As the fall ministry season begins, we have media coverage of Trump, the border wall, Antifa, the Alt-Right, and the new Taylor Swift album. From the scanning of Facebook groups and various other youth ministry blogs, I know what many of you are thinking. Do I address these headlines with my students? Do I ignore them and just stick to the plan and wait for them to go away? What happens when my students ask a question?
I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that all of this is not going away. In fact, the division, the highly politicized climate, and even the violence maybe only going to get worse. But the good news is you, as a youth leader, are well-positioned to help students wade these rough waters—so long as you are prepared.
Now I am not going to debate the legitimacy of any one person or group, nor do I want to engage in a debate around the now whether or not Trump should be reelected. Instead, I want to talk about three things that I hope will drive conversations with your students back the basics of following Christ. Students are genuinely and rightfully concerned about how they should respond to recent events in the classroom and with friends and family. Your students most likely want to be like Jesus and respond biblically, but they often have a hard time making sense of recent events in light of biblical teaching. So rather than debating whether or not Jesus would have voted for Trump or if Jesus would rather live in a state that denies abortions, I want to dial in on getting back to the basics of discipleship.
Have a conversation.
Remember that conversation Jesus had with the woman at the well? That whole interaction would have been considered a scandal today—a Jewish rabbi speaking alone to a Samaritan woman. Culturally speaking, Jesus had no business even looking in that woman’s direction. Yet Jesus ends up having a simple and yet profound conversation that leads this woman to her repentance and the repentance of many she knew. Jesus broke through racial barriers and cultural norms and accepted her for who she was, but did not accept the sin she lived in. He didn’t yell at her, get into an argument, insult her, or get violent. They just talked. It is a simple formula; treating people with respect, patience, and grace, creates a space for truth to penetrate.
We don’t always know what God is doing in the lives of others. Our hearts need to be open to hearing their stories, their struggles so that they can hear the gospel and experience its power. Jesus got through to her, not because he is Jesus, but because of how he treated her.
Live in Truth.
Jesus made it simple; the truth can be hard to swallow. This is even truer for your students. You may not see it, but there is an epic battle between what parents and pastor say versus what the world says. It makes me wonder if Jesus was really on to something.
“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you do not belong to the world, but I chose you out of the world, for this reason, the world hates you. – John 15:18-19
When people saw Jesus perform all kinds of crazy miracles, they would get all jazzed up and want to follow him. Maybe not so much like disciples, but more like groupies. However, he puts most of their desires in check by laying out the true cost of discipleship. He promises sacrifice and suffering on many levels. But isn’t that one of the things that make Jesus so compelling? Regardless of how he is treated by the Sadducees and Pharisees, Jesus never waivers on truth, but also never retaliates in fear or anger.
God is love. Love is the greatest commandment—love God and love neighbor. Love your enemies. The entire biblical story is built off of God’s love for humanity. It is not our fancy statements that win people to Christ; it is not eloquent arguments, mega-churches, or pastors that pontificate the mysteries of the gospel profoundly. It’s love.
“I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.” – John 13: 34-35
Love is not compromising on truth—it is pointing people to Christ. Love is imitating Christ.
As your students walk the halls of school this year, help to confidently and courageously engage in their classrooms, with friends, and with family. Keep it simple. Talk about what it means to love completely, without condition and without compromise. Talk about the challenges of living in truth and allow your ministry to serve as a support base for your students to gain confidence and encouragement. Finally, practice what a loving conversation about truth looks like.