How to Get Published

Recently, I’ve had a lot of people picking my brain about how they can become a writer/speaker. Here’s what I tell them… or what I wish I would have told them, depending on the situation.

1) Have something to say. Yeah, I know it seems obvious, but there are a lot of charismatic people out there who… well… don’t have much to say. You don’t want to be one of those.

How do you figure out your message? Well, pray about it. If you listen to someone else speak, and you get really, really angry, figure out why. Is it because they are not saying it the way that you would? How would you say it? Listen to your own petty jealousies, because they just might be directing you. Think about what gifts that you bring to the ministry. Do you have a unique perspective because of your religious background, age, ethnicity, technological skills? Have you done some interesting activism? Is your church growing? Do you have artistic, poetic, or musical skills? What do you have to say that the church is dying to hear? Be certain that you’re passionate about the subject, because you may be speaking about it for a long time to come.

2) Produce work. When you know what the topic is, then begin to read everything you can on the subject. Don’t just limit your reading to church books. Reach outside of our field and find out what other experts are saying as well, because sometimes the most interesting work is done when a religious leader takes cutting edge research and then reflects on it within his or her context. Then, start to write. Blogs have lost a bit of steam, but they are still an excellent way to get started when you don’t have another platform. Writing a blog can get you into the discipline of working every day. You can rework blog posts for magazine articles. And, for a while, more people knew me from my blog than my published works.

While you’re at it, begin to use Twitter as a public figure. Yes, Twitter matters. Talk to people. Unlock your privacy settings. Put your real name, position, and blog on your bio. If you’re used to being semi-anonymous on Twitter, it may take some of the fun out of it, but it’s also a powerful tool in making publishing connections. I have a wonderful friend who randomly Twittered his book idea, and a publisher contacted him. I have been contacted three times by publishers who are interested in my work because of Twitter.

3) Get published. Once you have your blog up and running, look for other places you can be published. We all think we know more than Elizabeth Gilbert, and we want to be the ones with the New York Times bestseller and big movie deal, but we may not be able to get a contract with Penguin right away. But there are places you can get published. There is a ladder. It’s not that hard to climb, but you may have to start on the bottom rung. Look at your denomination’s weekly newsletters. Are there respected religious blogs that you can write for? Often if a publication is not paying its writers and/or it has to publish often, then they’re always looking for good stories or book reviews.

Publishing (like so many things) is in a strange transition at the moment. Most publishers are having a hard time figuring out their strategies during this Internet age. This makes them very wary to publish authors who don’t sell, but it may also be helping them take a chance on newcomers. At least that’s how it seems. I don’t know… what’s your sense of this?

4) Don’t back-stab (i.e., I just changed “we all know more than Elizabeth Gilbert” to “we all think we know more than Elizabeth Gilbert”). And certainly don’t backstab in public. I said to be aware of your petty jealousies, but don’t blog about how much you hate another author. (Just to be clear: I love you, Elizabeth Gilbert). You might only have six people reading your blog, but one of them is the person who set up the blog alert to find out the feedback on his book. The religious writing world is very, very tiny. If you want to write, then you may have to be careful with your snarky comments. Of course, you can write something like this sweet homage.

Don’t write a nasty review of an author’s book on Shefari, and then turn around and ask her for a contribution to your blog. She read your review. And she might be your editor one day. Even if she’s not your editor, she may be making editorial decisions about you. (Publishers–large and small–contact me regularly to ask me what I think about certain authors or book ideas. And I’m just a small fish. I know I’ve advised against authors who have been rude to me. Not out of pettiness or vengeance, but the experience left a bad taste in my mouth when it came to their work.) You may criticize in broad terms, you might have a constructive dialogue, but don’t throw your hope-to-be colleagues under the bus. It might give you a short-term audience, but it makes you untrustworthy and it might destroy you in the long run.

