NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – When Bethel College student Nathaniel Yoder decided to participate in a summer ministry internship, he admits, he was unaware of exactly what he was agreeing to.
Yoder, a junior, was part of the Ministry Inquiry Program (MIP), which started at Bethel more than 20 years ago to encourage students with interests in church ministry to get real experience working in a congregation and to allow them to view the benefits and challenges inherent in ministry.
For Yoder, this meant exposure to a variety of tasks in his home congregation, Kalona Mennonite Church in Kalona, Iowa. He began the summer by teaching a 7th-grade Bible school class. Throughout the summer, he helped plan church services, including preaching the sermon on one occasion.
Yoder also had ample opportunities to use his musical talents, directing a men’s choir that performed at church services as well as at the Mid-Prairie Council of Churches Music Festival, where the choir sang two of only three a cappella pieces at the entire festival. “The guys and I had a lot of fun,” Yoder says.
His experience singing hymns as well as his training in music at Bethel also paid other dividends. He led congregational singing every other Sunday and led a hymn-singing workshop at Youth Escape (a Central Plains Mennonite Conference weekend youth gathering) and at a chapel service at Iowa Mennonite School, his high school alma mater.
Yoder almost missed out on participating in MIP. “I was already thinking about doing some type of music internship at my home congregation,” he says. “Then [Bethel College Director of Church Relations] Dale Schrag suggested MIP. It was pretty late notice.”
This also meant he ended up doing MIP at his home congregation, a rarity in the program. This probably changed his experience and the expectations of the program, he says, although he is quick to state that the experience was certainly still a positive one.
Working at the church also helped to crystallize a few things for Yoder about the church and the ministry.
“I’m rather old-school,” Yoder says. “I don’t want full-time pastoral or other ministry positions. I think that churches should be small and rely much more on congregational participation to function as a community. I’m not endeavoring to make life harder for everyone in the church. However, I am convicted that individual member participation is absolutely essential for a congregation to thrive.”
Naturally, one element of the Ministry Inquiry Program is to challenge participants to grow spiritually through their experience. Yoder affirms this. “God is alive and well,” he says. “One of my favorite statements this summer was presented to the high-school students in my workshop and in chapel at Iowa Mennonite: ‘If you believe that God is alive, then sing because God is alive.’ I appreciate many more everyday occurrences and regular interactions than I did at the beginning of the summer. I’d classify that as spiritual growth.”
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.