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Sex at Church: when to speak and when to listen

Sex at Church

when to speak and when to listen

Churches struggle to know what to do with talking about [sexuality].  Pastors struggle to know what to do with [talking about sexuality].  From what I listen to, churches do one of at least three different things. They simply go along with whatever the culture says, thinking that people will come to church if you say things that they want to hear. They circle the wagons and act like if they keep condemning the culture then one day it will change.  They remain silent for fear of offending anyone.  I have yet to see any of these work well.

James Miller, Glenkirk Church (06.09.13)
sermon download HERE: 13MB

Sex brings life.  And yet, it seems to me, that most of our lives within our church communities are spent avoiding the topic altogether.  Human sexuality is complicated, personal, intimate, layered and infused into the rhythm of our lives.  Sex is real and conversations about it can be awkward.

I write and observe life from the perspective of a husband & father who just-so-happens to be called to professional ministry in this season of my life.  At our church’s worship gatherings a few months ago, our congregation heard the story of a friend of mine who had recently attended his gay brother’s wedding.  In his testimony and through the words of Scripture that followed, we were given a picture of what it looks like to stand alongside those who are different than ourselves when others might cast them aside.  And we talked about sexuality.  Because, when we gather as the church, we should talk about real life – even if it feels awkward.

Sex in Church

If you’re a leader in your church community, you need to consider how and when you talk to your congregation about sexuality in large group settings and then you need to move forward with a plan of how your teaching team is going to address the topic over the course of your yearly rhythm.  It might not be enough to simply have a sermon series on sexuality.  There will be new families at your church after each series ends and you can’t assume that everyone has heard everything you’ve said in the past.

When pastors stay silent on topics that impact the lives of their congregation, they are choosing to let the culture around them be the leading voice as they determine where they stand on controversial issues.  In some areas, the church and culture might line up – sermons on littering probably would carry little weight in communities where that’s already a secular priority.  In other areas, a congregation might need some coaching on how to establish a Biblical worldview of a subject and your church desperately needs more than just a reaction to what happened in pop culture the week before – they need you to be willing to have a conversation.

Just because you reposted something on Facebook that someone else wrote doesn’t mean that you can avoid talking about hard topics when your church worships together.

Sex at Home

When the church gathers, it’s important to always think about the next steps that people will be taking as they walk away from your worship services and ministry programs.  If your congregation is going to talk about real life, with sex and sexuality being one of those topics that is discussed, you’ll need to be strategic in equipping at least three groups of people to talk comfortably about sex at home:

Parents, Families & Sex

You should never assume that parents don’t want to talk about important things with their children – but, it’s a safe bet to say that the majority of them are willing to receive a little help when tricky subjects like sexuality need to be discussed.  For families with younger children, it’s a good idea to have books or resources that you can begin pointing parents to before they’re ready – so that, when they’re ready, they might remember that you had suggestions.

Parents who are looking for a podcast to listen to on their morning commute might be willing to listen to these wise words from Dr. Jim Burns, from the Homeword Center for Youth and Families:

Personally, our family has found this book series to be a helpful introduction into talking about sexuality with our kids:

For parents who are already in the midst of rising hormone levels, glossy chap stick and Axe body spray, consider what it might look like for your church to offer a support group, of sorts, for parents of teens to come together and discuss parenting topics over a cup of coffee with their peers.  Sometimes, in those hardest stages of parenting, it’s good to know that you’re not alone in the battle and if a church created a venue like this with a host who can help coach parents through life’s tricky spots, parents might feel equipped enough to navigate hard discussions with their kids.  Because, as many of us know, kids who don’t feel like their parents will listen to them and respond well don’t just skip asking their question – they skip asking their parents and jump right to Google.

Equipping Small Group Leaders

Dropping the topic of sexuality into sermons and large group gatherings is great – if people have a place to process that topic later.  For many congregations, small group settings offer the potential for conversations about topics that a person might be unwilling to talk about in larger settings.  With adult small group leaders, consider what it would look like to send them an article that discusses talking about sex as a church and ask them what their thoughts are.  Then, consider asking them to have that conversation in their small group settings, after they’ve been walked through how to listen well when people ask hard questions and you’ve modeled how they can best respond.

