In the past two weeks, I have contacted leaders of two different churches in my area to ask them to enter into a time of prayer to discern if I might be able to do an internship with them. The first response from both? I don’t think we have the money.
I know that money is tight. And I appreciate that a pastor feels that pain quite keenly. I can only imagine that they are going back to their own internship experience, which typically was a full-time summer position (or at least part-time during the semester) with pay. Not that they were paid much, but still.
Here’s the thing… I am much less interested in the monetary investment a church might make than I am in the investment a good mentor will make in my future as a leader. I am looking for a place where I can ask questions without feeling stupid, try new things in a setting where I have a safety net and people committed to giving me honest feedback.
Back in the day (way back, apparently), one of the primary ways that those entering ordained ministry were prepared for their vocation was to enter a mentor-apprentice sort of relationship. They shadowed an experienced pastor, watched, learned, practiced and grew into their role. This is certainly a Biblical form of preparation – from the prophets of the Old Testament (Elijah and Elisha, Eli and Samuel) to Paul and Timothy in the New Testament.
I am so very grateful for a clear process, helped along by the presbytery committee under whose care I am progressing. I can’t imagine going into the ministry without a seminary education, flawed though even that tradition may be. But I know that my field education experiences will be absolutely priceless. The time I have spent at the Presbytery office, while one step removed from pastoral ministry is worth far more than the tuition I’ve paid. And the generosity of those pastors who have allowed me to occasionally fill their pulpits over the past few years is a precious gift.
I guess that is why I am so taken aback by the hesitance that so many leaders express. What could be more clearly tied to the Great Commission than taking on a disciple who wants to understand more completely what it means to baptize other new disciples in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Preparing one who is called to the office of teaching (and proclaiming) all that Christ commanded? Helping one learn how to be present, just as the Lord is with us. Always. To the close of the age.
AND… if I am facing this as a seminarian, how much more must those younger women and men who are emerging as leaders within our congregations be feeling expendable?