How to Talk About Sex and Relationships [Part 1]

An article and study published by the Pew Research Center titled “Half of U.S. Christians say casual sex between consenting adults is sometimes or always acceptable” has once again been making the rounds in Christian circles. In some of these circles there is alarm and shock as people assumed Christians have been holding to a higher moral code. In others, people lament and are resigned to the fact it is true. Others include people who place blame upon the church, its teachings, and its leaders for projecting and proclaiming a distorted view of sex and relationships. None of these are necessarily helpful, but all of them carry a measure of truth.

We should be shocked if we have not heard, seen, or known of these statistics. We should lament this statistic and pray for others. We should call out false, corrupted, or distorted teachings and agendas. But the question before us is this: how do we respond? Do we simply proclaim the evils of this world? Do we sound the alarm bells and run to our bunkers? Do we begin a new movement similar to what was taught in the 90s and 2000s as a radical counter approach?

I don’t think any of those options work nor would they be beneficial in the immediate or long term. Instead, I would like to offer a different approach: lovingly teach godly principles as they pertain to relationships, identity, and sex. We should be teaching this in church as a whole, but let’s be honest, if it’s hard for a youth pastor to speak on sex to young people, imagine how hard it is for a senior pastor to do that from the pulpit. I am not saying that is an excuse, but it is a reality, and as such churches shy away from this conversation. But we as student workers have an immense privilege and obligation to share, guide, and love our students as we talk with them about tough topics, including sex and relationships. Over the next couple of weeks I want to share with you some ways to engage this conversation well.

Communicate what you are doing.

As you prepare to share and teach on this, it is highly important to communicate what, how, and why you are doing this. Creating and casting vision for a series on subject matter that is sensitive, has often been mishandled, and will have different value systems between families is one of the most important things you can do. But don’t simply communicate this to families, communicate with your superiors, your volunteers, and your students. Bringing others in will allow you to receive feedback and support as well as guidance. It will also help people to be prepared and ready to talk through sensitive topics.

Approach this conversation with love, grace, and truth.

This is not an easy conversation to initiate nor is it an easy conversation to be a part of. Many of us work with students who have been hurt or abused, students who have seen sex used in wrong ways, students who only know about sex through Hollywood or porn, or students who struggle with relationships because their attraction may not be what the Bible says it should be. Acknowledging these truths, we should approach this conversation with love, grace, and truth. We need to be sensitive to what people are dealing with or what they know in relation to this topic. Don’t laugh at “dumb questions,” and don’t roll your eyes when someone doesn’t understand a term. Seek to offer clarity and help your students understand why this conversation matters.

Be willing to acknowledge the difficulty with this topic.

As pastors and leaders we often try to have all the knowledge and understanding of a topic on which we are teaching. But with this topic there are so many levels, changes in terms, cultural understanding, and evolving education and understanding that we have to acknowledge we aren’t experts. Instead we must lean into the truth of God’s Word as we approach a sensitive topic with grace, love, and truth. We need to be willing to study, listen, and learn as we dig into and prepare for this conversation. This may also mean bringing in others who are experts and who are willing to help us share on the topic. Don’t be afraid to seek help so that you can better speak to your students and address their needs.

Understand this could be a trigger for certain people

We are in a time culturally and spiritually where we are acutely aware of sexual assault and the abuses of power and leadership. Culture and churches alike have experienced a rash of incidents over recent years, and the reality is that they are just the tip of the iceberg. In understanding this, we must acknowledge that there are students, leaders, and parents that have or currently are experiencing abuse or assault. Most studies would actually say that within every student ministry there is at least one victim of sexual assault or worse.

Because of this reality we must be sensitive and understanding in how we approach this conversation. Understand that some people may be working through horrible things and as such, consider having counselors available to talk with students or leaders. Also, whenever possible make both men and women available to talk as it is typically easier for people to talk with someone of the same gender.

Talk about the why.

So often “sex talks” focus on “do this, don’t do that.” But I would encourage us to focus more on the identity piece than the “rules.” When Jesus came to earth it wasn’t about meeting all the rules (in fact His responses to the rich young ruler and the Pharisees declare the exact opposite), it was about finding our identity in Him and allowing the transformation in our hearts to work outward, changing our actions and behaviors.

