We’re going to jump right in here with Part 2 of our series, Breaking the Sin Cycle. If you missed Part 1, check it out here!

In discipling students, we can often become confused by the complicated issues of sexual sin. How do we begin to help a student who is struggling in this way?

Thankfully, all cycles are predictable. They repeat themselves over and over again, which means that we can anticipate each segment before it happens.

Acting Out

Students enter the sin cycle with sin and suffering, and in response to these they arrive at a decision point. Who or what will they trust to save them from what they think they need saving from? Their decisions, then, carry them to acting out.

These moments of acting out reveal where students have turned for life, salvation, and refuge. They reflect students’ faith decisions. In terms of sinful acting out, this stage includes both the rituals students do to accommodate their sins and the sins themselves.

Rituals are steps that students take which will ultimately place them right in front of whatever savior they’re panting after. In terms of pornography, acting out may include rituals such as isolating herself, refusing to be around others, or simply opening up a web-browser. Some good questions to ask of a student might be, “Specifically, how do you set yourself up for ‘success’ in getting porn? What are the steps you take to get there?”

If we choose to turn to God out of desperation, trust, and repentance, however, our actions may include crying out to God in prayer, calling a friend in the midst of temptation, turning off the computer, getting rid of a device, or reading the Word.

We want to help students see their specific “rituals” and how they arise within the cycle. Sin is a choice, and we want to help students understand that, while we often get caught up in the moment and feel as if we’re slipping down an irreversible water slide, the sins and the rituals we devise to accommodate those sins are actually the natural outworkings of the faith decisions we have already made within ourselves.

Reaping

The last part in the cycle is the reaping stage.  Remember Paul’s words: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:6-8).

As a result of our faith decisions and the actions flowing from them, we’ll get a natural yield.

For students who choose to turn inwardly, trust in themselves or their idols, and sin sexually, they may reap temporary relief from their sufferings and sins, but they will ultimately reap guilt, shame, despair, fear, loneliness, broken relationships, and eventually more sin. Anyone who has engaged in sexual sin for long enough can attest to this.

Though we may find a temporary refuge or a momentary pleasure from choosing to trust in ourselves, that refuge or pleasure will quickly corrode and finally result in both corrupt relationships and spiritual death. While it looks good to a thirsty human, salt water dries us up from the inside out. Sexual sin is no different.

We want to help students see the vanity and worthlessness of what they reap when they choose to trust in other things besides the Lord. We want to explore those things which are reaped by delving into their emptiness and deceit. We want to sit in those things that are reaped, hearing from students about their own experiences and sorrows.

But we also want to help them see that following the Lord will ultimately yield spiritual blessing. For the one who decides to trust in God, he or she will ultimately reap the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

We can’t, however, make it seem as if students will reap these things immediately. Being made like Jesus is a process, but we must affirm that, over time, students will begin to develop a taste for the things of God as they trust in Him day after day.

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We can’t forget that this is a cycle. Sin and suffering are coming up again! Students, yet again, will have to make a decision as to who or what they will trust. Students may face one particular temptation twenty times in one day, but this is part of following Christ.

How can you help your students navigate this cycle? Obviously our sin cycle here is simplified, and it’s often more complex in the messiness of life. Still, spend some time in each of these sections with a student, discovering the relationship between what has gone on before and what is coming up next.

What is one passage of Scripture they can go to at the decision point that would help them remember the truths of Christ and then call out to God in prayer? What are some ways they can act out in a godly, faith-filled manner? You want them to think practically and biblically at the moment when temptation arises so that they will sow according to the Spirit, reaping life and joy as they learn to follow Jesus.

Think of “The Circle of Life” from Disney’s The Lion King, the classic Ferris Wheel, the spin cycle on our washing machines, or the four seasons. Cycles are everywhere!

And sexual sin has a cycle of its own. Whether it’s lust, pornography, premarital sex, or crossing any appropriate physical or sexual boundary line, sexual sin pushes us all into damaging cycles from which, at times, we feel that we cannot escape. And like us, students are desperate for a way out. Sexual sin is enslaving, perpetually promising us what it can’t deliver.

