In our families and in our churches, we are far too often late to the conversation about sexuality with our teenagers and reactionary once we speak up. This should not be the case. The kitchen table and living room are perhaps the best places for this discussion. And the church is called to equip its people to follow Christ and make disciples within our cultures. To fulfill this, we must talk about the uncomfortable issues—homosexuality, same-sex attraction, gender fluidity, pornography, and sexual immorality—and we must do so clearly and compassionately. We cannot retreat out of fear or remain silent out of ignorance in either the home or the church. Now is the time for honest answers to hard questions. Here are four things we must do:
1. Help teenagers see the Bible as their authority and guide
The uncertainty about issues of sexuality is closely connected to the trustworthiness of the Bible for many teenagers. Many are not grounded in the Bible enough to discuss a biblical response to the issue, and the Bible does not function in an authoritative way in their life. Kevin DeYoung is right: “The challenge before the church is to convince ourselves as much as anyone that believing the Bible does not make us bigots, just as reflecting the times does not make us relevant.” (143) This challenges means two things:
First, we shouldn’t shy away from teaching what the Bible says about sexuality, but proclaim it with grace and love. Teach what the Bible says about gender, sexuality, and purity with clarity. Don’t neglect, dismiss, or deny what God has clearly said. However, while what you say is important, how you say it has never been more important. Don’t highlight the issues of sexuality as if it is all the Bible speaks against. Rather, teach what the Bible says about sexuality in light of its bigger picture—the goodness of God’s design for human beings and the good news of God’s redemption. The Bible invites us into something much bigger and better than our broken sexual desires—it invites us to know and enjoy the God who made and redeems us.
We shouldn’t shy away from teaching what the Bible says about sexuality, but proclaim it with grace and love.
Second, we shouldn’t neglect to teach why the Bible is trustworthy and why it functions as our ultimate authority. Students need to know what the Bible says, but they also need to know why they can trust it. This begins with demonstrating a high view of God’s Word and its authority in our teaching. It will also involve showing students what the Bible says about itself and how it is historically reliable. This cannot be taken for granted or only given lip service. It must evident in our practices and explicit in our teaching.
While there are many important and essential things we need to teach teenagers about gender and sexuality, it is imperative that we learn to listen well. We must be invested and involved in the lives of students so that we have the opportunity to listen. We must also create spaces where students are not only receiving God’s Word but discussing their lives and applying God’s Word to specific areas. When it comes to discussing issues of sexuality—especially homosexuality and gender issues—make sure to learn the stories of students who are struggling with these issues or have friends who are. Many teenagers fear being labeled judgmental or intolerant, especially when they have friends who identify as homosexual or as transgender. We need to hear this struggle and speak directly to it with grace and truth.
3. Be patient
This topic cannot be addressed in a sermon series and then put on the shelf. It must be addressed faithfully as we teach through the Bible in our ministries. It must also be addressed personally through discipleship relationships. In the home, parents must be equipped with resources to discuss these issues with their children around the dinner table. In light of our current cultural climate, many teenagers will likely take a soft stance on these issues and maybe even disagree with the clear teaching of God’s Word, especially when it comes to its political aspects (i.e. same-sex marriage).
Please don’t misunderstand, this is not an agreeing to disagree position. While we cannot compromise the consistent biblical witness about God’s design for gender or sexuality, we must also not cut off conversation with students the first time they push back against it. Like all areas of discipleship, we must commit to patiently walking with teenagers as they come to know and grow up into Christ.
4. Keep our focus on the good news of the gospel
Whatever we do, regardless of the issue we are addressing, we cannot shift our focus from the hope of the gospel. Following Christ is hard, and it will entail holding unpopular positions within our culture. We should not only make the gospel clear in our teaching, we should show why the gospel is really good news. We should be showing the worth of Jesus in the way we live and what we teach. We should highlight the joy of knowing and being known by our Redeemer. We should show how the gospel really is good news for all people regardless of age, sex, race, or sexuality.
It is good news about God coming to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). It is good news that our old self is gone, and we now have a new identity in Christ (Col. 3:1-11; Eph. 4:17-32). It is good news that our past does not define us nor do our present circumstances limit the work God wants to do in and through us (Phil. 3:12-14). It is good news about God coming to set us free from the bondage and shame of sin (Luke 4:18-19; 1 John 1:9). It is good news about God forgiving the guilt of our sin (Mark 2:1-12; 1 John 1:9) and bearing the full wrath of God in our place (Rom. 3:24-26; 5:1). It is good news about God bringing us out from the rule of sin into his glorious kingdom (Mark 1:15; Col. 1:13-14). It is good news about God making us a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) and bringing us from death to new, abundant life (Eph. 2:1-10; John 3:3-5; John 10:10)
It is good news about God beginning the restoration of all things (Rom. 8:19-20), including our broken sexual desires. The gospel holds out a better way in the midst of our hyper-sexualized world. Now is the time to press into God’s Word, draw near to our neighbors, and speak and live with compassion and without compromise as we address the issues of sexuality with our teenagers.
Learn about this and other topics at the fourth annual ERLC National Conference on “Parenting: Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World” on August 24-26, 2017 in Nashville, TN.