Being a Non-Conventional Intern

Most guys who finish seminary either intern or land their first ministry position in pastoral ministry; that or they continue cleaning pools, painting, or selling insurance. Either way there is this natural progression forward in pastoral ministry: seminary graduate, intern, youth pastor, associate pastor, then senior pastor. Sure enough, some people fill multiple roles at the same time—like seminary student and pastor. But for the most part this is the progression. Not for me. I’m a non-conventional intern. I graduated with my Th.M. from Dallas Seminary in 2009, then entered my first pastorate in Tulsa as a High School Pastor. After four years, I departed as an associate pastor and have been a church planting intern with Joe Thorn at Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, Illinois for the past year.

I remember one of the first times I shared this story with another pastor. They asked: “Aren’t you taking a step back?” Well, yes, and at the same time, no.

I’m kind of a trendsetter—a trend that no doubt others will adopt as well and already are adopting. Still, I imagine many probably wonder what’s wrong with me. Could you not get another position in pastoral ministry? Actually, I did. I had a number of churches asking me to candidate, some of them pretty notable too. I almost accepted an offer from one to be an associate pastor, but God drew us to Chicago, and we’re still discerning exactly why.

Many pastors will discover that if they wish to get involved in church planting then they will likely step back and serve in an internship and/or a residency first. It’s becoming a normal expectation for guys, wishing to church plant. This is wise, as I’m discovering, because it helps assess fit for this unique ministry.

Why should an experienced pastor be willing to intern? What should an experienced pastor expect from an internship? And how does an experienced pastor handle this transition? Let’s take these questions head on.

Why should an experienced pastor be willing to intern?

The benefits are numerous, beyond what I’m giving here, but here are three of the most significant benefits.

First, accepting an internship role builds in much needed rest. Every experienced pastor needs a sabbatical. And too few have ever experienced one. An internship is a great way for you to get a quasi-sabbatical. Let me tell you: being an intern is a breeze compared to being a pastor. I devote about twenty to twenty-five hours a week to my “official” responsibilities. The rest of my time is devoted to study, writing, and prayer. If need be, I would work, but the Lord keeps providing other avenues for our family’s provision. Because of this, I do what I can to honor that provision and serve the church “unofficially” as well. But still, an internship is like a part-time sabbatical, and you need one of those if you’ve never had one. If you’re like me, you were putting in sixty and sometimes eighty-hour weeks. You might also have been managing major anxiety issues like I was. This is a great way to get the rest your body and soul need.

Second, it offers you time for healing. Not everyone needs this, but I did. I experienced some amount of pain coming out of my last pastorate. It has taken time to rebuild confidence and process some of my feelings, expectations, and to learn more about my weaknesses that needed sharpening and skills that needed developing. My internship has offered time to rebuild that confidence, get fresh perspective from new friends and colleagues, and learn more about myself.

Third, it offers you time for personal development. You need fresh eyes on you telling you how you need to grow and what you need to learn. An internship gives you the opportunity to have godly men you respect and love sharpen you. At least that’s been the outcome for me. It’s given me ample time to study. I’ve been pushed to read a systematic theology and numerous other books on prayer, preaching, shepherding, and more. In turn, I’m given more time to pray, opportunities to preach, and people to shepherd. All of this will profit you.

What Should An Experienced Pastor Expect From An Internship?

I’m learning more and more that much of life is managing expectations, and my expectations need to match others’ expectations for me.

If you’re someone who preached every week in a pastorate, well, that’s just not going to happen in an internship. I’ve had half a dozen preaching opportunities during the last year. Of course, for others this may seem like a windfall. Nonetheless, you have to be ready and willing to accept that you won’t be filling the pulpit as much. That takes humility and patience, especially if you are set on fire by God to preach the Word.

