How a Youth Pastor Survives the Election Cycle
Some youth pastors, even though they can look like 19-year-old boys (or girls, I’m not one for sexism) who have yet to learn to shave, actually do seem to care about politics. They have followed this year’s candidates, they have watched debates, picked their favorites, maybe even had to change what team they were rooting for half-way through. Now, as the election cycle really picks up into full swing, people are going to start talking about it a lot more. So if you’re already sick of it, you may want to take your two weeks in November.
More interestingly, some teenagers, even ones in my own tight-knit little group, have also been watching the election. Sometimes these are student who can’t even vote, sometimes they don’t even know the difference between the party platforms or they say things like:
“Which group is supposed to be the ones with the elephants? Because I don’t see any elephants anywhere…”
Often, even though woefully under-informed about our political process, teenagers are extremely opinionated on whether or not we should all be voting for the man or lady that now seem to appear before us, as the two major offerings for president. Sometimes, they even say these opinions out loud, almost as if they were sure of themselves, that if anyone would dare come up against them, surely even God would turn away from them.
On the one hand, I relish the idea of our young people taking interest in our political process, and part of our jobs is to allow them to continue their growth in every way. We should encourage healthy dialogue about all things, we want them to come talk to us about Jesus, but in a day and age where politics and religion are so closely tied together why would we discourage them to think politically as well? I’ll tell you why:
Because it’s absolutely freaking terrifying, that’s why.
And for all of you who have those wonderfully opinionated people in your congregation, or even those incredibly politically focused teenagers in your youth groups, you are justified in your intimidation. The political discourse happening all around you is frankly overwhelming. Every conversation I get to hear as I walk from my office to the sanctuary is tainted with political rhetoric of one kind or another, and sometimes those conversations in more politically diverse climates can even become heated, and in the case of at least one church I’ve worked in, violently so.
So what exactly is our role as pastors of these congregations, and leaders of these youth groups?
I think it’s a mix of something, somewhere, between a referee, an activist, and the Queen of England.
The Referee keeps the peace.
We ought to allow conversations to take place, because that is what growing up is about. More than that, we could maybe even facilitate it. Why not have lessons and times with at least semi-politically engaged students that actually foster good dialogue about what political ideas different people have? Why not allow two students to engage in a brief argument (following the actual definition of argue, not a temper tantrum, or a fight) as long as it isn’t becoming disruptive to the rest of the group? We should keep an ear out for harmful speech, as some students will undoubtedly take things too far, but as long as people can come away from a disagreement still friendly with one another then there is no reason not to allow a maturing process when it comes to the young political minds in our churches.
The Activist seeks to promote certain ideas.
I believe that the Bible teaches us about certain realities in this world, and that Jesus spoke to the way in which we should treat others, and those things inform my political opinions. In this sense, I think it is part of our jobs to advocate for the principles of the Bible. What those principles are may be different for you and me, but that’s ok, because as long as we are being accurate in the way we represent the text of the Bible, neither of us are wrong. One of us may choose to be more open about our conviction that the Bible is Pro-Life, while another may be more open about being convicted with the economic injustices being preached against in the Old Testament Prophets. Both things are found in the Bible, just because each one is talked about differently in different political parties doesn’t mean that they are not able to be talked about in a non-partisan way. We should be activists for our faith, and pass that spirit on to a younger generation. Not (NOT!) as political party platforms, but as Biblical and Christian standards.
The Queen of England is dignified.
During the British election of a new Prime Minister, the Queen takes no part in the conversation. Sometimes, we need to keep our mouths shut, and just try to keep our head above the overwhelming waves in the ocean of political conflict. We don’t need to voice our ideas very often, and honestly, when it comes to actual political alignments, I try to stay completely anonymous. This move is both pastorally advantageous, because it keeps us above the conflict and off of people’s “teams”, but it is also practically advantageous, because it keeps the people who tithe your paycheck from thinking needlessly negative things about you just because they disagree with your political stances.
So, politics, whether you enjoy the show and take interest in whichever political agenda suits you most, or you avoid it like the plague, you should know by now the fact that politics permeates the church in a possibly harmful way, and its often up to us pastors and volunteers to try to help steer the congregation, or our youth groups in a positive direction. We ought to be helping to facilitate healthy conversation, keep the peace, remain neutral, yet also advocate for Biblically accurate and relevant ideology. It sounds impossible, because it almost is, and you will lose control of at least one situation before you learn how to best lead and mediate a conversation that helps everyone.
Lastly, I think the most important message for us to communicate to our students and congregations is unity.
Too often we allow politics to divide our churches because we have people who believe that their view is the only real Christian view, when that is just woefully incorrect. We cannot allow either politics to create division in Christianity, nor can we allow Christianity to be used as a tool for justifying the legitimacy of a political party.
Religion and politics, the two things you should never bring up when first meeting someone, are the only things I’ve had the chance to write about today. But there is a reason people are told not to bring those subjects up; they are two of the most emotionally passionate identifiers that we American’s wrap ourselves around. That means that we as Pastors and Leaders should try to be a little less intimidated by political ideas being brought up in our ministries.
[bctt tweet=”We are called to bring Christ into people’s lives, and that includes their political lives as well.” username=”ys_scoop”]
Cory Williams has been doing Youth Ministry in some capacity for the last 5 years, attended Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma City, OK to get his bachelors in Youth Ministry, and now lives with his wife in Rock Hill, SC where he is the Youth Pastor at Trinity Church of the Nazarene. He enjoys photography, graphic design, is a total music addict, a gaming nerd, and loves quiet nights in just as much as loud nights surrounded by teenagers. You can find him on Instagram @lifewithcory or Facebook.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.