In Part 1, we shared how the church needs to talk about sex. In this Part 2, we focus on how leaders and members of churches can do that, so the church addresses this vital topic well.
Well, that was illuminating.
In Part 1 of this blog, I asked nearly 100,000 readers whether the church should be the best place to talk about sex today. I asked people to anonymously share how their churches were advancing that conversation well, so that I could add them to this Part 2. Not everyone reads every blog, so let’s just estimate that about 20,000 people read it. Do you know how many replies I got?
Normally when I seek input we get many dozens or hundreds of responses. When I asked what people most want to learn and address about sex, we got 505 responses. But on ways churches are actually addressing sex well: two responses.
Now, there are surely thousands of churches out there addressing the topic well … but that ratio tells us something, don’t you think?
This can be a challenging topic. Yet as one pastor who Jeff and I had dinner with after a recent event said, “People are getting their guidance about sex from somewhere. We need to address it. After all, God created sexual intimacy. We should be the first people to address it, not the last.”
So what do we do? If you want to address the topic but aren’t sure how, today I’m offering a grab bag of six practical ideas you might choose from, and mix and match what works for you. As we mentioned in Part 1, some of these came from conversations with Pastor Todd and Denise Doxzon at Omaha’s Love Church. Jeff and I were impressed at how beautifully they handled it.
Idea #1: Offer to create a working group at your church.
The church pastor or director of community/family ministry will often be too busy to take on one more thing. But if you as a trusted lay leader offer to form a group to brainstorm, they may take you up on it. If they do, pull together an approved, trusted group of people who care about marriage, are willing to brainstorm on the topic of sexual intimacy, will report back to leadership with potential next steps, and then have the capacity and wisdom to help implement what the church leaders decide.
The working group can explore questions like:
- What does our church body need in this area?
- What might that look like for our church?
- How can we include young people in the conversation to help them form biblical views?
- What are the specific next steps for this working group?
- Once we are ready … what are our specific next-step recommendations for the church?
Idea #2: Share a specific idea with your pastor or marriage ministry leader – and help with next steps.
If your leaders know there is an interest in discussing sexual intimacy from a biblical standpoint, they may be more open to wading into this area at a Friday night couples’ event, addressing it in married couples’ small groups (see the bullet points at the end for one idea), creating support groups, or teaching on intimacy during the worship service. The key is: your idea has to be as specific as possible.
As Todd Doxzon told me, “As a pastor, I have a million people giving me a million different ideas. So to make something actually happen, someone with a passion for that idea has to give me a practical, quick picture for what it could look like. Like show me an article about it. Or a short video. If I can see exactly what they are proposing, and have a very clear next step, I’m more likely to say, ‘let’s do it.’”
In other words, as an example (and forgive the shameless plug), “Hey pastor, I’d love someone to talk about not only general marriage topics but also intimacy at our fall date night. Here’s a five-minute clip of Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn talking about it, so you can see what I mean. If you like that idea, we can put them on the list of speakers to explore.”
Idea #3: Use the church’s regular scripture progression as an “excuse” to address the issue during the sermon.
One of the things I respect about Love Church is that their church family reads through the Bible each year, and Sunday teaching is always on one of the scriptures of the week. The weekend of our marriage conference and Sunday morning discussion, the text just “happened” to be 1 Corinthians 7:2-5, a passage about how important it is for spouses to fulfill each other’s intimate needs.
Any sort of regular “read through the Bible” program gives a pastor the opening to say to the congregation, “Well, 1 Corinthians 7 (or Hebrews 13:4, or Genesis 2:24…) is one of our passages of the week. So here goes.”
And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a normal “sermon.” For example, at Love Church the pastor and his wife had a conversation onstage together, and then invited us up into an informal panel discussion for the second half. Another church recently created a “Marriage Sunday” and invited us to teach. There are lots of ways to handle the topic of sexual intimacy in church, while keeping it both encouraging and sacred.
Idea #4: Be set up in advance to receive prayer needs and refer people to counselors.
I’ve already shared (in Part 1) that at the Love Church marriage conference it was very clear how much people wanted and needed to talk about this topic.
That was even more clear on Sunday morning. It was deeply moving to watch couples being freed from burdens that had caused so much misunderstanding and pain in their marriages. A sense of not feeling alone, coupled with their own leaders’ vulnerability and biblical teaching on the topic triggered a truly amazing response. Dozens flooded to the front at the end of the service, acknowledging a need for prayer and ministry for the pain points in their sexual stories.
This is why Jeff and I do the work we do – to find research-based lightbulb moments that transform relationships. But rarely have we seen such a dramatic response in the area of sexual intimacy in such an immediate way.
And the church was ready for the response. They knew that addressing this topic would lead to the need for direct ministry, so they had people ready to pray. They had counselors standing by to receive calls that next week. They had church leaders available to talk. And they were ready to absorb any pushback and guide the church further in the direction of, “We talk about real stuff here.”
Idea #5: Be sensitive to how the church can help bring healing for past hurts.
After years of #MeToo and different streams of the church asking for forgiveness for not handling the sex topic well, there is a greater awareness today than ever before for how the church has a role to play in healing.
One of the most powerful things I saw on that Sunday at Love Church – and one of the reasons I think there was such a flood of people seeking prayer ministry – is that the pastor stood up on stage and said, essentially, “The church hasn’t always handled this topic well. We have caused hurt. Please forgive us.”
Every pastor will handle that message differently. But it has the potential to help set people free from what might be years of past hurt.
Idea #6: Love on your pastor or church leader, no matter what he or she decides about this topic.
Pastors have much on their plate right now. According to recent Barna data, significantly more pastors are doubting their calling (55% in 2022 compared to 24% in 2015) and two in five thought of quitting in the last twelve months. Many church leaders would love to have a marriage ministry in their church but don’t have the bandwidth or the right systems in place yet. There may be lots of reasons they cannot share with you for why they need to wait.
So when broaching a topic like sexual intimacy in church, make it a point to come alongside your pastors and church staff – not only with specific ideas for this topic, but also with the encouragement that you appreciate them no matter what direction they decide to go. That will nourish their souls more than you can possibly know.
Ways Jeff and I can help
If your church is interested in helpful resources, here are specific ways we might be able to come alongside you:
- Consider proposing that small groups for married couples work through a marriage and intimacy curriculum. Our RightNow Media course, Unlocking an Intimate Marriage – based in part on our book Secrets of Sex & Marriage – will release in August 2023. Sign up here and we’ll notify you when its available. (Scroll to enter your name and email, then click “Notify Me!”)
- We would love to talk to your church about speaking as part of a marriage event or a sermon time. Please reach out to us to start that conversation; we can help you brainstorm options and share what we have seen work well. (Find info about our marriage events here.)
- If you have a premarital counseling process, a marriage ministry, or a lay counseling program, we hope our newest book Secrets of Sex & Marriage– co-authored by me and renowned sex therapist (and pastor) Dr. Michael Sytsma – will be a great resource for your people.
In the end, whether we come alongside your church to speak during a weekend, or your church taps one of the many other wonderful resources available out there, sexual intimacy is too important a topic to leave alone. The good news is, with some of the ideas above, anyone can get the ball rolling.
Maybe it’s you.
This article was also published at Patheos.
Order Shaunti’s NEW Book Secrets of Sex & Marriage.
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