What role can you play in your church, both at home this summer and when you’re back on campus?
Over the last decade, I’ve wrestled to reconcile my InterVarsity training with my life in my church. How do the things we learn on campus shape the way we participate in our churches?
When I went to college, I felt that I needed a church to go to on Sundays. So I went shopping. I shopped for a church in the same way people shop for shoes or cars or vacuum cleaners.
And I made a checklist:
Musical worship: I needed to know most of the songs but needed them to be unfamiliar to my mom if she visited.
Preaching: I wanted it to be funny + deep + relevant.
Other people: There should be some of them.
In the end, I attended a church with my friends from InterVarsity. We drove 40 minutes to get there, but it was a great church. It met in a coffee shop and served the poor, and I grew in my love for Jesus while I was there.
My consumer mindset in church stood in stark contrast with my life on mission on campus, however.
On campus, I wanted a community to pursue God’s mission with. Thankfully, I stumbled across InterVarsity. These people studied Scripture more deeply than I had ever seen. I started participating, then volunteering. Before I knew it, I was helping InterVarsity as often as I could. And loving it.
I remember a trip our chapter took to New York City. We drove from North Carolina, buried under luggage. We got to know the neighborhood we were staying in. We studied the Bible and prayed. We talked about Jesus and tutored kids. Slowly, we started to see what it looked like to live as people on mission, as missionaries.
I wouldn’t have called myself a missionary at the time. To me, missionaries lived in other countries and wore vests with lots of pockets and told unbelievable stories. My life felt so ordinary: classes and dorm life and friends. But in that ordinary season, I found myself up to my elbows in God’s mission: praying and serving and loving. God planted missionary seeds in my heart, seeds that would break above earth in my work on campus and my life in a church.
What skills have you picked up in InterVarsity? We do spectacular things with small groups and evangelism. Our engagement with multiethnicity fosters relationships that display God’s kingdom. Our conversations about mission and “starting something new” echo the strategies driving ministry innovations in churches all throughout America.
What I’m trying to say is this: if you’ve truly been a missionary in InterVarsity, you may have developed mad skills. I don’t say this to make you proud or arrogant. Rather, you need to hear this because you need to know how valuable you can be to a church—but not always in the way you might think.
As the years passed away, I graduated from college and became an InterVarsity alumnus. I eventually moved to a new city and joined InterVarsity staff. And before I knew it, I joined a new church.
What do you do when you join a church?
In college, InterVarsity entrusted me to lead Bible studies, mentor younger leaders, and guide our multiethnic commitments. When I graduated, I had no history with the particular church I joined, but I had a very particular set of skills, skills acquired over a very intense campus-ministry career. Skills, as it turned out, that were of little help to my church.
My church didn’t do small groups. My church didn’t have younger leaders to coach. And don’t even ask about multiethnicity. I lived in a small town with very few church options. Discouraged, I considered simply punching my time card every Sunday and abandoning hope that I could participate in God’s mission through my church. I struggled to find my place.
But a wise friend told me before I graduated that I needed to take the posture of a helper at church, not a leader. At least, helper first.
So I helped. I moved chairs and folded things. I showed up. I got to know the church, visiting homes and listening to stories and praying for people. Though my role in my church looked radically different from my role on campus, I found ways to engage actively in God’s mission. That’s what missionaries do. They join God’s mission wherever they are.
InterVarsity doesn’t just give you a particular set of skills. InterVarsity helps you become a particular type of person. God cares more about who you’re becoming than what you’re capable of doing. We want you to become the sort of person who is able to love God and his Word, his people and his purposes wherever you find yourself.
And we deeply hope you find yourself in a church, both during college and after. When you do, look to love. As you love, look to help first. And as you help, may the missionary seeds planted in you during your time on campus come to life in your church.
Steve Tamayo serves as the Associate Director of Strategy for LaFe, InterVarsity’s Latino Fellowship, and as a Digital Media Specialist for InterVarsity's Multiethnic Initiatives. He’s married to Amy and together they have four children and lots of adventures. You can find him on Twitter at @yostevetamayo.