By: Alex Blackwell, Student Ministry Pastor
Many have asked me why I decided to come to enCompass. In fact, I wrote a blog post about it back in September. Just scroll down to the last section to see my thoughts. My answer has always been the same to anyone who asks: relationships and authenticity. This is great news in light of what can seem like daunting and concerning statistics about how many students lose their faith when they go off to college. Why is this good news? Consider two fictional stories that represent what a lot of college students experience.
Jenna went to college a few hours away from her Christian home. This was just far enough that it meant she wouldn’t be going home very often to visit family. College for her was her first opportunity for independence. Despite her parents’ attempts at guiding her through some of her collegiate decisions, everything else was up to her. Jenna knew one or two people who came to the same college from her hometown, but for the most part, she was on her own in navigating the new vast waters of independence. When faced with new decisions and their consequences – both short and long term – she felt alone in figuring it all out. Hungry for relationships, she said “yes” to the first invitation she got – which was to a party a few blocks off campus. This provided a place to meet a lot of people who had the mindset, “we’re in college, let’s have fun.” It wasn’t too long before Jenna’s decisions brought her into a lifestyle of hedonism that didn’t correlate well with her faith. She set her faith aside so that she could continue with her new lifestyle and friends thinking, “maybe I’ll pick it back up later.”
Mike had a lot of fun at his youth group in High School. They had a weekly gathering where they played fun games and heard short talks on Christian morals, like not gossiping, not lying, and consistently praying. When Mike got to college, it was the first time he heard questions about Christianity that he couldn’t answer. He thought about e-mailing his high-school youth pastor, but never really had a strong friendship with him. He reached out to others from his church, but their answers were, “because the Bible says so.” Now Mike had to wrestle with questions like “why is there pain and suffering in the world if God loves us?” and “why are there contradictions in the Bible?” on his own and with his questioning friends. Over time their questions wore him down, and he didn’t feel like he could maintain intellectual integrity and be a Christian at the same time. His growing doubts led him to leave his Christian faith.
I acknowledge that these stories are concerning and sad. In my mind, there is hope for our students. Jenna was left alone to figure out her new world of independence and settled for shallow relationships. Remedy: Relationship. Mike’s story is marked by shallow answers of faith confronting deep empirical, intellectual doubts. Remedy: Authenticity.
My vision for enCompass youth is for us to create space for our students to build deep relationships with their peers, mentors, and church community that they can lean on while they are in Junior High and High School, but also when they move on to whatever is next for them. The second part of my vision is for those relationships to be marked by authenticity that (1) says more than just, “because the Bible says so,” when our students wrestle with hard questions, (2) acknowledges that there are hard questions to think through, and (3) understands that Christian minds have been thinking through these things since the beginning of the church – some of them before that! Relationships and authenticity and every combination of the two are exactly, in my mind, what our students need. I hope and pray that enCompass continues to hold as tight to these two things as it did when Alli and I first came to love it here.