People will also look at you different than when you were a pastor. Some of that has to do with your own public relations campaign at church. My elders haven’t broadcasted my pastoral experience. That’s actually a good thing for me, because being a pastoral staff member at a mega church is more like being a program director than a shepherd. Yes, I sure did shepherd a lot, but, tragically, most of my time was devoted to administration and events. Ask me how to manage thirty small group leaders and put together an event, and I have you covered. Ask me to counsel an addict or a marriage on the cusp of divorce, and you’ll find me hemming and hawing—all the more reason to be an intern.

If you think an internship is going to be one extensive hangout with the pastor—in my case a smoke—or that you are going to get to do everything with that pastor, then you may be disappointed. That’s not to say that I don’t spend a good chunk of time being coached by Joe. I do, but there will also be times where I won’t see him much because we have different rhythms and responsibilities in ministry.

There are couples that need to meet privately with him. He also needs private study time. At times I study parallel with Joe or do research for him, but I don’t expect him to hold my hand. That’s part of the benefit he gets from having an intern; he has someone to share the ministry load.

Furthermore, the lead pastor is not the only person you’ll learn from. I’ve learned a lot and enjoyed spending time with our associate pastor as much as I have cherished time with Joe. Likewise, one of our lay pastors/elders has been a constant source of encouragement and learning.

How Should An Experienced Pastor Handle This Transition?

First, you should handle the transition with humility (Ph. 2:5-8). A pastor who is willing to step back and put himself in such a teachable position must possess an attitude that says, “I care about protecting the reputation of Christ.” Having local eldership functioning as covering and accountability is a necessary precaution for testing, training, and affirming a church planter. The last thing we need is puffed up entrepreneurs creating the next big public relations nightmare for Jesus and the church.

Second, you must keep in mind the priority of providing for your family. Internships don’t pay a lot. I’ve got a wife and three kids, so I can only keep this up as long as the Lord provides the funds to do so. Likewise, there is an end in sight. You can’t be a perpetual intern like Ryan on The Office. There’s been times where I’ve stepped back and examined whether I need to work part-time or pursue full-time employment during my internship. So far I am 2/3s through and God has faithfully provided along the way, with a little help from freelance writing and editing here and there. Regardless, a man’s first priority is to care for his family. If you’re not managing your household, then you shouldn’t be managing God’s (1Tim. 3:4).

Third, remain teachable (Pr. 19:20). Your covering will call you to repent of sin, or at least you better hope they do. You’re not going to commit to a year of intern ministry without revealing a little bit of the indwelling sin you wrestle with. You’ll also need to ask lots of questions and earnestly ask for feedback. Being teachable means being tactical. As you receive instruction, you need to determine how to best deploy it so it bears fruit in your future ministry.

Being a church planting intern is a rewarding experience. If you’re someone who feels called to church planting, but you’re hesitant because being an intern or resident might be “taking a step back,” I encourage you to check your heart. It may say more about you than the role.

Joey Cochran, a ThM graduate of Dallas Seminary, is the church planting intern at Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, Illinois under the supervision of pastor Joe Thorn. You can follow him at or @joeycochran.

Counsel One Another with Good News

Church: Love Poised between Faith and Hope

As Paul provides spiritual counsel for the troubled and confused Colossian Christians, he doesn’t envision them alone. Instead, he envisions them together “as God’s chosen people” (Col. 3:12) and “as members of one body” (Col. 3:15) — the church. Paul includes these words of one-another minis- try in the context of growth in grace (Col. 3:1 – 11) because sanctification is a Christ-centered community journey. “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ” (Col. 1:28).

In Paul’s letter of spiritual counsel, he does not move directly from Redemption to Consummation. Instead, he teaches that we find ourselves as the church living between two comings — the first and the second coming of Christ. We are poised between looking back with faith in our Redeemer and looking forward with hope as we await his return as Conquering Groom. What is our role in this dramatic waiting epoch?7 God calls us to speak and live truth in love.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col. 3:12 – 14, emphasis added)

And how is the church to love one another? “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Col. 3:16). Where does the church find wisdom for life in a broken world? In God’s Word, where the grand gospel narrative is told. We are to build wisdom’s house together as the redemptive narrative dwells deeply within each of us and overflows lovingly between us.

