One of our greatest priorities as believers is to invest in raising up and equipping the next generation of Christian leaders. First Church has embraced the ministry of providing scholarships and mentoring pastors-in-training who are completing their Master of Divinity degrees at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Boston. Four students were personally chosen by Pastor Doug Pratt for their superior academics and their deep commitment to Christ. Stephanie Cerezo, Jared Larson, Courtney Vereide, and Randall Wetzig were here in January for an intensive three-week internship during which they received practical training and skill development in areas of ministry that graduate schools cannot provide. The Epistle asked these pastors-to-be about their experience at First Church…

What was the most surprising thing you discovered in your time here?

Stephanie   That it takes 70 people to prepare and serve communion! What doesn’t surprise me is that First Church has 70 faithful servants willing and eager to take part in what God is actively doing in the church. And the best part: there are more where they came from!

Randall   I was surprised at how quickly and enthusiastically my fellow Gordon-Conwell students and I were accepted, involved, and trusted. It felt like we were part of the community and that many people are excited about what we are doing in our studies and our plans for ministry.

How has your experience here impacted your calling to ministry?

Courtney   For the first time, I was immersed in the world of full-time pastoral ministry and “felt my heart strangely warmed,” to borrow Wesley’s language.

Stephanie   Immediately upon my return home, a dear parishioner from my home church was in hospice. Because of the congregational care training I received, I was equipped to make a hospice visit and care for my sister-in-Christ before her homegoing… and that was a gift.

If you could share one thing with the next group of interns, what would that be?

Jared   Until you’ve experienced it, the gift of this mentorship at First Church is far richer than you can ever imagine. Have a deep intentionality to draw nearer to God and His people through this transformative blessing of serving, learning, and finding spiritual renewal in Bonita Springs.

Randall   Take advantage of all opportunities to talk to people at First Church; understand how the church has impacted them and the ways they have joined in the church’s mission. Bring a notepad and pen with you everywhere you go, because you will have a lot of ideas you will want to write down.

What part will creativity play in your future ministry as a pastor?

Jared   A HUGE part! God has gifted us with creativity to continually contextualize the gospel for a growing secular world. At the same time, He anchors that creativity with His
authoritative Word, enabling us to present His eternal truths upon a stable foundation. So regardless of the complexities of our future, creativity will be essential for the transformative message of the gospel.

Courtney   Creativity is a central part of teaching and preaching. In our rapidly changing world, the Church will need to be creative in its ministry models, as we answer questions such as: How do we minster effectively in this hyper-connected, yet ultra-lonely cultural environment?

Tell us a little bit about your next steps in ministry – where do you feel God is leading you?

Stephanie   My next steps in ministry are exciting because they’re a surprise! I want what God wants. I plan to focus on building my administrative and leadership skills, and to continue my work in urban ministry in inner-city Boston.

Jared   I feel God calling me to write and speak out to an identity crisis within the American Christian church. I also feel led to be an apologist for the Christian faith and a missionary to the Mormon people.

Courtney   I am taking the first steps in the ordination process. In January I met with a few elders of my home church to discuss going under care of Session, which essentially means that the Session affirms my call to ministry and will support me in ordination.

Randall   I will be participating in a hospital chaplaincy internship this summer and then hopefully graduating with a Master of Divinity degree in the spring of 2021. After that, I hope to find a path toward ordination and working in a local church.