5) Help and ask for help. You have a great amount of power in this new era of publishing. You can write a good Amazon review. You can Twitter when you’re enjoying a book. If you want to be a published author, help to promote the authors you enjoy. Some authors might ignore it when you do (authors often ignore me), but the smart ones will pay attention. I have scored big interviews for God Complex, because I’ve helped the author promote his or her book. I’ve made great friends this way too.

When you’ve been working hard on proposal, ask for help. And women, I’m talking to you. For some reason, it seems that men contact me for help often, and women rarely do. I mean, really close friends will send off a proposal without asking for my help. What can a seasoned author do for you? He can look at the query and proposal and tell you where your mistakes are. Often, he can make a contact with the publishers and put in a good word for you. Of course, you need to build a relationship with the author before he or she will do this. And some authors don’t have the time. There have been situations when I can’t get back to someone with advice, because I’m swamped. If I’m one of fifty people copied on an email, I’ll ignore the request. I can give advice as one person, but I don’t have time to be part of a survey. If you don’t hear back from an author, don’t take it as a failure, it’s just the nature of writing. The workload is often feast or famine, and when it’s feasting time, then the writer has to concentrate hard on prioritizing. He may not get back to you, but that’s probably not because your work sucks. It’s probably just because the writer has put it on the back-burner and forgotten. Or they don’t have the time to help new authors.

And… that’s my advice for publishing, but I’ve gone on too long and haven’t gotten to speaking. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow. So, what would you add?


Whiskey Preacher Podcast

I had a chance to talk to the man, the legend, the Whiskey Preacher–Phil Shepherd. Phil and I have become friends in the last few months. He and his wife, Stephanie, started a new church in Fort Worth called The Eucatastrophe. He’s always fun to talk to and so I was honored to help him kick off his Sophia Series on his podcast. I invite you to check it out and keep listening. He has a number of wonderful guests who will be joining him in the days to come.

The World As It Ought to Be

Text: Matthew 6:9-15

The rainbow scarves fascinated Libby Shannon. Throughout the Assembly, she saw them, hanging proudly over the necks of men, women, and teenagers. People over the age of seventy wore them, as well as those in their twenties, as a witness to their support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender men and women in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Libby was attending the 219th General Assembly of the PC(USA) in Minneapolis, a biennial gathering of pastors and lay people, who make decisions on behalf of our two million-member church, which took place a couple of weeks ago. They pray and study together, seeking guidance for their work together and making declarations about social justice issues that will focus our energy and mission.

I also noticed the scarves, even though I was not in Minneapolis. I first saw them hanging from the crochet needles in our Wednesday night dinner and coffee time, as Jean Ackor and other women knitted them at our church. Then I saw them at the General Assembly. I was in my living room, watching the Assembly as it was livestreamed over the Internet. There were many issues discussed and brought before the gathering—motions on gun violence, discussions on Israel and Palestine, initiatives on the environment, and changes to our church government. In all of this, the ones that always garner great attention are around the inclusion of LGBT people. Would our insurance begin to cover gay or lesbian partners? Would we redefine marriage from “a man and a woman” to “two people”? Would the church allow people who are open about their same-gender relationships become ordained?

Our denomination works a bit differently than other denominations. We do not have powerful bishops who decide the will of God and the people. It’s a much more democratic system, with laypeople and clergy represented in our decisions. At the heart of many of these decisions, we would be pointing to a deep cultural shift, one that not only acknowledges same-gender relationships but says that God blesses them.

It ended up that the Assembly approved the insurance coverage of same-gender spouses. They tabled the discussion to redefining marriage. And they removed an amendment to our constitution that would restrict gays and lesbians from being ordained. But since the last action was a change to our church constitution, it needs to be voted on by the Presbyteries (our local bodies) before it becomes ratified. And so the struggle begins again. The amendment will go out to the Presbyteries, and the Presbyteries will vote. In the last years, the vote has failed when it’s gone to the Presbyteries. But every year, LGBT advocates gain a few more Presbyteries than we did the round before.

