By Abi Christian

"InterVarsity Ruined My Life"

InterVarsity is a fellowship made up of humans. Meaning: we don’t get everything right. Meaning: we’re still figuring out how to follow God. Meaning: honest feedback is hard to hear but good to know so we can continue to grow and let God use us—as individuals and as a fellowship—in students’ lives.

Recently, we stumbled across some of that hard-to-hear honest feedback on a blog from an InterVarsity alumna doing social work. Below is an excerpt of her story on how InterVarsity ruined her life:

“When I joined InterVarsity my freshman year of college, I was the classic church girl with a passion for all things church. I didn’t swear, I didn’t drink and God forbid if I ever partied! I was your average dorm goody goody who stepped over the drunken body on the stairwell and posted Bible study fliers on my dorm door, thinking that somehow the clip art and fancy typology would entice people to follow Jesus.

“But the further into InterVarsity culture I dove, the more I discovered that this God I worshiped cared a whole lot about the disenfranchised, the impoverished, the oppressed, the underdogs of society. This sexy Jesus who sounded more like a radical socialist who wanted freedom and equality for all was not the one I remembered learning about in youth group. I was sold. This would be my dream.

“. . . But what I didn’t learn from InterVarsity that I wish I had was that this incarnational selfless sacrificial loving of the forgotten souls of society is not enough to keep you going. It looked so glamorous to be one of those InterVarsity alumni who sold all her things to help the poor, to live among the low-income neighbors, to feel the pain of the oppressed populations of our society. It was sexy for a summer in the inner city, feeding homeless people and having Bible study with alcoholics and drug addicts.

“But it’s not life.

 “. . . I’m thankful for the idealistic dreamer that InterVarsity fostered in me, but I quickly realized that they developed a ‘me’ that can’t thrive outside of their culture. How much more fulfilling would my career be if I had debrief sessions with my staff worker afterwards or was assigned reading and workshops on seeking shalom in the city!

“But the real world doesn’t have the support of an extremely extroverted staff worker calling you 24/7, dragging you into the freshman dorms so you too can spread the Gospel.

“And the lesson of the day was: embrace suffering.

“I’d hate to break it to you, but if you embrace suffering 40 hours a week, you’ll most likely develop secondary PTSD. I get really good medical benefits for a reason—the job is hard.

“So, what I wished they had taught me when I was a young impressionable college student was this: you can glorify God in your arts, you can glorify God in profitable businesses, you can glorify God in the fashion industry, you can glorify God in a career of dancing, performing, even Hollywood. You don’t have to live dirt poor and breathe ashes to be a child of God.

“Because what happens is one’s attempt to live and act humbly just looks like a pompous act of holier-than-thou-because-I-can-embrace-suffering. The reality is . . . we are human. And there shouldn’t be guilt tied to wanting some comfort in life, some stability, and some relaxation.

“Alas, I still think my years with InterVarsity were the best years ever. Because I wasn’t disillusioned and I was a part of a passionate cause. I just wish the transition into the real world weren’t so jarring.”

(Read her entire post here.)

So now we’d like to open the floor and hear from you: Has InterVarsity ruined your life? What do you wish you had known before graduating? What do you wish your chapter had done differently?

