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  • Hannah Williamson

Intentional Internship

About a year ago, I had this thought after reading the gospels about what it would be like to offer a more 'intentional discipleship internship'. Jesus spent a relatively short amount of time with the disciples pouring into them not just though what he taught them but by spending a great deal of time with them in and out of ministry settings. Maybe watching ‘The Chosen’ also added to my thought process as the reality of the time Jesus spent around the disciples came alive. I decided to look for a young person who I could, for a period of time, intentionally pour into. After a series of miraculous things happening, Amy agreed to come and give 6 months of her time to work and serve alongside me. Amy is 19 and still in the stage of seeking God about her future. I offered an ‘unconventional internship’ that rather than being with 1 church alone would be more so with me, visiting many churches. Amy raised personal support so that she could give herself to spending the year travelling with me and what a blessing it has been. I have always been passionate about the developing of younger leaders but this was going to be a unique experience. We are 3 months into the 6 month internship and so I thought I would share some of my lessons learnt and also add in a few of Amy’s thoughts to……

“Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him “Rabbi, where are you staying?” He said too them, “Come and you will see” so they came and saw where he was staying and they stayed with him that day…” John 1:38-39

I sometimes fear we have made discipleship into a ‘course’ or something that looks more like line management in a job. This was not what Jesus did. He didn’t ask the disciples to do a 12 step course or even have a weekly hour long meeting with them to review where they were at, but he made discipleship a natural, although intentional, journey. The gospels give us snapshots of discipleship moments but between the written words would have been long walks filled with conversation, meals sat around tables where they interacted, laughed and spoke about the deep things of life. What is key about all of this was that Jesus was in close proximity to the younger leaders a lot of the time. Of course, he had time alone where he went to pray but for the majority of his ministry he was with the 12 young men who were his disciples.

I wanted to look at how I could replicate this and so for Amy, she spends a great deal of time with me. Of course, we have some set times where we sit and speak through specific topics but for most of our time it is spent either working together, eating together or chatting on a journey somewhere. These close times of journeying together have allowed for natural conversation to flow, questions to be asked and processing to be done. I’m not sure half of the conversations would have happened in an hour long session each week.

How can you as a church leader practice proximity in the discipling of younger leaders?

I realise you may not be able to do what I have done, but what could you do? (And for the record with this I am talking about leaders aged 18-25 not teens as that involves consideration for safeguarding)

  1. Invite a young leader to your house for dinner - they will see how you interact with your spouse/kids/house mate which means they may well see the ‘real you’ which can help break down any barriers of you being ‘above them’. They may also learn from the way you treat those closest to you!

  2. Take a young leader on a ministry trip with you - this will allow them to see you in various different settings but also, it allows for lots of conversation time on the journey (people may often bring up with this the male to female challenge and how appropriate this may be….an easy solution, take two. For example if you are a man and there is a young woman who shows great leadership potential take her and a guy too so that you are pouring into two of them….Jesus rarely had 1 person with him!)

  3. Be honest about your flaws - its easy for us to hide our flaws until someone is in our space! A young leader not only learns from the good parts about you but the rough parts too! I don’t mean you need to overshare, but express when you feel you may have made a mistake or spoken to someone too harshly or not dealt with a situation in a way you should have.

“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” Matthew 17:1-2

I love this story about the transfiguration. Jesus, with just a few of those he was discipling takes them to a greater level of exposure to who He is. He allows them into a space that could have been private between Him and the Father. Jesus allows them to see something they may not have seen in before and to have been in a space where others may not have had the opportunity to go. In fact, we know that not all the disciples got an opportunity to see this, but a few did because Jesus ‘took them with him.’

One of the things I was passionate about doing for Amy as she began her internship with me was exposing her to different spaces and rooms that she otherwise would not have been able to go into. I remember as a young teenager sitting in my lounge with my Dad as he spoke with these great Pastors from around the world. I rarely said anything but I took so much in. I realise I was privileged to have had that experience and so some of my thinking has been along the line of ‘how can I make space available for that to happen for others that may not be my physical children?’ So, for Amy, she comes to as many meetings as is appropriate with me. Where I may meet with a Pastor or Youth Pastor, if the conversation is not confidential, she will sit in and listen. I always encourage Amy to come to those meetings with a few questions so that she can learn. My hope is that sitting in these environments allows her to glean from great leaders in order to learn for her own ministry journey.

How can you as a church leader expose younger leaders to spaces they may otherwise not be invited into, in order to learn and grow?

