Our church has the privilege of hosting two pastoral interns this summer. Both are undergrad students who are prayerfully considering serving Christ’s church as an elder. It’s a joy to have them with us, an evidence of God’s kindness to us.
Since we haven’t had interns like this for some time, you might wonder why they are here. Over the next few days I’ll share with you what I communicated to them. This will give you a little window into their ten-week experience and help you know how to care for, pray for, and serve them while they are with us.
On behalf of our church, I greet you in the name of Christ our Savior! We rejoice in God’s work of grace in your lives and anticipate that his mercy will make this experience an eternal blessing. Our church has lots of history: founded in 1745, constituted in 1762, situated on the Upper West Side in 1891. We have enjoyed the ministry of nineteen pastors and countless members, and we have experienced the sovereign and sustaining grace of Christ throughout our existence. Since he rules over all, we are confident that his work—like the shorter tower outside—is not yet complete. So we are eager to see how our Good Shepherd will govern us in the coming years and are grateful that you now a part in our story of God’s grace.
You might have a wide range of thoughts as to what this summer will be like: spectacular preaching, mass conversions, a city set on fire for Christ. Perhaps that is what the Sovereign Spirit will ordain—and if he does, the glory will be Christ’s! But if there’s a single word that I want to fix in your minds, it is ordinary. One month after I had taken my first pastoral position, I went to the Ligonier Pastors’ Conference, at which I heard J. Ligon Duncan, Cambridge PhD, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS, and then-moderator of the PCA, make the following statement:
We always want to find some key to Christian life and ministry that we can do that will make it work, and such a thing does not exist because the Spirit has to make what we do work in ministry. Christian ministry begins at the end of our own abilities and resources and efforts. We’re to be faithful, but the Spirit has to use those, and he will use them when and where and how he pleases. And it’s our job to be faithful in the meantime. Honestly, when I came to my local church, that was my prayer: “Lord, I’m just going to do ordinary means-of-grace ministry, and so I pray that by your Spirit you will prosper this work and give me the time that I need in order to develop a credibility in the eyes of the leadership and the congregation.”
Pastoral ministry is very ordinary. That doesn’t mean that God is not at work. If he were not at work, our best efforts would be worthless (Zech 4.6). What this means is that our great God uses ordinary means to do his extraordinary work. And those ordinary means of grace are the Word, prayer, and fellowship. God speaks to us, we speak to God, and we speak to one another about God. And so Christ builds his church.
With that in mind, I have three goals for your summer internship: doctrinal growth, personal growth, and ministerial growth. These three categories roughly correspond to John Frame’s tri-perspectivalism (the normative, existential, and situational perspectives on knowledge) and to the more popular treatment of discipleship as involving the head, the heart, and the hands. Each area is critical to the life of the minister. Should God position you as an elder in his church, you will need to demonstrate over the course of years maturity in your theology, piety, and shepherding. In short, by God’s grace you need to be men who know God, love God, and love people.