Once again, I walked out of Professor Dykstra’s office with mixed emotions. I had just been informed that the seminary faculty had granted me an internship, and that mine would take place in Hull, Iowa at Calvary Protestant Reformed Church. Mixed emotions. Of course, I was tremendously excited. For several months all the third years had ruminated, speculated, and discussed—would we be granted internships? And if so, where would they be? Now I knew definitely: the Lord had opened yet another door to the ministry. Now I could make definite plans. Now I could look forward to getting to know a concrete, real group of people and their pastor. I had heard all about the benefits of the internship, and I could hardly wait to get started.
On the other hand, the imminent prospect of something new in my seminary training conjured up the old fright and nerves I referred to in a previous post. I would argue that the internship is the ultimate test whether a man has the necessary gifts to be a pastor. On the internship, seminary students put the knowledge they have been gaining in the classroom into practice. What previously had remained mostly in the realm of theory turns into real faces, real consistory meetings, real problems. Furthermore, in my case, I knew I would be living in a completely new environment for half a year. I did not know a single soul who attended Calvary PR Church, and I knew very little of her pastor with whom I would be working closely.
To give you an idea of what seminary students face on their internships I will point out the various requirements—but keep in mind that each internship is unique, as each one takes place in a local congregation with her pastor and her council. The students have the duration of the six months to read and review ten books assigned by the professors. These books all treat some aspect of what we would call practical theology, but the content ranges from homiletics (i.e. sermon preparation and organization) to missions. As the internship puts theory into practice, so the books we were required to read on the internship were decidedly practical in nature. The students must also prepare and deliver a minimum of nine sermons (most pastor mentors actually require at least ten or eleven). Three of these sermons must take a Lord’s Day from the Heidelberg Catechism as the text, and two of the sermons must be developed for a special service. The student has more liberty with the rest of the sermons—he may preach a short series as I did, or he may simply pick several texts which strike him as significant and appropriate. The student must also teach catechism—preferably at least one bible history class and at least one doctrinal class. He must lead two bible societies, attend consistory and council meetings, and conduct pastoral visits.
In addition to the required labors, if there are any special opportunities that his internship affords him, the student does well to take advantage of them. For instance, as my internship took place in Northwest Iowa, I had the opportunity to attend some of the meetings of the Foreign Mission Committee (FMC) and thus become better acquainted with the work of that denominational committee and with missions in the Protestant Reformed Churches of America (PRCA). I also had the opportunity to attend and participate in the Young Adult’s retreat which was held in Northwest Iowa that summer. The other students had opportunities that were unique to the congregations in which they had their internships.
At the conclusion of the internship, the students must write reports on their labors to be evaluated by the professors. The mentor pastor and consistory also submit a report on the labors of their intern.
Now, having expressed the tick of fear that I initially experienced when I heard about my internship, I can confidently report that my internship went amazingly well. I think my six classmates would make the same confident assessment regarding their own internships. In fact, the Lord used my internship in a powerful way to confirm in my soul that he was indeed calling me to the ministry.
Calvary PR Church did an excellent job hosting me and my family. It was amazing to see the entire congregation stand up to support us not only financially for six months, but also spiritually with their prayers and encouragement. The saints at Calvary have a love for the Protestant Reformed seminary and for the pastoral ministry. Consequently, any fears I may have had in connection with moving to a new place for a time seem silly when I look back on the experience. My wife Lisa and I are thankful for the relationships we developed with the saints and with Rev. Griess and his family while in Calvary.
Furthermore, the fruit of having an internship in Northwest Iowa meant we had opportunity to get to know and love the church of Christ as she is manifested in Calvary PR Church, but also in the other four local congregations in the near vicinity. While at Calvary I had occasion to bring the Word to all those congregations. One of the advantages of being a seminary student is that one gets to see and meet many of the congregations in the PRC. The only other time I had been in the area was for a convention when I was 15 years old; now I have six months of experience there as an adult. Even if the Lord never calls me to serve a congregation in Northwest Iowa, I now have a better understanding of the people and churches which exist there, which knowledge I believe will serve me well going forward.
The only difficult aspect of the internship was the imminent prospect of returning to seminary for one final semester. Rumor had it that this return to seminary was difficult for students who had just tasted the joy and freedom of serving a local congregation. In addition, we were all painfully aware that at the end of this final semester would be what seemed the mightiest obstacle of all: the synodical examination.
More on this final semester of seminary next time, the Lord willing.
This article was written by Rev. Joseph Holstege who was recently ordained into the gospel ministry and is now pastor of Zion Protestant Reformed Church, in Hudsonville, Michigan.