Internship program inspires, develops future leaders

November 13, 2013

By: Christa Meland

Pastor Jeremiah Lideen describes his work as a church planter in Uptown Minneapolis as “trying to build a community of faithful believers who can invite and cultivate faith in others.”

It’s no easy task—but thanks to the five years he spent as an intern at Crossroads Church, Lideen has some practical experience to draw from, like starting a new youth worship service.

Lideen is one of about 70 individuals who Crossroads’ Lead Pastor Paul Marzahn has coached and inspired since Marzahn launched Crossroads’ internship program in 1998—two years after it became a chartered church. Several of them are now pastors within the Minnesota Annual Conference.

“Ministry requires . . . a well-wrestled-with call from God and a place to give it a try,” says Lideen, who served as a Crossroads intern from 2007 to 2012 and now is its part-time communications pastor. Crossroads helped him venture outside of his comfort zone and gave him an opportunity to make mistakes, learn from them, and try again, he says.

Crossroads, which has five campuses, isn’t the only church that offers an internship program for those interested in exploring a call to ministry. But Crossroads’ program is unique in its complexity—and Marzahn notes that the purpose of it isn’t to fill a need within the church. Interns serve churches in valuable ways, but the internship is really intended to develop new spiritual leaders.

“I want to reach the next generation of clergy,” says Marzahn. “Reach more people for Jesus, cultivate healthier spirituality, heal a broken world—those are the three things I’ve been living out, and I realize we need more people to do that. We need to raise up the excellence factor in church leadership.”

Before becoming a pastor, Marzahn completed two local church internships, one as an undergraduate student at Hamline University and another while attending Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Through those experiences, he realized how valuable an internship program could be—and what it shouldn’t be.

When creating Crossroads’ internship program, he sought to create the kind of experience that he would have loved when he was an intern. Crossroads’ program offers a variety different internship “tracks”—including pastoral, worship, children/youth, missionary, outreach, and communication/technology.

Each intern selects a track based on his or her gifts and interest. One intern who was a drama major in college completed a drama internship that involved directing Crossroads’ Christmas musical and a youth musical in the spring. Although interns mostly have responsibilities within their assigned track, they receive some experience in all of them.

In addition to general responsibilities on Sundays that align with that interest area, Marzahn hosts all interns weekly at his home; they read a devotion, share highs and lows from their lives, and discuss a ministry-related topic. And Marzahn has regular one-on-one meetings with each intern to set and discuss progress related to personal learning and ministry goals.

Lideen served first as a youth intern, and later as a pastoral intern and the church’s youth director. He had the opportunity to do everything from working in the nursery to deliver sermons on Sundays to crisis counseling to driving a charter bus to Mexico for a mission trip.

“Quite possibly, the most important thing I've learned at Crossroads is this: We do ministry for other people,” says Lideen, who will seek ordination as an elder in spring 2014. “Crossroads gave me an opportunity to develop a reason to continue caring for others outside of a degree fulfilled or internship completed.”

Part of Lideen’s initial motivation to become an intern was to fulfill a requirement for his undergraduate degree in youth ministry at Augsburg College—but the experience ultimately helped uncover his passion and shape his vocation. Lideen says if it hadn’t been for Crossroads and its intentional efforts to develop promising leaders, he may not have ended up in the United Methodist Church. He planned to become ordained in another denomination, but Crossroads and its leaders helped him see that the United Methodist Church was the best fit.

Some Crossroads interns have pursued ordained ministry, and others have realized through the internship that ministry may not be a good fit.

Marzahn is very intentional about cultivating interns. He visits local colleges to find prime candidates, and he’s always looking for youth who have the skills and passion that would make for a great intern. He recalls mission trips through which he met eighth- and ninth-graders who were gifted public speakers; he planted seeds with those students by talking about the internship program and followed up when they reached college age.

“A baseball recruiter has to go out, see some games, find the talent, and convince them to come on the team,” says Marzahn. The same is true of a church looking for interns.

By now, it’s a finely honed system and one that Marzahn is proud of. As valuable as seminary is, he says it alone can’t develop and grow new leaders for the church.

“You can’t take a church planting class at Garrett,” says Marzahn, who plants churches in addition to serving at Crossroads. “I would have loved to have been in a church where I watched them plant churches. I learned the hard way by tons of mistakes. There’s got to be a way to help people avoid those mistakes and start with more tools in their toolbag.” 

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 400 Minneapolis, MN 55404

(612) 870-0058