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ERLC internship helps cultivate next generation of ministry leaders

A group of Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission interns pose with ERLC President Brent Leatherwood (3rd from left) at the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting. (ERLC photo)

NASHVILLE (BP) – The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s summer internship program is designed to train the next generation of ministry leaders by equipping them for engagement in the local church and involvement in the public square.

For Alex Ward, research associate and project manager for the ERLC, his internship opportunity did just that.

“I walked away from my internship with a deeper love for the Southern Baptist Convention and the work that our churches are doing across the country and around the world,” Ward said. “I can with great confidence say that this agency has helped me grow professionally and spiritually.

“There are mentors and friends in my life who have encouraged me, professionally and spiritually, that I would not have had without my time as an intern in our Nashville office.”

Ward now leads the ERLC’s internship program and hopes to inspire a similar experience for other students.

“Our goal with the ERLC Internship Program is for each student to come away with a deeper understanding of what it means to live out the Gospel in the public square,” Ward said. “We have been gifted with bright and talented interns throughout the years and look forward to welcoming our upcoming intern class this spring as we continue resourcing and representing Southern Baptists on cultural issues of our day.”

Applications for the summer 2024 internship program are open now and will on close Dec. 31. Internships take place in person, based out of either the ERLC’s office in Nashville or the ERLC’s Leland House in Washington, D.C.

Hannah Daniel, policy manager for the ERLC, leads the internship program out of the Leland House. A few years ago, Daniel was another student deeply influenced by the program.

“My own internship at the ERLC was an incredibly formative experience for me both personally and professionally as I wrestled through difficult issues and found clarity on where God was calling me vocationally,” Daniel said.

“Our students are given both robust discipleship, mentorship and training while also being challenged with real, meaningful work in both our Nashville and D.C. offices. Each year, our interns are a tremendous gift to our team, and it is my sincere hope that they walk away from their time at the ERLC with a closer relationship to Jesus and with a deeper understanding of our call to be salt and light in the public square.”

During a typical ERLC internship, participants complete a structed program featuring Bible study, ethics training and professional development. Additionally, they participate in the work of the ERLC, providing assistance on tasks such as reviews of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, drafting resources and articles for the website, as well as support on long term projects.

“We intentionally work to create an environment where our interns feel they are producing valuable assets and work for our organization,” Ward said.

“They aren’t just getting coffee, but contributing to resources and advocacy that will serve our churches. Interns participate in meetings on Capitol Hill where they see us advocate for issues Southern Baptists care about, and help us create resources to equip local churches serving their neighbors.

“An ERLC intern should walk away from their summer knowing that the ERLC exists to come alongside our churches as they carry the Gospel to their communities and that we are representing Southern Baptists in the public square.”

ERLC interns have come from a wide variety of colleges and universities including:

  • Union University
  • Tulane University
  • Samford University
  • Boyce College
  • William Carey University
  • Liberty University
  • Vanderbilt University
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Memphis
  • Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
  • Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
  • University of Alabama
  • Georgetown University
  • Baylor University
  • John Brown University
  • Belmont University
  • Texas Christian University
  • Emory University
  • Princeton University
  • Texas A&M University

Participants have gone on to serve in a variety of ways including congressional offices on Capitol Hill, Southern Baptist state convention roles, church plants and the legal profession.

Ward hopes the internship will help show young people the importance of engaging cultural issues and the public square with the Gospel.

“Every Christian, no matter their age, is a missionary where they are, whether that is the halls of Congress or in their college student union,” Ward said.

“As Christians, we don’t have to be afraid of the questions the world is asking because we know what the answer is: the Gospel. As a college student, thinking about what the Gospel requires of us in defense of our preborn neighbor, on questions of gender and sexuality, and about how we treat the immigrant and sojourner are the natural result of a heart transformed by biblical teaching. The ERLC’s internship program exists to help students develop those frameworks, and take them back to their mission fields, whether that is the workplace, campus, or to the ends of the earth.”

Although most interns who participate in the program have dreams of working in politics, Ward said their ultimate impact will be through the same avenue as every Southern Baptist.

“I think most of our interns come to us because they have dreams of working in D.C. or Nashville and living out their West Wing fantasies,” Ward said.

“And there is some truth to that as we are reading legislation, creating policy documents or responding to cultural questions. However, more important to me is that all of them walk away knowing that the place that Christians do their most important work is in their local churches. As important as legislation and the courts are, we know that the local churches are the real headquarters of the SBC. So, my greatest pitch and desire is that our interns walk away more committed to their local church and serving their neighbors where they are.”

Students and young professionals can apply for the 2024 summer internship here.