Libby Shannon is a student who graduated from seminary. She’s young, she’s in her twenties, and she believes strongly that LGBT people should be ordained and that they should be able to marry. Many studies have been done on the religious habits of people in their twenties and thirties, and a lot of us have difficulty filling out the religion section on our Facebook page. There are not many who are committed to a denominational church. So I asked Libby, if we’re people who believe in inclusion of LGBT people, why do we stick around? Why don’t we just leave?

In response, Libby pointed in two directions. She directed my attention backwards and reminded me of all of the women and men who fought this very same battle so that women could be ordained. “What would I be saying to the legacy of those women, if I just gave up? What would I be saying to them, if I didn’t fight for what I thought was right in our church, and just took the easy way out?”

And then she pointed the other direction. She looked to the future and told me about the about the youth group that she worked with. “I’m doing it for them. I’m doing this so that they can have a church that loves everyone, no matter what his or her sexual orientation might be.” I was inspired by Libby’s words. She knew that we are imperfect, earthbound people, but she still had a longing for the ideal and a hope for something better.

I do not want to characterize the struggle in our denomination in terms that are too simplistic (especially since my views are clearly on one side). But to quickly explain what is happening, I will say that there are those in our denomination who point to the six passages in Scripture that condemn same-sex relationships, and see those passages as so important that they feel as if we back off from them, then we are no longer seeing the Bible as a guide for our lives. It is very important for them.

Then there are those, like me, who read about love, marriage, and sex in the Scriptures and we see that relationships have evolved dramatically with culture. As a woman, I cannot point to the authority of the Bible when it comes to marital relationships. I cannot look at the Scriptures and say “Ahhh. That is what marriage ought to be like.” Because when I read about marriage from a women’s perspective (frankly) it’s filled with horror stories. Women are bought and sold like property. There are many wives for every husband. Men have sex with their slaves if they cannot bear children with their wives. Marriages are arranged for political alliances. Kings keep harems of women. There does seem to be one loving relationship in the Song of Songs, but the lovers are sneaking around in that book, and they’re clearly not married. And so, as someone who takes the Bible very seriously, I can’t see it as an ideal authority on love and marriage, between one man and one woman, because I just don’t see it in the Scriptures.

When I point out how oppressive and abusive marriage is for women in the Bible, people can be quick to defend. They say, “Those were cultural practices, so we cannot take modern our view of marriage and superimpose it on an ancient view.”

And I agree. Our cultural definition of marriage has changed since biblical times. So if we cannot take our view of marriage and expect for biblical marriages to live up to our standards, then we should not be taking the biblical standards and imposing them on our culture. Culturally, we believe that loving relationships are between two people who commit themselves to one another. We know that no marriage is perfect, people are earth-bound, but we still hope for the ideal. We know how the world is, but we long for the world as it ought to be.

The struggle reminds me of the time I was reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a story that took place in Savannah, Georgia. In the book, they were going to trial and they were trying to weed out those who might be prejudice against a gay man, and so they asked a series of questions, trying to detect any homophobia. And the last question they asked–the very last litmus test that they pulled out was to ask if they would you mind if their pastor was gay. The lawyer determined that if they said no to that question, then the final barrier was removed.

I wonder if that’s true. And if it is, it puts this struggle into a bit more perspective. Are we trying to remove the last barrier for the next generation? I know that gays and lesbians face discrimination all over our culture. I’m not saying that the struggle is over when LGBT people can be ordained. But I wonder, is that the reason we stay in this historic denomination, even when we know it’s not right? Is it because we know that people are earth-bound, but we still dream and strive for the ideal, the heavenly?

