In Chicago around this time of year, summer is just a whisper, a promise—and the only reason anyone endures such a painful winter and spring. One joy summer brings is the coming of summer interns. Especially if you have been at your church for more than a couple years, you naturally will have students who have connected with you, and who after a year or two away at college, will want to spend 10 weeks or so serving on your summer intern team. Here are a few things to think about as you assemble that team.

Get the Word out Early
Summer internships are quite common, and students’ schedules get booked quickly. If you expect to get good candidates, you’ll want to get to them as early as possible. Write up a quick application with just a few questions, including how their current relationship with God is, what they’ve been learning, and how they’ve been involved in ministry there.

Make the Hard Decision
If your students have been honest about how they’re doing spiritually, this may lead to a difficult decision. If one of your applicants isn’t in a good place to lead, you aren’t doing them any favors by allowing them to serve no matter how much you may like him or her personally. I had to make one such decision years ago regarding a dear student who was in an unhealthy dating relationship. After much prayer and counsel with others, I told him I couldn’t let him be an intern. Looking back, it was the best decision I could have made because it got his attention. He ended up terminating the relationship, and to this day he thanks me for doing that.

Big Events Are a Big Deal
Not all interns will be able to attend your camps or mission trips, but you should do everything to make that happen short of requiring it. The reason is that because the summer is so short, time is limited for developing the kinds of relationships in which life-on-life mentoring can happen. Camps and mission trips are perfect opportunities for this to occur. The relationships the interns make at those events will dictate how they spend the rest of their summers.

Think Small and Deep
Because the summer is quick, your interns should think small and deep. That is, encourage them to consider investing deeply in one to three students rather than spreading themselves too thin between five or more. If they can deeply impact one student in such a way that his or her life changes for the better, your intern’s time that summer will have been worth it.

Let Them Speak
I don’t give many talks at youth group in the summer. I let my interns (and interested graduated seniors) give short talks (aka talkettes) that are 10 to 15 minutes long. Doing this gives me a break, gives them opportunities to speak at a time when attendance at youth group tends to be smaller (and the stakes lower), and gives students perspectives from others they respect and to whom they are are closer in age.

Challenge and Reward Them Creatively
These are your upper level leaders, so don’t be afraid to challenge them. Each summer, my interns and I do a one-week media fast: no Internet, radio, magazines, TV, newspaper—or music in the car. As hard as it sounds to some, it ends up being very rewarding and often one of the most memorable parts of their summer.

Finally, your interns will not be paid as they might if they were interning with a larger corporation, so find creative ways to reward them. Buy snacks they can help themselves to in your office; take them out for coffee and lunch when you’re able; and consider a stipend if your budget allows.

Starting during the winter, you’ll find that your summer interns might be the ministry highlights of your summers. If you live in a place such as Chicago, just typing the word summer during the winter months might bring you a little warmth.

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About The Author

Syler Thomas is a native Texan who has worked as a pastor at Christ Church Lake Forest in Illinois since 1998. He writes a column for Youthworker Journal, has had articles published in Leadership Journal and the Chicago Tribune, and enjoys acting in the occasional play. He believes with all of his heart that the Cubs will one day win the World Series, and he and his wife Heidi have four kids.