Students today want to know the “why” behind everything, including our stances on sex, relationships, and marriage. Don’t neglect this important piece in a sea of rules. Why does your church hold the view of sex that it does? Why does it hold the stance on marriage that it does? Where do we find clarity in Scripture and the life of Christ. Make it a point to delve into not just the “what” surrounding sex, but also the “why.”

Highlight that sex isn’t just about the physical action.

This is something I wish I had heard in youth group and, honestly, in our pre-marital counseling. Sex isn’t just about the physical action. It isn’t just about climax. It is about two people coming together in a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual way that is meant to help us understand our intimate relationship with God. Intimacy is more than just a physical action, it is about wholly knowing someone in a way no one else can. It is about understanding and loving someone so deeply that you experience something incredibly special together. As we understand the truth about sex, it helps us to understand the depth and meaning of it, and will allow for our hearts to truly be transformed.

Stop by next week as we continue looking at helpful tips for engaging this conversation.

Our Picks: Study Bibles for Message Prep and Personal Use

When it comes to preparing messages and personally studying God’s Word, there vast amounts of resources at hand. There are commentaries, various theological resources, countless articles, websites, and more. One of our favorite resources to utilize is the study Bible. The ability to read God’s Word and have helpful and insightful information all together is a huge win.

Today we want to share with you some of our favorite study Bibles that have helped us in our own relationships with Jesus and have allowed for us to become better communicators as we seek to know God’s Word at a deeper level.

The CSB Apologetics Study Bible

This is a great resource for personal study and message prep. The CSB has quickly become one of our favorite translations of the Bible because it relies upon the best manuscripts we have on hand, and is translated in a way that is easy to understand without sacrificing truth for ease.

The Apologetics Study Bible offers more than 100 commentaries and articles on various questions, thoughts, and difficult topics. The reason this is helpful for teaching is that these articles contain many of the questions that students (and arguably all Christians) have but may not voice. It also helps us to keep our minds sharp and ready to answer questions that are voiced, and it provides resources we can share with others.

CSB Worldview Study Bible

I really like this Bible when it comes to preparing messages for our students and for our church. The purpose of this study Bible is to showcase how the truths of Scripture impact our worldview. This approach provides many practical and tangible applications for when we are teaching.

As we think about our students who are part of Gen-Z, they are always looking for ways to engage and be involved, and this resource provides just that. There are extensive notes and articles that will provide you with insight into how to apply the Bible to our lives and make our faith real and active.

ESV Study Bible

This is a must-have resource for anyone in the church, regardless of whether you are paid staff, a volunteer, or an attendee. The ESV Study Bible has an amazing set of notes and information that allow you to glean additional information that you may not have seen by simply reading the text. This is a Bible that has been put together by 95 Bible scholars from around the world with a variety of denominations contributing to it.

It also has more than 20,000 study notes, over 80,000 cross-references, more than 200 maps, helpful articles, and a concordance. This Bible will help you in so many ways as you seek to grow in your personal relationship with Jesus and as you lead others in your ministries.

NIV Zondervan Study Bible

This study Bible is a great resource that was overseen by the guidance and insight of Dr. D. A. Carson and more than 60 other contributors. Its purpose is to help readers see God’s special revelation in the Scriptures and to help readers grow in their faith.

Some of the resources in this Bible include full-color maps, charts, photos, and diagrams, study notes in the margins, introductory material for each book of the Bible, cross-references, and a concordance.

NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible

This is not a Bible that I have in my personal library but one I have borrowed often from friends and colleagues. This provides so much context and insight into what was happening during the time period of the text and why it was happening in that way. When we are thinking about critically reading and analyzing Scripture it is vital that we know the context to what is taking place so we can make informed and accurate assessments and applications.

This Bible provides you with much-needed context along with verse-by-verse study notes, introductions to each book, defined terms from both Testaments, more than 300 articles discussing contextual topics, over 300 full-color photos, illustrations, and images, and various maps, charts, and diagrams. This is a great Bible to help us grow in our knowledge and understanding of what was happening in context, which will then help us shape how we apply this text to our lives and the lives of those we lead.

