There are conversations we have in church leadership where I understand why Jesus started drawing in the sand. Although every preacher speculates I don’t think the content of the drawing was important. It was probably more like doodling while on the phone. Are we talking about this again?
Once I had two great volunteer leaders who were very much in love. They had been dating for ages and when the time came for them to announce their engagement I wanted to honour them in our youth ministry and celebrate with them during this exciting season. Something weird happened during that celebration that really got me thinking.
While I had them onstage being interviewed about dating and how they had done it “right”. They decided to share with everyone about how they had decided not to even kiss until they were married. GASP!!! I know, I know this post is about sex not kissing but the strange thing with this couple is that I think at least half the room had probably witnessed them kissing at one time or another and now on stage with a microphone they were rewriting the narrative to suit some scripted Christian expectation.
There’s so many things wrong with that, not least of which, if you are dishonest with a young person, they know before you do and their trust just left with them from your ministry. Dishonesty and the setting up of an ideal that you yourself aren’t willing to maintain is incredibly harmful.
I’ve spent my whole life in church and I could count on one hand the number of times I think that a preacher or leader has spoken about purity honestly. We have simplified it down to a clear delineated right and wrong. What is never said but always communicated is that while Jesus can forgive all, there’s going to be little forgiveness coming from us as the church if you stuff this up.
I cringe in sermons about purity that don’t take into account sexual abuse. In Australia right now, if a young person is under the age of 15 and they are a girl, 1 in 3 have been sexually abused by someone stronger than them, 1 in 4 if they’re a boy. I want that to sink in for a bit. These stats don’t improve within the church community. If you are a youth pastor standing in front of 30 young people (average youth group) as many as 10 of the young people you serve had their ability to choose where their virginity went taken from them. Probably by someone they trusted and we tell them not to have sex, save that for your one and only.
I stood up after an intern preached recently and tried to hold back tears, as I was supposed to deliver the come to Jesus moment but he had preached badly on the necessity of staying pure, I offered to pray for victims of abuse and rape after the service, people who may feel like that no matter what they can’t feel pure again. I cried as so many young people in a safe and trusting environment stayed back and we prayed and cried and cried some more, all the while taking sneaky photos so that I could follow up with everyone in the next 24 hours and try to connect them with counselling and support services. One even had to be reported to authorities due to their age.
A recent study in the US discovered that 88 percent of young adults are not virgins when they reach the altar on their wedding day. That figure drops to about 80 percent for Christians. Like the earlier mentioned sexual abuse, we don’t take into account the impact of easily accessible porn has on young people we just expect them to choose abstinence in an environment where even their leaders probably aren’t.
So what are the answers? How do we talk to teens today about sex? Well I’d love to hear your thoughts on this so please share them for all of us to read.
I have a couple of thoughts too:
1. Be honest about your own past – You are not a superhero who has always made the right choice but have found grace, forgiveness and strength in Jesus. He has not condemned you but he also champions you to “go and sin no more”.
2. Ensure parents know what you’re going to say – You want to stay the pastor right? The youth pastor in me says “wait til your married” the youth worker in me knowing the stats says “wait til you’re married but if you are going to have sex ALWAYS USE A CONDOM”. That message will get you fired in most churches. It shouldn’t but most church parents prefer the first message only.
3. You can’t keep a secret so never promise to – If a young person comes to you and they are a victim of abuse or rape. You CANNOT just pray for them. There are differing laws in different countries but that conversation can never stay a secret between you. Make sure you know what the expectations are from you in the place you live. Have a procedure in place for if this happens so that you aren’t figuring it out when a young person is sitting in your office. Involve senior leaders in your church because you can never have enough wisdom on hand.
4. Read and reread Jesus words when they want to stone the woman caught in the act of adultery.
- If someone in your youth ministry is accused of sexual misconduct be slow to condemn.
- Through grace don’t exile them, instead stand with them either publicly or privately (depending on the scenario) as they take the next step.
- Offer to connect them with counselling or external support, don’t take on the superman/wonder woman role but connect to great local services that can provide professional support.
- They always get an opportunity to make a better choice next time. Encourage them to put God first moving forward.