Youth pastors have challenging ministries, and that’s an understatement today. I took a phone call from Tom (all names have been changed), a youth pastor at a large, PCA church, and his situation is something churches will be encountering everywhere.

Tom said he had worked hard to build a thriving, discipleship-oriented youth ministry. He solicited many 30-something adult helpers and small group leaders. His ministry emphasis was on biblical education and personal ministry, but he also worked to develop an outreach mindset for the unsaved and outsiders among his kids.

And it was working. The youth group grew. Many un-churched kids regularly attended as a result of being invited by his kids. But one day his outreach approach came close to tearing the entire ministry apart.

What happened? One of the invited kids, Eric, who got very involved in the youth group, announced one day that he was gay.  This is where the problem for Tom began.

The kids from church had different responses to Eric’s disclosure, and they fell into three camps. The first camp was, “That’s wrong!  He shouldn’t be in the youth group.” The second was, “He should be here. The church is the best place for him to learn about Christ.” And some said, “There’s nothing wrong with being gay.”

All three responses created confusion and turmoil.

And then the parents got wind of it all. Not only were they shocked by the emerging disorder in the youth group, but many of the parents began to learn, for the first time, what their children believed about this issue. And they responded with anger and fear at everything that was happening.

Tom’s phone rang, and his email overflowed. “How did this kid get into the church’s youth group?” asked one dad.  One mom gave an ultimatum: “If that boy continues to attend, we’re pulling our sons out.”  Another said, “I don’t want that kind of bad influence around my child.”

Some church kids threatened to leave if Eric was asked to leave; others said they would never invite anyone else to come. To top it off, Tom’s staff had different responses. Tom was in no-man’s land, feeling pressure to make the right decision. Clearly, there would be consequences no matter how he handled the situation. Hence his phone call to me!

We must take seriously this awful fact: the culture (not parents, not the church) has become the predominant and authoritative teacher of sexuality for our youth. If youth leaders don’t want to take the initiative to address these issues, they should not be in youth work today.

As issues of sex, sexuality, and gender become the defining identity marker in the culture, it has never been more critical for the church to be educated and equipped.  With the church and parents often committed to not speaking about these matters to our kids, most kids make up their minds about sexuality and gay marriage by the age of 12 these days (and it’s getting younger every day). The culture has “discipled” them well. They are listening to the voices on the Internet and media, which they spend hours each day consuming.

Churches need to educate their leaders and volunteers in how to lovingly and compassionately minister to youth, some whom struggle silently with sexual issues from a relatively early age. Parents need to be taught how to talk to their kids, well before an issue explodes and they respond in anger and fear.

Those who are involved in ministry to junior and senior high youth must speak boldly, frequently, compassionately, and truthfully about sex, sexuality, and gender, especially because most kids struggle in their silent formative years when sexual identity is being formed and embraced. We must take seriously this awful fact: the culture (not parents, not the church) has become the predominant and authoritative teacher of sexuality for our youth. If youth leaders don’t want to take the initiative to address these issues, they should not be in youth work today.

Yes, you want 13-year-old Jason to trust you (or his small group leader) to tell you he’s looking at porn on his smartphone. Yes, you want 15-year-old Erica to confide that she’s attracted to other girls, and wants to know, is she gay.  You want Sam to tell you he feels he’s another gender. You want these kinds of talks because God has placed you in their lives at this crucial time, while they still live at home and before college. Believe me, once they get to a secular college, there will be plenty of voices saying, “Yes, please come talk to us. We’ll help you figure this out.”

I’m so serious about this I’m going to repeat it:  if youth leaders are not willing to engage these issues with the youth under their care, they shouldn’t be involved in youth work today!

HARVEST USA is ready to help your church become educated and proactive in dealing with these matters. We can meet with your church staffs and elder boards to help them strategize and implement how to do 21st-century youth ministry work.

Email me at john@harvestusa.org.

As we conclude this blog series on coming out and parental responses, let’s review where we have been. I’ve discussed three things parents should do in responding to this process of coming out.

Part 1: Get to know your child. Love is getting to know your child more deeply and learning the details of how he has wrestled with his sexuality or gender.

Part 2: Reflect on what is in your heart too. Do not neglect all that is happening in your own heart as a result of your child’s situation.

Part 3Have wisdom in ongoing conversations. Keep track of the good, the bad, and the hard as you seek to display Christ accurately through the relationship you have with your child.

Now we look toward two final things you should do when you discover your child is identifying as gay or transgender. As you consider the road ahead, I want to encourage you to do two things: Set your expectations on loving your child as Christ has loved you, and keep a long-term view in mind.

As Christ has loved you, so love

God has called you to the challenging place of loving your child just as he loves you. Your child’s decision to come out and embrace an unbiblical identity will, of course, be the major issue that causes you pain. But in that, there will be other relational sins that your son or daughter will commit against you that go along with the pursuit of what he or she feels will be ultimately satisfying. I encourage you to make every effort not to count your child’s sins against him. Doing so will cause great harm in your relationship.