In ministering to students who struggle with sexual sin, we can often be confused as to what we need to explore. At some point, it might be effective to delve into their experience of temptation and sin by helping them to slow down and identify the progression of their sexual struggles. Slowing down helps students reflect on their own experiences and discover how to practically follow Christ in the midst of temptation.

Sin and Suffering

All of life, sexual sin or not, consists of sin and suffering. This is where all of us enter into the cycle. Our sins are part of our sufferings, but the broader category of suffering could include any temptations, any stressors of life, any tough situations we face, or anything that is external to our control. Sin is something we do. Suffering is something done to us. And since many students are new creations in Christ, sin is both done by them and is also something done against their new identities. Suffering can be anything that causes us to despair and look for a saviour elsewhere. For students, suffering could be a bad grade on a report card, loneliness, or some particular stress at school. Many times, non-sexual situations and sufferings can lead to sexual sin.

I’ve sat with many students who choose to run to pornography because of stressors at school. Sometimes students don’t feel like they belong in their friend group, or perhaps a student doesn’t even have a friend group! That can be daily, shaky ground for anyone navigating the terrain of middle school or high school. But porn can be that stability for which a student longs. It’s always there when no one else is.

As sexting becomes a bigger and bigger issue, what are some temptations and sufferings a student might face? Maybe they feel as if being a man or woman entails this type of action. The affirmation of another might be what they crave. Perhaps students have given in to lust or inappropriate touching, and they feel as if they might as well keep going, pushing those physical and sexual boundaries further away.

In thinking through this category, we want to help students situate themselves in the context of the various sins and sufferings they face every day. What is their daily experience in following the Lord? What are some stressors or triggers that might cause them to start the cycle? What are some specific situations in which they are tempted to sin?

The Decision Point

In response to sin and suffering, we face a decision point. All of us develop tunnel vision as we seek out a saviour. Will we turn inwards in self-reliance, self-pity, and self-exaltation, or will we turn outwards to God by faith? At the decision point, we begin to think of that one thing that we think will give us relief and salvation, that one refuge from life’s storms.

Scripture describes this decision: “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). At times it seems like an evil to follow the Lord, especially when sexual sin seems so life-giving. But Joshua provokes the people to make the choice, and he urges students to do the same. If not the Lord, then whom will they trust? The decision is monumental, and it must be made daily.

We want to help students slow down their actions to see how they make decisions regarding where they will turn for salvation at any moment throughout the day. Can they identify that moment within themselves? Can they slow down and pray to the Lord for help and guidance to trust in Him? Even a simple, deep breath in the midst of temptation could provide an opportunity for them to come back to the Lord and situate their trust in Him.

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The cycle can be broken at any stage, but it is easier to break it at this decision point than anywhere else. Think of a kid faced with two water slides. He is poised at the top of both, but he can only choose one of the two. Once the decision is made, it’s nearly impossible to reverse the slipping and sliding that will inevitably occur.

But slowing down the sin cycle can help students see that the Lord has given us a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13) and that we, as believers, can escape. Hopefully, as we begin to see the cycles into which sin shoves us, we can help students find hope, strength, and victory in Christ over the sexual sin that clings so closely.

There are two more important parts of the cycle to go, but for brevity’s sake, we’ll include them in Part Two.

Imagine the Boston Marathon or the Tour de France. Now imagine those races with no cheering fans and no TV crews or cameras. A few diehard athletes might still run the marathon or bike the 2,200 miles with no one cheering them on, but I doubt that many would actually attempt to finish the race.

We need people cheering us on in our own race. Our race isn’t just a few hours. It’s our entire lives. We don’t face hills and obstacles. We face sin that entraps us so easily. In our fight against sexual sin, we need fellow Christians to cheer us on and encourage us to keep fighting and living in faith and repentance.

Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us that “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” Similarly, the Christians around us today can also be a group of encouraging witnesses, helping us to look to Jesus.

We Can’t Trust Ourselves

Keeping our sexual struggles to ourselves might seem best because we don’t want to bother other people or invite the shame we might feel in disclosing a struggle. But this will ultimately lead us to trust in ourselves. We might begin to think that we can handle our sins on our own, that we don’t need the help of other people. We might begin to subtly trust in our own strength or discernment when dealing with our sin.

But Scripture speaks of our hearts as deceitful beyond all things, and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9). It warns us that we can be blind to our own sin and tells us not to lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). We desperately need others to help us see and deal with our sin. We simply can’t trust our wayward hearts.

God Gave Us Each Other

One of the ways God gives us the grace and help we need for our sin is through confessing our sins to other people. God doesn’t tell us to air our dirty laundry so we can be reprimanded by someone or slapped on the wrist. He tells us to confess that we might be healed. James talks about the healing that comes when we pray on behalf of each other in our fight against sin. He says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Other people can help us bring our needs before God when we feel helpless.

By confessing our sins to each other, we also have the opportunity to be told of Christ’s grace and forgiveness. We will probably feel overcome and overwhelmed by our sexual sin, especially when it has been hidden. But we can experience the grace and healing of Christ when we confess our sin to someone and hear that Christ has paid the penalty for that sin and has forgiven us. When we hear someone pronounce God’s forgiveness to us, we have a picture of Christ right in front of us, speaking light into our desperate situation. And to someone caught in sexual sin, that voice of forgiveness and grace can be life-giving.

After confession, one of the goals of accountability is to exhort one another to holiness and change. Hebrews tell us to “exhort one another every day” (3:13) and to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together” (10:24-25). Meeting regularly for accountability is another essential way to exhort one another, especially in strong relationships with individual Christians.

What Accountability Shouldn’t Be

Over and over, we are warned in Scripture about wrong motivations. Accountability can quickly center around our pride (I just want to look better), or it can be motivated by fear (What will happen if I get caught?). We also can get stuck in our misery when all we do is confess and never encourage each other in Christ to holiness and change.

How can we keep accountability focused on pleasing God rather than others? It might help to make sure your accountability meetings are centered around prayer and Scripture, so that you realize God is both your audience and your motivation. Prayer also allows you to invite God into your meetings. It provides opportunities for you to ask the Spirit to guide you and give you strength. It might also be helpful to set specific goals for your time together. What are some specific ways you can jettison sexual sin from your life? What are some specific ways you can fill your life with the things of the Lord?

Accountability can be the tool we need to bring about healing from sin and shame through confession, prayer, and encouragement with one another. Maybe you want it but don’t know where to start. Look for the next post in this series on who we should look for to be our accountability partner.

Recently, a college student shared with me about her pornography struggle, but she mentioned something else that surprised me: her large college ministry didn’t have any female leaders with whom she could discuss her struggle! Only male leaders were on staff, so while she was leading a small group, no female leaders were discipling her or providing support.

Who can female students turn to in their sexual struggles?

Sexual Sin is Not Just a Men’s Issue

We must assume that our female students struggle with sexuality just as much as male students, even if their struggles might look differently sometimes. Statistics show that about a third of porn site visitors are female. These habits of looking at pornography, reading erotica, and getting involved in sexual hookups are forming in increasingly younger girls.

A woman’s struggle with sexuality will also be compounded by whether or not she has been sexually abused. A female student who struggles with sexual sin partly as a result of being sexually abused suffers from significant shame and requires much more time and sensitivity to her struggles. Part of having compassion for these girls who have been sinned against will mean providing them with the care and safe listener they need.

The example and compassion of godly women who can come alongside these younger girls and disciple them is essential for helping them heal from sexual struggles. Because living out holiness in female sexuality might look differently than in male sexuality, our female students are going to need the commonality and encouragement that come from other women.

Who Are They Turning To?

