Last month, we delved into the experience of college students who used their coursework to serve rural churches and were reminded of the real-life, real-kingdom impact they had. Students working in ministry have a unique experience, and there are many areas where their skills are needed. In addition to helping churches with marketing strategies and the youth group, there is an opportunity in the church for young people to influence and lead the younger generation.
An important way students can get involved in ministry is through internships. Seulgi Byun, executive director of the PRM, comments on the importance of student involvement in ministry in the form of internships: “Student internships are an integral part of the Project on Rural Ministry. One of the common refrains from our pastors is that they would like to see more young people involved in their churches, and internships are an obvious way we can accomplish that.”
This past summer, three Grove City College students dedicated several weeks to three churches in different communities. They were gracious to answer our questions and share their experience as a PRM intern. Many thanks to the students!
Serving the Church
Mollie Landman spent her summer at Methodists United in Faith, in Sandy Lake, PA. Her responsibilities primarily encompassed youth and children’s ministry. “It was difficult for the youth group to bounce back after COVID, so I spent much of my summer planning, organizing, and leading events that encouraged the youth to get together again,” Mollie recalls. “I also led the weekly youth group nights on Sunday evenings, ran the church’s Instagram account, worked on their streaming strategy for Sunday mornings, created video promotions for their VBS, and filled in anywhere else I was needed.”
The wide variety of intern responsibilities also allowed for Mollie to acquire experience in leadership positions, like playing piano on Sundays or leading services and worship. “Overall, I saw myself as part of the ministry at the churches in any way that I could. My goal was to create lasting enthusiasm and excitement that would spark a desire for the youth to fellowship with one another and follow Jesus together.”
Emilee Henderson worked at Baptist Temple in Fairmont, West Virginia. She got to co-lead the VBS, or “Summer Bash,” overseeing the bible study portion and filling in wherever help was needed. This included drawing engagement for the church events. “We handed out invitations for the VBS, placing some on the doorsteps of apartments that were right next to the church, and considered to be a bad part of town. The first day of VBS, a parent from one of these apartments called us and asked if their daughter was allowed to come. They said she had been asking to come to the church for the last few days, and they had no idea how she even knew about it. Seeing her learning and engaging at the VBS was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.”
Challenges and New Experiences
Going into this experience was something both familiar and new for the students. “Since my father is a pastor in the United Methodist Church, I was very familiar with the work Pastor Janet does at her five UMC churches. But this was the first time I had ever done ministry as a ‘job,’ and I noticed that peoples’ expectations for those in ministry are often unrealistic,” Mollie remarks. “When I introduced myself as an intern at one of the local churches, I was told that I ‘better have thick skin’ for the work I was to do.” While she found that most people were more than encouraging, there were those in the churches who put pressure on the work she was doing.
Emily Rohr interned at Hillcrest Baptist in Jamestown, New York. Her responsibilities included video editing and helping with the Sunday children’s program. “The most challenging aspect of my experience was learning how to work with children,” Emily comments. “I had very little previous experience with kids, and I needed to quickly learn how to handle twelve at once. I was very nervous at first and it took me a while to learn how to effectively communicate with them. There were times I had to figure out how to handle things like temper tantrums and arguments.” Despite this being her biggest challenge, Emile also regards it as the most rewarding part of her experience. “Each week, something would happen that would allow me to really connect with a different kid. As of now, I’ve been done for one week and I already miss them.”
Emilee shares a similar experience regarding the newness of the experience. “I am the youngest kid in my family, so teaching three age groups biblical stories was really challenging. I've never been around kids, let alone in charge of them.” But despite the uncertainty, she recalls a sense of comfort. “I have felt a calling to teach for a very long time. After the first few minutes of VBS, I felt at peace, like I belonged there. It really solidified my calling.”
Being in three different environments gave each of the students a unique experience that was informed by the community surrounding the church. “Hillcrest does not shy away from reaching out into the community, and since Jamestown is a smaller area, they focus on helping the community as a whole rather than a particular section or neighborhood,” Emily recalls. The church’s outreach ministries include one for middle and high school, a crisis pregnancy center, and other community events in which they partner with other churches in the area.
Mollie’s experience took place in a more rural area, just twenty minutes north of Grove City. “I noticed that in rural areas, everyone knows one another, so the way the church does ministry reflects that. When there is a need in a smaller community, everyone in the church is already aware since they know everyone. So, it was beautiful to see the church meet various needs in the community so quickly and effectively.”
Working in the smaller West Virginian city of Fairmont was familiar for Emilee, who lives close to the church. “The location of the church is right beside some apartments that are known for being a bad part of town. The church is also beside a school. Both of these things made it extremely important for the church to work with the younger generations in the area.”
Leading the Younger Generation
The opportunity to be a role model for the youth is an important responsibility that churches grasp with careful intentionality, and those working in the church are aware of its importance. Being able to draw the children in and offer events that will be interesting to them is the first important step. Some of the events that Mollie helped plan for the youth included “a pool party, a church lock-in, a bonfire and movie night, and a kayaking day.” At the end of July, she also organized a trip to Buffalo, New York with some of the youth to see a concert. “I took eight youth to that concert, and five of them responded to the call from the speaker to receive Jesus for the first time. Tears filled my eyes as I watched the youth I had been praying for all summer choose to follow Jesus.”
Being in an area that had a bad reputation ensured that Baptist Temple take the responsibility of the younger generation all the more seriously. Emily got to see kids coming to the church for the first time and interacting with the bible study. “I remember working with the youngest group of kids and asking them to pray. Every kid in the room raised their hand. Seeing the willingness the younger generation had to glorify God was so inspiring.”
The benefits from students interning with the churches do not end with the reward of seeing children being led to Christ. "These internships are not just about sending help to rural churches,” Byun remarks. “The hope is that they will give our interns a window into rural ministry, as they discern their personal callings. A successful internship is a two-way street: the churches and pastors are blessed, but equally, our students gain important experience and perspective on ministry in small places.”
Grace is a writing intern for the PRM and a senior English major with writing and design minors at Grove City College. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.