What has the church to say and do that no other human institution can say and do? We are the Jesus-centered community that speaks gospel truth in love to one another in such a way that it opens a door for sharing the gospel message (Col. 4:3). In God’s grand narrative drama, the church is, as Kevin Vanhoozer pictures it, the theater of the gospel. We are to perform the gospel in our one-another relationships with the world as our audience so that they will ask us for a reason for the faith, hope, and love they witness (Col. 4:4 – 7; 1 Peter 3:15). As the church we are to embody communion with God and one another in a manner that entices and invites others to join in.

Consummation: The Way Is Won; The Bride is Wed

The Bible’s narrative presents life as a war and a wedding, that we can capture the Bible’s drama as “slay the dragon, marry the damsel.” To people beaten down by sin and beaten up by suffering, Paul says, “Let me tell you the rest of the story — the end of the story. We were under Satan’s domain of utter darkness. Helpless and hopeless, Christ has rescued us. Just as earthly rulers transplant a conquered people from one country to another, so Christ has transplanted us from our earthly citizenship to our heavenly citizenship. But he transplants us not from liberty into slavery, but from slavery into liberty. He transplants us not out of darkness into semi-darkness, but out of dismal blindness into marvelous light. He’s disarmed his enemies and ours, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 1:13; 2:14 – 15).

Paul not only pulls back the curtain to show us the end of the war, he also shows us the beginning of the wedding. “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, with- out blemish and free from accusation” (Col. 1:22). This is almost identical to Paul’s wording in Ephesians 5:25–27 where his focus is on Christ’s love for the church, providing the example for a husband’s love for his wife. This is wedding language!

Paul is letting us eavesdrop on eternity. Just like John does. “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear” (Rev. 19:6 – 8). The victory is announced. God reigns! The wedding march starts. All the scars and blemishes of sin are cleansed. The bride wears white!

Paul and John share the same message: “The war is won! The bride is wed!” Both messages communicate the same point: the gospel is about God radically changing people. The war Christ wins for us provides victory over sin and Satan where once we were their slaves. The wedding Christ prepares us for produces purity where there once was sin and shame. And it is all for God’s glory.

This victory narrative forms the foundation of our counsel and changes the agenda of our counseling. Typically we ask God and seek help from each other to change our feelings and our circumstances. God is in the change business, but a very different type of change — heart change, Christlikeness — presenting everyone “perfect,” or mature, in Christ (Col. 1:28).

Listen to the song of eternity — it’s about celebrating Christ’s victory and the Bride’s purity for God’s glory! We look at our lives and want instructions or explanations. What we need is imagination and vision to see life today in light of eternity.

Gospel-centered counseling highlights both Good Friday and Easter — the cross and the resurrection. The gospel message is not like the White Witch’s evil rule over Narnia, where it is always winter and never Christmas. The gospel narrative is Christ’s holy and loving shepherding of the universe where it is always spring and always Easter!

Confidence as a counselor begins with how we view the Bible. The central message of the Bible is God’s announcement of our past, present, and future victory in Christ. Because God so loved us, he sent his Son to slay the dragon and marry the damsel — the Bride of Christ — us!

The Good News as the End of the Story

Though the outcome of the war is sure, skirmishes continue. When our current dreams are dashed, when we surrender yet again to another temptation, we must remind ourselves that we’ve read the end of the story.

The grand narrative of the Bible shows that life makes sense. History is moving toward a God-ordained purpose. More than that, the stories of our lives have purpose. God is directing all of history toward the final defeat of evil, toward happily ever after, toward his people ruling with him and in relationship with him.

Christ’s triumph in the drama of redemption guides our interactions in our one-another ministry. We engage one another in gospel conversations, encouraging each other to ponder: “Why give up when we lose one battle, since we know we have won the war?” “Why choose mere survival, when we are more than conquerors?” “Why choose the cheap thrills of the pleasure of sin for a season when in the end we rule the universe forever dressed in pure white robes?”

