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.

Categories
hmm... thoughts

Why do conservatives like to be told what to do?

Excuse the snarkyness of this post. I’m really curious if this is my crazy observation or if I’m just a jerk.

Have you ever noticed that conservative folks (politically and religiously) like to be told what to do? I don’t mean they will say “just tell me what to say, do, or think” but I mean that the people they flock to admire tend to be people who will tell them what to do and not challenge them very much to come to their own conclusions. (Or to examine how they came to the conclusions they evangelize.)

Example #1: Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. These guys are certifiably nuts. (But entertaining) They spew all sorts of nonsense and political conservatives love them. People even call and email them to proclaim them as right in every situation. 90% of Stephen Colberts schtick is mocking them and still some peopel think they are brilliant.

Example #2: Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman. Don’t get me wrong, people should be conservative with their money. But if you have to call in to their show to hear this… “pay cash, pay off your credit cards” than I suspect you won’t notice that their making millions by humiliating you on TV, radio, books, and curriculum. Again, their shows are fodder for comedians. I hope someone gets a show on Comedy Central to teach people how to manage their money soon.

Example #3: Alpha male pastors. Look, I’m too close to evangelicalism to start naming names. I don’t care to get myself in that kind of trouble. But over and over I see these guys become succesful. They aren’t saying or doing anything special… just alpha dudes who get their jollies telling their congregations what to do. (Politics, money, and sex tend to be their top topics.) And yet, conservative people flock to them. This isn’t just senior pastors either! I see worship dudes and youth ministry dudes taking the same stance. It’s a powerful addiction as the more authoritative and the more they manipulate an audience, the more fervor people follow them. (The flip side is that the most successful ministry leaders are extremely humble, it’s only on their rise that they seem to be like this.)

Why do these conservative voices go unchecked? This is the beauty of the conservative system. If you dare to mention someone’s name or second guess some of their proclamations… just watch what the fan boys do! It’s as hilariously and predictable as the Cubs failing to mkae the World Series.

See, once these fans admire/idolize someone, once they learn to love being told what to do by them, these fans become vipers. The scour the earth looking for people who dare to question their dude’s authority and then they lash out. “How dare you question Dave? He helped me get out of debt.” (As if Dave Ramsey actually paid your bills… no, you were the one who got yourself out of debt!) “How dare you question my pastor? Because of him I am a new man!” (No, you are a new man because of grace and your pastor doesn’t impart grace.”) “How dare you question Rush? He was right about Bill Clinton!” (OK, I’ll give you that. But it was a decade ago.)

What’s the other side of this coin? Ah, there is a deadly side to this game as well. Being loved by conservatives is a double-edged sword. The moment that someone slays these dragons… or more often… their own actions disqualify them from holding their authoritative voice over conservatives, they are stricken down.

The sick thing about being a conservative voice for politics, money, or religion is that you are only the voice-du-jour. One day these people will turn on you. Not only will conservative people turn on their leader-du-jour, they will austrecize them. Then they will pretend like they never really listened to you, cared about you, or bought your book.

It’s a sick system. And I’m part of it.

So, I wonder… what’s with the psychosis of wanting to be told what to do?

Is it that we don’t want to think for ourselves?

Is it that we long for the simple life?

Or is it something else?

Categories
Culture

What’s all the fuss about sexting?

There have been a lot of newspaper articles about sexting lately.

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3

Example 4

What in the world is sexting? Simply put, sexting is using your mobile device to send a sexy note to someone.

What’s the big deal about it? It’s nothing serious. As long as kids have communicated there have been kids who passed naughty notes, instant messages, emails, and now… text messages. (text, picture, and even video)

But let’s get real for a second. As long as there have been kids talking dirty to one another there has always been an adult fascination with their pillow talk. And since news agencies know that nothing sells better than teens talking about their sex life every newspaper in the country picked up on the study.

Next thing you know there will be a Christian company perpetrating a lie that their cell phone network screens and blocks anything inappropriate! Jesus Talk, 400 minutes and 400 bible verses per month. $129.99!

Do kids really send naughty things to one another via their cell phones? Probably. But, in my experience, this is no where near what everyone things it is. What it typically is relates more to pornography than sexting. In other words, kids send dirty notes to one another, share videos, and share pictures with their phones. (And computers, and xbox’s, and PS3s, and ipods, and any device you can imagine!)