Rather, seek in multiple ways to show her the mercy and grace that you have received in Christ. It is important to remember the words of Colossians 1:21: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior” (NIV). Always remember that God demonstrated his love for you by sending his son as a propitiation for your sins. You were once his enemy, living for yourself and spurning his love and lordship. Not only so, but he continually demonstrates his love, patience, kindness, and compassion towards you every day.

Does this reality shape your love for your child? I find that we often forget that we are broken, sinful people ourselves, in need of his constant grace. If you do not engage your child with this mindset, it will be impossible to love her.

But showing this love will not be easy. The situations you face will not be black and white. For example, you find out your teenage son has had a boyfriend for the past year. How do you respond? Loving your child will entail determining what boundaries you think are appropriate to set with him regarding this relationship, communicating this to him, and standing firm on these limits even when there is resistance. It will also look like disciplining him when he goes beyond the boundaries while still communicating that you recognize his strong desire for this relationship. Voicing your understanding, or asking questions in order to understand, shows compassion for his struggle to obey. This demonstrates how God sets boundaries that are for our good. He disciplines us in love when we rebel and comes alongside us to help in our struggles.

As I mentioned in my second blog, I encourage you to bring others in to help you so that you may receive clarity on how to love your child, given the details of your particular situation. If there is a group of parents who are also going through this (like we have in our parent groups), then it would be ideal to reach out to them. Discerning how to respond to a multitude of situations in ways that display God’s love will require more wisdom than you have within yourself.

Keep a long-term view in mind

Although you don’t want to hear this, I need to say it: You are most likely in for a long journey. This is where you need to set your expectations. Most parents initially set their gaze on the short term, pushing their child to see the right counselor, listen to the right sermon, and read the right book, all in hopes of changing their child’s mind.

If your child feels like a project that needs fixing, he will close himself off and not give you access to what’s really in his heart

Although all these things can certainly be helpful given the right setting, this yields minimal fruit more often than not, especially if your child is resistant. Parents who pull out all the stops to help their son or daughter may find that this does more harm than good, damaging the relationship with their child. This can cause your child to distance herself, close up, and move away from you (emotionally if not physically). If your child feels like a project that needs fixing, she will close off and not give you access to what’s really in her heart.

Part of having the long-term view in mind is understanding that change is slow and, even more importantly, that God’s time frame is not ours. God is ultimately the one who sovereignly works in your child’s life. We all appreciate the success stories of someone coming to Christ and experiencing complete freedom from ingrained sin patterns, but God doesn’t always work that way. A more accurate picture of repentance is a gradual process of turning away from sin and turning to God more and more, usually with many bumps along the way.

Consider the father in Luke 15 who waited for his son to “come to his senses” before finally returning home with a repentant heart. The father was waiting right there to embrace his son, showing him the surprising grace, love, and compassion of our heavenly Father. This will be very challenging to consider that your child may have to experience some form of trial or suffering, like the son in this story, before she changes direction. No parent wants to watch their child go through hardship, but this may be the path God uses to bring her back to himself.

So what does patience and trust in God’s sovereignty look like? It doesn’t make your role passive; rather it allows you to have the patience to look for opportunities to display Christ to your child when those opportunities present themselves over time.

This may look like listening to him when he is in a vulnerable moment, praying with him as he struggles with the usual ups and downs of life, carefully throwing in your thoughts about how only God is ultimately fulfilling when he experiences unfulfillment in his sexual or gender identity or just has a deep unrest in his heart. As in the language of Jeremiah 2:13, his “broken cisterns” will be sure to run dry in the end and never ultimately satisfy. Your relationship with him over time may give you an opportunity to point him to the living water in specific moments of pain and unfulfillment.

Intentionally seeking to love your child as you experience Christ’s love for you, and resting in his sovereignty as you wisely seek opportunities to engage your child’s heart, will enable you to be an instrument in God’s hands. He is the agent of change—not you. In doing so, you will find freedom and peace as you entrust your life and the life of your child into God’s hands.

In Part I and Part II of this four-part blog series, I talked about the experience of a child coming out to his or her parents, and I mentioned two essential things you can do when your child is identifying as gay or transgender:

First, get to know your child. Listen to his or her unique experience, and ask thoughtful questions out of a desire to love and understand them.

Second, reflect on what is in your heart too. Be honest about all that you are experiencing as a result of your child’s decision to come out. Invite God and others to share in the burden of pain and keep the sinful responses of your heart in check.

Now I want to add another useful step to help you to respond to your child in wisdom.

Have wisdom in ongoing conversations

Knowing how to navigate ongoing conversations with your son or daughter over this will be challenging. One thing that will make this more difficult is the likelihood that your child will have bought into how our culture believes truth is arrived at today: by the authority of one’s individual experience rather than viewing oneself and the world through the lens of Scripture. Because your child has been greatly influenced by these worldview beliefs, it will be important for you to use discretion as you engage in conversation with him. You want to avoid throwing Bible passages at your kid over and over again as if this will change his mind. Rather, you want to aim toward engaging your child’s mind and heart by bringing God into the conversation in the context of his real-life circumstances.

Here are three categories of conversations to consider as you engage your child.

You want to avoid throwing Bible passages at your kid over and over again as if this will change his mind. Rather, you want to aim toward engaging your child’s mind and heart by bringing God into the conversation in the context of his real-life circumstances.