Bob Kellemen, Th.M., Ph.D., Bob is the Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, the Vice President for Institutional Development and Chair of the Biblical Counseling Department at Crossroads Bible College, and the Founder and CEO of RPM Ministries. For seventeen years he served as the founding Chairman of and Professor in the MA in Christian Counseling and Discipleship department at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. Bob has pastored three churches and equipped biblical counselors in each church. Bob and his wife, Shirley, have been married for thirty-four years; they have two adult children, Josh and Marie, one daughter-in-law, Andi, and two granddaughters, Naomi and Penelope. Dr. Kellemen is the author of thirteen books including Gospel-Centered Counseling, Gospel-Conversations, and Equipping Counselors for Your Church.

From Gospel-Centered Counseling by Dr. Bob Kellemen. Used by permission of author.

Flee Youthful Passions, Pursue Christ


Blowing on the gospel embers of young Timothy’s heart, the Apostle Paul fans into flame the grace-producing calling on the Ephesus disciple-maker. After laying down gospel thundering truths—the Word that is not bound (2:9), the Jesus who is not dead (2:8), the truth of the gospel that must be guarded (1:14), and the grace of God that strengthens (2:1)—Paul exhorts Timothy to “[cleanse] himself from what is dishonorable.”

“Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:20-21).

No one wants to be the dishonorable vessel in God’s house, right? In essence Paul is saying, “Your leadership ceiling is capped by your character.” This logic is incontrovertible with the number of texts claiming that discipleship is both a sharing of our doctrine and our lives:

“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8).

“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (Matt. 23:2-3).

So how does Paul want us to cleanse ourselves? How do we move from the cardboard toilet paper roll in God’s house to the fine china?


“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).

The church I pastor is full of twenty-somethings. We are 75% single! Although I’m on the wrong side of thirty now, I am still young in this wonderful vocation called “pastor” (Timothy was around 36 or so when Paul wrote this letter to him).

Youth carries a sidearm called “passion.” This is a good thing. It’s easier to redirect passion than to have to ignite it. Paul postulates a portrait of two youths for us: one pursues youthful passions and the other pursues Christ-likeness. He wants Timothy to flee the one and pursue the other—this is how he “cleanses himself.”

It is putting off the old self and putting on the new; it is mortification and vivification; it is Matt Chandler’s “what stirs your affections for Jesus and what robs you of your affections for Jesus?”

What are these “youthful passions” we must flee from?


1. Flee unrighteousness; pursue righteousness

Our generation, specifically those of us that grew up in the church, railed against some of the legalistic teachings where Christianity had less to do with enjoying and worshiping God and more to do with obeying all the rules—even some that were made up. What happens, typically, is the pendulum swings too far and all of a sudden we are on the other side where there are no rules. Any church or authority that tells me I can’t do something gets labeled “fundamentalist” and we just go to the next one or leave the church altogether.

So now alcohol use, sex outside of marriage, what we do, where we go, and what kind of entertainment we enjoy have little to no boundaries even though biblically some lines are drawn.

The disciple and disciple-maker pursues righteousness in both our teaching and our lives, whether its in season or out.

2. Flee skepticism; pursue faith

We are easily skeptical of authority, of church, of anything institutional although it is God who created these institutions. Whereas doubt is a natural effect of a pursuit of truth—of a sincere faith—skepticism is the youthful passion of someone who just doesn’t want to commit to anything or submit to anything other than their own desires.

Where biblical love “believes all things [and] hopes all things” (1 Cor 13:7), youthful passion judges all things and scoffs at all things. Under the guise of pursuing truth the skeptic is skeptical; always blurred by the periphery and never fixing faithful eyes on Jesus—the Author and Perfector and object of our faith (Heb 12:2).