But let’s get real. This isn’t a big deal. We need to put away our facination with adolescent sexuality and focus on teaching the kids in our lives how to value other people. No one wants to be exploited by their boyfriend/girlfriend. Doesn’t education on this really just boil down to the Golden Rule?

Categories
Church Leadership illustrations

3 Things I Don’t Want to Hear From a Pastor…. EVER!

Now that I’m a regular Joe sitting in the pew on Sunday morning, I’ve gotten a chance to discover some things that are awkward for the audience to hear. In short, I don’t think pastors should say these things… EVER!

  1. Talk about your sex life. How gross is it to hear any 40 something year old man talk about sex with his spouse? It’s especially gross for a pastor to talk about having sex with his wife while she sits and blushes in the audience. And Ed Young, yeah… we know sex is beautiful… but no one wants to know how many times you had sex in a week. I think I just puked in my bulletin.
  2. Talk about your past careers. I know working at a church can pretty redundant and boring. And sometimes you feel like your role is insignificant next to the corporate types who write the big checks. Get over it, you aren’t a _____ anymore. You’re a pastor, your congregation loves you, and we know you could make more money elsewhere. Please don’t remind us of that every week, we don’t care.
  3. Using your kids sin as an illustration. Holy smokes this has got to damage kids self-image. Can you imagine the horror of not only being busted doing something bad but then having your mom or dad tell hundreds… or even thousands of people about it? No wonder so many pastor kids grow up hating Jesus. Cough. ***golden rule*** Cough. Cough.

Thankfully, Stephen rarely does any of these.

So what do I suggest? I know that these 3 things tend to come up because you need a good illustration. And typically, when I’ve let these types of things sneak in it is because I don’t have time to really research a great illustration. But you know they are “winners” and will go over with the core audience well because it’s personal and the people love you. But, be honest, these three things tend to come out most often when you have little time to prepare.

Categories
Church Leadership hmm... thoughts

Secret Sex

I’ve been around Christians long enough to know that they like to talk about sex. In fact, I know enough about internet traffic to know that only one thing is more popular than a post about sex. In fact, most of you are reading this because you clicked on a link with a keyword you like to click on, “SEX” and are wondering what the secret is all about.

What’s the one thing more popular than a post about sex? A post about sexual behavior Christians “shouldn’t do but like to talk about.”

– Homosexuality

– Cheating

– Masturbation

– Pornography

– Getting caught looking at gay porn and masturbating.

Here’s some data behind this Christian propensity to search for and click on things about sex. Notice the #1 read item at YMX over the last 2 years by a wide margin… it’s an article called “Solo Sex” and its about masturbation. In the 2 years that article has been on the site it has averaged 25 readers per day! Likewise, my blog data shows that most of my google visits from google searches arrive on terms such as “Christian dating” or “Christian sex.”

Proving this point further, stop for a second and think about this:Why are you reading this post? What about the title ‘Secret Sex’ made you click here?” Did I trick you to come here with my blog title? Did you click on a delicious link I served on Twitter? Or were you googling something like “Christian love advice?”

Here is my theory, disagree with me if you like. I think that internally many evangelicals are wrestling with sexuality. I don’t mean they are worried about their gender preference or even secretly longing to do sinful things. I think that within Christian circles it just isn’t safe to talk about sex which leaves many adult Christians very immature in how they handle sex. So the result is that we talk about sexuality in very immature fashions. (And then we wonder why students have messed up views on sexuality!)

While in non-Christian circles it isn’t unusual to have some safety within your peer group to talk about sex in an intelligent manner, I know I’ve never found Christian friends willing to have a serious conversation blushing it off as either “naughty” or diverting to childish jokes. (Of course, maybe its just my friends?) So while it may be normal and/or healthy to seek out talking with a peer about something intimate… in our circles we repress that discussion and look for answers privately.

And I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

I wonder if that repression of the discussion, which in and of itself is amoral but breaks a Christian taboo, is exactly what leads to the gross sexual dysfunction within many churches and marriages. Why can’t Christians just talk about sex? Why do Christians scour the internet searching for answers?