Female students will not feel safe going to a male leader about their sexual struggles, so ask yourself, who are they turning to right now? Even if they do come to you, safe one-to-one conversations about sexuality need to be same-gendered (check out our post on this) to protect both you and the student. It would cause problems for you to disciple a female student in the area of sexuality, even if your intentions are pure.

Ask yourself, does your ministry provide a woman to whom female students can go for help? Have you delegated this responsibility to disciple your female students to anyone? If your ministry is able, find a woman to disciple young women in particular. Female students will benefit greatly from having an older woman provide a safe environment in which to talk.

Thoughts on Finding Female Leaders

1) Pray that you would find women leaders. This may seem simple, but it’s important! Pray that God would provide women leaders to come alongside your female students. If you can bring this issue up with fellow ministry leaders, set aside time to pray for women who are older, more mature, and capable of discipling, teaching, and training female students.

2) Ask for money in your ministry budget. Advocate to make room in the budget to hire female staff. When you go to your supervisors, tell them about all the sexual temptations students are facing, including your female students. Let them know your inability to minister to opposite-sex students and what hiring female staff could do for your ministry.

Full-time staff do what volunteers cannot: they can devote all their time to helping your female students. Female students will know exactly who to go to in the midst of struggles and will feel cared for in a particular way by female staff.

3) Utilize volunteers to disciple your students. If you don’t have room in your budget, find volunteers to take responsibility for girls in your ministry. Ask godly women to disciple female students when they need to talk with someone. If you don’t know any women who are available and qualified, start by asking a pastor’s wife or other female staff at your church if they know of capable volunteers.

However, you and your volunteers might not be on the same page right away. Invest some time in training your volunteers how to disciple your students in biblical sexuality and how to walk with them through sexual struggles. Not only do you want to make sure they have the same ministry philosophy as you, but you also want them to be equipped for discipling students through sexual issues.

A Crucial Time

Living a life of purity takes  radical commitment and faith for anyone, and students, right now, are at a crossroads of whether they’re going to choose the path of biblical sexuality or worldly sexuality. It is a crucial time to provide discipleship in this area.

Our female students are struggling with their sexuality in our highly sexualized culture, and many of them have been greatly sinned against in this area. They face sexual temptations right and left and need healthy female relationships to guide them through their struggles. Consider how you can care for these female students by providing them with godly examples and mentors.

This week, we want to highlight a great article from our friends over at Rooted: “The Scripture I Use When I Teach on Marriage, Sex, Dating, and Relationships.” Rooted exists to transform student ministry by fostering grace-driven and cross-centered leaders through rich theological and contextual engagement.

Check it out here!

“I’ll make friends. I’ll have homework. I’ll get involved in school clubs and events. There won’t be time for porn!”

That’s what you thought when you left for college, but now you know that you were wrong.

Despite everything you’re involved with in college, the porn struggle you’ve had since grade school is still there. Maybe you feel ashamed and helpless, and you wouldn’t know who to talk to, or you wouldn’t even want to talk to someone if you could.

Addicted to porn?

As you’re already seeing, the deck is stacked against you. Away from home and surrounded by other 18-22 year olds, you’re isolated from people older and wiser than you. It’s difficult to plug into a church, and it’s easy for churches to overlook you. Your peers and even the professors and administrators of your college aren’t concerned about sexual morality. Is there a way out?

There is. God cares about your situation and wants you to escape the grip of sexual sin and feel His embrace instead. You probably know this verse: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

With most young men reveling in porn and many Christians silent on the issue, it probably doesn’t feel like your struggle is common to man. And it probably doesn’t feel like the temptation is something you can bear.

Step 1: The Way Out

But God provides a way out. We know He does because Jesus took that path. Jesus was a young, single man His whole life, but He never sinned. As the book of Hebrews says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin” (4:15).

The author of Hebrews finds this implication: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (4:16). Because Jesus knows what it is to be tempted and how difficult it is to overcome temptation, you can be confident that He is willing to help you when you need His help most.