THE GOOD

Keep track of the good you see in your son or daughter. Affirm your love for your child by celebrating the unique way that God has made her and the strengths and gifts that God has given her. Point it out to her when you witness these gifts at work. Communicate to your daughter if you see something she has done that is praiseworthy.

Don’t be afraid to speak about the good you see! If he did well in his classes, if you enjoyed spending time with him on his visit home, if he talks with you about something on their heart, if he did something caring or thoughtful for another person—share how you appreciate these things, and tell your child that you are proud of him in areas you can sincerely identify.

Here’s the bottom line: Do not reduce your child down to sinful behaviors, allowing her coming-out decision to be the only way you see from here on. Continue to genuinely love her, and say it to her. This is your child! Loving your child in all the ways she has been gifted communicates a gospel perspective: that God sees us even in our sin and rebellion and continues to show his love toward us.

As a parent, it’s okay to affirm and show compassion—doing this does not necessarily communicate agreement with the direction in which your child is going

 THE HARD

Ask to be invited into what is hard. Your son or daughter is also going through suffering and hardship as well. Seek to identify what that struggle is and enter into it if your child will let you. This may not be easy to do, especially if your child’s struggle is way beyond your experience.

So begin by looking for things in your child’s life where he shows or expresses pain. Acknowledge the struggle and ask to hear more about it. An example of this could be if you have a son who identifies as a girl and has long felt different from his male peers. You can be sure he has struggled to a great degree with confusion and shame.

It’s appropriate to voice that pain back to him and ask him to help you understand how hard it has been to live with it. As a parent, it’s okay to affirm and show compassion—doing this does not necessarily communicate agreement with the direction in which your child is going. This gives an opportunity to demonstrate and speak to your child about the compassion Christ has for us in our struggles.

THE BAD

Loving your child also means mirroring back what is bad and ultimately destructive to our souls. Again, you do not want to badger your child, but you do want to lovingly display the mirror of God’s truth to her. By taking those opportunities when they arise, you help your child see—even if it’s just a glimpse—when her decisions or behaviors are self-destructive and ultimately self-defeating.

Where are those opportunities to do this? When your child experiences some of the negative consequences of his actions. Perhaps he shut out others in the family who have not affirmed his coming-out decision, so as a result he feels unloved and discriminated against. An appropriate response is to help your child see how the demand to be loved on his own terms will damage relationships in his life.

By mirroring her behavior back to her, you are lovingly keeping her accountable for her actions while helping her see some of the negative consequences of her sin. It may be a temptation to avoid these hard conversations out of fear of damaging your relationship with your child. I know this area of communication is going to be the most difficult to pull off. However, we must not shrink back from telling the truth in love. Doing so demonstrates that God’s love does not allow us to remain in rebellion and sin that is ultimately destructive to us.

In all of these conversational areas, you must recognize that, above all, your son or daughter’s greatest need is to see and experience the love of God and understand his or her fundamental desperation for his saving grace. A relationship with God must be more meaningful to your child than the desire for fulfillment through perceived sexual or gender identity. Repentance is a fruit of being moved by the love of Christ through the gospel. As you have wisdom in ongoing conversations, you can be instrumental in showing the love of Christ for your child more comprehensively in these particular ways.

Coming out. It’s a scary expression for most parents. In my first blog in this four-part series, I emphasized how important it is for parents to get to know their child and their unique experience of their sexuality and/or gender. To genuinely love your child is to know them more fully, even—no, especially—after coming out. As we continue Part 2 of this blog series, I want to focus attention on what is in your heart as a parent in all of this.

Get to know your own heart

When a Christian parent has a child who comes out as gay or transgender, it can be devastating. Emotions swirl; everything from fear, despair, anger, regret, grief, and more can be part of that experience after the coming out. The experience can hit like news of a sudden death in the family, leaving you shocked and disoriented.

As time progresses, parents can also experience mourning. The loss of the hopes and dreams they had for their child can be intensely painful. They fear the worst as they consider what the future holds for them.

Those who have walked this road a little longer know that the severity of those emotions tends to lessen over time but can still rise to the surface at any given moment. A random Facebook post or picture pops up on their profile; a text conversation with your son feels cold or distant; a friend boasts to you about their daughter’s pregnancy, and the pain and resentment come sweeping back in like a stiff winter wind.

What do you do with all these feelings? I encourage you to be honest. Honest about everything you are experiencing. To get the care and support you need, it will only begin when you honestly face—and talk about—what you are going through.

This can be very hard to do. To reach out to others for help means working through the shame you feel, much of it caused by how you think others will think about you and your family.

But God does not intend for you to carry this burden on your own. He desires to comfort your pain, speak to your fears, and remind you that he is your rock, shield, and fortress in the midst of this great storm. Just as Proverbs 30:5 testifies—“every word of God proves true; He is a shield to those who take refuge in him” (ESV)—let me strongly encourage you to talk to him first. You need to pray and share with him how you are feeling, and invite him to speak in return through the Scriptures.

