Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Summer Seminary: The Value of Field Education

By Adam Harris


Adam and Joy Harris with their two children
Everyone knows that practical experience is essential to being a good pastor — but why? Here are four simple reasons to value the experience of a pastoral internship, gleaned through two summer internships in Canada. None of the following is meant to detract the slightest from the value and utter necessity of seminary education. However, if you are a seminary student thinking about an internship, or a church that is considering an internship scenario, these are designed to be an encouragement to you to prayerfully seek such an opportunity.

  1. Observation and Imitation. For most people, ten minutes of observation is worth an hour of verbal instruction. It is one thing to learn pastoral principles in the classroom; it is quite another to see a shepherd bind up the wounds of his flock as he sits in the living room of a grieving son after the death of his father. It is one thing to write a paper on the intermediate state of believers, but quite another to stand at a graveside and observe a minister interact with the unbelieving family members of the deceased. Tagging along with a seasoned and well-respected pastor proved to be an invaluable aspect of my first summer internship.
  2. Finding Your Voice. Professional singers speak of the importance of finding your own voice and not mimicking the stars. A good internship gives the young preacher an opportunity to “find his voice” — his particular preaching style in both sermon and delivery. Someone once described preaching as “truth mediated through personality.” The apostles and prophets had different styles and strengths, and the young preacher needs space and opportunity to try a few things and discover the best marriage of sound homiletical principles and unique personal character and gifting. This takes time and the patience of the congregation, but it is a necessary part of ministerial training.
  3. People-Oriented Ministry. Next to the glory of God and the advance of Christ’s kingdom, the heart of the pastor should beat with love for the people of God. In the seminary “bubble” it is easy to mistake the means for the end, the tools of ministry for ministry itself. There are real people going through real trials who need real comfort, and a good internship will bring you into contact with these people, eliciting a warm compassion and practicality geared toward the specific needs of the congregation. Love for the lost will also be kindled in the same way.
  4. Humble Realism. Throughout history, the Lord has raised up some great men to do some great things. However, the majority of kingdom work has been accomplished by common men doing common things faithfully. My experience of two summer internships has gradually helped me to embrace my role in the latter category. Let’s face it: many seminary students graduate with an oversized ego. Serving the elderly in a small church in the middle of nowhere provides a good dose of realism to the self-designated successor of Whitefield. Just as an excellent wife prepares a healthy meal for her family and then wakes up the next morning to do it all again, so the faithful pastor feeds his flock week in and week out — in public and from house to house — and is content to see them grow slowly but surely, warts and all.

Adam Harris is a senior student at GPTS and is currently serving at an Associate Reformed Presbyterian church in Nova Scotia, Canada. His regular duties include preaching, leading worship, attending Session meetings and prayer meetings, and accompanying elders in home visitations. Last summer he interned at an ARP church in Ontario, Canada.

Churches interested in offering an internship to a GPTS student may contact Dr. Tony Curto (tcurto@gpts.edu).