When you feel drawn away from God and others into your own private, electronic imagination, don’t despair; cry out to Jesus for help! He is the way out. He knows your temptation, and by His grace, He can give you the strength to overcome it.

Step 2: Finding Help

One of the main ways Jesus helps us is through Christian community, other brothers and sisters we can depend on. The first place to find that community is the Church. Yes, there are college ministries; there are Bible studies. But the local church itself is God’s original plan to teach us about Him and provide us with the partnership we need with other believers. Think about this too: Being at college separates you from everyone not between the ages of 18 and 22. But the local church connects you to believers of all ages, from newborns to the elderly, reminding you that the college experience is not the only, or even the normal state in life.

The second way to find community is through vital relationships, a couple of brothers (if you’re a guy) or sisters (if you’re a gal) with whom you can share your struggle with pornography and who will help you fight the battle. You’re probably wondering, “How on earth can I find that?”

You can find accountability in a lot of places: through a campus ministry, a Christian friend, a mentor, or a small group. Start by speaking to the pastor of your church. You might find the pastor very willing to help you himself and even able to connect you to other men at the church who can help you and sympathize with you in your struggle. He can connect you to ministries that focus on sexual sin in particular. Commit to being open about your struggles with one peer and one older, mature Christian; a peer is most able to sympathize with you, and an older Christian is a necessary source of perspective and wisdom. God will use them to help you fight the battle against sexual sin and to know Him better through the struggle.

Steps of obedience like these are difficult, and they don’t match at all the mindset of self-fulfillment that most of us buy into these days. But remember that a life of difficult obedience is exactly the life that Jesus led, and by walking in His footsteps, you become like Him. Take these initial two steps of crying to Jesus and finding accountability, and then take a look at our second post, “Dying Daily”, for the next steps.

In his office at a Christian college, a professor looked up as one of his college student entered the room. The student, visibly nervous, slowly began to share about his struggles with same-sex attraction. The student had never told anyone before because of fear and shame but felt he could trust this caring professor.

When he told him, the professor did not raise his eyebrows or act disgusted but thanked the student for telling him. He then let the student know he had been praying for him for some time.

Later, the student said the professor had given him a gift: the gift of not being shocked. This story reminds us how far kindness and empathy can go whenever someone discloses a sexual struggle.

Students need this gift of being unshockable from their leaders. It is a way of showing Christ-like love to our students. Christ knows all of our sins and still died for us, so no matter how great our sin, He still paid the penalty. He is not shocked by our sins right now but assures us that nothing can separate us from His love.

How can we cultivate a more gracious response to students who share their struggles with us?

1) Assume your students struggle with sexual sin and shame.

In our sexualized culture, sexual temptations are laid out like a buffet in front of students and entice them at an increasingly younger age. Also, the Internet has changed how easy it is to anonymously pursue all kinds of sexual sin. Pornography of any variety, sexting, and casual hookups are at one’s fingertips. If we can assume that students are struggling with sin and shame, we can be more prepared to minister to their needs.

2) Know your own sinfulness.

In helping students who struggle with sexual sin, it can be easy for us to overlook our own sinfulness. Oftentimes, we can judge others’ sin as worse than our own. But even if we have not committed the same sexual sins as our students, we have broken God’s law and betrayed Him as well! Our sin has required the death of God’s only Son to atone for our sin. We should not be surprised when we hear of someone else’s struggle.

Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” We have the same evil thoughts and desires as a student confessing sexual sin, and we can’t think we are immune from that same sin!

3) Before knowing what they are, pray for your students’ struggles with sin.

Without even knowing the details, you can pray for your students’ struggles so that your heart for these sufferers will grow. Praying for them will help prepare you to come alongside them no matter what they disclose. Pray also that your students would have the courage to open up and that you would be a safe person to whom they can disclose their struggles.

4) Be ready to encourage.

Students confessing struggles with sexuality will be paralyzed by fear and shame. But you can be the voice of Christ to them in speaking the same words He has given us: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). You can help them know the joy of coming into the light in their Christian walk, comforting and assuring them: “Your struggle does not make you any less loved by Christ. Nothing can separate you from His love.”