And in this conversation you will be having with God, you’ll discover his desire is that you be honest not only with him but that you invite others in to share this burden. It’s never just about you and God; it’s about you and God and his people. It’s about how the church community, in particular, comes alongside us in our pain and guides us toward him.

If you are honest, you know your heart can respond in sinful and damaging ways to your child, to others, and yourself.

You can damage your relationship with your child by responding to them frequently in anger following their disclosure. Instead of sharing your sadness with them regarding their newly declared direction, you can find yourself responding to them in anger while you attempt to reason with them. Every time you see them, you have another lecture to give them. This will just drive them away from you and from further opportunities to speak biblically into their life. Any love you do have for them will be lost in the tension that now exists between the two of you.

You can also damage yourself and others with these attitudes and behavior. You can fool yourself by displaying negative attitudes and behaviors toward your child while thinking you are following God faithfully.

But God’s call to all of us is to love even while we are hurting and in pain. When we aren’t doing this, we don’t see how cold and hard our hearts are becoming, until one day we realize how bitter we are toward God for not giving us the child we worked so hard to raise.

All these actions are motivated by a heart that is desperate to control what seems like an out-of-control situation, rather than to be guided by the mystery and uncertainty of how the Spirit does his work.

I encourage you to consider these questions individually and/or with your spouse, as a way to reflect on where your heart is in all of this:

  • Do you have someone who knows what’s really going on (a friend, pastor, or church member)?
  • Who is one person you could trust to a greater extent by sharing the daily struggles you face with your child?
  • Have you asked others to pray for you and your child?
  • Has this situation revealed areas of sin in your own heart?
  • How can your struggle bring you to pray in more meaningful ways by inviting God to heal your pain and control your heart’s sinful responses?

You must not neglect all that is happening in your heart, for as Jesus said in Luke 6:45, from the overflow of your heart your mouth will speak. We all need help from God and others to process the pain we experience.

Coming out. It’s a scary expression for most parents. It is a far too common experience today for a parent to discover their child is identifying as gay. Teens and young adult children suddenly coming out as transgender is also a growing occurrence in Christian families.

News like this is a very difficult thing for parents to navigate when they hold to biblical convictions of sex, sexuality, and gender. It is hard to know what to do when you are thinking of how to love your child while moving them towards walking in the truth of the gospel. At this point, most parents want to do just about anything to keep their kid on the right path after hearing this news. Their approach to their child can swing in wildly opposite directions.

On one end, parents may try to argue with their child to no end about their decision to come out, seeking to convince them of how misguided they are, and use everything in their power to change them. On the other end, parents may seek to keep things light and superficial in hopes to not ruffle feathers or push them away and hurt the relationship. They refrain from bringing this issue up altogether. Wherever you find yourself on this spectrum, this is a very hard journey to walk.

Wanting your child to turn back from what they are considering is what your heart and emotions scream for, but as it stands now, you have some important work to do—work that is smack in the middle of these two opposite poles.

And the work you need to do… should be directed toward keeping your relationship open with your child. That’s the only way you will still have a voice in their life.

And the work you need to do—as much as it depends on you, as Romans 12:18 says—should be directed toward keeping your relationship open with your child. That’s the only way you will still have a voice in their life. And working to stay connected is still the way to show them how much you love and care for them.

So, I want to give you five things you can do that will help this situation. Five things that won’t guarantee your child will change, but that can be used by God to stir up his or her heart.

Get to know your child

Here’s the first one. Whether your child is 14 years old or 24 years old, you need to get to know your child’s unique life experience and what has led to their decision to identify this way. When someone first comes out as gay or transgender, they most likely have been wrestling with these thoughts for years. There was an interior life that you were not part of, and now one of the most significant ways you can know and show love to your child is by listening to their story.

Here are some sample questions you can use to help you get this important (and yes, scary!) conversation started:

  • When did these feelings of (same-sex attraction) begin? Or, when did you start to feel that you were a boy (or girl)? What made you feel that way? (As much as possible, move toward getting specific here, but don’t push too hard at the beginning—this will be a difficult conversation for both of you.)
  • What was it like to grow up in our Christian home and struggle with these thoughts and desires?
  • How did you feel sitting in our church and struggling all this time in isolation? What were you thinking when you were feeling so alone?
  • Why did you feel like you could not come to us when you knew you felt attracted to people of the same sex (or feeling like you were in the wrong body?) Why? What was one thing that kept you silent?
  • How do you envision yourself living out your sexuality (or gender) from here on? What do you want your life to look like?
  • How do you see this decision to come out and identify as gay or transgender as being OK for a Christian?
  • How do you want our relationship to be now that this is in the open?

These questions are by no means meant for interrogation (although that may be a temptation). I encourage you to sincerely desire to know your son or daughter’s experience, not as a means to “fix” them, but out of a desire to love and know them more fully. It’s never too late to have these conversations, even if you are farther out from their initial disclosure.

This discussion (or series of talks) may be an opportunity to strengthen your relationship by talking about past relational hurts or experiences that have impacted your child. It may also present opportunities for you to speak truth to them in a way that they can be open to receive it. You might just be surprised by what they share.

