How Does a Youth Pastor Navigate the Election Chaos
Whoooooo buddy. What an election season this is turning out to be. I am 43. I have been in student ministry since the late 90s. I don't know that I remember another election that has trickled down into teenagers' awareness like this one has. Some of that credit is undoubtedly due to social media and the ability to communicate content like never before. But much of it is due to the contentious political climate we find ourselves in, not to mention the unique cultural factors that have defined 2020 (namely the effects of the global pandemic and racial unrest).
As youth workers, it’s not a question of whether or not we address it. I would say that we HAVE to address the election. My position is that it is much more important HOW we address it.
This is an admittedly touchy subject. There are faithful Christians on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the issues. What I am sharing are my personal views on how we should help our students deal with the cultural temperature of this election season. I am not advocating any specific position. I hope that the encouragement I pass along here works regardless of which candidate you will be voting for. My goal is to share what the Bible communicates to us about how we engage with culture and with others, with the ultimate goal being that we do not disobey God nor lose our Christian witness.
Having made all the caveats, let’s jump in.
The first thing I would tell students is that every Christian should have a desire to live in a culture that reflects God’s Kingdom values.
We should want to live in a culture that embodies the ways of God. That should be a desire of ours. (However, it’s worth acknowledging two things: 1) We can’t expect non-believers to want this, and 2) Jesus told us that this is not necessarily something we should expect. In fact, in John 16:33, He essentially promises that the opposite will be true.) Traditionally, one of the ways Christians have sought to accomplish this is by voting for people whom we believe will lead our country in a way that lines up with God's Kingdom values. This is still a viable motivation for voting, a reason to compel students to engage in the democratic process (either by following it if they are too young to vote or voting if they are off age). The problem comes when we put our hope in the political system as the primary agent of change and not the Gospel.
It is important that we teach students that the primary way we are called to change the culture for the sake of Christ is not through the ballot box. Large percentages of American Christians have put far too much emphasis on seeing legislation as the primary way to create a Christian culture. The interesting thing is that this isn’t the method of cultural change Jesus calls us to. Jesus commands us to change culture through the living out of the Gospel in our daily lives. He calls us to be salt and light. Matthew 5:16 can be seen as the thesis statement for living for changing culture by leading people to Jesus.
What is the more effective way of someone experiencing a change in their ideological viewpoint? Legislation that says they can’t do something? Or seeing their values transformed by a saving relationship with Jesus?
A life lived on mission for God is the most effective way of changing culture. We should vote. It’s important. And I believe you should vote for leaders whom you believe will lead us in a way that is in line with God’s Kingdom ways. But we should never lose sight of the fact that political power will never create the kind of culture change created by the Gospel set loose in the world.
Second, I think it’s vitally important to teach students that politics is no excuse to dispense with the call to Christian character.
Look around you if you dare. Facebook and Twitter are places where political conversation is often caustic, belittling, and vilifying. Suppose our students only observed the language of Christians in political discussions. In that case, I'm afraid they would conclude that what Paul really says in Ephesians 4:29 is, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Except when you’re talking about politics, at which point, it’s OK to not act like Christ.” Our students have to know that politics is no excuse for dropping the call to pursue Christian character.
So much of Scripture is spent calling us to live with a character shaped by God. Our character should be representative of our identity. As Christians, we have been adopted by God, welcomed into His family. We represent Him in the world. We bear His name. And when we engage with people about issues we don't agree on, how we conduct ourselves is vital.
Political disagreement doesn’t mean we can cease to be peacemakers. Just because we’re passionate about an issue doesn’t mean we can abandon self-control. When Jesus calls us to be holy just as He is holy, he doesn't make exceptions for the things you say on social media. When Paul calls us in Ephesians 5 to imitate God and to live a life of love, he means that we should imitate God in EVERY one of our interactions.
In 2 Timothy 2:23, Paul gives Timothy some fitting advice, the advice I would encourage you to pass along to your students:
 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,  correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,  and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
If only Christians sought to correct those with whom they disagree with a spirit of gentleness. The nature of the political discourse in this country would improve dramatically.
The “other” is not your enemy.
One of the most important things we can teach students is that those on the other side of the issues we are passionate about, especially other Christians, are not our enemies. As a country and as a Church, we have lost the ability to disagree with one another and still respect our brother and sister in Christ. Far too often, we have bought the lie of the world around us that the "other" is our enemy. This flies in the face of one of Jesus' most beloved parables.
The Good Samaritan is a parable about the "other." The title itself is scandalous. For Jesus' Jewish audience, the phrase "good Samaritan" would have been a contradiction of terms. There was no such thing. Recall that the parable's point was to lead His audience to expect that the first two passersby, a priest and a Levite, would help the man who was beaten and robbed. But they did not. When the Samaritan stopped and helped the man, showing extravagant generosity, the audience would have been shocked. Jesus made a profound point: just because someone is "other" does not make them our enemy. Loving your neighbor, Jesus' original point of the parable, means loving ALL people, almost especially those who see the world differently than us.
The world teaches our students that the proper response to a political opponent is something akin to hatred. We have to make an extra effort to teach our students that love, grace, and respect MUST be attributes we show to all people, especially those we don’t agree with.