If you attend a Christian college or university, there is a strong likelihood that you will be involved in ministry of some kind while you are there. At Moody, those on campus were required to report their weekly Practical Christian Ministry actions, usually in a given organization. As a distance learning based student, I was expected to remain involved in my local church.
There are two types of Ministry available to a university student, free choice and an internship. In a ministry focused program, you are likely to end up having to do an internship in some type of Christian ministry. However, not all internships work out the first time you try them! I had to try two different internship options due to the first internship not working out. The second one, however, worked out amazingly well.
Personally, I prefer free-choice ministry. This is where you identify a need in the church, or believing community, that your skills can help meet. It can be as minor as pitching in with the music team (pun(s) intended), or even helping with Bible studies, in meeting practical community needs, or any other area your church is working in.
Benefits of Free Choice Christian Ministry:
My favorite benefit of “free choice” Christian Ministry is simple, you get to use your talents to help in a quick and practical manner. The ministry is immediate, you see the difference, and you have opportunity to learn and grow as you serve. There are some aspects of this type of ministry that could be either negative or positive, depending on the person.
You have no time constraint in free choice ministry. This means that you could do it for a year, or you might get tired of it and stop after a month. There is no structure in this type of commitment, except for the commitment that you personally have to whatever the ministry is that you are doing.
You may be pulled into a lot of short-term commitments, that conflict. If you are anything like me, an appeal for help from the pulpit is difficult to resist. As a result, one could find oneself in the Christmas choir, helping with Christmas Hampers, and trying to figure out how to fit in the kids Christmas play if one were not careful. When you have the choice of what ministry you work with, try and make sure that it is only one per season (if the commitment is seasonal), to avoid ministry burnout.
The final negative aspect of free choice ministry is simple, there is no feedback unless you build the feedback network. With most free-choice ministry options, you show up, perform the requisite duties, and leave, and that is the end of it. Unless you actually appeal to your supervisor, or to those you are working with for feedback, feedback will be lacking. Feedback is essential if you want to grow and develop in your calling and life, and it is feedback that makes an internship successful.
Internship Benefits and Detriments:
The biggest benefit of a Christian ministry internship is simple, feedback and mentoring. In a good internship, you will receive feedback frequently and kindly, and your internship supervisor will act as at least a partial mentor. My good internship had a supervisor who discussed the day with me after every weekly meeting, gave feedback and recommendations freely, and was always willing to pause and give encouragement when I had a difficult day.
In a bad internship, feedback is infrequent, confusing, or detrimental, the supervisor is not a mentor, or not care about you as the intern, and the expectations keep changing. An example of feedback being confusing and detrimental is if one time they tell you that your teaching is excellent, and the next meeting say they doubt your theology and they want a write up of what you will be teaching on, in advance, every week for approval.
Now, on the one hand internships must be structured. However, if in the first few meetings the supervisor says you can teach freely, and a month later wants pre-session write ups for approval (with no written explanation), it is a case of either distrust, or of changing expectations. Would you expect the pastor to submit a write up of his sermon to the board in advance of the morning service? Why an intern?
Ending up with a bad internship can literally spoil one’s perspective of Christian ministry, at least until a few good experiences push the bad one to the back burner. If you are in a university internship and it is not working out, do not be afraid to talk to the professor who is your ministry internship supervisor. It is no unusual thing to have an internship that does not work out on the first try. Don’t be afraid to talk to your university supervisor, and see if you can get another internship placement.
There are always a few things to keep in mind when in ministry of any kind. First, no matter how much learning a person has, or how long they have been a believer, we are all human and thus imperfect. You will make mistakes, and those you are working with will make mistakes, so remember to practice grace and be willing to adapt.
When you are in ministry, of any kind, you are on the front line of the spiritual battle. Those who minister are the first to be attacked, because they are the ones making a difference. The enemy does not care about nominal “pew warming” Christians, the ones who matter are the ones who are up on their feet and active in showing God’s love to others.
Ministry is more than evangelism. No matter what you are studying, if you are in a Christian university there will probably be a strong emphasis on evangelism. However, I am with Francis of Assis on this one, “preach Christ at all times, and if necessary use words.” In ministry of any kind, our actions will shout far louder than any words we say and this is particularly relevant if you are working with individuals who have a history of distrusting the church, or Christians. With these individuals, and even individuals who have no reason to dislike Christians, our actions will often have a far larger impact than our words.
Whether you are in free-choice ministry or an internship, when you move on, remember to bring closure to it. You have been working with other people for a month, to several years, and it is right to bring a sense of closure to that relationship. Even if you are in the same church, and still work in many of the same ministries, if you are ending one ministry make sure to talk with those involved and end on a good note. With an internship, a written thank-you to your supervisor will always be welcomed, and even a meeting for the express purpose of bringing closure and talking over anything that was not mentioned, can be very helpful.
University To Ministry:
Christian Universities do their best to prepare you for ministry, usually through internships and encouraging you to be involved in your home church. Whether you are in your first, or last, year of university, start looking ahead now to where you want to minister. You may “think” you want to work with youth, so start now. See if where you “think” you want to work actually makes you resonate and eager to be in ministry.
If you would like to see other parts in the “Debt Free University to Ministry” series, you can check out part five here.
Back To You:
What type of ministry have you been involved in? Leave a comment! I like hearing from you.