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Well, only because you asked and these are not necessary complaints against the ministry. At Syracuse University, and for their graduate school Christian fellowship, the group had lost a very popular leader to seminary. We asked for another and interviewed someone. I recommended him to our group (I was on the leadership team at the time) and also argued for his behalf to our IVCF area. When he came on board with his family however something went south - namely he did. The thing was he had to serve at both Syracuse U and Cornell. But he could not find a good place to live convenient for both schools. He wound up taking a home in Ithaca by Cornell and serving in a local community. He also was finishing an M. Th., adopting a special needs child, and becoming an elder in a local church in the city. This meant that he wound up devoting his attention to Cornell. He did great works in Ithaca, including healing a breach between factions in Cornell groups and helping plant a Christian Study Center. I don't begrudge him any of that. But it dud mean that we effectively has no IV representative. It made it difficult to maintain the ministry while pursuing grad work and trying unsuccessfully to get a faculty program going. Another issue that caught me by surprise was the discovery that intelligent Christians do not share the same views about the intergration or interface between faithand understanding. I discovered that many of our group members and faculty supporters did not, as a matter of principle, see any positive role the gospel or the Scripture or the church played in contributing to ours scholarly duties. In fact, such a suggestion for some was outrageous. (Hmmm. Reminds of a book title.) since this feature was one of the attractions of IVCF for me, it was a bit of a shock. I had to accept that only an attentuated version of the faith and scholarship mission would include as many of the evangelical grads and faculty as there were. As a philosophy student, I eventually became aware of the debate between the "Augustinians" and the "Thomists" over the relation between the two but as a practical matter, I think some of us were left out to sea.

I had a totally different IV experience. Maybe it was the church I was a part of (lots of professors were also members there) or maybe it was my field of study (engineering). But one of the biggest lessons I learned from IV is that I can glorify God in the workplace or the missions field. I did struggle with the issue of voluntary poverty, but I never thought IV was pushing that life on me. Although I can easily see how some chapters have a different atmosphere...I think most of my class has gone on to graduate degrees so we may be odd ones out.

This is part of the reason i have recently left InterVarsity. It is nice to know that someone else is speaking up.

I had a great IV experience, but I also felt like maybe I wasn't as good a Christian since I didin't feel called to missions and I didn't go to Urbana. My vocation is professional. I went on to get m Masters a fine Christian university. The business world need Christ too.

My IV experience continues to positively impact and influence my life. But I'm thankful for this sharing, because like the writer shared it isn't all fun and games. Adjusting to post college life is hard enough as it is without the idealism that comes with eye opening experiences and exposure to concepts like social justice, absolute poverty, true diversity, and what I learned to be called the "wholistic Bible". I imagine I went into college much like the writer, surrounding myself with Christians, Christian activities, etc. But what I quickly learned was that in doing so, I also closed myself off from those who really needed Jesus. IV, and a floormate who was part of Campus Crusade, showed me that. Doing NYCUP the summer after junior year exposed me to urban ministry. But urban ministry is not just the poor and unjust in the city...its every part of the city. Afterall every area of life needs Jesus. I am thankful for my father who discouraged me from entering staff work post college. And no, it was not for the reasons that you suspect. Thankfully my parents, who have been in full time ministry my whole life, have always been supportive of my decisions. This was the one decision they discouraged because it would have been "too easy" for me. And so God continues to use the leadership skills, discipleship, love for the whole Bible and prayer, and so many more things that I gained through IV in mainstream, "regular" life.

I’m glad somebody spoke up about this. I think we, as students, can easily slap on blinders and think that IV is the best thing that has ever happened in the world and that there are no flaws, when in actuality there are great flaws within it, as there are with any organization built by humans. One thing that I consistently battled against with my IV chapter was that I felt like our staff put too much weight into the importance of InterVarsity in God’s mission. Don’t get me wrong, I think God did great things on campus through IV, but God is ultimately about His Church and that honestly takes precedence over InterVarsity. I felt as if my staff was telling me that God is building InterVarsity and campus ministry is the end all and be all, when in reality, God is building His church. His mission is larger than InterVarsity. Yes, InterVarsity is a part of His mission, but it is not His sole means on mission. I sometimes felt as if my staff were telling me this. When I began to get more involved with my local church during my junior year and started working for them during my senior year, I felt torn between the two worlds. God is building His church and I am ultimately going to be a member of the Body of the Christ (His Church) for the rest of my existence on the earth, so of course I want to be feeding into this Mission. I felt that if I was a part of InterVarsity, then I had to choose between the two, because it was too difficult to have one foot in each pond. I have ended up working for my Church and will until the end of 2012; unfortunately, I feel the weight of people thinking it is not as “sexy” as working on IV staff and the weight of my staffworker thinking I could do more with my gifts (i.e. going on staff).

