Internships play a crucial role in developing competent ministers within the church. Joshua Dawalt, lead pastor at New Covenant Church in Pleasant Garden, North Carolina, shares how his church’s journey toward multiplying young ministers has led to the establishment of a successful internship program that is scattering seeds throughout their district, and that they hope will lead to future growth.
A decade ago, New Covenant Church hired Joshua Dawalt as the lead pastor when he was just 25 years old; and shortly thereafter, Dawalt hired Jonathan Wilkerson (a few years his junior) as the youth pastor. As a young staff themselves, they were grateful for congregants who loved them, invested in them, and encouraged them in their ministry.
Eager to invest in young leaders, a few years later, they began to dream about building a program that would equip and empower emerging ministers; and in 2018, Wilkerson initiated a conversation about starting an internship program at the church. The church was maturing, stable leadership systems were in place, and they were beginning to identify potential leaders who could use a focused pathway for development.
Seeing the potential to share their blessings and knowledge with others, they took on a student from Southern Wesleyan University (SWU) as their first intern in 2019. From there, they expanded, taking on summer interns and residents in 2020. Seeing the potential of the program (and desiring to help it be sustainable for the local congregation), the district was willing to offset up to half the cost of the internship; and that commitment continues as the district continues to commit to leadership development.
The journey of developing interns wasn’t without challenges, Dawalt says. “The biggest obstacle and greatest requirement is having someone who is committed to the process, able to give 20 hours per week’s worth of work, and schedule time in the office to be with the interns and help them develop,” reflected Dawalt. “But I would say the first piece is having a person who is the champion of it… who can go above and beyond, and explain, ‘this is why we do what we do,’ and help young pastors internalize what ministry is about.”
One remarkable success story is that of Braeden Barrett, a student they met at a camp in the summer of 2021. Seeing potential in him, Jonathan Wilkerson took Braeden under his wing and encouraged him to enroll at SWU. After interning at another church (Shady Grove in Colfax, North Carolina), Braeden’s growth and transformation were evident to the people around him.
“A phrase we commonly use as we think about our internship program is the power of ‘change of pace and change of place,’” said Dawalt. “That was a difference-maker for Braeden, and for many we work with.”
Recognizing the importance of helping students identify a call to ministry, Dawalt and other district leaders focused on the NC West District’s camps and conferences as opportunities for students (like Braeden) to listen for God’s call to serve – whether through vocational ministry or to ministry through another vocation. After students are called, the NC West District hopes to create clear pathways that future ministers can use to gain experience, mentoring, and guidance.
An upcoming intensive at Victory Mountain Camp hopes to convene many of the 60 young people–all of whom have articulated a recent call to ministry–as well as any other student feeling a call to ministry, to help them build connections, gain resources, and continue listening to God about next steps in their calling.
Amidst all these district activities, Dawalt and the The North Carolina West District Superintendent, Rev. Jerry Lumston, continue to see the academy and the church as important partners in forming future ministers.
The NC West District’s ongoing commitment to offset up to half the cost of internship programs allows churches of various sizes and stations to train future ministers. In past years, Dawalt has helped guide this at the district level, serving in the role of “Next Gen Leadership Development,” which includes helping other congregations launch and sustain internships. But before a congregation can receive an intern, they have to meet certain criteria. Among these are demonstrated commitments to winning new believers, leadership strength, financial stability, district participation, and a commitment to providing appropriate lodging and financial support for any interns taken on.
As more pastors retire, and churches look for competent leaders, New Covenant and the North Carolina West District’s approach to internship could be a model for those churches hoping to identify, develop, and deploy future leaders.
For more information about how our denomination is partnering with developing ministers, visit wesleyan.org/ECD.