5) See the person not the problem.

When a student confesses sin to you, look at that student the way Christ looks at you: as a beloved person, not a mess to clean up. This means recognizing commonality between you and the student, knowing you have similar sinful desires and beliefs in you. Seeing the person instead of the problem will also allow you to look past the outward behavior to look at the student’s heart, including desires, beliefs and worldviews within. Getting hung up on the outward behavior will be like trying to remove the weeds in a garden by just taking the tops off, instead of digging down to get the roots.

The professor who met with the student gave him a gift that Christ gives us all. He is not shocked by our sin but sympathizes with all our weaknesses. He sees us as beloved people, not problems. He prays for our struggles even before we do. What is one of the greatest gifts we can give our students? The gift of being unshockable.

In the game of football, offensive linemen give the quarterback time to make the play. They block the other team from getting anywhere near him. In the same way, we need some offensive linemen in our own struggle with pornography. Without those offensive linemen, our struggle with porn can turn into a downward-spiraling cycle that can seriously destroy our relationships and rob us of the joy, hope, and new life that is ours in Jesus.

Obviously, simply blocking our access to porn can’t change our hearts; only Christ by His Spirit can do that.

Still, sexual sin facilitates shame, fear, and hiding, essentially breaking down those much-needed relationships with others that can point us to Christ. What we will suggest in this post makes sure we involve others in our fight against sexual sin.

On the Computer: Filtering and Accountability

An Internet filter can reduce your battles significantly. It’s the difference between having a stack of porn magazines on your table at home and not having them in your home at all.

But filtering alone isn’t enough, because filters won’t catch everything. For example, they don’t block TV shows or movies with nudity from Amazon Prime or Netflix. That’s why you need accountability software. Accountability software creates reports of your Internet use for an accountability partner to see, ensuring that you are living honestly and openly.

If you live at home, on your own, or use a router for your Internet, the best way to block pornography is to install software like OpenDNS. OpenDNS gets installed on your router, and it blocks access to pornography for any device that uses your WiFi. It’s available for free, though there are also some additional paid options. If you live at home, since it’s installed on the internet router you may need your parents’ help or permission. Also, have your parents check the settings and also set the password so that you can’t go in and turn it off. If you live on your own and have a router, you’ll need a trusted person or accountability partner to do the same.

Of course, OpenDNS only blocks internet use that goes through your router, so it will not be in the picture as soon as you leave the house and connect to another network or if you have a data plan on your phone. To block access universally, you’ll also need filters and accountability software on your individual devices.

Covenant Eyes is one of the best software programs that provides filtering and accountability, depending upon what you purchase. Its software can be installed on your desktop or laptop computer, as well as other devices like smartphones and tablets. On a computer, Covenant Eyes can connect to each of your internet browsers to filter content and email a report of your internet use to an accountability partner. On mobile devices, things are a little different, so we’ll discuss specific instructions for Covenant Eyes use on mobile devices below.

For the accountability function, you also need an accountability partner. This could be a parent, a friend, a pastor, or someone else you trust. Perhaps at first you can get one older mentor you trust to be your accountability partner. But a good principle to get to is “Peer + 2”. We recommend having a trusted, godly friend and two other older, wiser mentors or adults who receive your accountability reports. Accountability software will be one part of bringing your struggles into the light with another person.

On Mobile Devices

Be sure to consider all of your devices when setting up filtering and accountability software. Do you have a tablet, a smartphone, or an iPod Touch?

Covenant Eyes works on some phones the same way it works on a computer, by plugging into each web browser and blocking porn for your whole phone. But the software works differently on Apple mobile devices.

Covenant Eyes on an Apple mobile device only works through the Covenant Eyes web browser. For it to work effectively, you have to delete all other web browsers, turn off Safari, and only use the Covenant Eyes browser to search the web.