My experience with Intervarsity was actually the oposite. By that, it doesnt mean it was bad. I actually enjoyed very much and have very good memories of the fellowship there! But the mentality in the mid 1980's in the university i went to Florida Institute of Technology was actually of a more evangelistic/conservative approach. Our main purpose was to "get people saved"; to say show the "Roman road apprach" etc. I do remember the stress in missions (like Urbana etc) but still the emphasis was to be a missionary to preach Christ in other countries where Christianity was not big. My vision actually has change quite a bit. I am a local Lutheran pastor; I am going thru Seminary and do see things diferently. I am more socially and theologically liberal; I am more concerned with issues of poverty, justice, peace,ecumenical relations etc than "getting people saved for heaven" (that too is important but I do not see apart from the other issues). Therefore as you see; in my case, Intervarsity was more of an evangelistic/conservative experience for me while my Seminary and pastoral experience has change my mentality quite a bit. Still love Intervarsity; still loved my experience with it as part of my spiritual growth AND i am happy if they are leaning towards issues of justice, peace etc! God bless!!

My years involved with InterVarsity were a wonderful foundation for my adult life as a Christian. I learned how to search the Scripture, share Christ with others, pray for others, plan and organize Bible study lessons, lead as president of the group, and more. I was so ripe for solid teaching and IVCF gave it to me through retreats, missions training, leadership training, and urbana. I think the main reason God led me to the colleges I went to (Nazareth College, then Eastern Michigan University) was for me to be a part of IV. I will always be thankful for the great training I received during my college years. I continue to follow Christ daily as a wife and mother of four children. I met my husband (of 22 years) through a mutual friend that I met in IV. My husband had also been a part of IV (U of M-Dearborn). Now one of our daughter's is involved in IV at the same college as her dad. IV was not made up of perfect people but of Christ followers truly seeking His will for their lives. I feel like the tools I learned helped me grow and continue to help me grow as a Christian. I encourage all young people heading to college to get involved with an active Christian group on their campus.

I was apart of IV for 6 years of undergrad and 2 years of masters work. I always found that there was a certain culture in IV that I knew was not real life. I saw this in the way that discipleship worked. The guys that were discipled by the IV staff workers or exec. leaders always ended up acting, and talking, and praying, and leading like the person who was discipling them. This had to be a compliment to the character of the leaders because imitation is a sincere form of flattery, but it seemed off, and me being a creative music major who was pouring between 25-30 hours a week into crafting my sound and trying to stand apart, becoming like my staff worker was not my intention or desire. So, I butted heads with my staffworker constantly. Looking back on this I felt like I was hungry for Jesus and IV was offering Christian agendas and programs, and I wasn't necessarily drawn to that, because it wasn't feeding what I was hungry for. And that led to more butting heads with staff workers and exec members, and led to long talks about IV's vision statement and IV's plans and programs that would help, "get me on board"...Now if most people had this experience in IV they would quit, but I stuck around and found much value by being apart of IV. I love it and I wouldn't change my experience in it because it helped shaped me and grow me in ways that would not have happened any other way. But there are some things I wished they would have done differently...I felt that there was always talk about being a world changer but that you could only change the world if you were on IV leadership or lived in strategically missional communities around campus, or if you went onto IV staff, or if you went to IV training, but if you didn't do these things you could change the world by supporting IV staff or giving scholarships to students to go to training events. Which are all good things, but they seem so short-sighted. If a student in IV spends 4 years in college but 30 years in the work force shouldn't more time be spent on preparing a student for life outside of college? Or if a small percentage end up on IV staff and the vast majority end up if professional fields why not devote lots of time and energy or invest in training that would help those more instead of devoting the most time and energy and directed training at the IV junkees. It just did not sit well with me that the only time we talked about going into the professional world was when we were about to graduate, and that it was too little too late.


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