What Study Bibles or other resources have you found that have been helpful in your individual studies and to make you a better teacher?

Encouraging Students to Stay in the Scriptures

Before Coronavirus closed our programming, I was slated to speak to our high school students on studying Scripture. I was so excited to share; this is a topic I am passionate about. But at the same time, I struggled with the “how.” How do we impart passion for the Word to our students?

I think I’m still fighting to figure that one out. I also think it varies from student to student. Some will be more inclined to read, period. Some will be more interested in their Bible than others. Some may not care about the Scriptures until they’re older. Even though there might not be an easy answer, or a “one size fits all” solution, I don’t think that should keep us from trying.

The truth is that the Bible changes lives. The more time we spend in it, the more we come to know the God who wrote it. The more we know Him, the more we fall in love with Him. I had an illustration I had planned to share about how my husband Nick–who is also the youth pastor–and I met and became friends. Over time, the more I got to know him, the more I liked him, until one day I realized that I loved him. It wasn’t instantaneous–when we met, we were just two strangers. But over the years I came to know his character, his heart, and his passion for Jesus.

Falling in love with another person is amazing, but falling in love with God, that’s on another level. I long for students to fall in love with God, and for them to start that journey now. So how can we help them along that path? How can we encourage students to study and remain rooted in the Scriptures?

1. Lead by example.

This is so simple, and yet for many of us, so challenging. Whether we look at the Bible as a textbook, or a guide we study before giving weekly lessons, or something we barely have time for in the midst of our busy schedule–many of us struggle to make time in the Word a priority. But I believe the best way to encourage students to remain in the Word is to do it ourselves. If you are passionate about the Bible, that will be evident to your students.

I think there is a fine line between making this about a daily checklist and pursuing a consistent relationship with Christ. If we’re just doing it to do it, I think we’re missing the point. At the same time, there will undoubtedly be days we struggle to want to read the Bible. Our daily pursuit of God should not be contingent on our feelings, but it also shouldn’t be a religious duty we check off our list once it’s completed. Our efforts should be focused on daily seeking to meet with God and hear from Him, whether we have time to read a whole book of the Bible or only a few verses. I believe God will use the time we give Him to teach us and deepen our relationship with Him. Like any strong relationship, we have to be committed to putting in time and effort.

2. Share your story.

It’s one thing to tell students that they should read their Bible, anyone can do that. It’s another thing to share why you read your Bible. I think students need to hear the life change we have encountered through time in God’s Word. This is another way we can lead by example, and your story can take it from a religious duty to a personal recounting. How has the Bible, how has time with God, changed your life?

Students want our honesty, they deserve it. They can tell when we’re faking it, or just sharing a hypothetical story that we made up. I’ve seen how an honest, personal story can instantly harness the attention of every student in a room. They will latch onto it because they want to know how we’ve survived, how God is real in our lives, and if there’s hope for them. Sharing our real, honest stories is one of the best things we can do for our students.

3. Provide a way.

Some students may not have their own Bible. Some might have a translation they struggle to understand. Some need help filling in the blanks and answering the questions they have as they read. In as much as you are able, help them get the resources they need. Some students need a Bible; some need a new, more easy-to-read translation; some need a basic student-level commentary.

One of the things I encourage all students to get is a study Bible. Heck, I encourage adults to get study Bibles. More recently I’ve realized how much we as adults don’t know about the Bible, things we could easily uncover by reading the notes in a study Bible. Yet more often than not, we don’t look into resources, we just keep reading and ignore our confusion. Let’s not set that example for our students. Instead, let’s show them how they can begin to understand more and uncover answers to their questions during their personal Bible-reading time.

Whatever your students need to help them get into God’s Word and understand it, provide that to them. But while you’re doing that, I encourage you to challenge them. If they’re getting a brand new Bible or commentary, challenge them to use it and not to allow it to collect dust on a shelf. You are investing in them, challenge them to invest in their relationship with God.

[Not sure which Bibles to provide to your students? Check out this post for our top picks.]

