual minister, it's about community. Due to my own personal pride and ego, that was a valuable lesson."

New Life was in transition while Haan interned there and was part of a classis (church regional group) that was dealing with a property dispute, both situations he calls "sobering."

"My mentor, Dr. Keith Tanis, was a very graceful man. He tried his best to incorporate many visions. He modeled how to empathize with people you disagree with. I saw from his example how important it is to remain rooted in relationship with God.

"If I'm ever a mentor, I'd want to cultivate the gift of question asking. My mentor asked tough questions and made sure I got into them. ‘How is your relationship with your friends and your parents now that you're on the other side of the country?' ‘Are you reading Scripture and getting it into your life?' I had fallen away from consistent devotions. Now I wake up and dedicate the first half hour or hour to God," Haan says.

Take the next step

Bergman majored in psychology. She went into Jubilee Fellows thinking she wanted to work with families and earn a master's degree in social work and a seminary degree. She has since become Rachel Bergman Engels and now works for Coalition for Christian Outreach as a resident director at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. "My internship prepared me to challenge students to love God and others boldly. It increased my desire to learn their stories and demonstrate God's relentless love," she says.

"The main thing that has stuck with me from my experience at Bridge of Life is that serving the poor and broken is a task from which no Christian is exempt. I also realized that no Christian is exempt from being personally poor and broken in one sense or another. Living and serving in community isn't just about giving of yourself or feeling great about the gifts you offer. It's also about allowing others the chance to serve you, humbly cultivating a two-sided relationship that looks more like love than charity, so that the ‘me' disappears into ‘us,'" she adds.

Haan majored in English and religion. He went into Jubilee Fellows excited about the many opportunities to be like Christ to others and hoping his internship would help him discern God's calling. "Actually, my internship opened up more doors, including youth ministry, pastoral care, and missions," he says. The experience also helped him decide to enroll in Calvin Theological Seminary.