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Pastoral Internship Program

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Joe and Tammy TkachThe 1940s were a time of great growth for evangelical churches. Our own denomination, then known as the Radio Church of God, was no exception. As more and more people responded to Herbert Armstrong’s broadcasts and personal campaigns, small groups would form. But with no one to pastor them, they soon disbanded. In his Autobiography, Mr. Armstrong explained how he noticed that several other small churches had resolved this problem by starting training colleges. And so, in 1947, Ambassador College in Pasadena opened. Later, sister campuses opened in England and Texas.

Ambassador College served us well for several decades. In the years when our churches grew exponentially, we were able to employ nearly every graduate. But by the 1970s through 80s as fewer and fewer graduates were employed by the church and as the costs of maintaining the campuses rose, the difficult decision was made to close all three.

This proved to be the right decision. In the last two decades, hundreds of small Bible colleges have been forced to close. Ambassador graduates have gone on to find success in many fields, and many still serve in the ministry of the church. That includes many of you reading these words. No longer are we those fresh-faced young people beaming out of the pages of the Ambassador College Envoy. Many of us, now in our late sixties, are approaching retirement.

We need to prepare the next generation of leaders and pastors. It is no longer financially possible to have a full-time training college. Nor is it necessary. There are many fine institutions, including our own Grace Communion Seminary, which provide a sound theological foundation. But ministry is more than academic knowledge. Effective pastoral training must also include practical, hands-on experience in churches.

This is why, in the US, we have our Pastoral Internship Program. We have just completed the second annual meeting of our interns and those involved in training and mentoring them (see group picture below). The meeting was held in a Christian retreat center north of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Interns, pastor-trainers and mentors gathered for Pastoral Internship Program meeting
Interns, pastor-trainers and mentors at the Pastoral Internship Program meeting

Church Administration and Development team member Greg Williams coordinates our Pastoral Internship Program. Following is a report he sent me about the recent gathering. I think you will find it encouraging.

Greg Williams addresses internship gathering
Greg Williams addresses internship gathering

We held our second annual meeting with our interns over the weekend of June 6-9. Out of the 35 attendees, 11 were pastoral interns and two were pastoral residents who are ordained elders serving in GCI churches. Ranging in age from 22 to 50, our interns are participating in one of two internship tracks: as a volunteer progressing at a pace that fits their schedule; or as a paid intern following a two-year intensive program.

The group gathered expecting to discern where the Holy Spirit is leading, to be nurtured and trained, to continue building our relational networks and to clarify our next steps. The Spirit’s activity was clearly evident in the active participation, enthusiastic conversation and transparent sharing.

cake diagram
Intern Anthony Walton presents cake diagram

A highlight of the gathering was hearing the interns offer insights during a group study of 1 Timothy. On Friday, while discussing chapter 3, two interns showed how they saw Paul’s listing of qualifications for ministry less like a “check list” and more like the ingredients of a cake. The foundation of the “cake” is Jesus. His attributes and actions, in which we share, are the cake’s substance. All this is what Paul calls “the mystery of our faith”—a mystery now revealed in the person and work of Jesus.

Our discussions continued on Saturday, examining the nuts and bolts of the internship program. The interns informed us that they feel well supported by their congregations and their denomination. They desire more interaction through the year and plan to use video chats and a Facebook page to keep in touch. They also asked for more clarity in tracking their progress and in transitioning toward pastoral leadership or church planting.

These conversations continued each day after the formal sessions were over—a good sign that people were fully engaged. The weekend showed me that the program is working well. I am impressed that this community of interns and pastor-trainers are so affirming of each other. They encourage one another and are committed to seeking the guidance and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. A deep camaraderie, grounded in shared experience, has developed.

The weekend was a valuable experience, and will help us refine our practices for training and developing emerging pastoral leaders to pastor established churches and start new ones.

This is indeed good news. Seventy years ago, Mr. Armstrong saw the need to start a college to train pastors. Times are different, and the techniques have changed, but there will always be a need for qualified and dedicated men and women to take care of those God calls through our ministry. I am reminded of Paul’s instructions to Timothy: “What you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well” (2 Timothy 2:2).

Your brother in Christ,
Joseph Tkach

PS: For a short interview with pastoral intern Jon Kuhn, go to http://youtu.be/Fkn8X32o8rc. For the recent “passing the baton” of pastoral leadership in Kansas City from Ray Meyer to Jason Frantz (one of our first interns in the current program) go to https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151442585746050&set=vb.629281049&type=2&theater.

One thought on “Pastoral Internship Program”

  1. This is great! when can we have one of these here in the Philippines? We had been ordaining pastors here without formal training and it might be good if we can have training for pastors who can really serve well the congregations as actual “Pastors”. I pastored once a local GCI church here but even with some training I thought it was inadequate so i quit.

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