Sex at Church
when to speak and when to listen
Churches struggle to know what to do with talking about [sexuality]. Pastors struggle to know what to do with [talking about sexuality]. From what I listen to, churches do one of at least three different things. They simply go along with whatever the culture says, thinking that people will come to church if you say things that they want to hear. They circle the wagons and act like if they keep condemning the culture then one day it will change. They remain silent for fear of offending anyone. I have yet to see any of these work well.
James Miller, Glenkirk Church (06.09.13)
sermon download HERE: 13MB
Sex brings life. And yet, it seems to me, that most of our lives within our church communities are spent avoiding the topic altogether. Human sexuality is complicated, personal, intimate, layered and infused into the rhythm of our lives. Sex is real and conversations about it can be awkward.
I write and observe life from the perspective of a husband & father who just-so-happens to be called to professional ministry in this season of my life. At our church’s worship gatherings a few months ago, our congregation heard the story of a friend of mine who had recently attended his gay brother’s wedding. In his testimony and through the words of Scripture that followed, we were given a picture of what it looks like to stand alongside those who are different than ourselves when others might cast them aside. And we talked about sexuality. Because, when we gather as the church, we should talk about real life – even if it feels awkward.
Sex in Church
If you’re a leader in your church community, you need to consider how and when you talk to your congregation about sexuality in large group settings and then you need to move forward with a plan of how your teaching team is going to address the topic over the course of your yearly rhythm. It might not be enough to simply have a sermon series on sexuality. There will be new families at your church after each series ends and you can’t assume that everyone has heard everything you’ve said in the past.
When pastors stay silent on topics that impact the lives of their congregation, they are choosing to let the culture around them be the leading voice as they determine where they stand on controversial issues. In some areas, the church and culture might line up – sermons on littering probably would carry little weight in communities where that’s already a secular priority. In other areas, a congregation might need some coaching on how to establish a Biblical worldview of a subject and your church desperately needs more than just a reaction to what happened in pop culture the week before – they need you to be willing to have a conversation.
Just because you reposted something on Facebook that someone else wrote doesn’t mean that you can avoid talking about hard topics when your church worships together.
Sex at Home
When the church gathers, it’s important to always think about the next steps that people will be taking as they walk away from your worship services and ministry programs. If your congregation is going to talk about real life, with sex and sexuality being one of those topics that is discussed, you’ll need to be strategic in equipping at least three groups of people to talk comfortably about sex at home:
Parents, Families & Sex
You should never assume that parents don’t want to talk about important things with their children – but, it’s a safe bet to say that the majority of them are willing to receive a little help when tricky subjects like sexuality need to be discussed. For families with younger children, it’s a good idea to have books or resources that you can begin pointing parents to before they’re ready – so that, when they’re ready, they might remember that you had suggestions.
Parents who are looking for a podcast to listen to on their morning commute might be willing to listen to these wise words from Dr. Jim Burns, from the Homeword Center for Youth and Families:
Personally, our family has found this book series to be a helpful introduction into talking about sexuality with our kids:
- God Made Your Body (LINK)
- How God Makes Babies (LINK)
- Teaching Your Children Healthy Sexuality (LINK)
For parents who are already in the midst of rising hormone levels, glossy chap stick and Axe body spray, consider what it might look like for your church to offer a support group, of sorts, for parents of teens to come together and discuss parenting topics over a cup of coffee with their peers. Sometimes, in those hardest stages of parenting, it’s good to know that you’re not alone in the battle and if a church created a venue like this with a host who can help coach parents through life’s tricky spots, parents might feel equipped enough to navigate hard discussions with their kids. Because, as many of us know, kids who don’t feel like their parents will listen to them and respond well don’t just skip asking their question – they skip asking their parents and jump right to Google.
Equipping Small Group Leaders
Dropping the topic of sexuality into sermons and large group gatherings is great – if people have a place to process that topic later. For many congregations, small group settings offer the potential for conversations about topics that a person might be unwilling to talk about in larger settings. With adult small group leaders, consider what it would look like to send them an article that discusses talking about sex as a church and ask them what their thoughts are. Then, consider asking them to have that conversation in their small group settings, after they’ve been walked through how to listen well when people ask hard questions and you’ve modeled how they can best respond.
An article to get you started with could be: “How Should We Talk about Sex in Church” (LINK)
Leaders of youth and children’s small groups need to view their role as a secondary (but VERY important) voice in this conversation. Teaching leaders to first reply to questions with, “What do your parents say/think about that?” or “What have you heard about that?” can help leaders honor parents and families in their answers and elevate the voice of parents in the life of a child. When sexuality comes up in a teaching series, asking parents and students to submit questions beforehand can help you prepare a team of small group leaders for the discussions that might follow. And, as with most things, give your small group leaders the authority to not have an answer. When discussing sexuality, a bad answer is almost always worse than no answer.
Honoring People in Hard Places
Because it is easy for our identity to become wrapped up in our sexuality, it’s important that leaders in the church keep in mind that topics that deal with sexuality and relationships will always hit harder for some people more than it does for others. However, as Pastor Andy Stanley might put it, that doesn’t give us room to ignore talking about the ideal for the sake of what is real. When you talk about the ideal, you need to understand that it’s easier for people to walk away feeling judged than loved – so, keep the following thoughts in mind as you work talks about sex and sexuality into the rhythm of your conversations with those that you lead:
- When you openly judge someone who is in the public spotlight, anyone in your church who identifies with that person’s struggles feels judged by you and, sometimes, does not feel worthy to be loved by God because of your condemnation.
- When you only talk about sex as something that exists in an ideal state, then those who have struggled through infidelity, those who are in seasons of parenting when stress levels and sleep deprivation make sex infrequent and a source of contention, those who were just served divorce papers or those who have spent years navigating same-sex attraction are made to feel like you’re saying that they are broken beyond repair and sometimes they feel as though they cannot belong to your church family.
- When talking about sexuality, always have a word for singles. As the millennial generation continues to put off marriage and the generations before them continue to disregard marriage vows, you will continue to have more unmarried people in your church who need to know that sexual activity is not the only thing God created them for. Remind them of that truth and, along the way, the rest of your congregation might get the sense that God also created them for greater things.
Anthony Prince is a husband, dad and pastor – in that order. Since 2007, he has served as the director of children and family ministry at Glenkirk Church, located in the foothills of Los Angeles, California.