Talking Sports and Politics in Youth Group

By Todd Hill

I took a deep breath and noticed my body temperature rising a little bit as I wondered, “Why did I think this was a good idea again?”  Another student spoke up, sharing their thoughts as the rest of the group listened.

I have held a motto in our youth ministry since beginning in this position five years ago:  We will talk about anything.  I have always felt that if the students are talking about something with their friends in the school hallway or locker room, I don’t want them to feel like they need to stop discussing this thing that feels relevant to them when they enter the doors of the church.  I tend to push back against the categories of sacred and secular.  I believe that everything falls under the reign and rule of our sovereign God, whether it fits into a religious or non-religious category.

So, when everyone else in our country was talking about whether it was appropriate for NFL football players to kneel during the National Anthem, it seemed to make sense that we discuss it as a youth group—at least at first.

As we began the conversation, I gave some ground rules that the conversation needed to be gracious, understanding that everyone will not think the same way about the topic.  Then we started talking about it, and I suddenly realized that not everyone thought the same way about it.  That is when I began second-guessing my brilliant idea to have this conversation.  I mean, what person in their right mind initiates a politically and racially charged discussion in this setting?

Guess what?  In the end, it worked!  In spite of my anxiety during the discussion, in the end, we were able to have a peaceful and meaningful discussion where students and youth leaders alike had varying points of view.  Why did it work?  Apart from the bottom-line answer that God was merciful, there are a few other factors that enabled it to work.

  1. Our students tend to step up when presented with a challenge. It no longer comes as a surprise to me that our students are amazing at setting an example to me when presented with a challenging situation.
  2. I am blessed with amazing youth volunteers! They are willing to roll their sleeves up and enter into really messy situations because they love our students and want to walk with them through challenging things.
  3. We spent our time and energy looking for a third “Gospel perspective”, rather than trying to convince one another to switch their viewpoint to our own.

While I am not naïve enough to think that all such conversations would go so well, in this particular situation I am very grateful for the opportunity to watch these students lead us in doing life in the Body of Christ.