Our current world of social media fights, political divide, and cancel culture has transformed ideas from different perspectives to be learned from into grenades to be thrown at the other side.
As our students prepare for college, they will enter a world of competing ideas. Will they be prepared to not only understand what they believe, but also to represent the love of Jesus towards those with whom they disagree?
We want our students to be faithful Christians. Faithfulness is displayed in the truths upon which they stand and in the ways in which they respect, love, and relate to others. Yet, it can often be hard for teenagers to balance devotion to truth with love and respect for others.
To teach faithfulness to ideas without faithfulness to Jesus produces teenagers who will be abrasive about their faith and thus slam doors to ministry opportunities. Teaching respect and love without truth creates students who keep their beliefs to themselves and encourage others to define truth as they see fit.
Thankfully, we can lean into Scripture to help us teach the balance between faithfulness to truth and loving others. With the help of God’s Word, we can help teenagers know what they believe, be respectful of new perspectives, and to love others without needing to change them.
Know What You Believe
Our students must be equipped to know what they believe and why it matters. As Peter wrote to Gentile Christians in exile, all followers of Jesus should be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks [them] for the reason for the hope that is in [them]” (1 Pet. 3:15).
Notice how Peter’s focus on defending beliefs centers around not being right, but on sharing the hope of Jesus with others.
Often, when student ministers teach teenagers what to believe, it is through the lens of apologetics. We offer teenagers arguments built on logic to defend the sensibleness of Christianity as a worldview. Through apologetics, teenagers learn what they believe, why it is correct, and why what others believe is wrong.
While apologetics is a helpful and biblically faithful tool, the apologetic lens can sometimes better equip teenagers for a cultural and theological battle, rather than lead them to reach out to others to share the reason they can have hope.
As we teach teenagers how to make a defense for their faith, we must also teach them to look for the shared humanity in others: the truth that they were made in the image of God and that Jesus loves them and longs to have a relationship with them.
Be Open to Hearing, Respecting, and Discerning Different Perspectives
If teenagers approach others with the framework of a shared humanity, their conversations will stand out amongst the cultural battles they see elsewhere. Teenagers will approach others not as enemies, but as people who have inherent dignity and value—even though they may come to different conclusions than they.
Peter writes that standing for truth must be done with “gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). Many Christians often forget this section of the verse as they approach those with different beliefs.
To approach someone with gentleness is to acknowledge that they need hope and grace. Our students have found in Jesus what those around them are looking for. In their gentle words, teenagers can approach someone from the standpoint of a learner who is willing to hear another’s perspective and offer them Jesus’ words of hope and grace in return.
To approach someone with respect is to listen to learn. We want teenagers to hear from another person, rather than listening for ammunition to load the cannon of a correct theological response. We want to teach them to value another person’s beliefs just like they would want that person to value theirs.
You can teach your students this by being strategic in how you approach those who believe differently. We can communicate the error in their false beliefs, but never minimize the humanity and longing of the person who embraces those ideals.
Though we encourage teenagers to listen and learn from another’s perspective, we need to remind our students that there is no universally agreed definition of “truth.” A person could be sincere in their perspective yet be sincerely wrong.
From God’s Word, we understand that he is the one who establishes and defines the difference between truth and error. We follow Jesus who claimed to be “the truth” (John 14:6). Jesus is not an option among possible truths, but is a singular truth to be followed.
Teenagers should take every idea presented to them and filter it through the authority of the Bible. In time, God may open the door for them to share with others what they believe and how Jesus has changed their lives.
Love Others without Feeling the Need to Change Others
As teenagers interact with those with whom they do not agree, they face an interesting tension. We hope that they love and care for others; that they are good and present friends who listen well and build healthy relationships.
Yet, we also hope that they want to see their friends come to know and be changed by Jesus.
Sometimes, teenagers and youth pastors can feel it is their job to change someone. Yet, we often fail to realize that the Holy Spirit is the one who opens blind eyes and changes lives. Our teenagers’ call is not to force someone to change, but to love others and pray for God to move in their lives.
As Jesus was sharing with Nicodemus about the miracle of new birth, he said: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
God works through his Spirit, in his way, according to his timing. Our responsibility is to trust him and faithfully ask him to work. As youth workers, we have the opportunity to point out to teenagers the work of the Spirit in our lives and the lives of those around us, even in ways that might seem mysterious to us.
We must not neglect to equip teenagers to interact with new ideas as we help prepare them for college. Let us teach teenagers what they believe, the humanity and grace with which to approach someone who believes differently, the discernment to sort truth from error, and a dependence on the work of the Spirit to bring people to new life through the gospel.
As we and our teenagers have the holy responsibility of conversations with others, may we point them to Jesus and his beautiful gospel, which is the source of all truth and our only eternal hope.