As a kid growing up in the 90s and early 2000s, I remember the “purity movement” with its “true love waits” rings and books about giving up dating. I remember the guilt tactics, horror stories, and shaming. I remember thinking that once I became a teenager I would have premarital sex and become pregnant, and that was the worst thing I could do, the greatest of sins.
Now that I’m a youth leader, it’s my turn to join those approaching the topic of sex and pregnancy with students. I think we’ve all witnessed two extremely opposite responses. Some within the church might accept teen sex as normal or okay, or even go so far as to encourage it. Others might swing the opposite direction and choose to shame and cast out teens caught engaging in the activity.
I beg that God would enable us to approach it correctly, and that youth leaders would educate and respond to students in Christ-likeness, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). I pray that we aren’t guided by judgmental legalism or cultural acceptability, but by the Bible alone.
John 8:1-11 tells the story of a woman who was caught in adultery. The religious folk of that time—including leaders and teachers—had gathered and were prepared to stone her. Jesus was present, so they asked Him what they should do, and I love His answer. He doesn’t say any of the things we might expect to hear today like, “She’s a sinner, cast her out,” or “Get on with it,” or even, “It’s hard to abstain,” or “Everyone’s doing it, so why can’t she?” Instead He says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
One by one, each person leaves until the only person without sin is left—Jesus. And amazingly, the only person in that situation who could throw a stone, doesn’t. But He also doesn’t leave without saying something. He doesn’t lecture, He doesn’t condone. He simply says, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”
Jesus’ response goes against condemnation, self-righteousness and the general practice of shaming. It simultaneously goes against acceptance, turning a blind eye, or saying “Get a condom, prevent unwanted pregnancy.”
I see two things in this passage: love and encouragement to right living. And neither look like what we might expect. Society teaches that loving people means simply accepting them for who they are and what they do, regardless of what that is. Jesus demonstrates that loving involves more than just accepting. It includes encouragement to right living in seven simple words, “Go and leave your life of sin.”
As Christ-followers, how are we handling the prospect and occurrence of teen sex and pregnancy? Are we choosing an acceptance that says, “Teens are having sex, it’s happening, so let’s be sure to teach them about contraceptives”? The problem is this view is ultimately toxic as it treats the symptoms and not the problem. It may stop pregnancy, but it doesn’t stop the destructive behavior of teen sex.
But, neither does condemnation stop teen sex. It simply pushes teens out of the church, which should be the primary place they can find help. Because as a body of people claiming to follow Christ, we should be governed by His loving example. We should take up His words of “Go and leave your life of sin,” using it to teach teens the following:
You aren’t perfect and never will be. We’ve all made mistakes and don’t pretend to be perfect. We don’t expect you to be perfect and we won’t kick you out or look down on you or love you any less for making mistakes. (Like the religious leaders in John 8, we aren’t in a place to throw stones.)
Your mistakes don’t have to become habits; they don’t define you.
Just because you make a mistake, doesn’t mean the behavior has to or should continue. Poor choices and mistakes that are allowed to continue will eventually become habits, and these are not habits you want to form.
The Bible outlines the ways in which God wants us to live.
We obey not out of compulsion or a desire to be “good enough” for God, but because He wants the best for us. And, if we have a relationship with Jesus, our understanding of His sacrifice fuels our desire to devote our lives to Him. We will educate you on this, and we’ll have open dialogue about issues like teen sex, pregnancy, etc., because nothing is off-limits for discussion. We don’t believe in remaining silent.
There is so much more beyond the here and now.
And we want to help you fix your eyes on what is waiting after this life. We believe that knowing life doesn’t end here changes your perspective on the present. Sure, things may feel great (or at times hopeless) in the moment, but it’s all temporary, it all fades. Life in Christ lasts forever.
We want to help, encourage, equip and motivate you to live your life for Jesus.
We want to help you wrestle with the tough questions. We want to support you in whatever you are dealing with. We will provide a safe place for you to talk through whatever is on your mind or going on in your life, without judgement or condemnation. We are, after all, a family.
Can you imagine how churches would be changed if people stepped outside of their preconceived notions of church and how they think it should be and got back to just the Bible? In times of question, when the church is wrestling with where it should stand on important issues, the only place it should turn is the Bible. We shouldn’t look to the political climate, the actions of others, or social pressures. In the end, those aren’t the things we’ll be answering to; we’ll be answering to God alone.
So what happens when one of your youth group attendees ends up pregnant? Is she out the door, allowed to attend under attitudes of judgement and disgust, or told to get an abortion before anyone knows she’s pregnant? Do you think Jesus would encourage any of those responses? I believe He would champion us to show love, grace and become a people who will offer help and support. The reality is that there are now two lives that need Jesus, and none that need condemnation.
I pray that as youth leaders, we will help teens become stronger in their faith, more sure of their beliefs, and equipped to know and understand the Bible and the truth it contains. And I pray for love like Jesus, for us and for the church.