Some of your students are sitting in deep darkness, suffering deeply for horrendous sins committed against them. Sexual abuse can bring pain and suffering to students for the rest of their lives, entrapping them in a dark prison of isolation and shame. The church must be a body that can bring light and freedom to dark places, walking alongside the sexually abused and helping to remove the guilt and shame students feel through the freeing power of the gospel. What are some initial steps in caring for these sufferers in our midst?

1) Pray

It might seem trite, but these issues are far above even the most experienced minister. We need Divine help, and our students need Divine help. Always be praying for your students who have experienced sexual abuse, even if you don’t know who they might be. Pray that they would be able to voice what has happened to them and find strong Christians who can counsel and disciple them in their suffering. Pray that they would recognize how the gospel speaks to their pain and abuse. And pray that you would be a safe person to talk to and that your community would be a safe place of healing for those who have experienced this trauma.

2) Develop a Ministry Vocabulary

Sexual abuse robs people of their voice. Just mentioning sexual abuse in a large-group talk as a form of suffering that Christians experience can be an initial step of healing for your students and can begin to put words back into the mouths of the abused. Hearing a leader speak about such dark sufferings can be a significant step in helping abused students know that you are aware of them and that they can, indeed, put words to the atrocities committed against them.

If you ever have specific times a year when you are talking about sexual issues, it’s also important that sexual abuse is discussed. The big topics like porn, making out, dating, or premarital sex can easily eclipse the topic of sexual abuse. To bring up this subject can provide a measure of free space for abused students to open up.

In other words, does your student ministry have a vocabulary for sexual abuse? Do your students know that you have sexual abuse victims on your radar? Are you helping to give voice to their silent suffering?

3) Encourage the Voice of Your Students

It takes an immense amount of bravery and courage for a student to speak about the sexual abuse he or she has experienced. For a student to share, you first have to have a community and culture where you encourage and facilitate suffering students to share about their suffering. Think and pray about how you can develop this culture of sharing through what you say and how you respond to what students disclose to you. Creating this kind of culture takes time and intentionality. One excellent ministry to gain knowledge about doing this is G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), at www.netgrace.org.

Furthermore, our students must hear from trusted leaders that abuse is not a sin the victim has committed; they must know that Jesus does not require them to answer for the crimes committed against them. They must know that He is a compassionate and loving Savior, who, by His Spirit, can work healing into the guilt and shame they might feel.

Students must hear that they can and should speak out about any abuse they’ve experienced, so more of the isolating prison walls of shame can come down. Perhaps when you talk about sexual abuse, encourage students to talk to a same-gender leader about their experiences, and know a good counselor in town or in the church community to whom you can refer them.

4) Protect Your Students

It remains tragically true that Christians (and even Christian students) are committing sexual violence against one another. But our community should have no room for sexual abuse. How can we go about protecting our students? This can start with having appropriate boundaries for volunteers and staff to meet with students (check out our post on one-to-one discipleship: here). These three boundaries can serve as a beginning point:

  1. Students should never ride alone with a staff member or volunteer.
  2. All meetings between staff, volunteers, and students are to happen in highly visible, public places.
  3. There should never be a male volunteer or staff meeting with a female student, and visa versa.

It’s good to develop both a plan for preemptive protection of students and for when that protection is violated. Your ministries and churches need to have clear guidelines, and your staff and volunteers need to be trained rigorously about your policies.

5) Know the laws

Know your church’s protocol and who you should talk to within your church about a case of abuse. Protecting your students from sexual abuse also means knowing the laws about mandated reporting. This also includes taking every hint seriously. If a student says something that’s a little concerning, don’t brush it aside. Follow up with the student and ask good questions. Too many times victims might give clues around us, and too many times we let them pass by us and think nothing more of them. The short of it is this: your staff must be trained in the laws of mandated reporting.

6) Educate yourself

Lastly, if you want resources to help you begin to care for your students, check out Justin and Lindsay Holcomb’s book Rid of My Disgrace and On the Threshold of Hope by Diane Langberg. Healing from sexual abuse starts with speaking to the darkness and helping others come into the light. May God protect us, our students, and our ministries from this grave darkness, and may students who have been abused find in Christ healing light, hope, and strength.

As a youth minister, it’s an already confusing task to lead youth to the feet of Jesus when you yourself need to take the journey. How can we bear students’ sins and sufferings when we’re barely holding on? How can we lead youth to streams of living water when we’re dying in the desert?

And then throw porn into the mix. Some churches call for an all-out air strike on any of their staff who might wrestle with pornography: the staff position will be taken away, and the staff person will leave in shame. While we don’t have time to get into church policy, the measures taken by any church should be nuanced enough to vary by situation. But as youth ministers, how can we ourselves move forward? What are some initial categories we can keep in mind?

Confession to My Spouse, Boss, or Mentor?

Placed in context, the richness of James’ teaching on confession becomes apparent:

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working (5:13-16, ESV).

Confession does help others hold us accountable, but more than that, confession is a means for others to join their healing prayers for us with the two Divine intercessors, our Great High Priest and the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26-27, 34). Sin says, “Don’t confess. No one can be trusted.” Jesus says otherwise. Sin casts confession as insecurity and defeat. Jesus casts confession as a means to healing.

