Patricia E. Clawson
Having a summer or yearlong intern at your church is a costly proposition. But not to have one may be even more costly to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. As baby boomer pastors retire, the need for young men to become undershepherds is increasing. How better to train them than under the oversight of a faithful pastor?
To consider an intern, a session first must be convinced that this ministry would benefit the whole church. Pastor Ron Pearce, of Church of the Covenant in Hackettstown, New Jersey, said, "The financial commitment for an internship is a large sacrifice for our congregation, but we view it as our contribution to home missions and the good of the wider church."
Elder Brad Winstead, of Redeemer OPC in Atlanta, Georgia, said, "As one of the larger churches of the Presbytery of the Southeast, we believe we should have interns to provide the Presbytery with good candidates for pastors."
Christ Presbyterian Church in Janesville, Wisconsin, is committed to serving the larger church in this way. Pastor David King said their annual question is: "Can we afford an intern in the scope of our overall priorities and commitments?"
According to Pastor Tom Church, the session of Immanuel OPC in Bellmawr, New Jersey, asks two questions: "Is the pastor/church able to minister to a young man at this time? And can we afford it financially?"
Thinking outside the box helps churches that are financially pressed. The Mid-Atlantic Presbytery's Mission Committee gave $1,142 monthly to Trinity Reformed Church in Lanham, Maryland, for an intern who reached out to Washington, D.C., on the presbytery's behalf. Franklin Square OPC, in Franklin Square, New York, schedules an intern to overlap two fiscal years and seeks help from the Presbytery of Connecticut and Southern New York. The Hackettstown church budgets two years for a one-year internship. Some allow interns to supplement their income. Churches may save money if a family houses the intern, although that doesn't always work well. Congregations with a seminarian in the pew are often relieved of finding housing.
Depending on the cost of living in the area, summer interns may cost a church from $3,000 to $7,000 for three months. Yearlong interns typically cost from $18,000 to $30,000. The Committee on Christian Education's Subcommittee on Ministerial Training provides matching funds of up to $1,100 monthly or $3,300 for three months for summer interns, and up to $1,500 monthly or $18,000 annually for yearlong interns at approved churches.
The size of the church doesn't necessarily determine funding. A sixty-eight-member church in Evansville, Indiana, spent the same amount as a suburban Philadelphia congregation three times larger.
The intern budget often includes housing, travel and phone expenses, and perhaps health insurance. Franklin Square pays for health insurance, while Grace OPC in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, doesn't, though they pay moving costs. Less than half of the churches pay for health insurance for yearlong interns. Often an intern has insurance through his wife's employer. The Hackettstown church cosigns for intern housing. Whether an intern is married or has children also impacts the amount of support an intern needs.
Before applying for funds for an intern, the pastor must ensure that he has the time to invest in an intern. "There is a time commitment that (the pastor) must make for a man to be trained well," said Pastor William Shishko of Franklin Square OPC. "If he is not willing to commit himself to weekly meetings with the intern (at least 90 minutes for each meeting), and many, many ad hoc meetings to form the intern in various ways, he should not have an intern."
Once the pastor commits time to the intern and the church budget has a line item for an intern, the session at Trinity OPC in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, applies for SMT matching funds, said retired Pastor George Cottenden. At the same time, seminarians are applying to the SMT for internships. The pastor and a ruling elder then interview candidates approved by the SMT and recommend a man to the session.
The Franklin Square session considers five qualities in a potential intern: personal godliness, a commitment to the Reformed faith, preaching and teaching gifts, a pastor's heart, and commitment to be an OPC pastor. "If a man does not have these five qualities, we simply will not have him here as an intern," said Shishko. "We have learned this the hard way." To discover if a man has these qualities, the session flies him and his family to the church for a weekend to hear the man exhort and to interview him. After the session makes its decision, Shishko contacts the man and informs the congregation.
Other sessions ask the potential intern to provide sermon tapes, and they speak to the seminarian's advisor, professors, and session. The Evansville, Indiana, session reviews applications of candidates approved by the SMT, rates the applications, and then calls their first choice.
Once funding is approved, Pastor Dan Knox of Grace OPC in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, submits to his session a yearlong plan for the intern, which outlines a full range of ministerial activities, including how often the intern will exhort the congregation.
"The fiscal challenge was significant; it is a major item for the budget of a small church," said Pastor Rodney King of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, Iowa. "The nonfiscal challenge was figuring how to best use his time and abilities, and also provide training for him."
The Hatboro church develops a learning contract with the intern that details how often he preaches, when he teaches, what resources to use for preaching and counseling, how he will learn about church government, and how he will develop gifts to work with the youth and make hospital and family visitations. The pastor also recruits church members to an intern committee to assist in encouraging and evaluating the intern.
The Franklin Square session expects that within the first six months the intern will be licensed by the presbytery and attend presbytery meetings. The SMT requires that the intern be licensed to preach by the end of a yearlong internship and attend all session and presbytery meetings.
The congregation needs preparation, too. At Franklin Square, Shishko reminds the congregation to encourage the intern, offer helpful input, show him hospitality, and consider whether he has the gifts and graces for ministry.
"It requires great maturity of the congregation to understand and embrace its own role in giving up some of the familiar benefits of its pastor's ministry, particularly in preaching, in order to give an intern opportunity to exercise and test his gifts," said Nathan Trice, pastor of Matthews OPC in Matthews, North Carolina.
The author is the editorial assistant for New Horizons. Reprinted from New Horizons, December 2008.