10 things I’ve learned in 10 years with InterVarsity

This is how my first year on staff with InterVarsity began back in 2001:

After turning in my 14-page staff application, my hiring area director Andrea Thomas sent it back to me informing me that “this is a little lacking, we’re going to need you to write more.” She sent it back to me to continue to fill out two more times. Then, we had my formal interview at a Pizza Hut between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. I still think Andrea’s decision to hire me speaks of her being a woman of faith.

The previous staff at Grand Valley State University’s chapter where I had worked had walked away unexpectedly from the InterVarsity chapter and her faith- I was the newbie staff that came in after her. Students took bets on how long I’d last and told me how much they were betting. I think the pool got up to about $5.

back in the day with Dave, York & Jeff as members of the regional evangelism team

The first fall I was on campus, my new student outreach coordinator quit during new student outreach. Since there were seven students in the chapter at the time, this was a pretty big blow to our New Student Outreach efforts.

I began fund raising, not by going to Orientation for New Staff in glamourous Madison, WI, headquarters of InterVarsity, but by getting a large packet of stationary and some instructions and encouragement from my supervisor. I sat each night, on an overstuffed ottoman, nervously holding the large white cordless phone in one hand and the book Getting Sent in the other, alternating between reading about how to fund raise and making calls to would-be supporters of my ministry.

I wore a navy-blue fleece vest with InterVarsity’s logo quite frequently. Not the greatest fashion choice, but I think it made me feel official in some capacity. For the early 00’s I suppose it was passable.

It was a crazy beginning for a law-school hopeful turned campus minister and my first year in 2001 felt like an epic fail.  Even reading these reflections now I’m wondering- “why the heck didn’t I quit after the first year?!” Yet in sticking with it, I’ve learned a lot through the years like lesson #10: rough beginnings do not necessarily dictate the tone of how things will continue to be. Thankfully, for whatever reason Jesus gave me the strength each year to follow his call to see students and faculty transformed, campuses renewed & world changers developed. 10 years later I’m glad I stuck with it.

Over the past 10 years I’ve learned some other valuable nuggets of staffy-wisdom that over the next few months I thought I’d pass along in reflection and celebration of what these 10 years have been like.  Though they’re specific to campus ministry, I think many of the principles are applicable to folks in other careers.

If you’re on staff with InterVarsity- what were some of the epic fail moments of your first year? For others- what is one thing you’ve learned after getting through your first year on the job? It seems like for most folks the first year is the most difficult whether you’re a teacher, doctor or entrepreneur.


    • Jessica

      Lisa- yes! The famous J3RKS! I think there was like a core of 7 students- but yes there were more in the chapter. I was trying to find some of my pictures from those days- pre digital so I needed to scan them in! I still think fondly of those days & our conversations.

  • breylee

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who started her fund-raising journey with a notebook, some envelopes, and a bit of encouragement! And my what a journey it has been…

  • jopanese

    Wow, that is an amazing pic of the regional evangelism team!

    I think I was so self-conscious my first year that it set me up for some bad self talk (“nobody wants to listen to me anyway”). I’m glad I’m past those years, though sometimes that creeps into my career…

    I’m glad I stuck with it, and I think I really had to learn about what commitment was that first year! (I like things that I’m good at, of course.) Jesus has taught me so much over the years!

  • Alice Liu

    Funding totally tanked my first year and I spent it wondering whether I really was meant to be on staff. Looking back, I’m not actually sure whether I really accomplished anything my first year or just took up space, haha. But you learn in your job and there’s always a growth curve.

    My first year was so hard, when I found out that Jesus wanted me to keep going another year, I came a hairsbreadth away from walking away from God.

    And well, I’m still here!

    • Jessica

      I’m glad you’re still here too Alice! One of the crazy things about the first year is that you’re not only learning the skills of the job, Jesus is doing so much work to help shape and form you to trust him. It can feel really scary & painful.

  • Rachel

    I look forward to reading the rest of this series!

    First year on the job…had a couple restarts. I graduated from college in 2009, and headed off to graduate school. My job as a graduate assistant that year was…awful. It can still be hard to revisit all that went into the mishap that was my first year as a “professional scientist.” I left at the end of my first year to sort out some things, get my feet under me, pay a little more attention to what God was doing in my life—because he was certainly doing some serious renovation.

    It has been a year since I left. In that time, not only did God provide me with apartments, roommates, and jobs, he also provided space and healing in so many ways. The peace of a job where I work with simple things, small groups of content people who whistle and say good morning, and can take walks in the country over lunch. I’m starting my second year there, and it’s good to stand on that first year, with good relationships with colleagues and a freedom to do a little more independent science than my job description originally called for. I also just started a new job as an adjunct instructor which I am loving.

    Through all of those things, though, I have been volunteering with InterVarsity, because I know that Jesus changes lives and gives joy unending. Last year, I volunteered with my former staffworker. This year, he has gone, and I am now “on my own,” though a young couple who lives down the street from me is also now volunteering. None of us really knows what we are doing. And it is in this flux of uncertainty about what it means to volunteer in a staff-less chapter when juggling two jobs that I am saying, for sure, finally, that I want to apply for staff.

    So this lesson, as well as the comments about similar struggles of going on staff, gives me some hope. That the uncertainties and inadequacies I feel now don’t mean that thinking about staff is completely ridiculous (or maybe it is, but the kind of ridiculous that God seems to be in the business of inviting people to). I look forward to the next 9 of your lessons.

    Sorry for the novella! You did ask, though… 😉

    • Jessica

      Glad to hear you’re enjoying your current job! And you aren’t the only one who has thought applying for staff seems ridiculous- that’s why it took me a year to actually apply 🙂

  • Teresa

    Aside from fundraising…pretty epic fail my first year I would say…evangelism almost made me leave staff after my first year. Thankfully Jesus did build certain values into me and somehow the rule-follower in me kept me from lying to FSB at Formation to get out of doing evangelism…I was so close to calling in sick…but it wasn’t logical or “right” so I showed up the next morning – and God was faithful. Somehow…I’m still here, thanks be to God! 🙂

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