Confession is scary, and I always wrestle with it whatever my sin. But I’ve got to lean into what I know is true: God says there is healing here, not destruction.

If there is a pattern of confession already taking place in your marriage, confess to your spouse. It’s a wonderful way to practice the type of humble one-anothering that is required of us in Ephesians 5. But should you confess to your boss? It certainly depends on the type of church culture you are in and, more particularly, the relationship you have with your boss. Confessing to bosses cannot be mandatory. Do we confess to peers? I certainly think so, but peers usually do not have the grey streaks of wisdom that come with age and experience. That grey-streaked wisdom can help to lift us from the mire instead of simply commiserating with us in the midst of it.

Consider confessing to someone older and wiser, possibly in ministry, who has demonstrated not only a record of humility but also a record of being able to shoulder other people’s burdens. This person will be able to both empathize with you and point out potential blind spots in yourself.

Practical Repentance

The urgent call is clear: we need to brainstorm ways, to whomever we confess, to practically turn from our sin and turn to Jesus. At minimum, it will mean installing filtering and accountability software on all devices you use. But it could also mean getting rid of smartphones or personal computers altogether. It could mean setting up times of Bible study and prayer with the person to whom you confess. It will certainly mean making a habit of daily prayer to cast ourselves upon our God. The key is practical, daily repentance, not lofty, vague goals.

Practical Love

As a youth leader, you are already serving. But as a way to battle the inward spiral of selfishness that porn facilitates, let’s look for ways for you to serve more. Can you set up regular times to do the dishes for your wife or husband instead of surfing the Internet? Can you set up a standing meeting with students that will interfere with your usual time of looking at porn (i.e., early breakfasts, dinners)? With the person to whom we confess, it’s good to brainstorm little, practical ways that we can further love and serve others for the kingdom of God.

Seasoned Mentors

All of the above ideas–confession, repentance, and love–happen in the midst of a relationship with someone we trust. I would strongly advise finding older and wiser men and women who can serve as mentors for us. This could mean having a standing meeting where we talk about life, stress, good things, hard things, or anything at all. During these meetings we could spend time in prayer, perhaps walk through a book on Christian living together, or simply read Scripture.

The main point is this: pornography thrives in the darkness of isolation. It is best dispelled in the light of relationship with others.

Jesus Chose You

It is difficult to reconcile our own sin with the leadership task we have been given as youth ministers. But we also need to recognize that God has chosen sinners to act as youth ministers; He has chosen us in our weakness and sin to point others to Himself. Jesus’ words are obvious, but I often forget the obvious: “‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Mark 2:17).

When fighting porn as a leader, we must remember that Jesus came for people like us and has united us to Himself in a Spirit-forged bond. The Spirit residing within us is power to engage the fight passionately and relentlessly. He will not give up on us. And that truth is water to a desert-ridden soul, hope for the confused youth minister, and fuel to keep leading others to the very same Savior that we ourselves so desperately need.

The Triad of Life is a distillation of Scripture’s most basic building blocks for the Christian life—a three-pronged, mutually enforcing and informing concept that shapes everything we do as believers. In our writing, speaking, and equipping the Church across the country, this is the principle we encourage parents and youth leaders to integrate into the lives of their kids, enabling students to use and steward their sexuality for the glory of God.

And the last aspect of the Triad is love (check out part 1 and part 2).

A Necessary Love

Jesus says this in Matthew 22: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets’” (22:38-40, ESV). Love, with its dual—but not ultimately equal—objects of God and others, forms the third piece of our Triad, informing and enforcing the two other principles of faith and repentance. But how do we even define love in the first place?

The apostle John tells us, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His only son to be the propitiation for our sin” (1 John 4:10). Simply put, love is sacrificial action on behalf of another, a self-denying, others-serving act that encompasses all of life. John helps us see something else as well: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). In other words, God’s love for us in the face of His Son is the catalyst, the igniting flame, for our passionate self-denying, others-serving love for our fellow man. God’s movement of love towards us provides the context, the grounds, and the passion for our love towards others. And it is our movement of love towards Him that works itself out in love for others.

The world’s understanding of sex, sexuality, and gender, however, is an inward-referenced one. The world finds its catalyst for understanding sex, sexuality, and gender in the self and seeks to define sexual reality apart from the One who created sexuality in the beginning. In other words, the world has crippled sex, sexuality, and gender by stripping them of their intended focus: God and others.

One of the best ways, then, to steward our sexuality for the glory of God is to reestablish our heavenward gaze (check out Secularized Sexuality), and then, in light of Him, to focus on others. We act like true men and women when we sacrificially love God and others in practical, self-denying ways.

So how do we cultivate love in student ministry?

Embody the Language

The first thing we need to do is to actually embody love itself. The question to ask ourselves is this: “Am I a man of love? Am I a woman of love? Am I striving to obey His commands, from making my own time with the Lord a priority to practically serving my husband, wife, or friends? How am I doing in thinking of practical ways to love and serve my students?”

In other words, love begins with us, not with our students. And if we want a culture of love in our student ministries, it must begin in our own hearts.

