Students & Sexuality
Preparing Your Children’s and Youth Ministries for Inevitable Scenarios
Regardless of your context, confusion about sexuality and gender is coming to your church (and probably already has). Student ministries will see some of their students come out as gay or transgender, confess a secret struggle with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, or engage with friends or family who are LGBTQ+ affirming. How can student ministry leaders better prepare themselves for the coming questions and situations surrounding sexuality and gender?
Be proactive in talking about God’s design
First, churches need to be proactive in helping children and youth see the importance of cherishing, believing, and obeying God’s Word. Students may not be asking questions about sexuality when they are in the third grade, but if we instill in them an understanding of the truth of Scripture, they will know where to find the answers when they start to hear lies about gender and sexuality. Read and teach from the Bible in your children’s and youth ministries. Make sure students have a Bible. Encourage them to read it and to see God’s Word as having the final authority in their lives.
Second, ministries should find age-appropriate ways to affirm the goodness of God’s design for sex and gender. Students are already learning about sex and gender from the wrong sources. Streaming video platforms are doing a great job of indoctrinating children into the cultural standards of sexuality. Therefore, we cannot sit back and wait to address these topics until students ask about them. They need to hear what God’s Word says about these issues now.
Third, help students understand who they are and what they are made for. The current thinking about sexuality has everything to do with our self-perception. Self-expression is our culture’s highest end, and we are all affected by it. The chief end of man is not the expression of self—it’s the glory of God. Glorifying God is the greatest pursuit to which we can give ourselves. Students need to understand that their identity is not their sexuality. Instead, their identity is that of a creature made to know God.
Finally, create an environment that is open to questions that challenge biblical teaching. Childhood development will sometimes include an evaluation of the beliefs students are taught in their homes. Oftentimes, that means asking the question, “Why do we believe that?” Your ministry should be a place where students can ask hard questions while being met with kind, calm, and biblical answers.
Evaluate your message and tone
In order to avoid confusing students about what it means to be a man or a woman, churches should examine how they represent masculinity and femininity. Are all of your events geared toward boys centered around traditionally masculine activities like hunting and fishing? Do your girls’ events only include traditionally feminine activities like tea parties and baking? If so, you might be overemphasizing gender cliches. Society’s confusion around gender is largely based on cultural stereotypes. If a boy likes musicals, he’s told he might be gay or transgender. If a girl likes the outdoors, culture says she might really be a boy.
We may add to the confusion if we lean heavily on these stereotypes, unintentionally telling students they don’t belong in your group because they do not fit the profile. Instead, we should teach students that they are all made in God’s image, male and female, even if some of their preferences fail to fit the cultural stereotypes.
In addition, youth leaders must be careful about the tone we utilize when discussing sexuality and gender. If we are snarky and unclear, students who have gay or transgender classmates may mistake our tone over the issues related to society’s confusion about gender as directed toward the people affected by it. This could deprive you of the opportunity to meet their friends and make your students feel uncomfortable talking with you about gender and sexuality. Though our anger may be rightly directed toward a movement that damages children, we could unwittingly shut down conversation with our students and fail to show them how to love people well.
Be a welcoming place
The odds are good that your ministry will have a student who struggles with gender identity or a visitor who identifies as transgender. Rather than waiting for this to happen, it would be wise and helpful for your church to begin considering what you will do in order to welcome that student and remain biblically faithful.
Ministry leaders must remember that students who identify as LGBTQ+ are people. They are not problems for you to solve; they are people searching for something they won’t find anywhere but in Jesus. They are literally sheep without a shepherd. See them the same way Jesus does—with compassion. Our first priority should be that each image-bearer who walks through our doors is given the chance to know Christ.
The programming you offer students can make a big difference in creating a welcome environment. If a transgender student were to visit, is there a place for that student to be involved that does not require you to make an awkward decision? For example, if all of your programming is gender-exclusive, then you may find yourself in a position where you need to ask the student to go to a group in line with their biological sex. To be clear, I believe that gender-exclusive spaces are vital to healthy discipleship in churches. However, a good option for a transgender student might be to attend one of your co-ed spaces. This would allow the student to come and hear the gospel without putting them and everyone else in an uncomfortable position right off the bat.
There are also practical decisions that should be made before there’s an actual need. Where will a gay or transgender student sleep during an overnight event? Will the student be able to attend the event, or are there special accommodations that might allow them to participate? And what about bathrooms? Sit down with your church leadership and decide beforehand what you will do so that students feel welcome and you remain faithful to God’s Word.
While there are many things to take into consideration, do not lose heart. This challenge presents us with an incredible opportunity for ministry. The lies surrounding sexuality and gender are not able to give students ultimate fulfillment. But Jesus holds the answers that our students need. Prepare well, show compassion for the lost, and give them Jesus.