In a strange way, Libby’s words reminded me of Jesus’ prayer, the one that we say every Sunday morning. We read the context for it this morning. Jesus is teaching the disciples how to pray, and he gave them these words. And I always pause at that bit about “On Earth as it is in Heaven,” because I do not know what heaven is like. None of us do. We have ideas of it from the Bible, but really, we don’t even have that many of those. And the authors never experienced it, except through visions. I believe in heaven, and not just because it gives people incredible comfort when their loved ones come to the end of their lives. I believe that in our birth we emanated from God’s love, and in our death we return to God’s love. And there is a very real sense in which heaven is what we wish for and long for, where suffering will melt away.

And so I wonder, as disciples of Jesus, when Jesus invites us to pray, “On earth as it is in heaven,” if we are not being invited to dream a bit. It is as if we are being told, “pray for the perfect world. Even when what is surrounding you is far from perfect, keep hoping and keep dreaming for a world that is.”

Prayer is an incredibly powerful exercise. And one of the most important parts of prayer, is that we verbalize what we want. If you are like me, this doesn’t always come naturally. You know, often times we are taught to be happy with what we have, rather than dreaming of what we want. And it is extremely important to be satisfied with the things that we have, but in the last few years, I have just discovered how important it is to imagine what I want. It is important that we write it down carefully, and ask God for it.

A business is typically not going to be successful if that business does not have a plan. A non-profit organization may not be effective if they do not have a vision statement. A church will flounder if the congregation does not have a mission. As citizens, we will need keep imagining what a just society looks like, and work for that end. And as humans, we may never understand what our purpose is in this life, if we never ask ourselves what we want out of it. Some people have no problem with this at all, but there are many, many people in this world who do not know what they want, especially those who have been historically oppressed. They might feel as if they are at the mercy of everyone else’s desires, and they don’t know how to fight for their own vision of what might be good and right.

This may seem like a completely selfish venture, and it can be. Often it is. I mean, the “prosperity gospel” is unique in our country and history, and it is often born out of selfishness and greed. And I don’t think that the American prosperity gospel is what Jesus had in mind… but it is a wonderful thing to imagine, “What if earth was like heaven? What would that look like? What would a just society look like? What would the world look like if every barrier to God’s love was lifted?” We can imagine it on a global scale and a local scale, and even in a personal sense. What would the ideal state of things, where there is no separation from God’s love, look like? It reminds me of the words of Walter Rauschenbusch, a wonderful pastor and writer from the turn of the twentieth century, who worked with the poor in New York City. He said that our struggles as Christians is “a great revolutionary moment, pledged to change the world as-it-is into the world as-it-ought-to-be.”

The world as-it-is into the world as-it-ought-to-be.

On earth as it is in heaven.

I wonder if that is what keep Libby from giving up on our historic denomination, not content with allowing it to look anything less than God’s unbounded love. I wonder if “on earth as it is in heaven” is the prayer that worked through each stitch, as women and men crocheted rainbow scarves, in the hopes that the next generation will have a church and country that is free from discrimination. Even though they know what the world is, they will continue to work and hope for a world as it ought to be. They will continue to be a witness to Gods love.

It is a prayer of great power, when we begin to pray it. There can be a great humility if we ask God to bless our hopes. Let us go out, with that prayer on our lips. To the glory of God our Creator, God our Sustainer, and God our Liberator. Amen.

What Causes Pastors to Burnout?

Pastors have a fifty percent burnout rate. In the first couple of years of ministry, half of them will drop out. I expect this from nursing and teaching, but I didn’t know that the rate would be quite so high for the pastorate. Do our churches realize what we’re doing to our professionals? What about our denominations? When we put so much time and energy into preparing pastors for the ministry, isn’t it disconcerting to watch half of them leave within a couple of years? I have often seen people shrug off the burnout. They figure that the ones who were not tough enough left. We question their call into ministry, or find another way to blame the pastors for the failure.

But what if our assumptions are not true? What if blaming the pastor is not the solution to our problem, but compounds the problem? What if we’re losing our most gifted and talented professionals? What if it’s the healthy ones who are leaving? What if we ought to be looking at the employment situations instead of assuming it’s the minister’s fault? I wondered about this, so I asked my twitter community of pastors (I’m @CarolHoward) about why we fizzle out so quickly. This is the feedback that I heard.