3. Flee lust; pursue love

Not necessarily sexual lust, but idealized relationships. We get on social media and see how great everyone’s marriage is, or boyfriend is, or church community is, and never hear about any of the problems. We think our relationships should look that way. Our kids should always be smiling and “super cute”; our spouse should always look “date night ready”; our small group should always be “so much fun!”

We lust after what we don’t have and covet everyone else’s experiences.

Youthful lust is transient, flakey, and surface-level; ready to move on when it takes some work, but the pursuit of biblical love is committed, raw, gritty, rock-solid, immovable. Lust takes, love gives. Lust is impatient and passive; love is patient and kind (1 Cor 13:4), long-suffering with one another as we all follow Jesus.

4. Flee debate; pursue peace

This becomes the natural outflow of the previous three. If we are relativistic on moral issues and never concerning ourselves with obedience, and if we aren’t pursuing a sincere faith but easily skeptical, then we have things we can debate.

Rules are in place to foster peace, but if there are no rules than you don’t have peace. If we aren’t unified in our humble, faithful pursuit of Jesus together, but always questioning one another’s motives, there is division, not peace.

The youthful passion of debate rages, especially in the church, but “he himself is our peace” (Eph 2:14), and he makes both those far from God and those near, one new peaceful people. Iron sharpening iron is one thing; humble communication and confrontation sharpens, it makes mature disciples. However, continual and perpetual divisive debate flowing out of a lustful, skeptical heart is just a dishonorable vessel in the church that should be stuck in the junk drawer somewhere never to be brought out.

Do you want to be the gold honorable vessel in God’s house? Remember then, again—the Word is not bound (2 Tim 2:9), Jesus is not dead (2:8), the truth of the Gospel must be guarded (1:14)—and the grace of God strengthens (2:1)! Flee youthful passions, and pursue your Christ.

Jim Essian planted The Paradox Church in 2011 and serves as Lead Pastor. The Paradox is an Acts 29 Network church in Downtown Fort Worth, TX. Jim played eight years of professional baseball in the Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Detroit Tigers organizations prior to planting a church. Jim and his wife, Heather, have two girls, Harper and Hollis.

Sacrificing for Our Idols


In his early years, Theodore Roosevelt traveled to Europe with his family. On one trip, they went hunting for a few days, but Roosevelt couldn’t hit a thing. He later wrote:

One day they read aloud an advertisement in huge letters on a distant billboard, and I then realized that something was the matter, for not only was I unable to read the sign but I could not even see the letters. I spoke of this to my father, and soon afterwards got my first pair of spectacles, which literally opened an entirely new world to me. I had no idea how beautiful the world was until I got those spectacles. I had been a clumsy and awkward little boy, and while much of my clumsiness and awkwardness was doubtless due to general characteristics, a good deal of it was due to the fact that I could not see and yet was wholly ignorant that I was not seeing1

Idols make us blind. They not only make us blind, but also make us blind to our blindness. As many have noted, idolatry often turns good things into god things, where we seek ultimate satisfaction or security. I am not saying that every pastor who reads this is, right now, committing idolatry. I am saying, alongside men like Calvin, who said that our hearts are idol-making factories, that ministry idols can be and are a regular temptation for those in vocational ministry.

Colossians 3:1–10 is a great passage of Scripture to give us new “spectacles” to understand what is going on inside our hearts. To the extent that Christ is not supreme and preeminent in our hearts and lives, and to the extent that we are not seeking the things that are above, something else will be preeminent and our hearts will seek things here below. This is why it is so crucial for ministry leaders not only to feed others with the glory of Christ and the wonder of grace, but also to nourish their own souls at the feet of him who is the fountain of life. This is one of the reasons why Paul says that covetousness is idolatry (3:5). We are seeking life and fullness in someone or something other than God.

Keep this in mind: covetousness always says “more!” and never says “enough!” However, when the gospel of Christ and the glory of God capture our hearts, and when we see the supremacy of Christ and rest in his sufficiency, hearts that are content in the gospel will always say “enough!” and never say “more!”

