Categories
Culture

Just Friends, No Benefits

Kind of reminds me of the movie When Harry Met Sally.

It seems some things in college life never change, right?

Categories
youth ministry

Is Purity the Right Word?

Photo by Boris Drenec via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I didn’t grow up in church. As a result, I am still learning Christianese. You know, the weird language Christians use when talking to each other.

  • Sanctification = I’m less a jerk today than I was yesterday.
  • But it’s a blessing = I’m really disappointed by what happened to me, but I’m trying to make the best of it.
  • That was Spirit-filled = I liked how that made me feel.
  • I’m pursuing righteousness = My choices have screwed things up, but I’m learning from them and trying to do better.
  • We go to a Bible-believing church = I go to a Baptist church.

Every subculture has code language. As we get to know a subculture, picking up on the code language is key to being accepted.

It’s mostly harmless. Mostly.

That said, I have an issue with the code word “purity” as we talk to adolescents about human sexuality.

We have a whole batch of code language which I don’t think is helpful.

  • Purity = Abstinence
  • We’re going to have a purity weekend = A scared straight weekend, similar to drivers education where we will fill a room with sexualized language, then tell them not to act on it.
  • We want you to commit to sexual purity = Even though we don’t want to talk about sex, we want you to promise us you won’t have sex until marriage.
  • You can chose a new purity in Christ = It’s not OK that you’ve had sex, but we’ll accept you anyway.

On and on.

My problem with purity language is three-fold.

Biblically, it’s not true

There is a disconnect between language of purity and our own sinfulness. Outside of Jesus, no person has ever been truly sexually pure, by Jesus’ definition. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) There are a lot more verses in the Bible that emphasize our innate sinfulness. I have a feeling that even Mother Theresa may have had a naughty thought once or twice in her life. Certainly, the Bible is full of stories of sexually impure people doing awesome things for God.

David slept with a woman and got her pregnant. (After watching her bathe from a rooftop!) Then he had her husband killed to cover it up. And yet he is called, “A man after God’s own heart.” Solomon, whom the Bible proclaims as one of the wisest men in history, had sex with hundreds of women. God even chose to create a sexual scandal to bring his Son to earth. The Bible is FULL of impurity when it comes to sex.

Maybe I’m just too Calvinist? But I believe that Jesus is unique in all human history as the only person to truly be pure. So standing in front of a group of teenagers and telling them to chose sexual purity is starting the discussion from a guilt-inducing place and coming from a hypocritical mouth.

Purity isn’t the right word. Biblically. It’s too loaded.

Physiologically, it’s not true

Sex isn’t dirty but pure isn’t quite the right word either. Purity language makes it seem as though sex is something that it isn’t, physiologically.

As we describe sex– bathed in the language of purity— we are setting our students up for disappointment. They already know their bodies aren’t pure. And as they later explore their sexuality with another person purity won’t be a useful word for it.

Statistically, most of the students you are talking to about their sexuality have already experienced some levels of sex. (With another person, alone, or watching it online.) So when you stand in front of them and use language of purity to describe sexuality, they probably think you are crazy.

From a physiological standpoint, purity isn’t the right word.

Developmentally, purity is too symbolic

Adults all know that “sexual purity” is a symbolic term. It’s code language. It’s a way that we’ve come up with to talk about our sexuality in a way we are comfortable with. We justify, even if it isn’t helpful at least we are teaching something.

The problem with using symbolism to talk about sexuality is that the early adolescent mind can’t decode it. You use the term “purity” symbolically; they hear it literally. So you teach on sexuality using language that they don’t understand and seems completely devoid of their own experience. You finish feeling like you’ve really expressed your view and they leave more confused.

Purity is a good word symbolically, but it might not be developmentally appropriate.

Just to be clear

I’ve got no problem teaching students that they should live their sexual life in a way pleasing to God. I’ve long taught my students, “My desire for you is that you will grow up to have happy, healthy, and simple adult relationships.” And I’ve used purity language tons!

I’m only questioning our choice of words. Is purity the most useful word to describe glorifying God with our sexual selves?

For discussion

  • Do you agree or disagree with my premise that purity isn’t the right word to talk to adolescents about human sexuality?
  • What would be better words we should use to talk to students about sexual health?
  • We all know parents are the best people to talk to their kids about sex… so how can we better partner with parents?
Categories
Church Leadership

Leading Your Church to Reflect its Neighborhood

It’s been more than 40 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. quipped, “Eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.

