Jason Gaston began following Jesus in eighth grade, but then he met obstacles common to public school students when it came to living out his faith.
“You get saved, and you probably do well for a couple of months. You’re on that high, but then pressure, temptation, the reality of sin starts to be there. You start to get your priorities mixed up,” said Gaston, a recent graduate of Baker High School in Mobile.
For a couple of years, Gaston floundered until some life-changing moments pushed him back to Jesus. He started reading Scripture, praying and removing himself from negative situations. Then he felt alone in his mission to follow Christ closely at school.
A member of Spring Hill Baptist Church in Mobile, Gaston initiated the study of the book “Chasing Love” by Sean McDowell with a couple of guys from his youth group. He started a podcast his sophomore year, but he wanted to be more intentional about reaching out to his peers at Baker.
“I wanted to find the Christians who were living the right life, and I wanted them to know we don’t have to be alone in this fight. We’re not supposed to be,” he said.
Seeing a need
Gaston saw a need for a network of believers in his high school to encourage one another in the right direction. “When you get a bunch of students in a room, you realize how unhealthy theology and views have crept into our students’ hearts and minds,” he said.
Considering the need for accountability and community, Gaston started The Way, a student-led Bible study group meeting once a week on Wednesdays and gathering for other events throughout the year.
“We meet at 6:45 in the mornings and right after school until 3:30 on Wednesdays. We have two meetings so students can choose which one works for their schedules depending on sports or how far away they live and things like that,” Gaston said, noting the reach extends to about 50 students, and an average of about 25 are present.
The main goal of the club is to be a community where students can be honest with each other as they strive toward Christlikeness.
“We want to pray for one another and encourage and look at Scripture together and struggle with questions and ideas,” Gaston said. “We try to allow some time for hanging out to talk. We do a little game and have a lesson and discussion time.”
It’s important that the group is led by students, Gaston said, because while it’s encouraging for adults to invest in youth, “it piques my interest more when I can ask, ‘Why are these students invested in something? Why are my buddies so interested in this guy named Jesus? They said they didn’t want to go party last night because they’re Christians. What’s so cool about that?’”
Student-led clubs are able to reach people in different ways than adult-led clubs, Gaston said, in part because of the level of vulnerability.
“I think it allows for more difficult conversations, conversations that need to be had but that aren’t being had because of the barrier of having to put a show on for an adult, or it’s just too awkward or something like that,” Gaston said. “We’re able to do that when we have someone who spends a lot of time in Scripture and is mature and close with God. If we don’t have an answer, we can look together.”
Gaston is now headed to William Carey University in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to follow a call to ministry, so The Way will be led by another student. In addition to the weekly meetings during the school year, the group went to school sporting events together, attended Winter Jam, hosted a worship night in May and sometimes had a game night with pizza at a local church.
“I can think of three or four people who have come up to me or texted me to say thank you for starting The Way because they were in my boat,” Gaston said. “They were alone, they felt so lost and they didn’t know where to turn. The encouragement and the Scripture we’d been studying had been so helpful to them. I truly believe this club is here for a reason and God is working through it.”
Christian clubs are not exclusive to high schools, of course. Alabama has several chapters of Discovery Clubs, which are after-school Bible groups held in public elementary schools in Birmingham and surrounding counties. They meet for one hour each week and impart truth that can impact children for a lifetime.
“Children are exposed to things at a much earlier age now,” said Rachel Moore, director of Discovery Clubs. “With the prevalence of social media and outside nonbiblical influences vying for their attention, we need to help instill a strong Christian foundation as early as possible before the world can influence them toward a secular mindset.”
Since many school-age children are in families who do not attend church, Discovery Clubs may be the only biblical education they have the opportunity to receive “before they have to face this fallen world in which we live,” Moore said.
Discovery Clubs are approved in 22 schools so far for this fall, and they typically have around 60 classrooms reaching about 1,300 students.
“This fall will mark Discovery Clubs’ 20th school year as a ministry,” Moore said. “In that time, we estimate we have reached almost 20,000 individual students — in a classroom at their own elementary schools— with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Each school year, the leaders hear from parents and teachers about how the club has impacted the lives of the children involved.
“They tell us their child has started reading the Bible, they’re telling their friends about Jesus, they are getting better grades and being more respectful of authority,” Moore said.
Some children accept Jesus as their Savior and are baptized at a local church. Entire families have started attending church as a result of what their children learn in Discovery Clubs.
“As you know, the gospel changes hearts, and we see the results each year. One year a parent told us that their child was more peaceful within and that it was helping him overcome a crossfire shooting that happened in the [community] where they live,” Moore said.
“She went on to say that she loves that our volunteers love the children in their community. We are privileged to be able to show the love of Jesus to these kids each year and to make a positive impact on their lives.”
For more information about how to volunteer with Discovery Clubs, visit discoveryclubs.org.