Because I struggle with this idolatry in my heart, and I venture you do too, I am often tempted and often succumb to thinking like this: “I know I have Jesus, but I’d be happier if more people were sitting in the pews, if more people were grateful for what I do, if more people gave so we could have a larger budget or build a larger building, so that I could have more of a reputation and be known and admired by more people.” More. More. More. During the times when I am not sinking my heart deep into the “It is finished” of the gospel, I long for more, am never satisfied, and never say “enough.” What is the “I’d be happier if . . .” of your heart? Seriously. Take a moment and reflect on that question.

Partner—GCD—450x300Reflection is important because ministry leaders make such enormous sacrifices for their idols, whatever they may be. All idols demand that we sacrifice in order that they will bless us, so in order to experience the blessing of recognition, power, comfort, control, acceptance, or any other idol, we sacrifice our health, our families, our relationships, and even our own walk with Christ. This is why, I believe, when we are pursuing the idols that promise more and always deliver less, we will be filled with the anger and lying and bad-mouthing of others that Paul describes in verses 8–9.

The consequences of this idol worship are that, deep down, leaders may be filled with anger or constant disappointment with others because they are not able to deliver what the leader is looking for. The consequences for the leader are a dry and hard heart toward the Lord and often wrecked health and strained relationships with other leaders, with other people in the congregation or ministry, and even with his own wife and children. Idols subtly bring death into practically every sphere of life.

If the idols we are pursuing are blessing us, we will feel alive and successful—and prideful. If the idols we are pursuing are cursing us, we will feel despair and death. In the moments (and there have been way too many) when I have thought about leaving the ministry, the Lord has usually been quick to point out that I have been building my own kingdom and pursuing false gods. The disappointment and discouragement that I have felt has been more about my reputation being hurt and my selfish kingdom being crushed than about genuinely feeling I wasn’t called to ministry. I have realized that I have needed to repent for acting like some kind of Pharaoh and forcing the lambs under my watch and care to work hard to build Clay Werner’s kingdom, rather than prayerfully advance God’s. It’s as if God has been saying, “Clay, let my people go!”

Here’s what I want to say: when you realize that your internal idolatry is driving your heart and ministry, you don’t change by mere willpower. Moving forward isn’t about sin management, but about worship realignment. Deep down, at your core, Christ must become more satisfying than anything and everything else. Thankfully, the Spirit is eager and willing to help reveal Christ to your heart in such a way that you’ll treasure Christ above all things and endure even when the kingdom of God around you seems so weak and slow.2


Kingdoms come and kingdoms go, but the kingdom of God will remain forever. The danger of ministry is that pursuing our own kingdom can be easily disguised by using language from the kingdom of God.3 Too often, leaders themselves are blind to the reality that they are making ministry “their world” rather than a place of nourishment for God’s people and equipping for God’s mission. However, once the little kingdom is forsaken and repented of, the kingdom of God that is invisible yet inevitable, seemingly insignificant but yet incomprehensible in its power and breadth, will provide the deepest joy and the greatest security, especially as the eyes of our hearts remain fixed on its King.

1. Quoted by Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (New York: Random House, 2001), 34 (emphasis added). 2. Some helpful material for diagnosing idolatry are David Powlison’s “X-Ray Questions” in Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition through the Lens of Scripture (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003), 129–44; Dan B. Allender and Tremper Longman, The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions about God (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1994). I have also found John Owen’s books Communion with God, Meditations on the Glory of Christ, and On Being Spiritually Minded very helpful in cultivating a heart of worship and adoration. 3. See Paul David Tripp, A Quest for More: Living for Something Bigger Than You (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2007), 72–82.

Clay Werner (MDiv, Westminster Seminary in California) is senior pastor at Lexington Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Lexington, South Carolina, where he lives with his wife, Liz, and their five children.

From On the Brink: Grace for the Burned-Out Pastor by Clay Werner. Used by permission of P&R Publishing,