Do you think the church should be the best place to talk (appropriately) about sex? If so, I want to share a great example of a local church that did it really well – and share ideas for how their approach might work in your church, too. I also want to say thanks to those who are out there leading the way on this topic.
As Jeff and I have been researching – and now speaking on – our latest book Secrets of Sex and Marriage (coauthored with Dr. Michael Sytsma), we have seen four encouraging truths that every church attender (and every pastor) needs to know. We are covering that here in Part 1.
We have also seen practical actions anyone can take to up their church’s game on this topic – so make sure to check next week’s part 2!
Here are four truths every church leader and church member needs to know:
Truth #1: The church has come a long way in this conversation — and there’s still a long way to go
Thirty years ago, the church just didn’t talk about sex. The brave pastors who tackled sexual intimacy or Christian sexual ethics knew they might be confronted by embarrassed or angry people after the service. Unsurprisingly, many pastors simply stayed away from the topic! Some still do.
The thing is, the Bible doesn’t stay away from sex – and the enemy doesn’t either. A few months ago, Jeff and I were speaking at Omaha’s Love Church (which you’ll read more about in a minute), and a quote shared by senior pastor Todd Doxzon stopped me in my tracks: “The enemy will do everything he can to get you into bed before marriage, and everything he can to keep you out of it after marriage.”
Wow. That’s a powerful summary of the situation.
The truth is, God created sexual intimacy for good reasons … and there’s an enemy who wants to mess it up. If the church doesn’t talk about sex, we’re leaving the field open to Hollywood, social media, pop culture – and the enemy – to fill in the blanks.
Thankfully, today, many churches do address the topic! Some have groups to address specialized needs (such as pornography struggles), or discuss the topic in a healthy way in their youth ministry, or teach on it from the stage. Often, when Jeff and I are talking to a pastor to help plan a marriage conference, we are asked to cover the issue.
Many other pastors want to tackle the topic but aren’t sure how. So I turned to the leaders of Love Church in Omaha — who I thought tackled the topic really well — for ideas.
Truth #2: The need is real – whether we address it or not
When Jeff and I spoke at Love Church, we first did a Friday night/Saturday morning marriage conference, then a sermon interview at the Sunday worship services (a common format for us).
For the marriage conference, senior pastor Todd Doxzon and his wife Denise wanted one of our talks to be around sexual intimacy. As Todd told me, “We wanted you to address it – and we wanted to address it. We’ve got a shepherd’s responsibility. It’s like with money. Because some pastors have abused that topic, some swing the other way and don’t talk about it. But then we’re not equipping the saints to understand biblical stewardship. It’s the same here. It can feel awkward at first, but we’ve seen the incredible fruit that comes from shepherding and equipping the saints on this topic.”
After our talk on intimacy, we invited attendees to submit live, anonymous questions through our polling app – and Todd and Denise joined us onstage to answer them.
We were flooded with questions. Here is a tiny sampling:
- After I became a mom my sex drive really went down due to being too tired and not having body confidence. How can I build this back up?
- How often should we have sex?
- Is it okay to feel uncomfortable with/not want to do something in the bedroom that my spouse wants?
- How do you authentically honor your spouse sexually if you struggle with having lost your sex drive completely?
- Is it okay to want to be playful, where sex is fun and not just “serious” or “biblical”?
- When the Bible says “submit to your spouse” does that mean I’m obligated to have sex even when I’m not feeling it?
- How do I navigate my emotions knowing some of my husband’s struggles with pornography?
- How can we continue to have honest conversations about sex in small groups within the church?
Truth #3: Churches can address sexual intimacy well even when the pastor isn’t comfortable talking about it directly
Now, here’s the thing: The pastor doesn’t have to be the one answering those types of questions! Pastor Todd and Denise were comfortable directly answering, but it is okay that not every pastor will be.
Many church leaders have told me that one of the main reasons they stay away from the topic is that they know they won’t be able to answer all the questions and concerns that arise. As one pastor told me, “I feel like I’m stirring up a problem area that I’m not qualified to solve.”
Yet pastors know questions about sex are there, whether they address them or not.
The key is to lean on those who are comfortable engaging the topic. Whether that means speakers like us who come in from the outside, a local counseling group, a few experienced leaders who are used to fielding questions on sex, or all of the above. And pastors will soon find that most questions really aren’t that specialized.
Which brings us to our final and most important truth for the day.
Truth #4: Most people just want simple, biblical guidance, and to know they are not alone.
The vast majority of questions, concerns, heartaches, and dilemmas around sex will not require a high level of expertise. Most people just need biblical direction, the sense they are not alone, and new ways to talk about the topic with their spouse. (One of the reasons we designed Secrets of Sex & Marriage the way we did, is so couples could read it together and begin good conversations.) And they want the reassurance that even leaders don’t have it all figured out.
As Denise Doxzon told me, “Since that weekend, I’ve had conversation after conversation with people saying, ‘Thank you for simply being vulnerable, because it led to me being vulnerable with my spouse.’”
Most people aren’t expecting their pastors or mentors to know all the specialized answers to their sex questions! They simply want wisdom and encouragement. They want to be reassured that they are not a bad Christian for having certain temptations or insecurities. They want someone to say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but here’s a resource you can read that might help.”
And where specialization is important, nearly every church will have trustworthy speakers, advisors, or written resources they can partner with or refer to. The key is for these advisors to stay in their lane and if a topic comes up that they can’t answer — for example, a non-medical person being asked a medical question – to refer those questions to a true specialist.
Two Next Steps:
In Part 2, you’ll see some practical ideas for what a church can do to get started. But here are two big picture suggestions for now:
- If you think your church is doing well in this area (if they talk about sex, if they have safe places people can get help, if the pastor addresses it, if they have other initiatives) please tell us about the good things they are doing via the form at the end of this blog. You can be totally anonymous if you’d like. In the coming months, we will write another article about it, to provide more ideas.
- If your church is interested in including this topic as part of a marriage event, or even a good, sensitive discussion as part of a Sunday morning sermon series, we would love to talk to you about speaking at your church. Please reach out to us to start that conversation; we can help you brainstorm ideas and share what we have seen work well. (You can also see information about our general marriage events here.)
Is all the effort worth it? YES.
Denise Doxzon offers great perspective to close out part 1: “Yes, addressing the intimacy topic might feel awkward, and yes there might be some pushback – but the fruit far outweighs what the pushback might be. If you’re willing to be vulnerable and you walk in humility and forgiveness with one another, conversations like this pave the way for more and more transparency and healing. It is so worth it.”
Jeff and I couldn’t agree with her more. We’ve seen it with our own eyes. And we would love to see churches across America witness the same, transforming truth.
Sheila Warne-Peter says
My daughters’ Christian school did the “sex” talk well by having it presented by the same gender and in separate presentations. If you want people to talk freely and honestly it needs to be presented not in mixed groups even if they are married couples. My own experience as an atheist attending a youth group was mortifying when a male youth pastor started speaking about masturbation in a mixed group. And I was quite informed about sexuality. My experience is that if you want freedom of expression, separate the genders at any age and stage for these discussions. Don’t violate anyone’s modesty standards- they are needed and God-given.