Engaging Kids Across Deep Differences

John Inazu April 7, 2020

Years ago, Drew Hill and I were Young Life leaders together at Northern High School in Durham, North Carolina. I have long admired Drew’s love for kids, passion the Gospel, and unrelenting hope in mediocre basketball teams.

Drew asked me to share some of the core ideas from my new book with Tim Keller, Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference. Tim and I wrote this book to encourage and empower Christians to share a hopeful witness even in the midst of a world that sometimes seems hostile to faith. We realized how important it was to share lived experiences rather than abstract concepts, and we knew that our work would be better if we didn’t do it alone. So we invited ten friends to join us, including artists like Lecrae and Sara Groves, and pastors like Tish Harrison Warren and Claude Alexander. We wanted to show how Christians from a variety of backgrounds and vocations sought to live out their faith and engage across difference. Before we began to write, we all met together in person to learn each other’s stories, to push toward a project that was more collaborative and more relational.

We hope the insights in Uncommon Ground will be helpful to you in your own relationships as well as in your work and ministry with teenagers. As a preview of what you will find in our book, here are three suggestions for how to encourage teenagers—and each other—to engage across deep differences:

Be Humble

Try to enter conversations with a humility that recognizes you won’t always be able to prove why you are right and someone else is wrong. Even better, enter conversations with the assumption that others might have something to teach you.

Be Confident

Being humble does not mean lacking confidence. But confidence for Christians begins by recognizing the object of our confidence, Jesus Christ. We are not confident in our own skills, wisdom, or power. Our witness does not depend on our winsomeness. Rather, our witness depends upon pointing faithfully to Jesus Christ and the message of the Gospel through our words and our actions.

Be Courageous

Humility in our thought and confidence in our faith should embolden us to risk generously. We can go into messy spaces and pursue uncertain relationships with those who are different than us. We can work to find common ground with others, even when we may disagree about the common good. We can partner in common causes with people who are not like us and who believe differently than us. Some people may be skeptical of these efforts and look at us with suspicion. That’s okay; they did that to Jesus, too.

One Final Thought

All of these suggestions work best when they unfold within relationships of trust. This is something I learned first and best in my time as a Young Life leader: win friendships before winning arguments. 

Start with the ordinary stuff before you dive into extraordinary disagreements. See others as image-bearers before you see them as political adversaries or converts to be won or opponents to be defeated. And remember that as you work to engage across seemingly insurmountable differences, Jesus reached out to you across the greatest difference of all and embraced you as His own.

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