In Word, Thought and Deed: An In-Depth Look at Sexual Purity for Youth Pastors and Parents
SEX IN TODAY'S CULTURE
I don’t have to spend a lot of time convincing you that, today, sex is everywhere.
I remember when Cosmopolitan first used “Sex Tips” as a cover headline. There was a small contingent of organizations and parents that fought it. They urged people to go to Walmart and protest, to ask for the magazine to be taken off of shelves so teenagers and children wouldn’t be exposed to such vulgarity. I personally complained at multiple stories (to no avail). That was 2003. Today, its commonplace, barely even noticed.
The reality is that sex, as a topic, is common. It used to be a topic that was not appropriate in public. Some may argue that was unhealthy, that sex should be talked about. Yes, it should be, but in appropriate settings. When sex is used to sell everything under the sun, portrayed in great detail in movie theaters, and depicted on prime time multiple times every night, it's no wonder that our image of sexuality has become distorted.
My wife and I enjoy watching TV series on Netflix together. We especially like not having commercials, and not having to wait until next week for the next episode. Season 1 is usually the best, with the fewest sexual jokes and encounters. But we have had to stop watching nearly every show we started when it simply got too sexual. Multiple characters hopping from partner to partner with multiple sexually charged conversations or situations in every episode, and all the drama that came as a result. Quickly it’s too much, and we just move on, but my heart grieves for the young people that sit back and enjoy this kind of entertainment day after day.
And for those who choose to abstain from sex until marraige, they're catching a lot of flack. 29-year-old Olympian hurdler Lolo Jones stance on the matter has caused a bit of controversy because today's world doesn't understand this concept of sexual purity.
YOUR LOWEST STANDARD IS SOMEONE ELSE'S HIGHEST STANDARD
As leaders and parents, how do we react to this deluge?
“Your lowest standard is your followers’ highest standard.” I'm address youth pastors specifically in this section, but it applies to parents as well.
This is a principle that I was lucky to be taught very early in my leadership career, and it's critical to consider sexual purity in our culture today. The principle is simple: Your lowest standard, the “worst” or the “lowest” that you allow yourself to fall to, will be seen by your followers. Whether it is a sinful habit or a rough sarcastic nature, your followers will see it and be impacted dearly by it.
Your students, student leaders, and leadership team - they're all looking to you for guidance. Leaders not only set the direction for a group, but they also determine standards and expectations for behavior, both by what they say and do. Good followers, by nature, do not aim to surpass their leader. Sure one day every teacher wants their students to do even greater then them. But when the coach calls a play, the quarterback tells the team and everybody follows.
Let’s make this very practical:
- IN WHAT YOU SAY AND DO: When you let yourself “fall” to a particular low in your speech or actions, you communicate to every one of your students that what you said is 100% OK. And it's not.
- IN MODESTY (OR LACK THEREOF): If they see you or your friends showing off extra cleavage on Facebook, they might very well use that to justify their own skimpy outfits.
- CRUDE TALK: If they hear you making inappropriate jokes about body parts on the youth retreat, there will be little holding them back from making inappropriate sexual comments with their friends at school on Monday.
“Do as I say and not as I do” speeches from the stage do nothing. Your actions speak louder than words. And without even knowing it, your actions may have influenced your student's decisions later.
YOU SET THE BAR
Students are looking for leaders and mentors they can look up to, people they can model their life after. If they are in your youth group, they are following you. They have determined that you, in one way or another, are a trustworthy example to follow. So they are watching you every moment, seeing how you act and react. And they are watching for the standards you carry in your life.
At your lowest moment when you allow yourself to make that inappropriate joke or comment, you display your lowest standard. It doesn't matter if it was just a moment of weakness or a violation of your internal standards you wish to keep. It’s too late. You’ve already let it out. At that moment, your students latch on to your lowest standard. That is what they aspire to, look up to, reach for. You have set the bar by your actions. Your lowest standard has become their highest.
(Nick made a great comment about this -- although we need to strive to always set the best example, we're not always perfect. When we fail publically, it's important to recover publically too.)
