Seeking God in Each Season
"I've seen my function somewhat like Samuel's," says Jon Paris (MAT '04) of his time as a campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. "The other InterVarsity staff and I have been called to anoint and send out young people to be like David, leaders of character and faith who share God's heart." About two and a half years ago, he sensed God's invitation to join those "Davids" he has sent out as ambassadors of God's kingdom in the marketplace, and beginning this summer, Paris will shift into a full-time career at the technology start-up company he founded with a few friends. His 13 years of developing student leaders, however, have been a tremendous joy to him, as well as a time of preparation for the future.
"While I studied physics and chemistry in college," says Paris, "I realized that I was much more passionate about helping people understand Scripture and the grace of God than I was about electricity and magnetism." Paris was involved in InterVarsity as a student leader and felt a clear call into campus ministry. "As an InterVarsity staff member, my sense of calling has been threefold: I've been committed to God's mission on the campus I was serving, to the students on the campus, and finally, to the world that we are sending the students into."
Paris also discerned another calling during this season: to study theology, growing his faith and becoming better equipped for ministry. Beginning in 1998, Paris took four or five courses a year at Fuller Seminary Northern California. Studying at one of Fuller's several regional campuses meant he could remain devoted to his work on campus while slowly moving toward a degree. His first Fuller professor, John Koeker, taught him that "there will always be conferences to freshen up on methods of ministry or engaging the next generation, but you rarely have the opportunity to study Greek." Not only did Paris find this true: he also discovered his courses in biblical studies, church history, and theology significantly enhanced his connection to God's larger work in history during the ups and downs of ministry on campus.
A seminary education also contributed to his ministry more directly. While teaching on transformation, for example, Paris was able to integrate the stories of church mothers and fathers like Augustine into his teaching, along with his own testimony. He also notes that his graduate work was especially significant during his years ministering at the University of San Francisco. "As a Jesuit University, USF places a huge value on education," Paris explains. "The fact that I was studying myself gave my ministry more credibility with the university, which is really important when you are serving on campus at the pleasure of the director of university ministry!"
Remembering the past 13 years, Paris rejoices in God's power to change students and campuses. "I think of the countless students," he says, "who, like me, came to college to earn a degree and were transformed with deeper love for God, God's Word, God's people of every ethnicity and culture, and God's purposes in the world." Paris also remembers the unique role his Fuller education played in his ministry, an experience he highly recommends to younger staff. "As an InterVarsity staff member there is never enough time to do all the work on campus that could be done," he shares, "but it has been well worth it for me to take time aside to study the Scriptures, wrestle with the original languages, and reflect on the history of the faith." As Paris now moves into a fresh season as another newly anointed "David" figure, the wisdom and experience he gained through both InterVarsity and Fuller will continue to enhance his ministry in daily life.