The Financial Realities—No one entered the ministry to make a lot of money. We don’t expect to. But the problem occurs when it takes an awful lot of money to go to college and seminary. After seven years of no income and high tuition, most of us have tremendous debt, and when we take that first call in a small church or as an associate pastor, we simply cannot make the numbers add up. Too often, pastor salaries are decided by people who have never had to live with the reality of school loans, and the fact that their new pastor might be 40k in the hole never occurs to them. But the financial burden becomes too difficult for the pastor, and she has to walk away.

The Professional Loneliness—Clearly, after you become a pastor, going to a party will never be quite the same experience again. There are people who will tell you every problem they have had with religion, or every problem that they have in general. They will apologize for cursing or for drinking. Or they are entirely too happy that you’re a minister. And all of it can make a pastor long to be just an ordinary citizen of the world. The problem becomes compounded when the pastor is single. I recently went to lunch with a wonderful group of clergywomen, who explained that they do not tell guys their profession on the first few dates. They tell them that they work for a non-profit.

The Gaping Disconnect—There was also the sense that there was a detachment between the theory we learned in seminary, and the practical application that we needed in the church. For instance, we weren’t taught enough about finances, budgets, technology, or conflict management. I would add that we’re not taught evangelism in a way that is practically applicable either.

The Downward Trajectory—There was the difficulty of walking into a church that has been plummeting in membership for the last forty years. The frustration , anger, and longing to recreate the past looms large. Then when the new pastor walks in, he or she is considered to be either the bearer of salvation or the reason for the failure.

The Idea Dam—There was the palpable frustration over leaving seminary with great excitement and an innovative spirit for ministry, and then having all of that creativity blocked in the first few years. When a pastor is full of ideas, going into a declining church that is looking back, hoping to re-create the past, can be like a rush of water that hits a giant, concrete wall and has nowhere to go. As I look at generational theory, I can see that this could be a particularly frustrating thing for Generation X (those who are 28 to 48), because a leading characteristic that marks our Generation is innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit. Yet, in our churches, our creative flow can get quickly jammed.

Then there was The Problem of Productivity–We live in a world of metrics, reports, and data. Our congregants want to see our output, they want measurable proof that we have been working, that our time has been used in a valuable way. But what do you do when you spend ten hours of your week, counseling a couple through a terrible divorce? What do you do when you read a theological text to prepare for a sermon? How do you measure those hours, when you sneak off to the hospital to visit the teenager who just tried to commit suicide, but her parents don’t want anyone in the church to know about it? What about those weeks when your work calls you to be out of the office more than in it?

So much of our time is filled with work that cannot be measured, sometimes it cannot even be accounted for, but it is incredibly valuable. Not only that, but there seems to be a lack of trust underlying much of this inquiry. It can be quite frustrating to be laboring overwhelming hours, and then have anxious members checking to see if your car is in the church lot or have others proclaim that you “only work one hour week!”

It is clear that we cannot continue to train so many people and have them leaving the profession after a couple of years. So can we begin to imagine churches in which pastors can flourish? How can we communicate these problems to our congregations? What can we do for pastors who are starting out that might ease some of these tensions? What do you wish someone had done for you?

Podcast Conversation with Charlie Gross

It’s hard to tell, but there’s a lot going on at this blog… or at least behind the scenes of the blog…. I’m trying to get it redesigned so that it can be nice and pretty when my book comes out next month. The book is Reframing Hope and can be ordered now, at Amazon.

So while I do some tidying up in the back room here, you are welcome to listen to a recent podcast conversation I had with Charlie Gross, the Associate Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Donegal. He’s hosting a series of conversations on the Missional Church.

Missional Church Podcast

What is your legacy?