4. Educate.

Pre-made Bible studies are great. They can help lead students through the text, drawing out important points and helping apply them to their lives. But what about the times students don’t have a Bible study on hand? What about when they go off to college and it’s just them and a Bible in their dorm room? Now is a perfect, and extremely important, time to teach students how to study the Bible on their own.

I encourage youth leaders to teach simple Bible study methods to their students regularly. This could be a yearly lesson–a refresher for those who have heard it, and an education for those who haven’t. This is an easy way to equip students to not just read the Bible, but apply it to their lives. A few basic methods include:

  • O.I.A., or Observation, Interpretation, and Application; ask what the passage says, what it means, and what it means for me.
  • Discovery Method; ask what I learn about God, what I learn about people, what the passage teaches me, what I need to obey.
  • S.O.A.P, or Study, Observe, Apply, Pray; read the passage, ask questions and write it in your own words, ask how to specifically live it out, write a prayer of response.

Students may gravitate toward different methods. Some may enjoy color-coding with pencils or highlighters. Some may want to keep a journal, while others may want to discuss with a leader or friend. Help students discover a method or methods that work well for them. Whatever they decide, encourage your students to always start their Bible time with prayer. Nothing will help them understand the Bible more than the Holy Spirit. I encourage students to start by asking God to help them know and understand His word before they dig in.

I would also encourage students to write down any question they have that they cannot find the answer to, but challenge them to look on their own first. If they can’t find an answer, encourage them to bring their questions to their parents, to you, to a leader, or another pastor in the church. This will not only help them wrestle with their faith and what they believe, but also build community and relationships with their parents and adults in the church.

5. Direct and encourage.

Besides struggling to understand the Bible, students may also struggle with knowing what to read. They may start at the beginning and get lost in a genealogy or particularly difficult text and then give up. We can help by guiding students into what to read. If you know a student well, you can give them a suggestion or two based off of their current context. Another option is to provide a list of suggestions and let students choose based off of where they’re at in life, or what they’re interested in. I’ve listed some suggestions below.

  • New to reading the Bible, or don’t know much about Jesus: John
  • Curious about the beginning of everything, or enjoy studying history: Genesis
  • Interested in the early church, or how the church began: Acts
  • Life is difficult, or feel like you’re struggling: Psalms
  • Want to grow in wisdom: Proverbs
  • Struggling to see that God is working or has a plan: Esther
  • Want more information on the Gospel or Christian life: Romans
  • Current events worry you, or need assurance that God is in control: Daniel
  • Struggle with feeling like you need to “earn” salvation: Galatians
  • Want to be a leader in the church: 1 and 2 Timothy

Remind students that they can find the book they’re looking for by using their Bible’s table of contents, and that they can uncover more information with notes from a study Bible or commentary.

6. Invite and equip parents to join in.

Not all parents are believers, but for those who are, they are the primary disciple-maker in their child’s life. They may not see it that way, instead believing you or your small group leaders fill that role. But they are the ones who spend the most time with their child. Their lifestyle, habits, and relationship with Christ are the examples their child sees the most, and will most likely emulate.

I encourage you to keep parents in the loop–if you are teaching on Bible study methods, providing Bibles and resources, and challenging students to study the Word, inform their parents. Parents can follow up throughout the week, do a study with their child(ren), ask and answer important questions, and model consistent Bible study. You can also provide resources to parents to help them feel equipped to guide their child(ren). Parents might not know where to turn for answers to tough questions, so make sure to share helpful resources, including yourself.

7. Cover your students in prayer.

As I mentioned before, nothing will help students more in their Scriptural study than the Holy Spirit. We can give them all the tools, tips, and answers, but without the illumination of the Spirit, they won’t get very far. Pray that they will hear from God, that He will capture their hearts and their attention, and that they will be drawn into deeper relationships with Him.

And pray for yourself, that God would help you educate and encourage your students. Ask Him to show you how to best guide your specific students in their study of His Word, and in their relationships with Him. He knows their hearts, their needs, their struggles, and He can provide–for them and for you. God has you in this place, as their leader, for a specific purpose, and He will empower you to lead well.

Have a tip for encouraging students to study the Bible? Share it by leaving a reply below!