8 Reasons Potential Pastors Would Rather Begin Ministry with an Internship or Assistant Pastorate

When I started pastoring more than 40 years ago, most of us called to pastoral ministry wanted to get started on the task quickly. Right or wrong, we typically leapt into ministry as soon as we could. Now, young leaders preparing for ministry are much more inclined to look for an “entry-level” position before stepping into a lead pastorate. Here are some reasons why: 

1. Young leaders have seen enough internal church struggle that they approach ministry with trepidation. They don’t want to deal with the same stuff they’ve seen other ministers face—at least not if they have to face it all alone. At a minimum, they want the buck to stop at somebody else’s desk while they learn the ropes of ministry.

2. Many churches and pastors have done a poor job of “calling out the called” and helping those called to understand God’s work. In some cases, they’re just not prepared to guide someone who expresses a ministry call; the result is that those called must figure out ministry on their own. Few young leaders I know want to do this by themselves.

3. On the other hand, churches do give more attention to mentoring/equipping/setting apart potential pastors than they did in my day. Because of that commitment (and because the internet has made these options well known), young leaders are more aware of these possibilities—and they want that option before taking a lead role.

4. Young leaders are much concerned about prioritizing and guarding their families while doing ministry. Again, they’ve seen too many marriages fail and pastors fall, and they want to avoid those tragedies. Learning to do so, though, is probably easier when they’re not bearing the full weight of ministry alone. They want role models to guide them.

5. Their ministry heroes, whom they often know best through the internet, typically pastor larger churches that offer internships. Not every church can offer the same level of training for up-and-coming pastors, but those that can are often well-known churches. Consequently, young leaders hear of their internships more readily and want that experience.  

6. Because of changes in accreditation rules, churches with qualified leaders can now offer graduate-level courses to students connected with their congregations. The program for Southeastern Seminary, where I teach, is our EQUIP Network program—and students who are learning at the feet of good pastors are grateful for these local training opportunities. No longer must they move to a campus to get strong training; an internship or assistant pastorate in their home church may be an option.

7. Internships allow young leaders to determine if they’re ready to do full-time ministry. Even those who sense a call to ministry might be struggling with the calling in general, or they might be wondering if bi-vocational ministry may be an option. An internship allows them to test their calling without a long-term commitment.

8. Some internships include service in several areas of the church, thus helping young leaders more specifically determine their calling. For example, one three-year internship I know requires leaders to serve six months in each of six primary areas of the church’s ministry. The various assignments prove invaluable to those called to pastoral ministry. 

What other reasons might you add to this list?

Posted on August 1, 2023

Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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  • Larry Webb says on

    I think the local church has the ability to see the potential of members that can be encouraged and raised up to be pastors and leaders in the church. If you are a believer aren’t you gifted to be a working part of kingdom work? I find this article very interesting because I feel the call to serve in some meaningful way.

  • An example of this which worked well in my denomination (Episcopal) is the Curate position. In essence, a Curate was a newly ordained priest who had the sole purpose of learning how to function as a clergy. They were not in charge and they worked with a seasoned priest. The program is hugely successful because leading a church is like no other organization. Sadly, like most things with a price tag, the curacy went by the wayside for the most part. Churches had difficulties raising funds to support their head minister, let alone a second one.

    While this is a great idea, how are congregations convinced to pay for this much-needed ministry? Likewise, I imagine most internships are in larger churches but a majority of churches are not large. The dynamics of a family-sized church (<50 members, maybe 150 members), making the translation of some of the skills challenging. But, it’s better than nothing.

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      Thanks, Les, for your thoughts.

    • Hebrew Union College, the Reform Jewish seminary, has their 4th year students going to small congregations as the only clergy at least monthly and likely twice a month over that year.

  • School never taught anyone everything they need to know. Not all seminaries require internships in congregations where actual ministry is learned. It is wise to not start out as the only pastor.

    • So true. Even when you have field education in a parish while in seminary, you really can’t learn what ministry really is. Seminary really doesn’t prepare ministers for the day-to-day operation of a church. I would even go so far as to say, even with a lot of life experience (in my case a full career as a Naval Officer), life in a parish is not the same thing. Like one of my members commented in my first year – “Les doesn’t preach well… but he’s been in the Navy for more than 22 years.” To which another member said “Preaching is not a military brief. Never has been and never will be.”

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      More and more seminaries are indeed requiring some kind of practical experience (per the accreditors, actually), but there’s no question that the practical learning takes place in the church setting. I fully understand the desire of young leaders to start out in a second chair position.