Written by Nathan Kocurek, Associate Pastor Student Ministries at Stonebriar Community Church
“You’re off to great places!”
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting, so…
Get on your way! ~ Dr. Suess
When I first began as a student ministry pastor, I quickly encountered the problem we have all come to recognize as “graduating from church.” Statistics varied wildly, but everyone seemed to agree there was a problem…kids were growing up in church, participating actively in youth group, and then promptly exiting from church participation as soon as they could. Pastors, parents, and people like me were naturally concerned and anxious to find a real solution.
Finding a real solution required first identifying the real problem. Experts had all kinds of reasons why young people were abandoning the church, but one big reason seemed to stand out most to me: the graduating senior never saw any real reason to stay involved. The message in youth group was constantly, “God wants you to be good and always safe,” or “Come to church because it’s fun!” But then as soon as teenagers figured out they could have more fun by not coming to church, they were out of there!
The Gap Year idea was born at just the right time. The Gap Year is typically an academic year taken by a student as a break between high school and college. For Christian kids, the idea is a missional Gap Year. The benefits are multitudinous, and that’s a lot! I’ve known about a dozen students who have gone on a missional Gap Year over the past ten years, and the difference in their lives has been remarkable. Gap years can include a year engaged in a foreign or domestic mission effort, a year at a camp/retreat center, or a year at home in dedicated service to their home church or local service organization. We have found that when kids who have taken a Gap Year enter their first year of college, they walk onto campus with a very different level of confidence in their identity and in their purpose for being there. It is so much fun to see a kid change his view of college from one of self-focus and fun to one dedicated to rescue and protect others.
Three Benefits of a Gap Year for Christian Students:
- Service for the Gospel | Church planters and missionaries around the world need help! They love dedicated young people and rely on them to contribute in significant ways. The discipleship relationship that Gap Year students have had with their role-model, missionary host families has always been very meaningful and life-changing.
- Opportunity to Mature and Grow | Faith stretching is often the phrase used by students who serve for an entire year after high school. They do a lot of growing up as they learn to rely on the Lord on their own. From developing their own prayer life to overcoming trials of many kinds, Gap Year students are drinking from a fire hose of real life experiences.
- Experience of the Big, Wide World | Most high school graduates have only known one culture when they arrive on a college campus. They’ve had a very small, very limited experience of how other people outside of their own culture think and behave. A year in a small South African village serving AIDS orphans, for example, will broaden one’s point of view forever!
The hidden benefit for kids growing up in church, the brilliant spinoff of the Gap Year idea, whether graduates ever actually take a year before college or not, is the influence of shaping values as kids grow up in church. As students see people live out the Gospel, the target changes. Students suddenly see themselves preparing for the heroic purpose of rescuing the lost and protecting the broken from isolation. No longer are youth group kids dreaming of getting out there to party their brains out in college. Instead, younger teenagers begin to imagine living a very different identity when they picture themselves leaving home. Then, with a handful of graduates actually taking a missional Gap Year and returning home afterwards to talk about the adventure they’ve had, younger students are inspired toward righteous dreaming.
For more information about pursuing a missional Gap Year, check out these helpful websites:
Emerging from the depths of the late 1970s, Nathan Kocurek spent his formative years under the influence of Hall & Oates, Duran Duran, and other notables while listening to KRBE in Houston on the clock radio beside his bed. Nathan was influenced to love Jesus by the example of his young single mom, and he grew up with a love for God but an incomplete understanding of discipleship. As a result, as a teenager, he indulged in a relentless and, at times, reckless pursuit of social and athletic achievements, seeking to assuage an innermost feeling of emptiness that he could not escape. Finally, by God’s grace, the Spirit of the Lord made it clear to him that none but Jesus could satisfy what he was lacking. The answer had been there all along. Later, Nathan married the girl of his dreams and they ran off to California, had two sons, and returned to Texas where they adopted their sweet daughter. Having served as a Student Minister at two previous churches over the past 18 years, Nathan and his wife, Marie, are now thrilled to follow the calling of Christ at Stonebriar Community Church.