When I was in Cajun Louisiana, serving as a pastor, I learned about traiteurs. When people would get sick, they would go to the doctor and to the traiteur, just to make sure all of their bases were covered. Many of my neighbors, friends, and members of my congregation would say, “I was suffering from arthritis. I went to the doctor and I went to the traiteur, and now I’m healed. You can decide which one made me better.” And as they said it, I always got the feeling that I was voting for the doctor, and they were voting for the traiteur. The traiteurs were healers who lived in the swamps. I tried to research them, but there was very little written on them. They have a few pages in Cajun history books, and now there’s a wikipedia article on them. I never went to one, but I was pretty fascinated by them, so I was always asking people for stories.

They seemed to have combined some of the religious voodoo practices that are common in New Orleans with the liturgies of the Catholic Church. Some of the herbal treatments reminded me of the medicine men in Uganda. And then there were some interesting practices that seemed more magical. Like if you came to be healed from a wart, they would rub a dime over the wart, then they would tell you that when you spent the dime, then the wart would be transferred from your hand to the person you gave the dime to.

Their hands often radiated heat. When they were healing a dislocated shoulder, the patient could feel the burning coming from the palms of the traiteur’s hand. For the most part, traiteurs were men and women of prayer. They had a book of prayers that they would whisper, hardly audible for the person who came for healing. People didn’t pay them with money very often. They paid with food–chicken, shrimp, fish, or vegetables from the their gardens.

And one of the most interesting things that I learned about the traiteurs is they had an intricate system of passing down their miraculous knowledge. According to wikipedia, if the traiteur was a man, he would teach a woman. If the healer was a woman, she would pass down her knowledge to a man. One by one, the healer would teach the prayers to the apprentice, and when the apprentice would learn the prayer completely, then the teacher would lose power over that particular prayer. The prayer became the student’s, and no longer the teacher’s. Through many years, they would go through this ritual, until all of the prayers belonged to the apprentice. For almost 250 years, since the Acadians settled Louisiana, this ancient tradition has been kept alive through this process.

The magic tied to this process reminds me of the idea of legacies and inheritance in our Scriptures. There were two offices in the Old Testament, two kinds of religious jobs. One was that of a priest—and the priest would maintain the temple or the synagogue. He would keep the offerings burning on time and made sure that the rituals were followed correctly.

Then there was a prophet, a person who often caused chaos. When everyone was fat and happy, the prophets were there, reminding them that God’s punishment was just around the corner. When people were lamenting and in anguish, prophets were there, tearing their clothes, sitting in ashes, telling people about the mercy, grace and love of God.

In the Old Testament, there was a system of identifying and training prophets, usually within a family. They would look for the next generation of leadership, and they would anoint their predecessor. When a prophet found another prophet, he or she (there were women prophets. We know about Deborah, the judge and prophet, so there were probably more) would take a horn of oil, and pour it over the head of the predecessor to mark them. Often when a holy person died, he or she handed down their “mantle.” Or there was a blessing that was passed on. There was a sense that something miraculous was exchanged between the two people. This is what happened with the exchange of power between Elijah and Elisha. Elijah and Elisha are incredibly fascinating characters. Elijah was a prophet, and Elisha was his apprentice. They’re kind of funny, kind of magical, and kind of scary.

In many ways I was lucky to start my ministry in South Louisiana, because this idea of apprenticeship was not only alive in the Cajun culture, but also in the African American culture. And so as I began my first years as a minister, several Methodist pastors took me under their wing. I was a 26-year-old feisty feminist, and these men who had been pastors for fifty years. And yet they took time with me, once a week, for an entire afternoon, to study Scriptures and give me advice. I was, at first, infuriated by what was happening. I thought it was pure patriarchy! I was always respectful to the men, but every week after we met, I told my husband that I wasn’t going back. I felt like just because I was a young woman, they were going to sit around and tell me what to do all day long. As if I had nothing to contribute to the conversation. But I kept going back.

