Since January, I've been using Dare to Share's Gospel Journey Maui with my high school teens during Sunday school.
Initially, I was a reluctant to use this curriculum. Despite having heard other youth workers speak favorably about it for years, I wanted no part of it, partly because I was leery of it's theology, partly because I actually enjoy writing curriculum. But then several years ago, I did a roundtable for Youth Worker Journal on the best of the best. In it, Mark DeVries (from Youth Ministry Architects), named Gospel Journey Maui as his favorite curriculum. According to him, “It creates incredible discussions and is brilliantly produced. It gets kids engaged and thinking, regardless of theological assumptions.”
Knowing DeVries comes from a Presbyterian background lessened my fears about this highly evangelistic curriculum so I splurged and bought it. Gospel Journey Maui features several young adults from various faith traditions thrown together in Maui, participating in activities and discussions about various issues related to faith, including things like
- What's the purpose of life?
- Why do bad things happen?
- What happens after we die?
- Are all religions the same?
- Who is Jesus?
I first used the curriculum 5 years ago. To be clear, when I say “used the curriculum”, I mean that I showed select clips from the various videos and then wrote my own discussion questions specific to my kids and context. Nevertheless, I was amazed at the response from my students, who were captivated by this video series.
Despite fearing that such an old curriculum would no longer resonate with my teens, the same has proven true this year. In fact, during mid-year check-ins with my leadership team students, I've consistently asked, “What's the best discussion we've had this year?” More often than not, teens have cited Gospel Journal Maui in their response to this question.
When asked “Why?” one teen told me, “If we were just talking about these same things without the video, I don't think our discussions would have been as good. But the videos break the ice. They make it OK for us to say what we really think.”
This teen was able to put into words what I initially could not.
The brilliance of this curriculum is not it's production. It's the honesty it invites from those who watch it.
By showcasing teens and young adults engaged in genuine spiritual conversations with others with whom they sometimes vehemently disagree, it invites our teens to do the same: To engage in spiritual conversations, to disagree with one another, and to question their beliefs – even when those beliefs are core tenets of Christianity.
Through our discussions about Gospel Journey Maui, teens have wrestled with key facets of Christianity and compared those beliefs with other world religions, something that's enabled them to more fully take ownership of their faith.
The impact of these discussions was obvious to me over Christmas break, when I had coffee with one of the graduates from my high school youth ministry. During our time together, this alum asked, “What are you doing next with our high school youth ministry?”
I proceeded to tell her we were doing Gospel Journey Maui again. Immediately, she exclaimed, “That's the best series we ever did!”
She then recounted – almost verbatim – what some of the cast of Gospel Journey Maui had said along with the ways in which our discussions about those things had shaped her faith.
For me, this reinforced two key principles.
1. The best curriculums spark discussion.
2. When a curriculum works, it's worth reusing.
To this day, I'll admit I don't agree with all the theology present in Gospel Journey Maui. Nevertheless, it's a curriculum I love because of the way it sparks open and honest conversations about tough theological issues.