Use the Language

 Anyone learning a new language can tell you that if you don’t use it, you’ll never truly learn it. This means we need to actually talk about love. What would that look like?

  • We are constantly calling on students to love God and others in practical, small ways. A mistake I tend to make is calling on students to love God and others by “giving their lives to Him” or by “living for Him alone”. These are grand statements, but love for God and others is often worked out in the small moments that often pass us by. Love looks like actually doing our chores with a spirit of thankfulness to God for what He’s done for us. Love looks like taking the tray of another kid to the trash. Love looks like obeying Mom and Dad immediately. We must help students respond to the love of God for them by giving them practical ways to love Him and others in response.
  • We are constantly unmasking the empty “love” of the world with the full and life-giving love of Christians. The world’s “love” tends to fade at inconvenience. The “love” that the hookup culture promises is a self-exalting, others-consuming love that exploits and dehumanizes. The world’s “love” is more about feeling and acceptance, rather than challenging, changing, and serving action in the face of God.
  • We are constantly teaching and talking about the love of God. The apostle John, as noted above, wants to motivate us to love for others by showing us the love of God for us in Jesus Christ. Let’s paint for students, through the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word, a beautiful, compelling picture of God’s love for us in the sending of His Son. The Spirit will use this constant focus on the love of God in the Son, expounded from the Scriptures, to compel students outward in a life-act of sacrifice.

 Facilitate Times of Love

 One more thing we can do to cultivate a culture of love in student ministry is to give students opportunities to sacrificially love others. Is there a servant leadership team that a student can join to set up or clean up before and after events? Can you establish a mentor program with older, more mature high schoolers and younger, less mature middle schoolers?

The Triad of Life—faith, repentance, and love—is what we are after in our students. A life lived in constant and daily faith, practical repentance, and acts of love is one that necessarily forsakes the emptiness of sinful sexuality to find life in our life-giving God.

The Triad of Life is a distillation of Scripture’s most basic building blocks for the Christian life—a three-pronged, mutually enforcing and informing concept that shapes everything we do as believers. In our writing, in our speaking, and in our equipping the Church across the country, this is the principle we encourage parents and youth leaders to integrate into the lives of their kids, enabling students to use and steward their sexuality for the glory of God.

And the second aspect (check out the first post) of the Triad is a not-so-in-vogue concept: repentance.

A Necessary Repentance

Jesus’ announces His ministry in Mark 1:15 with an enormous statement: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Repent. He’s commanding people to turn from whatever they are hoping in, in order that they might turn towards Him alone. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin and imply similar concepts. Both necessarily imply that you have turned from trusting something or someone and turned to someone or something. And both are worked out practically in everyday life.

But sexual sin makes repentance passé: The narrative of sexual sin says, “Sin is an outdated way to view sexting. It’s an antiquated stance on hooking up.” If sin itself is outmoded, then there’s nothing of which to repent. The narrative of the world tells us there’s nothing wrong with pursuing our own lusts while at the very same time leading us to the edge of the cliff. “It’s okay”, the narrative coaxes, while it pushes us over the edge. You recognize this voice, don’t you? “‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Genesis 3:4-5).

Stewarding our sexuality, then, involves practically repenting from our sin-induced trance and obsession with the sweet words of Satan to listen again to Reason, to Life, to Jesus.

Embody the Language

So how do we begin to create a culture of repentance in student ministry? The first thing we need to do is to actually embody repentance. And this, like faith, is an easy aspect to fake. The question to ask ourselves is this: “Am I a man of repentance? Am I a woman of repentance?”

It means we need to ask the hard questions of ourselves, like, “How have I neglected to practically repent of my sins today? How have I harbored secret doors to porn in my life and failed to turn from it? Am I running on fumes, trying to manipulate spiritual outcomes in my ministry while neglecting prayer, Scripture reading, and communion with God and His church?”

Repentance begins with us, not with our students. And if we want a culture of repentance in our student ministries, it must begin in our own hearts.

Use the Language

Anyone learning a new language can tell you that if you don’t use it, you’ll never truly learn it. This means we need to actually talk about repentance. What would that look like?

  • We are constantly calling on students to repent of their sins and trust in Christ in practical ways. And we are also encouraging Christians to keep repenting from their sins. Repentance is not something to be done once and left behind in favor of Christian perfectionism, as if we had no need of repentance on the other side of conversion. And repentance does not mean we will never wrestle with sin again. Every day the Serpent’s voice and our own flesh tempt us to the edge.
  • We are constantly drawing parallels between the death-infused voice of sin and the life-giving voice of Jesus. What does the temptation to sext tell us about life in Christ? What practical things does my sin and flesh tell me to do that are absolutely opposed to the Way, the Truth, and the Life?
  • We are constantly demonstrating how repentance is practical. Repentance includes getting rid of Instagram and handing the password to our phones over to trusted mentors if Instagram is a porn-problem for us. Repentance includes stepping out of certain friend groups if they are facilitating the downward spiral of sin.
  • We are constantly teaching and talking about the kindness of God. Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” The ironic thing about Romans 2:4 is that those to whom Paul is writing are actually ignoring and plugging their ears to God’s kindness. But the intent is still the same. There is, of course, a time for preaching about the coming judgment (Romans 2:5), but I think this is the default way we try to cultivate repentance in our students. Have we tried to cultivate repentance by consistently preaching and talking about the goodness, kindness, mercy, and grace of God in the face of Jesus Christ?

