Summer interns provide shot of adrenaline

MB Foundation's LeadGen scholarships help to develop future leaders

Koerner Heights Church youth pastor, DJ Toelle (center) facilitated training for LeadGen interns Dalton McAlister (left) and Sean Todd Williams (right) in summer 2021. "I can confidently say that I wouldn't have been able to do this summer well without my interns," Toelle says. Photo: DJ Toelle

Dalton McAlister didn’t expect to be quite so busy last summer. As one of six interns to receive a Leadership Generation Fund (LeadGen) scholarship from MB Foundation, McAlister immersed himself in youth ministry at Koerner Heights Church in Newton, Kansas, this summer.

Whether teaching, editing and writing curriculum, counseling at camps or managing a budget, McAlister’s internship, under the guidance of youth pastor DJ Toelle, was varied and full.

“Getting to know the behind-the-scenes of a full-time youth pastor was really crazy,” McAlister says. “It surprised me how much work a youth pastor actually does.”

This summer, MB Foundation’s LeadGen scholarship fund provided opportunities for McAlister and five other college-age interns to engage in leadership development while gaining practical experience in youth ministry at Mennonite Brethren churches in Kansas and Utah, a mutually beneficial opportunity for all.

About LeadGen

An initiative of MB Foundation launched in 2016, LeadGen provides scholarships to young adults exploring ministry leadership opportunities in the MB family.

“LeadGen was birthed out of a desire by our board of directors to help encourage the development of new leaders for our denominational family,” says Jon C. Wiebe, president and CEO of MB Foundation, the stewardship ministry serving U.S. Mennonite Brethren.

MB Foundation provides up to $50,000 per year in scholarship funds to encourage development and training for students, whether on the mission field or in the local church, including opportunities at Tabor College, Fresno Pacific University, Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, Multiply, FaithFront and internships in local churches.

Vetted by an awards committee, scholarship money is granted on three levels—each requiring progressively more levels of commitment—to high school, college and graduate students.

Since LeadGen’s inception, MB Foundation has awarded 92 scholarships, including 20 for internships in churches.

A shot of adrenaline

Summertime is busy for youth pastor David Brown at Lakeview Church’s campuses in Stansbury Park and Grantsville, Utah. So, in 2021, Brown enlisted the help of five interns from Utah, California and Kansas.

David Brown (right), Lakeview Church youth pastor, and his wife Kaitlen (second from right) hosted five interns in summer 2021. From left, James Friesen, Jason Holmes, Noah Monson, Connor Moore and Cisely Dust. Photo: David Brown

“We push really hard (in the summer) because the kids are out of school,” Brown says. “We do five events per week, and I can’t do that on my own. We really need the interns. They’re like an adrenaline shot to the youth group.”

Lakeview has had interns since 2019, but these were the first to serve Grantsville, which launched in April 2021.

“We’re really big on developing future leaders at our church,” Brown says. “Interns are a great way to do that. We’re thankful that we have the programs available to help us do that.”

Four of five Lakeview interns utilized both LeadGen scholarships and the PDC’s NextGen Leadership Development Grant. The fifth was a part-time NextGen intern.

Lakeview’s youth programming is combined across campuses, Brown says, with weekly summertime activities including a bonfire; a game and movie night; Wednesday games, worship, lesson and small-group time; a “fun Friday” involving maybe a hike or swim; and a Sunday gathering.

In addition to helping with these activities, interns built relationships, counseled at camp and helped launch Grantsville’s worship ministry. Lakeview baptized three youth this summer.

Cisely Dust’s internship helped solidify her calling as she connected youth with God and each other.

“I (learned) to accept the girls before I tried to lead them,” Dust says in a Lakeview highlight video from the summer. “It helped me realize that being a youth pastor is the only way to go for me.”

Dust has continued as an intern and intends to attend Bible college, Brown says.

Meanwhile, Connor Moore gained experience to take to his Bethany Church congregation in Fresno, California.

“It really lit a fire in me to want to continue this,” Moore says. “I am now a leader in our youth group, taking a lot of the stuff that I learned from this summer and using that experience to help grow my youth group even more.”

For Brown, who also serves as worship pastor at Grantsville, having musically-talented interns was an added bonus, something interns James Friesen, from Community Bible Church in Olathe, Kansas, and Noah Monson, from Salt Lake City, highlighted in Lakeview’s video.

“It’s such a mutually beneficial experience,” Brown says. “If there are churches looking for young energy and someone to come and help out their youth program, I would highly recommend doing internships.”

Coming full circle

Meanwhile, for Toelle at Koerner Heights, having two LeadGen interns came full circle as a former intern himself.

As a college student in 2017-18, Toelle was a youth ministry intern at Pine Acres Church in Weatherford, Oklahoma, igniting a passion not only for youth ministry but also for leadership development. So, when seeking interns for the summer, Toelle turned again to LeadGen.

“As I was looking at how we’d be able to make this work, the first thing that popped into my mind was the LeadGen grant because it enabled me to be able to do a paid internship,” Toelle says. “For me to be a recipient of the LeadGen scholarship and then use that grant to impact generations that I might not even be around for is really special.”

Sean Todd Williams, a former member of Toelle’s small group at Pine Acres; and McAlister, from Toelle’s home church of Crosspoint Church in Enid, Oklahoma (formerly Enid MB), received LeadGen scholarships.

“DJ put us through pretty serious training,” McAlister says. “He gave us scenarios to try to figure out for ourselves.”

Toelle’s training included lessons about disciple-making; sermon writing; stage presence; event planning and promotion; the MB licensing process; conflict resolution; writing a testimony; social media; church technology; and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, preaching to a camera in an empty room.

“I can confidently say that I wouldn’t have been able to do this summer well without my interns, but because of that fact, one thing I really wanted to be cautious of was I wasn’t just giving these interns busy work,” Toelle says.

Interns also planned messages for four summer youth group meetings.

“It taught me that youth ministry isn’t just about stage presence,” McAlister says. “It’s not just about filling out papers (or) writing sermons. It’s about relationships. You can get on stage and you can talk to them for hours and hours, week after week, and still not reach their heart.”

Future goals

Since LeadGen’s inception, MB Foundation has funded $153,364 in awards for developing future leaders. Wiebe’s goal is to see the full $50,000 utilized annually—the most used in one year so far is $38,600.

“I’d love to see our national family develop a more strategic leadership pipeline which LeadGen could help fund, and perhaps even increase our commitment in years to come,” Wiebe says.

For McAlister, who continues to volunteer at Koerner Heights as a junior high leader, the rigor of an internship was a learning opportunity and provided one of the best summers he’s had, he says.

“I’m incredibly thankful for the LeadGen,” McAlister says. “Without what they did for us, it would’ve been super hard to live that summer because then we wouldn’t have been able to pay for a lot of things. The church would’ve helped us out, but nothing like LeadGen.”

To learn more about LeadGen or to apply, visit leadgen.


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