3 Tips for Pastoring Students from Different Political Persuasions

It doesn’t take long to find someone who disagrees with you politically. Perhaps you’re reading this and feeling nervous about this topic (girl, same). Breathe easy; this isn’t an attempt to sway political views. As pastors, we recognize this nation is politically divided, and our teens sense the polarizing effects as well.

Some students avoid any political conversation altogether. Others boisterously proclaim their political opinions on social media or in fiery debates. Still others deeply desire change for the world they live in and feel stuck about how that change is going to happen. As pastors, we sit in a unique role to be a safe adult, a sounding board, for our teens to wrestle with their political beliefs.

As you enter spaces and conversations, here’s three tips to keep in mind:

1. Enter conversations with an open mind.

A few months back, I met with a student who wanted to discuss a proposed law that was getting traction in the media. Upon meeting with her, I assumed I knew what she was going to say and how she felt about the issue. However, after a few back and forth conversations, I realized that she was on the other end of the conversation’s spectrum.

It’s easy to make assumptions about our students’ beliefs concerning different political conversations. If we aren’t careful to check our own posture and assumptions, we can miss opportunities to really hear from our students.

If we aren’t careful to check our own posture and assumptions, we can miss opportunities to really hear from our students.

Amanda Ballmer

Your student’s convictions may run deeper than you know in that very moment and contain strong emotions behind that law or social issue. Remember to be an open, intentional, and safe space where they can share and process without assuming you know what they will say. Be ready to listen well.

2. Use each conversation as an avenue to discipleship.

A student’s understanding of the world is constantly changing during this stage of life. Ideas aren’t always as set in stone as we believe they are. As you have conversations with them concerning politics, view it as an avenue to discipleship. Model for them how to have difficult conversations and how to listen to other perspectives.

Model for them how to have difficult conversations and how to listen to other perspectives.

Amanda Ballmer

Ask questions such as, “What political beliefs and causes are especially important to you and why?” “What news or media sources are you listening to these days?,” or “Let’s try to imagine the other perspective for a moment. Why do you think this view is held by so many?”

Inviting them to understand their own views will help them organize their beliefs and cultivate an awareness of where they are getting their information. Challenging them to empathize with “the other side” will help ignite curiosity and empathy as they encounter other perspectives. Empathizing with another doesn’t mean compromising what you know to be right or true; it means seeking to understand another’s perspectives.

You can also use this time of discipleship to challenge them on how they can impact the world here and now. Help them find practical ways to enact change in their home, school, church, and community.

May we model and teach our students a posture of love rather than a posture of defensiveness when it comes to political conversations. Let discipleship and the opportunity to connect your teen to Jesus outweigh the desire to correct or argue.

3. Point them to the heart & character of Christ rather than to a political party.

I’ve heard phrases like, “Jesus is in control, so none of this matters,” to shut down political arguments. That is not what I’m proposing. Gen Z cares deeply about justice and seeking change, and politics are an avenue to affect that change. However, there needs to be a pervasive awareness that God is fully in control.

Politics are not permanent, and their promises are not gospel. Model to your teens what it looks like to first fix our eyes on Jesus rather than trying to fix Jesus’ eyes on our politics and initiatives. We certainly can (and I believe should) engage in politics. As we live on this earth, our conversations, our voting, and our fight for justice does in fact matter, but we do not find our hope, identity, and security in a political party or politician. Christ is the foundation of our hope, identity, and security.

Amanda Ballmer
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