Does a Christian Gap year program make sense during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Over the past three years, I have found myself speaking among various groups of students, teachers, parents and others invested in the lives of youth and young adults.  While sharing the mission of Act Five, I have often found myself engaging communities around questions relevant to young adults beyond our program.

What ends up coming out – usually with a lot of hand movements and audible over-the-top enthusiasm on my part – are variations on the following:

  1. There are crises among young adults that we – as Christians especially – must take seriously.  These crises express themselves as a struggle to find direction, a fragile sense of identity, significant issues surrounding mental health, and the loss of faith in Jesus and/or the church.  To take this seriously, we must listen well, read well, and prayerfully come up with creative responses to what young adults are trying to tell us.
  2. Choosing to go to university or college immediately after high school can be a good choice for many – but this choice should not be treated as the default.  Why are we in such a rush?
  3. The assumption that students who take a “year off” after high school will get behind – less likely to go back to school, losing their way in some shape or form – is a myth.  What matters far more is what students do with an alternative year before pursuing a post-secondary pathway.  The benefits of an intentional gap year can be comprehensively positive in developing grounded, resilient, compassionate, and faithful young adults.
  4. There is too great a cost for us – meaning any of us who have a role in investing in, shepherding, teaching, pastoring, leading, or mentoring young people – to not take seriously what we are seeing in and hearing from young adults around us.  We must re-imagine how we think about education, formation, discipleship and where we invest our time and resources.  In many cases, this means revisiting questions around the true end of education as a Christian and the way we measure success or assign value.

With the above being said about the broader cultural moment (i.e. outside of the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic), the question for me recently has been,

“How does this current crisis – this pandemic – shift the conversation around gap years one way or another?”

I hear two trends currently in the landscape of gap year programs such as Act Five.

Firstly, I hear that there are good reasons why families and young people will not be choosing to participate in gap year programs given the current climate.  Many of these reasons are financial, which makes sense as many have had their economic situations altered significantly and simply cannot afford the financial cost of alternative programs, whether these are branded as gap year programs, discipleship schools or otherwise.  With governments doing all they can to support students going to university and college, this reason for not choosing a program like Act Five is further supported.

Secondly, however, I hear the growing concerns for young adults.  The lack of direction or readiness for post-secondary schooling in an uncertain climate, the non-monetary costs of losing meaningful community for a generation that already has felt this cost in the digital age, and the question that we must ask,

How are we preparing Christian young adults to flourish in a world – and participate in its flourishing – that is now more poignantly unpredictable in light of Covid-19?

Crises, historically, have a tendency to push individuals, communities, institutions and societies toward change in one direction or another.  Among the pain and loss associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, there is also an opportunity for us to examine culture, the church and our own lives in a way that can lead to new life.  As Christians we are asked to live our days in a manner that expects life to come out of death, as a rhythm central to the fabric of the gospel.

My hope is that, whether or not Act Five is the right fit for the young adult in your life, we can all find ourselves having more intentional conversations around the four points named above.  Furthermore, all of us can afford to be continually asking important questions around how we are pursuing discipleship with Jesus, and how we are supporting the young adults in our lives to do the same in meaningful ways.

I have great hope for how Act Five will be able to respond to this current moment in preparing young adults to flourish in today’s world, and I am grateful to be part of this conversation.

Be safe and well, finding Christ in unexpected places,

[instagram-feed user=act_five num=7 cols=7 showheader=false showbutton=false showfollow=false imagepadding=0 imagepaddingunit=px]