Create Opportunities to Repent

A wonderful way to cultivate repentance in student ministry is to actually facilitate times where students can repent. In my leadership Bible study with eighth grade guys, we had specific times built in for confession and accountability, when we would also encourage each other in prayer and Scripture reading, searching for practical ways to help each other turn from our sin and pursue Jesus.

It is repentance—true and practical—that will enable us all to thrive sexually as Christ works powerfully within us by the Spirit. Ultimately, however, repentance is a gift from God (2 Timothy 2:24-25). In other words, we must be on our knees daily, asking Him to grant passionate and practical repentance to both us and the students we love and serve.

We at the Student Outreach have a concept we affectionately call the Triad of Life. It’s a distillation of Scripture’s most basic building blocks for the Christian life—a three-pronged, mutually enforcing and informing concept that shapes everything we do as believers. In our writing, in our speaking, and in our equipping the Church across the country, this is the principle we encourage parents and youth leaders to integrate into the lives of their kids, enabling students to use and steward their sexuality for the glory of God.

And in this first post of a series on the Triad of Life, I want to look at faith.

But why is faith necessary to steward our sexuality for the glory of God, and how do we create a culture of faith in student ministry?

A Necessary Faith

Jesus’ announces His ministry in Mark 1:15 with an enormous statement: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Look at the claim Jesus is making. He’s turning the gaze of mankind towards Himself and commanding people, in light of the immanence of the very Kingdom of God in His presence, to believe in the Gospel. And the Gospel is the Person and Work of Christ for sinners. The “gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1) is the fact that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Belief in the Gospel includes knowledge of, agreement with, and trust in the Son of God for the salvation of mankind.

But sexual sin would destroy faith in the Son. Porn, making out with boyfriends or girlfriends, sex outside of marriage, or whatever the sin, would have us turn our eyes away from the resurrected and ascended Christ. It would have us deny His Lordship and His transforming grace and forsake Him for our glory, fame, and way. Sexual sin presents the next orgasm, the next moment of watching porn, and next moment alone with a boyfriend or girlfriend as all-important and all-satisfying.

Ultimately, then, stewarding our sexuality begins by trusting not in ourselves but in abandoning ourselves to rest in and cry out to Jesus in faith. It takes faith in Christ to say no to the temptations and voices that would have us do life on our own terms. It takes faith in Christ to develop eyes for both the emptiness and lifelessness of sexual sin and the superior beauty and worthiness of God.

Embody the Language

So how do we begin to create a culture of faith in student ministry? The first thing we need to do is to actually embody faith. And this is an easy aspect to fake. The question to ask ourselves is this: “Am I a man of faith? Am I a woman of faith?” This certainly looks like being honest with ourselves to see if we are actually Christians or not. But it is so much more.

It means we need to ask the hard questions of ourselves, like, ”What has been my functional savior today? When I looked at porn last night, what was my functional savior? When I lost it with my volunteers, what was I trusting in? When my numbers were low at my meeting and I was totally frustrated, was I trusting in Jesus or wanting to make a name for myself? In my discipleship relationships, am I banking on the Savior to work, or am I trying to be the savior?”

Faith begins with us, not with our students. And if we want a culture of faith in our student ministries, it must begin in our own hearts.

And we must pray. Prayer is the ultimate posture of faith, because it confesses reliance, helplessness, and desperation. Are we pleading for the Lord to do mighty works in both our own hearts and in the hearts of our students? Are we bringing individual students before His throne, asking that He might rescue and set them ablaze for His name?

Use the Language

Anyone learning a new language can tell you that if you don’t use it, you’ll never truly learn it. This means we need to actually talk about faith. In other words, our ministry vocabulary needs to be a scriptural vocabulary. What would that look like?

  • We are constantly calling on students who have never trusted Christ to trust now. And we are also encouraging Christians to keep putting their faith in Jesus. Faith in Christ is not something to be done once and left behind in favor of Christian moralism. Faith is to be exercised daily in perseverance, because every day I’m tempted to bank on a million different “gods” besides the One True God.
  • We are constantly drawing parallels between the faith narrative of the culture and the faith narrative of the Christian walk. What is the culture begging us to trust in instead of Jesus? What does a worldview that is all about my happiness and gain tell me about faith in Jesus?
  • We are constantly demonstrating how a vital faith in Christ actually changes how we live practically. Trust in Jesus moves us towards loving and sitting with the kid in the lunchroom who no one else wants to sit next to. Faith in Christ sometimes means we get rid of a smartphone in favor of a dumb one because of the temptation to look at porn. Resting in the Son means fighting our same-sex attraction by crying out to Him for help and strength.

It is faith—true, vital, and practical faith—in Jesus that will enable us all to thrive sexually as He works powerfully within us by the Spirit. Let’s work toward building ministries that desire to know and trust in nothing but the risen and ascended Lord, awaiting in faith His glorious appearing.


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