The day after the 2000 election was the first day I had ever thought about politics. The kids were yelling at each other about who they believed made a better president, and all I’d been thinking was that I had soccer practice after school. I didn’t know the difference between Gore and Bush.
I didn’t know what to do. I stood in silence.
This week, I’m better informed but my response is about the same. I hear students making hurtful statements about those who don’t believe as they do, and I find myself stunned, wondering what to do.
Let’s be real for a moment. Most students have absorbed the politics of their parents or family. They aren’t deeply convicted so much as deeply convinced, and they are hurling those unrooted opinions at their peers. They are convinced by their culture that the opinions they hold and votes they or their families have cast are just what Jesus would have wanted. That makes their rhetoric even more passionate. It comes with a holy edge to it.
Regardless of our political position, I am reminded that Jesus cared about the hearts of all people. That is how he was able to stand calmly in so many different circles in one day. These were circles that weren’t able to be in the same room much less get along, yet Jesus was their common denominator. Jesus called them to the same table.
So how as student pastors, do we do that?
How do we lead our students to love in this moment — when some believe the country has just escaped a horrible fate and other believe we’ve just entered into it? How do we lead our students to care about people over politics?
How do we lead our students to carry hope in Jesus over hope in our country?
Here are a few thoughts as we head into the weekend:
Share A Story
A story was often how Jesus brought an audience together around the same table. Platitudes don’t connect in times like these, but stories do. Stories connect because they bring to life the truths in which we trust.
Share a story of how Jesus has been there for you in the midst of disagreement. Talk about how the long history of the Christian church and the things that have seemed desperate, only to end in victory. Tell a personal story of how Jesus has taught you how to love someone you didn’t particularly like.
Give Room At The Table
Look at your circle and ask if everyone in it thinks just like you. If we as leaders don’t open our table up to people who carry different beliefs, then how can we ask our students to love and live like Christ? We have to as leaders lead in this way. Students are watching us. We can’t ask them to do something we aren’t willing to do ourselves.
When they see us living in a relationship where the love of Christ is our foundation, then our life begins to speak louder than our words ever could.
Give Them A Chance To Talk (while you listen)
As pastors, we know that the loudest student may be the most wounded. A student with a huge opinion may be hugely fearful of life. They may feel unheard, undervalued. Give them room to talk. Grab a coffee with them. Give them space to share their thoughts, while you listen without commentary. Let them be heard. When they are ready, point them toward the grace of Christ and show them how a focus on people over political positions will help them to feel empowered.
Finally, Show Grace Above All
This week, I find Jesus reminding me of my past behavior. I haven’t always loved well. I have been more passionate about my viewpoint than compassionate about the heart of the one hearing it. As a student pastor always surrounded by students, I too forget that these are students — young people who are not yet fully mature, still working out who they are and whose they are. This season — far from being a problem — is such a marvelous opportunity to help shape these young lives, to teach them that actions and words have consequences, that grace always wins, that as long as we have an empty tomb, we have hope. This is a great season to teach the value of community.
This weekend as you meet with your awesome students, show grace in all things, because it’s in all things that Jesus gives us grace.