Gavin Forbes spent the fall semester away from Union College in his hometown of Apopka, Florida. It wasn’t because he wanted to trade the windy Nebraska autumn for the Florida sunshine—although he certainly was not complaining. The senior theology major received hands-on ministry experience at the church he grew up in and got academic credit for it.

“I was dedicated and baptized at Forest Lake Seventh-day Adventist Church,” said Forbes. “Getting to intern there feels like going back to my roots. I was very blessed to have that privilege.”

Every theology major at Union College participates in the capstone Leadership in Ministry experience during their senior year. This program is designed to immerse future pastors in ministry in a Seventh-day Adventist church setting. Under the mentorship of the church’s pastoral team, the student applies classroom skills to real-world situations.

“I got to experience the real deal,” Forbes said. Every week, he attended church meetings, shadowed pastors and led out in worship services. He helped plan the young adults’ retreat and preached sermons.

“We take classes to prepare us for our internship,” Forbes said. “I learned to follow along in board meetings. There’s only so much a class can teach before you enter that environment. We study complicated points of theology in class, and of course that’s important, but in a church setting, it’s not the main point of pastoral ministry. The point is to lead people to Jesus.”

The Leadership in Ministry experience allows students to discover which parts of pastoral care they are most drawn to. Forbes was surprised to learn he enjoyed leading Bible studies. “I was nervous at first because I didn’t expect it to be such a big part of pastoring,” he said. “I shadowed some Bible studies with the pastors, and I was impressed by the one-on-one connections they made. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of the job.”

Forbes also appreciated the opportunity to work with a group of mentors who are ready to support him. “The biggest lesson I’ve learned from them is that 90 percent of ministry is just being there,” he said. “Sometimes pastors refer to it as the ministry of presence: showing up and listening to what people have to say.”

At the conclusion of his internship, Forbes accepted a pastoral position with the Florida Conference when he graduates. As he prepares to graduate in May, he credits his practicum experience with reaffirming his passion for ministry. “My internship only solidified that I am doing what God wants me to do,” said Forbes. “Yes, I was talking and teaching, but in doing so I learned so much about God and His guidance. My mindset has changed a lot recently. As you reach the end of college, it feels like everyone is terrified of what the future holds. But not me. I’ve never been more calm, because whatever happens next, God is in control.”

Annika Cambigue is a senior communication and theology major from Ohio.