  1. Leadership team meetings - Often when someone is invited onto a leadership team they have no idea what to expect and the initial journey can be a little rocky of trying to understand the role and your voice in this space. What if in a young leaders formative years, if you know they have the call of God on them, you could create a space for them to sit in on one or two leadership team meetings to understand how it works? You would of course need to ensure there is nothing of a confidential variety said, but just seeing how leaders of a church interact could be so beneficial to them!

  2. Take a young leader to meet someone in the community - I will never forget the time my Dad took me to meet with one of the more affluent people in our local area. This man who was not a christian at the time had given a considerable amount of finance to the church. Dad spoke me through how we would speak to him, how we would thank him and then modelled how to handle people like this. I'll never forget that interaction - I was exposed to something that taught me so much!

  3. Let a young leader meet your mentor - this will expose them to someone beyond you in their leadership and will model the importance no matter what level of leadership, of having someone pouring into your life! (If you don’t have a mentor, go find someone quick!)

“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”” Matthew 16:13

This section in the gospels is full of questions that Jesus asks His disciples. The questions start more generic, ‘who do people say….’ and then goes deeper and more personal ‘Who do YOU say I am?’ Jesus uses questions throughout His teaching to help this group of younger leaders to grow and develop. Questions help them evaluate both the world around them and their own beliefs and thought structures. Having Amy with me has emphasised the need for what I have defined as a ’review.’ This has been helpful to both myself and I hope Amy too. I remember the first week that she began interning with me, we visited 5 different churches in just a few days. Normally after a meeting with a church I will get in my car and think through the conversations, however having someone in the car, enabled a space to review between us what we had observed and learnt. I was able to ask Amy questions like ‘what did you observe in that meeting?’ Or ‘What did you notice was unique about that church?’ ‘Is there anything that was said that you wholeheartedly agreed with or really disagreed with?’ These questions meant that the exposure wasn’t pointless but had purpose and meaning attached to it and encouraged an attitude of ‘every situation is a learning opportunity.’

How can you as a church leader encourage a culture of question asking and review to help young leaders learn from every situation?

1. Ensure you are reviewing what you are learning from different situations you find yourself in and as appropriate she with a young leader.

2. After a meeting/new experience/leadership setting, ask a young leader for one thing they learnt from observing. Note: the more you ask these questions, the more young leaders will get used to looking for things to learn from.

“Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” John 4:35

In this passage that this verse is from we see Jesus speaking to a samaritan woman. The disciples are confused by why Jesus would be doing this and so in the midst of the story we see a conversation between the disciples and Jesus who is explaining that there are so many possibilities and opportunities open to them to speak to those around about himself. What the disciples saw as a needless distraction on the journey, Jesus saw as a great opportunity. I am so grateful to those who were in my life as a young leader who helped me to realise my calling and step into it from a relatively young age. In my visits to various different churches, many say ‘how do we get the young in’ but so few are intentional about raising the next generation to lead. This leaves young people on the outskirts not realising there is a place for them to make a difference in the local church. I am passionate about creating opportunities for young leaders to outwork their calling not just in business or at university or in their schools, but in the local church too. One of the reminders God has given me through this intentional internship is that the possibilities of what a young leader can do are endless. Jesus calls irrespective of age. Although young leaders may not have the years of experience as an older leader would, if they have a ‘yes to Jesus’ attitude, what God can do through them is limitless. Our role as ‘older’ leaders is to see the possibilities and make space for young people to step into all God has for them.

How can you as a church leader see the possibilities and embrace them to release more young leaders into ministry?

1. What opportunities are there in your church for young leaders to be developed?

2. What opportunities are there in your church for young leaders to outwork what they are learning in leadership?

3. Are young people represented in your teams that serve in your church? How can you better involved young people in different areas of church?


This past few months have solidified the belief in me that there is no limit to what a group of young people could do if and when the hand of God comes upon them. I constantly have to remind myself that when the early church began, most of the disciples were still under the age of 25. That idea excites me. What could happen if we could champion the next generation, being a little more intentional in our discipleship, making space for them to make a difference in our world? I am forever challenged to be like Jesus and He took a group of ordinary young people and intentionally discipled them for 3 years. In our terms, they did a 3 year internship with Him. I hope you as a church leader will not just put on a ‘programme’ to develop young leaders but will realise that you personally have a role to play in developing the next generation. Find a young person and start spending time encouraging, developing and pouring into them. You won’t regret it!

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