More than 50 theology students graduated from Pacific Adventist University (Papua New Guinea), Fulton College (Fiji) and Avondale College of Higher Education (Australia) in 2013.
For these individuals, the past year would have been particularly challenging and stressful. Study, church, financial, family and personal pressures would have been exceptionally high. The interview process with division and union leaders for students in Australia would also have been daunting. Then there’s the nerve-racking situation of waiting for a “call” from a conference leader. Many of these graduates would have struggled with the uncertainty of not knowing whether they had employment or not.
Discouragement is one of the main weapons of the enemy. Let us build up the pastoral intern and his/her family with words and acts of affirmation and support.
That’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom. One good point to mention is that these graduates would have completed their studies knowing that God had called them and that He would carry them forward.
Many of last year’s graduates have since commenced work as pastoral interns across the South Pacific Division. However, the transition from final-year student to first-year intern offers little respite. Spouses need to make the transition to a new location, and help the children to settle into a new home and school. They also need to find employment (if that is her/his goal), while trying to set a rhythm for the family and sorting out a host of other things this short article could never capture or address.
For the pastoral intern, a new job comes with much interest and excitement, especially when seeing what God has planned. However, the role also comes with the weight of expectations from the conference, a supervisor to report to and a church that is looking forward to their leadership and expertise.
While the job of a pastoral intern is to support the church he/she is assigned to, the converse is just as true—the church needs to support the pastoral intern. The focus of this article is to suggest ways church members can help and encourage our pastoral interns and their families.
1. Make them feel welcome
The first Sabbath the pastoral intern arrives should be a HIGH Sabbath. The family is to be invited up front, introduced to the church, presented with flowers and a lunch should be held in their honour. This goes without saying but it’s sad to see churches that don’t even bother to welcome their new leaders in this way. My family and I have been welcomed like this and it made us feel special, appreciated and welcome.
2. Support them with prayer
This must sound clichéd but it’s surely the best we can do for them. As we pray for strength, courage and peace, God is going to do something wonderful in us to strengthen our ministry toward them. The Lord blesses us so we can bless others, and it will be rewarding to see God work in and through the pastoral intern and his family.
3. Affirm and encourage them
Discouragement is one of the main weapons of the enemy. Let us build up the pastoral intern and his/her family with words and acts of affirmation and support. I remember receiving cards and letters from members when I first began my work as a pastoral intern in South Africa. While going through some of my old files the other day, I came across these messages of encouragement from former members. My heart lit up. I’ve kept them for many years because they are such a blessing to me. Open your home and fellowship to the pastoral intern and her/his family. Nothing beats having a potluck lunch and fellowship together on a Sabbath to build the bonds of love and support.
4. Get to know the children
Children often feel isolated and unsure of themselves in a new environment. Going out of your way to be kind and thoughtful to the pastoral intern’s children will be a wonderful way to help. Don’t place unwarranted pressure on these kids. They are just like any other children, so allow them to grow as they learn and make mistakes. Your unconditional love and support are what matter most.
When our son was born our first church gave my wife a beautiful baby shower. We were so blessed with all the beautiful things the church members bought for our son. From time to time one of the ladies would look after our son to give my wife a rest during the service. In another church a dear saint would actually bring toys for my son, take him to the rest room and sit next to him in church as my wife also had our little daughter to care for. These are precious memories of members caring for my family. What a difference they have made. Our son still talks with affection of this individual who looked after him. Our daughter was also blessed by a number of nurturing and loving church members.
As our children have grown, Pathfinder leaders have also played a significant role by offering friendship, guidance and assistance, and providing a nurturing environment for them to learn more about Jesus and how to live in an authentic community.
5. Support the spouse
The spouse needs to know she/he is loved and appreciated by the church. Take the opportunity to acknowledge and affirm her/him publicly on Sabbath morning from time to time. The spouse, if a woman, is often the emotional manager of her family and needs to develop trusted friendships where she can be nurtured and strengthened. She is often left alone with the kids while her husband goes out in the evening to minister to church members. Support her with a friendly phone call to encourage her and let her know she is being thought of.
This type of support isn’t rocket science; it’s simply the kind of support one can expect from a family. The Bible uses the important metaphor of family to describe the church. The writers of the New Testament continually refer to this image because it highlights the central purpose of God—to be one with us.
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (Ephesians 2:19 NIV).
“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10 NIV).
The terms “family of believers” and “members of God’s household” suggest belonging, intimacy and connectedness. Most churches, sadly, give glib mental assent and public acknowledgement to the notion that the church is the family of God, while rarely thinking through its profound implications or attempting to practice all that the metaphor implies. When a church functions as a family there’s a fundamental shift in how that church looks and acts. Relationships are valued above programs, and understanding above business. There is also a shift from independence to interdependence, and from dominance to servanthood.
The first few years of ministry can drastically affect the course of a pastor’s career. Without the help and encouragement of church members, and a sense of connectedness and belonging, a pastoral intern can quickly become overwhelmed and burnt out. As a church, this is the last thing we want for our young leaders and members of our family. Let’s intentionally support our new pastoral interns and their families as they work to support the church.
Dr Kayle de Waal is senior lecturer in New Testament Studies at Avondale College of Higher Education.