Because life is a series of edits

Welcome, Interns (Part 3)

In Church, Education, Seminary on November 3, 2009 at 5:44 am

(Part 3 of "Welcome, Interns" for my Ed. Leadership class. Part 1 is here; part 2 is here.)

6) Greater influence requires greater awareness – of others and yourself. One of the most important things you will learn about during your time at First Presbyterian is the power of influence – yours upon others, others’ upon you, and everyone’s upon the system. Before you can own your influence, you have to grow in your awareness of it by paying more attention to others and their responses and reactions to you. This is not a call to an unhealthy preoccupation with yourself; however, having an idea of how your presence (or absence) shapes meetings, discussions, decisions, events, and evaluations can give you great insight into why and how God has gifted you the way he has (or perhaps hasn’t). Embracing this discovery process and owning the results of it are key to developing yourself as a person; helping others embrace and own these same things in their lives develops you as a leader.

7) You are not your gifts, and your gifts are for others. As tempting as it may be to view your internship as the vehicle through which to highlight your many ministry talents (sort of a “Denominational Idol,” if you will), now’s as good a time as any to develop a healthy theology of spiritual gifts and abilities. First and foremost in this endeavor should be the idea that you are not your gifts, with a prime corollary being that your gifts are for others – believers and skeptics alike. Few things are less attractive than a show-off in the Body of Christ, so don’t be that guy. Instead, ask God and your leadership for the opportunities that they think will best help you help First Presbyterian; then, after being faithful in those opportunities, ask them for their honest feedback, not taking personally their comments (good or bad), but seeking to listen for how God may have used your gifts in the lives of others. Remember: you are not your gifts, and your gifts are for others. This feedback and (hopefully) affirmation from the church – not just generic spiritual gift tests or surveys, though they’re helpful – is how you discover more of who God made you to be and why.

8) Inspiration matters, but so does your integrity in summoning it. Understand right now that there is no Intern-of-the-Year award at First Presbyterian; thus, there’s no need to be (or try to be) the most hip, charismatic, and brilliant intern the church has or will ever have. This may disappoint some of you who, by nature, are hip, charismatic, and brilliant and were hoping for your shot at the title, but for others of you who are less hip, charismatic, and brilliant, let this lack of award competition be permission to be who you are and inspire others accordingly. Don’t hear what I’m not saying: inspiration is, well, inspiring, and people at First Presbyterian probably don’t get enough of it, but the inspiration they’re looking for – indeed, the inspiration they need – is the Spirit’s inspiration in response to the Spirit’s inspired Word. This doesn’t mean you can’t play an inspired part – just make sure it’s a supporting role, one that doesn’t compromise your personality and character to play it.

9) Be an optimistic realist instead of a pessimistic idealist. It’s easy to be the guy in the corner who knows how church is supposed to be and relishes being the one who doubts it ever will be. His is a "no-lose" situation; that is, if something screws up, he’s right, but if something actually works, he’s merely surprised (rather than wrong), while everyone else is simply relieved that something went well. But “no-lose” does not equate to “win-win,” so this isn’t very helpful. What is helpful (and, I've learned, more accurate and biblical) is taking the perspective of an optimistic realist – that is, one who recognizes the bad that could happen, but prays with hope that good will overcome. That said, resist evaluating everything by the pessimistic idealist’s “It’s never what it could be” declaration of doom, and rather adopt the optimistic realist’s approach of “It is what it is, but I pray it can be better,” as it’s a much healthier perspective for you, those you lead, and those who lead and work with you.

10) Prayer is not hard; wanting to pray is what’s difficult. That’s because wanting to pray means being willing to recognize your needs before God. And, while not wanting to do this for the sake of your pride may seem selfish enough, let’s add to the dysfunction: perhaps you’d rather judge others for having needs, which makes you feel better about having (but not praying about) yours. It’s sick, isn’t it? Indeed it is – which is why you as an intern need to wrestle not with your guilt over your real prayerlessness, but with your pride over your pretend sinlessness. After all, what is prayer if it is not a measure of how sufficient you view yourself? If you really want to grow in prayer, ask God to show you how competent you aren’t during this internship. You may be surprised how much more you pray as a result.

So there you have it: ten thoughts to consider as you prepare for your internship at First Presbyterian this summer. Granted, my ideas may not seem particularly insightful, but I share them with you in hopes that they will become more so. As you should do with all counsel (solicited or unsolicited) from others, chew on the meat, spit out the bones, and pray the Spirit would wash away any bad taste left in your mouth.

In close, don’t take yourself too seriously or your sin too lightly. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Have a great summer.

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