A few weeks before I turned 22 years old, I drove to Westport Plaza, a business park just northwest of Saint Louis, to interview for a full-time position with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I had spent the previous year as an intern with the organization, which included a six-week stint living with Sudanese refugees in Cairo, Egypt. I had led a freshmen Bible study, run some leadership meetings, and spent every Sunday night with other interns and young staff in Saint Louis, learning how to be an adult and fighting to survive the first year of ministry together.
On the drive, I thought about a phrase that my staff partner, Esther, had mentioned to me in passing as a teaching from her undergrad days in InterVarsity. A speaker at her large group meeting had used the phrase “tithe your twenties” as a challenge to students to dedicate the decade, including the final two years of undergrad, toward sowing intentionally and deeply in the work of the Kingdom, regardless of their vocation.
As I made the half-hour drive in my best “business casual on a missionary budget” attire, this phrase – “tithe your twenties” – popped up in my mind and refused to be ignored. I wondered to myself, what would it be like to tithe my twenties to InterVarsity, to the vision of seeing students and faculty transformed, campuses renewed, and world-changers developed?
Four months ago, I turned thirty. After today, I will no longer be working for InterVarsity.
Both of these realities are strange and bittersweet. They fill my heart with a mix of nostalgia, hopefulness, and gratitude that in no way feels fully processed. I suppose this blog is a first step along the way toward understanding just how much this community has meant to me.
In the end, my exit from InterVarsity was much like my entrance: an unforeseen doorway that opened on my way to something else. I originally thought joining the organization would simply be a one-year stop on the way to seminary and church work. The decision to leave nine years later came together quite quickly after pursuing and then being offered a promotion. Both decisions caught me off guard; both looking back now seem drenched in the leadership of the Spirit.
A year ago, I was excited about the prospect of taking a promotion within InterVarsity and moving our family across the country to North Carolina to become an Area Director in the Research Triangle area encompassing Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. We flew out to prayer walk on the big campuses in the area, interviewed for the position, and were eventually offered the job. Along the way, as we were discerning with our community, two big realities begin to come to the surface:
- We love Saint Louis – the neighborhoods, the schools, the people, the churches, the campuses – investigating a new place mostly just reminded us of all the things we loved about home.
- I felt a deep longing to do everything in my limited power to get the local church more involved in the Kingdom work that needed to be done on local university campuses, particularly those with deep city roots, like our state and community colleges.
We ended up turning down the promotion. Somewhere in there, I met with a good friend who works for the city office of our denomination (Southern Baptists). I shared with him my heart to see college students establish a firm foundation in a local congregation long before graduation and to see church pastors and planters find unique ways to engage students more holistically in the life of the church starting their first Sunday freshman year. I wondered aloud if there might be space for a bridge-builder type position in his office. We prayed and brainstormed and made a few calls and waited to see if God was in it.
Five months later, I’m happy to announce that God met us in a thousand ways since that first conversation and a job came together that feels like a linear next step from my time with InterVarsity. Starting tomorrow, I will be taking the role of Director of Campus and Community Engagement with the Saint Louis Metro Baptist Association.
This new position has two parts, both of which fascinate and excite me:
- My main job is to be that very bridge-builder person as I originally pitched to my friend in the denominational office. I long to see the churches of Saint Louis reach the students of Saint Louis more effectively and build lifelong connections on our university campuses. I long to see college students reach their friends on campus while thriving in their development as followers of Jesus in our local churches. I’ll be spending the bulk of my time strategizing with students and church leaders to see these two dreams come to fruition.
- The other piece of my job is to develop a growing partnership between our association office and Mission: St. Louis, a local non-profit with which my family has deep connections. I’ll be spending some time each week working to connect students and churches in our network from all over the city and country to serving alongside Mission: St. Louis as they work to empower low-income communities through job training, housing repair, and a number of other impactful programs.
As I look excitedly toward the future, I want to say thank you to the organization that gave me a shot nine years ago to reach and empower students in this city that I love.
Thank you for teaching me to love Jesus and his Word above all other things. Your insistence on communal discovery, manuscript study, asking important questions, and hearing from a plurality of voices has illuminated the Bible like no other guiding voice in my life. The Bible mystifies and delights me and that is in no small part thanks to your investment in me.
Thank you for showing me that leadership in the Kingdom is not about professional people with particular personalities and skill sets; it is about empowering every person from every corner and walk of life to use the gifts given by Jesus to do their part in seeing every inch of Creation brought back under the Lordship and Renewal of Jesus.
Thank you for exposing me to the global voices of the Church beyond my borders. From the main stage at Urbana to the refugees in my neighborhood, you taught me that the U.S. is not the keeper of the keys to the Kingdom and you awakened in me a longing to worship as part of the multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-lingual Bride that Jesus came to save.
Thank you for opening my eyes to issues of injustice and the calling that all followers of Jesus have to pursue reconciliation and justice, not as a side-bar passion for a few, but as the main outworking of our surrender to Jesus. When Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson, just a few miles from my campus, it was your leadership and your networks that led myself and so many others into responding with open eyes and hearts to the cries for justice coming out of our communities. I fail in this pursuit every single day but you continually called me to show up and listen as a learner in spaces where I don’t have the answers.
Thank you for teaching me how to rest and care for my soul. I have a lot of friends in ministry and I know of no other organization that prioritizes spiritual formation like you do. I feel nostalgic about different pieces of my job every week but most recently I find myself realizing more and more how challenging it will be to find the spaces for silence and solitude that you have written into my work calendar for so many years. Thank you not seeing me as an organizational tool, but as a fully human person who needs to be cared for in order to care well for others.
I could continue on like this indefinitely. Trying to parce out to what exact degree InterVarsity has shaped my life is impossible. All I can say with any fairness is that I have no doubt that I will spend the next decade unpacking and re-applying what you have given me in this one. Thank you for making the return on my investment much more than I could have ever imagined.
“I thank my God every time I remember you…”