The third question we ask here at The KIVU Gap Year is about faith. Again, we were well aware that the organizations spending incredible amounts of time and energy to help teenagers with faith are wonderful in conception, but lack the ability to actually quantify their effectiveness.
Speaking solely from a Christian Perspective, American Evangelical Youth Groups are probably the most flashy programs out there right now. Lights, smoke, and sound create weekly gatherings filled with excitement and the promise of gathering students around faith. But in reality, the long term effectiveness of these programs prove to be less than stellar.
Right now, 80% of Christian teenagers raised in Christian homes who go off to State Universities, reject their faith by the end of their first year of College.
Couple that with nearly 30% of all 30 and unders in America today who reject faith at every turn, and there has to come into question ‘What is the church youth group actually producing?’
It may be said that if those youth groups didn’t exist then the statistics would be much higher, but when you pass the 50% mark, I think you really have to start asking hard questions about what our actual work is all about. Being a youth leader for 20 years, I know this first hand.
I know how exciting a youth conference can be with a compelling speaker and an energetic band.
I know what it means to build multi-million dollar facilities to attract teenagers from the local high school.
I know well how the Christian camping world works, being involved in the industry for 15 years.
And I also know well how many students, when given the chance to explore what they’ve learned at those places, whisper to me about their concerns and doubts about faith.
So, as we wanted to create a dimension of the KIVU Gap Year to explore a spiritual journey, we started by asking hard questions about students and their involvement in faith. These are some of the principles we adopted to help guide and disciple students on their way.
Behavior Modification Doesn’t Work
We know that simply offering students a different way to live life in the face of their peers, and pressuring them with phrases like, “God doesn’t want you to ______________” only sets up a fragile house of cards concerning behavior.
Youth leaders must begin to understand this concept. Just because you have students that start bible studies in your group, or refrain from substance abuse, or even pledge to remain sexually pure doesn’t mean they are growing closer to understanding Jesus in light of their spiritual journey. It’s not a bad thing to compel students to live a life that’s different, but when you’re philosophy is to contract out behavior as a pillar of faith, I think we miss the point.
Faith isn’t a set of rules. Faith in a personal discovery of how God relates to mankind in the world. Faith is believing in something unseen which drives us to behavioral change, not the other way around.
So even though we have rules concerning substance abuse and rules concerning sexuality in the program, they aren’t a part of the faith piece. We want students to begin understanding the compromise they put themselves in as people when they choose a life of substance or sexual promiscuity. And we require our students to live by a standard, not a faith standard; but rather, a standard of who we want to represent as an organization.
Again, Behavior Modification tied to a faith proposition shows over and over again to produce poor results. (Just go interview the wildest kids on the University campus. You’ll find many who came from “Christian” backgrounds.)
Faith Needs to Be Explored
A recent pew research institute study revealed there are over 48,000 Christian denominations around the world. Every single one of those has some claim about what is truth and how they know they’re right and everyone else is wrong.
Believe me, I’m all for pressing into the hard questions of life and where truth can be found; but so many times here in American Christianity we give students the answers A, B, and C and then expect them to follow without questioning.
If we truly believe that there is a God in heaven. And we truly believe that God is involved in the world today. Can we also then truly give away our sense of control that if a student has the freedom to explore their faith, then they will find God? After all, Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)
We decided to put this to the test.
We wanted to create a space, FOR THOSE WHO ARE INTERESTED, to be able to ask how they can begin to nurture their spiritual growth in the real world. It’s easy to grow when you’re surrounded by like minded thinkers, but places where faith grows individually are often in those places where struggle, sacrifice, and personal understanding of others are at the forefront.
At The KIVU Gap Year, we are intentional about giving different perspectives of faith so students can grab a hold of their faith journey, and own it. We’re not interested in just telling, we want to guide them to be whoever it is that God created them to be.
Now this exploration can be difficult at times. Students may find a place on their faith journey that isn’t exactly in line with their home church teachings. But we believe if we continue to promote the space for exploration, God will lead them.
Jesus is the Key
Many of my relationships around the world with leaders of different cultures prove meaningful when we talk about Jesus. It doesn’t matter if they are Atheist, Buddhist, Jewish, or Muslim. Jesus is such a unifying figure when we stop at Jesus. It gets confusing when we try and explain theology we may or may not understand in a context outside of where we learned. So I just stick to Jesus. And you know what I’ve found…
I’ve prayed with more people when Jesus is the center of conversation.
I’ve made some deep friendships with people of different faiths, different races, different cultural backgrounds.
Jesus truly is a mystical figure able to transcend all the road blocks we create here on earth.
I truly believe, one of the most interesting revelations today about American Church is we’ve turned “Christianity” and “Self Help” into Godliness. We haven’t spent the same amount of time exploring Jesus’ message. He up-rooted so much of humanity’s natural tendency for self promotion, and placed “the other” front and center.
When we allow students to explore their faith through the eyes of people around the world, we’re finding more and more students interested in long term “real” faith.
What makes The KIVU Gap Year different from other faith organizations is the ability for students to discover Jesus as they feel called closer to God. And if they decide they don’t want to jump on this journey of faith, we welcome them here too.