Reflections on Pastoral Ministry Internships (1)

by Michael Ten Haken, M.Div. ’13

Each Master of Divinity student at Calvin Theological Seminary is required to have a 10-week Pastoral Ministry Internship (PMI) as part of their program. These PMI’s happen in a variety of geographic locations and church settings. Some churches are currently without pastors in which case the interns provide consistent preaching and do ongoing pastoral care, which often gets neglected in the absence of a pastor. Others serve in churches that a have a full-time pastor and the intern comes alongside him or her to assist in specific ministries, to fill in for a pastor using sabbatical time, or because a pastor has a desire to mentor a future pastor. Each internship experience is unique. Regardless of the situation, the seminary stipulates that the intern preach a certain number of times and gain experience in as many areas of ministry as possible.
This summer I had the privilege of doing my summer internship at Seymour Christian Reformed Church here in Grand Rapids. Seymour is church of about 450 members and happens to be the home church of my family and I (I am married with three children) while we are at CTS. Seymour’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Philip De Jonge, was there during the summer so I came alongside him and the rest of the ministry staff to assist them.
It was a great opportunity for me to get that ‘day in the life of’ experience that a seminary education cannot provide. It was a great time for me to put into practice some of the skills that I’ve learned and some of the tools that I’ve been given over the past two years. Over a ten-week period of time, I preached (technically exhorted) a total of 14 times, participated in several committee and council meetings, performed several administrative tasks, helped plan and lead a weekend camp for single parents and their children, and shadowed Pastor De Jonge for a funeral and a wedding. In addition, I was able to extend some pastoral care to those in seasons of need  and loss.
The PMI experience not only gave me the opportunity to use my seminary training thus far, but will also inform my final year of learning. It’s often the case in ministry that people, their needs, and their situations just don’t fit into the categories that we try to name in our classrooms. More often than not, people (and their pastors) find themselves in the realm of the in-between, not really fitting any category or fitting several.  Thus is the tension of the already and the not-yet reality of Christ who came and is coming again.
Sometimes it’s hard to put your finger on just exactly what God is up to in the life of this person or this situation. The PMI gave me the chance to not just talk about and think about that tension, but to actually live in it. It gave me a sense of what it will be like to try and get comfortable in a context that is inherently uncomfortable and bring the message of Christ and him crucified into that tension – whether I was standing in the pulpit on Sunday morning or sitting on the couch of a 100 year-old woman who can’t make it to the sanctuary anymore but listened to this “word from the Lord” every Monday on a cassette tape.
Like I said, each internship is unique and so is each experience within that internship, and I’m thankful for them all.