If we are honest with ourselves– churches are nearly as divided today as they were 40 years ago. We call it culture and we call it personal preference. But the truth of the matter is that we just don’t want to rock the boat. (We like the comfort, staff members like their paychecks.)

So we allow racism, sexism, and a lack of cultural diversity to run rampant in our congregations.

It’s time those of us called to lead, lead our churches into a new paradigm.

And it starts with a sober assessment of where our congregations are at.

Simple measurement tool

Make a written observation the demographics of your congregation this Sunday morning. (Age, marital status, socio-economic status, race, gender) Then compare what you observe at your church against what the data set of your churches zip code as provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

  • Does your congregation reflect its neighborhoods demographics?
  • Does your church staff reflect the demographics of the zip code?
  • If there is a disconnect, is your church leadership making serious, active efforts to close the divide?

Cutting to the chase: While most evangelical congregations don’t have white, middle class theology. They predominantly attract white, middle class congregations. And it’s scary how many church staffs are filled with white, middle class males. (Go ahead, look at the staff pages of 10 of your favorite churches.) That disconnect you observe should lead you to make changes!

Changing your behavior: If you are like me, a child of the 1980s, you were raised in a dogma of multiculturalism.

From kindergarten I was taught that all the cultures in my community have value, deserve equal rights, and should be given access to the same things I am given access to as a member of the dominant culture. That value may have been taught to me from a secular perspective, but I believe it also reflects a biblical perspective on how Christians are to live in society as well!

If you want to express that same value on Sunday morning you need to take some steps (maybe radical ones) towards that value.

In other words– Maybe you need to change churches? Maybe you need to stop funding something that doesn’t reflect your values and start funding a congregation that does? Maybe you need to lead the way and stop waiting for church leadership to lead you?

Personal testimony– This is what I’ve done. For the past 2+ years my family has been a part of a congregation that works hard to reflect its neighborhood. At times, it is simply beautiful and at other times it is wholly awkward. But it’s been a radical transformation for my walk with Jesus. So, know that I’m not just pushing an idealism, I’m encouraging you to participate in something that I’m finding tremendous joy in.

If you are a church leader who is taking a serious look at bridging the divide between the Sunday morning demographic you have today and the one you’d like to see in 12 months, may I suggest some action steps?

5 Radical Steps Towards Becoming a Congregation which Reflects its Neighborhood

  1. Hire staff members that reflect the demographics of your zip code. (Race, gender, marital status, age)
  2. Require all paid staff, from the janitor to the senior pastor, to live within the zip code of your congregation. (Give them a few months to move, make it financially possible, remove staff members who won’t move within 12 months.) Take it a step further by requiring all board officers to do the same.
  3. If you live outside of the neighborhood, lead the way by moving into the community your church is trying to reach. Don’t contribute to the disconnect– lead the way!
  4. Get involved in neighborhood issues. Lead the way on issues of justice, advocate for the poor, let your congregation be a voice in the community. (Here’s 10 suggestions for your church to be good news to the neighborhood)
  5. Adopt a local public school. The local schools are the access point to the people your church is called to reach. Get involved, not as an agent of adversary, but as a community partner. (Here’s 10 suggestions for your church to be good news to the local schools)

Is this a magic growth formula? Of course not. But as you take these steps you will earn the trust of a community who has learned to ignore you. When you care about what they care about and when you reflect who they are, you will be amazed at the social currency this will earn your congregation.

I recognize that these steps may seem extreme. (And I’m certain someone will tell me that firing staff for this is unbiblical) But that’s the nature of leadership, isn’t it? Sometimes God asks you to push past what you are comfortable with or what feels right to do what is right. Remember the rich young man in Matthew 19? He asked Jesus how he might enter the Kingdom of God, but he left disappointed because the cost was too high.

The reality is that if those in leadership don’t take radical positions so that their actions reflect their theology, the church will never change.

We simply cannot survive as a viable faith if we continue to act as agents of discrimination on Sunday morning. The church cannot be the most segregated place in our culture. It is time that the church take a good, hard look at who they are in their community and make some radical changes.

It’ll never get any easier or cheaper to do so than it is today.