In addition, many apps like Tumblr and Instagram also give easy access to porn, so you’ll need to delete problematic apps and restrict your ability to download apps in your phone’s restriction settings. Have your accountability partner disable the downloading of apps (and turn off Safari) using a system password that you don’t know. It might be a hassle to have them always type in the password when you want to update your phone or download an app, but it’s worth the inconvenience.

Technology lockdowns can help change habits and win battles against temptation, but it isn’t all that is needed. What is needed is daily repentance from our sinful desires and behaviors and day-to-day faith in Jesus. But we also need the body of Christ. Using internet filters and accountability software is a way to better surround ourselves with other godly Christians to begin living in the community of honesty and openness that God provides to change us. The offensive linemen of filtering and accountability are a crucial first step in following after Christ in the area of our sexuality. 

A student who chooses to get rid of an iPhone because of sexual temptation or who chooses to abstain from sexual activity in high school often earns the disdainful comments of his or her peers. And this truth reflects a larger one: in our society, Christians are being progressively marginalized, especially in the area of sexuality.

But, if we are honest, the Christian life is lived in the margins! Are we preparing students for the inevitable marginalization of following Jesus? Are we preparing them to suffer well, to endure the mocking and the persecution that come from following Christ as we sojourn in this foreign land (1 Peter 2:11)?

As a whole, we are a marginalized, suffering people following in the wake of our marginalized, suffering Saviour. On this side of eternity, Jesus gives us peace in the midst of the storm, not instead of it. He usually heals us in the midst of pain, not in place of it. He teaches us respite through suffering, not in the absence of it.

What’s Coming?

Student culture has always been a seedbed of persecution from which the larger culture, at times, has been spared. But make no mistake, a new and comprehensive wave of marginalization is certainly on the horizon. Here are just a few things we need to teach our students regarding the suffering they will face:

  1. They will be called bigots and haters for holding to a biblical view of sex and sexuality instead of the anything-goes sexual ethic of our culture.
  1. They will be mocked for not looking at porn or for not participating in the hookup culture of this age.
  1. They will be ridiculed for getting rid of smart phones and technology if it causes them to stumble.
  1. The love of Christ they show to others will not be called “love” by the world because it does not include total acceptance of sin.

In short, this life will not be easy. Christ promised it to His church, and He promises it to every student who would follow Him: “‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). The covenant of Christianity has no fine print. These words are written in bolded, 82-point font right across the top.

But Jesus goes on: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (16:33).

Jesus doesn’t dismiss the tribulation that comes from being in the world. He validates it, and we should validate it for our students as well! But He also validates a deeper, more comprehensive reality. Preparing students for marginalization isn’t simply about bracing ourselves. It also includes giving students real hope.

Following Christ

Those who choose to follow Christ commune with Him not only in suffering now but will also commune with Him in victory when He comes again. Even the suffering we experience now projects a bright picture of Jesus to the world around us. Our suffering actually serves as a witness to the power and love of Christ! Because we are tied to Jesus, ours is ultimately an eternally bright and wonderful future, not one filled with the marginalization and suffering we experience now. We have already been transformed by His Spirit and given new life, and when Christ returns, we will be transformed in glory to live with Him forever in a world devoid of suffering and pain.

We Need Each Other

Knowing this also binds us together as a people and teaches a very important principle to students: None of us are alone in the midst of the marginalization. And we need each other to encourage and build each other up.

We must model for students the very real fact that the Body of Christ is a place where we can have tons of fun, but it is also a place where we take each other seriously, truly caring for one another by praying with and for each other, asking hard questions of one another, and spending time worshipping the Lord together. As student ministers, how can we better emphasize and model this for our students?

What about sitting down with a student this week and asking, “Not including the C on your math test, what’s one hard thing that’s happened in your life this week?” Or, “How are you really doing in your relationship with Jesus?” How about teaching a Sunday school series or a Wednesday night series on suffering from 1 Peter? What about intentionally praying with a student who is going through a rough time this week? Perhaps we can ask students to identify specific ways they are marginalized at school or feel pressure to conform to the sexual ethics of the world around them.