Sidebar: Of course it could also be that there are so many people out there googling anything to do with sex that this disproportionally elevates the click through rates of posts about sex… that’s a theory worth contemplating without devaluing the overriding question.

So, what is it?

– Victorian cultural leftovers permeating Christian culture?

– Fear?

– Our mommy told us never to talk about sex, just learn about it the way she did in the library?

– It should just be repressed. Asking this question proves that Adam is a pervert and just likes to say “sex” a lot.

Categories
hmm... thoughts

Where are all the Christian Single Men? Part 2

real menI’m still thinking about this. And typically I don’t carry on like this. But there were so many good comments that, in my mind, this deserved a follow up post rather than endless comments.

Dave Tucker (that’s my father-in-law everyone else) brings up an interesting wrinkle to this. Technically, in the US there are more baby boys born than girls… slightly. I wonder if it is safe to assume that slightly more boys die in childhood and adolescence since boys like to jump off things and work on more farms and stuff. But, by and large, roughly the same amount of boys and girls make it to an age where they should be looking for a spouse.

That still leaves a mighty problem though.
I’ve got 20-30 single women in my life who are looking for a Christian man. Preferably, one with a job, doesn’t live with mommy, showers more than once per week, and is more interested in holding onto them than an XBox 360 controller.

Dave Luke brought up a good idea, maybe these women should expatriate for their 20’s to meet a nice NorIrish boy. Since most women I know love an Irish accent this isn’t a bad idea. And all that stuff about Irish men being drunkards, violent to their spouses, and a few other stereotypes is just plain untrue.
(At least in the Christian community in Northern Ireland.) The problem with that idea is that it’s pretty difficult to get a visa into the United Kingdom with “looking for a man” as the reason for moving over there. Plus, the standard of living over there is so high they’d have to get married there and then immediately move to Michigan where it is cheap enough to live. (And we know NorIrish can’t say “Michigan.”

So, single women in my life looking for a nice Christian man to date and maybe one day enjoy Song of Solomon benefits… I have 3 bits of sage advice for you.

se-xbox shirtSage advice #1 Think about wearing game controllers. Either wear it as an accessory, or keep one in your purse. Occasionally taking it out, making eye contact with a cute Christian man, and hiding it again will send the message. Thanks to Sara for this advice. Get your se-xbox gear here.

Sage advice #2 Go to Bible college, Christian college, or anywhere else that harbors young men in an environment where video games aren’t allowed. This way you have them trapped. They will naturally follow their God-designed ways to seek after you when these “pseudo-women” have been removed. If college is too long or expensive, get a job at a Christian camp. They lock away men there too with no video games. But don’t get confused, while prisons do have men locked away without video games those men typically aren’t eligible for parole for a while.

Sage advice #3 Be Blunt. Let’s face it, most men are not that bright when it comes to figuring out woman-folk. In fact, that may be why guys like video games so much… they can figure it out. And if they can’t… they have the ability to make it stop until they have the energy to try again. So if you find a “humanous male-ocous Christiani” just let him know… pay attention to me, love me, treat me right, and I’ll be better than your best friend forever.

Christian Women Aren’t to Blame for the Shortage!

I just thought I’d put that out there as something obvious. It’s not that the Christian women in my life caused this problem. And I don’t think it’s a cultural thing we should just get used to. I think, as Adam R mentioned in his comment… guys need to be taught how to be men. And that means that the men in my life (including myself) need to make sure we continue to mentor young men past high school and into college. We need to force them to grow up. We need to help their parents see that babying them hurts everyone. We need to tell their moms that their boys aren’t their husbands… that their role is to raise a man, not substitute a husband. (This is a large problem, in my opinion.) We need to teach dads that their role is to raise a man, not get them into college so they can act like a boy 4 more years.

And we need to remind men over and over again that they will be irresistible to women when they take care of themselves, fall madly in love with Jesus, live on their own, make their own money, and treat women with respect.

On second thought, it’s just easier to move to Northern Ireland.

Categories
youth ministry

How Far is Too Far, part 2

 

I haven’t otherwise answered the post from a few days ago, so here are the notes from my talk on Wednesday night. I’ll be getting caught up on all my talk notes over at the LF site pretty soon.