Then I really started needing their help, and they were there, teaching me how to navigate the difficult terrain of a small church. Telling me when to take sides in a congregational conflict, and when to act as the mediator. Pretty soon, I became less angry about the injustices that I had to endure as a woman, and I began to empathize with my colleagues who served faithfully in communities where segregation and abuse was still very much alive. And, I’m not sure how to explain it, but they put recordings in my head that I’ve played back for a dozen years as I’ve served as a pastor. They established a foundation for me that I walk on every day. And I’m incredibly thankful that they took the time to drink thick black coffee, and teach me how to be a pastor.

I don’t know what I would have done if I started out here, in D.C. It is a sink or swim place, in our profession. There is rarely the expectation or vision among colleagues that we mentor each other. And, our schedules are so packed that it takes weeks to get a lunch appointment. It seems that it is not just in this particular religious community, but it can be all over.

We have lost the sense that something magical happens when we share our knowledge with someone who is starting out. We have lost this sense that we have a mantle, a legacy that we can pass on. Sometimes we do not know how to look at the next generation, not as a threat or competition, but as a hope that they will achieve greater things than we will. That they will make the world a better place.

Sometimes I worry that we have lost the art of teaching the next generation in our country.

I am not sure why, but maybe it’s because we used to be an agrarian based culture, where the hard labor had to be shared—especially with those who were younger and stronger. Therefore, knowledge needed to be passed down as well, or we could not eat. There were family farms and family businesses, and so it was important for each generation to entrust their knowledge to their sons. Then, as the industrial revolution replaced the agrarian culture, and the tech and service industry replaced that, we entered into a time of competition. Instead of sharing the work so that all might be fed, we entered an economy that realized that keeping secrets was much more important than sharing them. Professions were not passed down from one generation to the next in the same way. People began to go to college to become trained. And sometimes, the academic pursuit of a profession was removed from the practical implementation. It seems that apprenticeships were replaced by internships.

D.C. is run with interns. We’ve had interns at our church. It seems that internship are highly competitive to get into. But they are too often about young, college graduates who have way too much student loan debt, are yet they expected to work for free without health insurance, paying rent in expensive cities, and going into more debt. Often it sets up a system of privilege so that people who have parents who can afford the internships, can do them. Many times internships are about doing the grunt work, and not learning the important skills and knowledge that the organization has to offer.

Don’t get me wrong. A good internship is a wonderful thing. Yet, for many college students in our country, they are expected to work for free for at least one year in order to get a decent job. Imagine if you had to live in DC, when you’re just starting out, without any income, for at least one year. (I’m sure many of you don’t have to tax your imagination too much, because you’ve already been through an internship, or you’re in one now.) This system is putting students into debt, and it’s eating away their parent’s retirement savings.

Now, I know that our city would probably shut down if there were no interns, but in this difficult economy, could it be time to start thinking about what we are doing to people in these situations? They’re in no place to complain, because they typically need to get a job out of it. But in this time when recent graduates face rising school debt, stagnant salaries, high rents, and lack of jobs, should we be expecting that they work without pay for so long? Often, it seems like an undue burden for those who desperately need a lighter load. We may need to ask some questions. If an intern is, in essence, contributing to the politician, office, church, or NGO a year’s salary, are we giving them more than just a foot in the door? Are we training them, mentoring them, and spending time with them? Are we setting up a system where people who do not have families with means are getting that much farther behind than those with means?

It’s not just in D.C. When I was teaching at a conference for campus ministers this week, we started talking about internships, many of the pastors agreed that this has become very damaging to young adults in our country. One campus minister even compared it to slavery.

Too often, we have lost the sense of building up new leaders, of leaving a legacy to the next generation. And I don’t just mean money, but I mean investing the time, the wisdom, and the secrets. I mean taking that metaphorical bull’s horn of oil, and seeking out that particular person. The one who will become greater than you are. And when you look back at your career, you can point to that person and know that a double portion of your blessing is still living in them.