Let’s give students the unadulterated truth of Christianity, a Christianity that is focused on Jesus, who, through great marginalization, suffering, and scorn, triumphed in glorious life. We share the same trajectory. Only this Truth will allow us and our students to weather together the sexual storm that is already upon us.

When I first started working in youth ministry, I regularly talked to my seventh grade small group about sexual issues, as these matters typically surface in middle school.

One night, a couple of students opened up about their struggles with porn. For the sake of the others, I tried to steer the conversation away from explicit details of how they managed to access it, though a few specifics escaped. Still, because of the openness and honesty of the students, I thought the conversation went fairly well!

Until a couple of years later….

A mom turned to me at a school function and said, “You know what? My son had no idea what pornography was or how to get to it until you talked about it in his small group. He came home and started looking at it.”

I was horrified.

She smiled the whole time and reassured me that their family had taken the necessary precautions and had the necessary talks, but make no mistake, I had jump-started this kid’s porn habit.

By middle school, there are some students who know how to access the dirtiest sites, but then there are others who are oblivious to the other sex residing on the planet.

During that conversation, I began to learn a basic yet crucial lesson: one of the jobs of the student minister is to support parents and their families. This concept is so obvious! It’s practically the very first lesson of student ministry. But supporting parents was often not on my radar amidst the whirlwind of student ministry.

How can we make sure we don’t jump-start a kid’s porn habit or usurp the sex talk(s) parents are planning to have with their kids? These tips might help:

Communicate Regularly With Parents

Student ministers need to be in some sort of regular communication with parents. It will look differently depending on the ministry, but conversations with parents have to take place. The student ministry with which I was involved did this by sending a mass email every week. But there are other things you could do as well. Could it be a phone call twice a semester? A dinner for students’ parents at the start of each year? Whatever medium you choose, you can ask questions that will give you insight into how you can supplement and reinforce what kids are learning, or not learning, at home:

What have you talked about so far with your kids regarding sexuality?

What sexual topics do you believe need to be addressed while your son or daughter is in the youth ministry?

As a student ministry, how can we best support you in the area of discipling your child in sexuality?

Educate Parents

Parents can be somewhat unaware of student culture; they’re simply trying to survive the trenches of parenting!

I remember the first time The Student Outreach presented Gospel Sexuality: Raising Sexually Healthy Kids, our seminar to parents. The third session is called “The Technological Terrain”, in which we seek to inform and help parents navigate the world of technology and how it’s used for sexual sin. A lot of parents sat there with looks of shock, horror, and surprise. One parent kept mumbling, “You mean it’s that bad? I had no idea.”

But this isn’t simply about teaching the dangers of what’s out there. We also want to help parents teach their kids that sexuality is a gift from God to be stewarded in love and service to both Him and others. Perhaps you can have a short seminar where you talk about these issues with parents (A shameless plug: The Student Outreach just happens to have such a seminar! Check it out here).

If you send out a weekly email to parents, maybe you can include a section about a relevant app that might be used in inappropriate ways (check out commonsensemedia.org) or attach a short article that would inform and educate them (Another shameless plug: perhaps you can shoot them off a piece from our blog).

Follow-Up With Parents

If we cover sexual topics in large or small group settings, we need to let parents know what was talked about. This gives parents a wonderful opportunity to follow up with their child. This doesn’t mean that every time we mention a sexual issue in an application that we need to frantically shoot an email out! But when we spend significant time on an issue, it’s a good idea to let parents know.

Pray for Families

Regular communication, education, and follow-ups are things we can easily do to support parents. But there is one important thing that we can do that parents may never see.

Only God can give parents the wisdom and endurance to raise their children. Perhaps your student ministry team can set up weekly times to pray not just for individual students, but for whole families as well.

Student ministry is a beautiful gift from God to His Church, but none of us wants to usurp opportunities for parents to disciple their children. Let’s make it a habit to “throw one right down the center” and set parents and their students up for success in following after Christ.