Republished, with permission, from Voice magazine, May-June, 2011.
It was a difficult telephone call to receive. It was 1983 and I was graduating with my Master of Divinity from Capital Bible Seminary. I had sent my resume to various IFCA members with whom I had become somewhat familiar, asking them if they would be willing to send it to churches they knew were looking for pastors. Pastor Bob Gray from Westchester Bible Church, a former President of the IFCA, was calling. I had sent him one of my resumes. He said, “I received your resume last week and I am sorry to tell you that I cannot send it on to any churches.” I was dumb-founded. I asked him what was the problem? He said, “I can’t send it along because I believe that it is God’s will for you to come to Westchester and serve a residency here for three years.” I was immediately relieved and amused!
But my immediate attitude was “Thanks, but no thanks!” I had already served in a variety of internships: at Limerick Chapel, I had served for three consecutive summers; at Bob Jones University, I served an internship with Dr. Tony Miller in a church plant at Clemson University; at Capital Bible Seminary, I had served as an intern to Pastor Sam Martz in the church plant at New Carrollton Bible Church. I had grown up in a pastor’s home and thought that I had had enough “mentoring.”
I thanked him, but told him that I felt called to preach and that I was looking for my own pulpit ministry. He asked me to at least pray about it. I half-heartedly told him that I would. As soon as I hung up with him, I called my father who hesitated not and declared, “Do it!” I said, “But Dad…” and he interrupted and said, “You won’t regret it.”
It was such a powerful time in my life, that as soon as I finished my residency with Pastor Gray, and took the ministry at Byron Center Bible Church, I purposed to begin a residency program for young men coming out of seminary. From 1986 to 1998, I prepared myself to serve as a mentor to young men who would be able to come and serve with me. During those twelve years, there were four areas of priority that I sought to develop at the church: personal maturity, leadership vision, congregational maturity, and financial support.
One of the first things that is needful for a successful internship program is for the pastor to be spiritually prepared to pour excess into a young man. A man cannot mentor others who is ill-equipped to live the Christian life with victory. As a pastor finds that he is growing and thriving in the ministry, he has the ability to take on a younger man who can be nourished at his side. This means that a man who is not growing cannot successfully become a mentor. I believe that this is one of the major obstacles in seeing purposeful leadership development in our churches – too many men are merely surviving and not thriving and thereby feel that they have little to offer another man.
One of the things that grew in my own life was the desire to be challenged by the thoughts and ideas of a younger man. A young, idealistic, aspiring leader became a desirable associate to challenge the stayed, settled, and static ways and means that had founded themselves squarely in my ministry. It was refreshing to have a young “buck” come along and seek clarification, explanation, justification, and biblical rationale for what was happening in the ministry. Instead of resenting being questioned, I fostered it. My thinking is: “If I cannot provide adequate and biblical explanation for why I am doing what I do, perhaps what I am doing is not best.” I desired to improve and grow as much as I desired to be used to bring growth and development in the life of a younger man.
In addition, I was prepared to assume the flack for whatever ministry failures that might come through the inexperience, intemperance, and impulsiveness that a young man at my side might “perpetrate.” I was a safety net, capable of catching him when or if he fell. I would take the heat as the one ultimately responsible for the ministry that he performed. I had to pursue the personal maturity to be able to offer this environment to a young man.
The next area of focus was to develop a vision for leadership development among the current leadership of the church. The first element that must be in place is a confidence that what the church is doing in ministry is worth “exporting” through a young man who would be with us in an internship. If the ministry philosophy and vision is not worth seeing developed in another church, why would we take a young man on to train and send out. Thus, the leadership of the church must be developed so that they are aware that other churches need what we possess. This becomes part of the motivation for seeing the raising up of Gospel workers as a core value of the ministry of the church.
During the internship period, it would be the desire that the intern have opportunity to “rub shoulders” with the entire leadership team, not simply the pastor. The strengths of each elder ought to be offered to the young man for his benefit and training. The result of this vision is that the men in leadership are eager for a young man to come who has promise in the pursuit of pastoral ministry. We look for an intern who is capable, eager, called, and equipped to serve the Lord as a pastor. We wanted the kind of man that would be “chomping at the bit” toward the end of the internship. We would “saddle” him with the ministry perspectives that we believe to be important and then open the shoot and allow him to run. The leadership team knows great joy as they watch “their man” go out ready and able to serve, having allowed much of the rough edges, unrealistic ideals, and relational ineptitudes to be sanded smooth through interaction with them.
Even as the pastor serves as a net to catch a man who stumbles, the congregation must develop the perspective that they are there to absorb the mistakes that often occur in the first several years of a man’s ministry pursuit. Compassion must prevail and the congregation must be prepared to allow a young man to make mistakes in a context of a congregation mature enough to be gracious to him as he learns. As the congregation sees such a process as a privilege given them from the Lord, there is a great unifying affect as they help prepare a man for his own pastorate. In addition, the church begins to broaden its awareness that ministry is greater than what happens at their individual local church. They begin to understand that they are serving the Church at Large by allowing a young man to be refined through ministry at their church, but when trained will benefit an unknown congregation wherever the Lord takes him. Thus, an others-mindedness is fostered within a congregation that further matures that congregation. Lifelong prayer partnerships are formed between congregation and intern that benefit both. I still receive Christmas cards from people I served many years ago at Westchester. They are lifelong friends who know they have a part in the ministry here at Grace Bible Church all these years later by means of what they poured into my life while I was with them. God bless them!
There are as many plans to provide for an internship as there are imaginations involved in the planning. There are multi-year residencies, one-year internships, summertime ministries, part-time, full-time, paid, unpaid, formal, and informal arrangements that can be made. I have been involved in all of these.
I did summer ministries in college where I received $200 a week through the summer. I did a part-time unpaid internship while in seminary at New Carrollton Bible as well as at Clemson. My first full-time residency was at Westchester Bible Church where they provided a full package of salary, housing, insurance, and professional expense reimbursement. I was blessed as I was able to do everything from washing buses to cleaning bathrooms, to evangelizing, to preaching. Throughout all of it, I was being evaluated by men who loved me and were committed to seeing me fashioned into a vessel to the glory of God.
One of my favorite pictures hanging on the wall of my office is a picture at the 1997 IFCA Convention with my mentor Bob Gray with his arm around me together with my first resident Jonathan Williams. Bob is now with the Lord but the ministry philosophies and priorities he helped develop continue to prevail in my life and in Jonathan Williams. A few weeks ago, the most recent intern who served with me, Justin Schroeder, completed the internship and has joined our staff fulltime as our Minister of Music and Student Ministries.
The blessings to the church continue to unfold as Jesus’ example is replicated: “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:15). Paul demonstrated the same priority: “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Philippians 3:17). I pray that more of us do the needful work to make leadership development a priority in our ministries.
Rick Gregory is a graduate of Bob Jones University (1981) with a BA in pastoral studies. His graduate degrees include the MDiv from Capital Bible Seminary (1983) and the DMin from Grace Theological Seminary (1995). He served a three year pastoral residency program at Westchester Bible Church, near Chicago, IL from 1983-86 and served for 20 years as the Senior Pastor of Byron Center Bible Church in Byron Center, MI before coming to Grace Bible Church.