The impact of this leadership principle is even more drastic today. Our students are making decisions in the bedroom that they have not spoken with a soul about. Does your example, the example of your lifestyle, actions and words, stand as a pillar of strength, an example of purity, compassion, and holiness? Can it stand against the oversaturized media and sub-culture that normalizes sexual promiscuity?
This principle has an even greater impact on your actions “in private.” Do you let loose with friends away from youth group? Do you try to hold higher standards whenever students are around, but let them drop later? If a student ever catches you in the act, you’re also showing them that it’s OK to be one person inside of church, and another person the rest of the week!
For the sake of those we lead, we must be ever so vigilant to live a life that honors God. This is especially true of our sexual purity, in every word, thought, and deed.
Parents, we must pro-actively educate our children about God’s view of sex. My son is almost two years old right now. I have a lot of control over what he sees and hears, but I know that won’t last much longer. I’d love to talk about the birds and the bees sometime in high school, but even more importantly, I want to begin talking with him about sexuality before his peers and the media distort his image of sex. If I’m going to successfully “strike first,” so to speak, I know I'll need to have some serious conversations with him before I am comfortable with it.
Maybe when he is 10, 9, or even 8.
Youth pastors, we must stand as a pure, upright reflection of Christ, all day, every day. It is important to teach students about the purity of sex as God intended it. It is even more important to be a steadfast example of sexual purity. James 3:1 tells us that “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Why does our Lord hold teachers to a higher standard? Because teachers are leaders, and leaders have followers.
THE LORD'S CALL TO PURITY
As I studied these verses about sexual purity, I was shocked by the excuses and justifications that wanted to jump into my head and explain away their potential ramifications.
“Avoid sexual immorality” – that’s just referring to physical sexual immorality; it couldn’t possibly apply to joking around once in a while. “Be holy” – whoa there buddy, don’t you know that God doesn’t expect us to be perfect?
I’ve already devoted plenty of words to my own thoughts and opinions. I thought I would close with several relevant passages (feel free to comment and add more). If you’ve read this far, please continue and let the Holy Spirit apply the Word to your own life and circumstances.
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
-What’s flowing out of your heart? (Proverbs 4:23, Philippians 4:8, 2 Corinthians 10:5)
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
1 Corinthians 6:18-20
-Do you allow yourself to “play with fire,” joking about or being entertained by what God commands us to run from? What message does that send to our children / followers?
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
-Do you justify sexual immorality in your own life because it is “only a thought” or “not that bad”?
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
-What thoughts, views and actions in your life might need to be transformed by God’s word?
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:13-16
-Is your lifestyle self-controlled?
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place…
A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good…
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
CHECK OUT THESE ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
- XXX Church - A site dedicated to help those with pornography and sex addiction. Their platform has reach numerous people and helped support, encourage, and pray with people towards recovery.
- Covenant Eyes - A safe way to guard your online integrity. Find ways to help keep yourself, your family, and your ministry team accountable when searching the web.
- Setting Captives Free - Welcome to Setting Captives Free. Every day we help people just like you find freedom from habitual sins and learn to grow in grace. Our Christ-centered courses are free of charge and help people just like you escape impurity, over-eating, substance abuse, gambling, smoking and more.
How do you stay pure in today's over-saturated world? How else can you or your team keep each other accountable to live and set the bar high?
Three years ago, Nate started Called to Youth Ministry with a desire to equip and support youth pastors. It started after he noticed a trend of people with a passion for students "go it alone" for too long and otherwise burn out, without a friend or mentor to stand by them. Now the ministry hosts online training and networking groups that leaders can join from anywhere in the world. Youth ministers from California to Florida to the UK have already benefited from the coaching, community and prayer support these groups provide.
Two year ago, Nate also started an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) company with a desire to feed his family. Now he enjoys balancing the two and being able to use the business to support his ministry habit.
Nate lives with his beautiful wife, Christa, and rambunctious two-year-old son, Josiah, in Lake Geneva, WI.