An article to get you started with could be: “How Should We Talk about Sex in Church” (LINK)

Leaders of youth and children’s small groups need to view their role as a secondary (but VERY important) voice in this conversation.  Teaching leaders to first reply to questions with, “What do your parents say/think about that?” or “What have you heard about that?” can help leaders honor parents and families in their answers and elevate the voice of parents in the life of a child.  When sexuality comes up in a teaching series, asking parents and students to submit questions beforehand can help you prepare a team of small group leaders for the discussions that might follow.  And, as with most things, give your small group leaders the authority to not have an answer.  When discussing sexuality, a bad answer is almost always worse than no answer.

Honoring People in Hard Places

Because it is easy for our identity to become wrapped up in our sexuality, it’s important that leaders in the church keep in mind that topics that deal with sexuality and relationships will always hit harder for some people more than it does for others.  However, as Pastor Andy Stanley might put it, that doesn’t give us room to ignore talking about the ideal for the sake of what is real.  When you talk about the ideal, you need to understand that it’s easier for people to walk away feeling judged than loved – so, keep the following thoughts in mind as you work talks about sex and sexuality into the rhythm of your conversations with those that you lead:

  • When you openly judge someone who is in the public spotlight, anyone in your church who identifies with that person’s struggles feels judged by you and, sometimes, does not feel worthy to be loved by God because of your condemnation.
  • When you only talk about sex as something that exists in an ideal state, then those who have struggled through infidelity, those who are in seasons of parenting when stress levels and sleep deprivation make sex infrequent and a source of contention, those who were just served divorce papers or those who have spent years navigating same-sex attraction are made to feel like you’re saying that they are broken beyond repair and sometimes they feel as though they cannot belong to your church family.
  • When talking about sexuality, always have a word for singles.  As the millennial generation continues to put off marriage and the generations before them continue to disregard marriage vows, you will continue to have more unmarried people in your church who need to know that sexual activity is not the only thing God created them for.  Remind them of that truth and, along the way, the rest of your congregation might get the sense that God also created them for greater things.

Anthony Prince is a husband, dad and pastor – in that order.  Since 2007, he has served as the director of children and family ministry at Glenkirk Church, located in the foothills of Los Angeles, California. 

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2013 in Thoughts

 

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Allowing Silence: a call to listen

Allowing Silence

A Call to Listen

We have a tradition in our home that, at dinner, our children get the chance to decide who is going to pray and say a word of thanksgiving for our family, friends, food and other blessings in our lives.  Recently, our three year old daughter has insisted on praying first in order to thank Jesus for dying for our sins.  It’s an adorable reminder that the rest of what we’re thankful for doesn’t mean a whole lot without the cross.  Funny how preschoolers can take such a matter-of-fact approach to the profound.

Tonight, during the week after Memorial Day, I grilled up the last of our hot dogs and sat down to enjoy some good ol’ fashioned American cuisine with our family gathered around the table.  Processed meat: check.  Watermelon: check.  Carrots and ranch dip: double check.

We each prayed tonight; first our daughter prayed parts of the “sinner’s prayer” for what amounts to be close to her 47th time, I followed by thanking God for our family and for our sons’s kindergarten teacher, my wife then thanked God for our meal and asked that God would help me finish the projects I have looming and, last, my son took his turn to pray.

silence.

silence.

more silence.

It was at this point that I broke one of the basic rules of prayers that we teach kids – I opened my eyes to see what was going on.  Well, actually, I only partially opened one eye – you know, because sometimes we act like opening our eyes during prayer makes our wishes not come true (not theologically sound, mind you, but totally how we act sometimes).  I noticed our son, sitting under the table, hands folded, eyes closed and sitting silently.  I closed my eyes, thankful that everything looked to be okay, and went back to respectfully sitting quietly as my son finished praying.

silence.

more silence.

I started to think about all of the things I needed to do after dinner:  The email I didn’t send today.  The email I sent but should have proofread better.  The files I needed to download before Sunday.  The car that needed to get washed.  The hot dog that was rapidly cooling back to its refrigerated state on my plate.

still silence.

“… amen.”

Our son, who just finished kindergarten this week, crawled back onto his seat and took a giant bite of now-only-slightly-warm hot dog.  I had just sat through what felt like one of the longest 5 minute stretches in my life and had to ask why.

“I needed to listen to see if God had anything to say,” he replied.  “He didn’t tonight, so I said ‘amen’.”

silence.

It was at that point that I looked over at my wife.  She smiled at me.  I held back a tear.  God might not have said anything to my son tonight, but I got the message loud and clear.

There are times in my life when I feel like I need to say something.  In general, I’m uncomfortable with the void that silence can create.  In no way would I consider myself wired to be an extrovert.  Quite frankly, people exhaust me sometimes.  But, I get uncomfortable if I could be producing something and I’m not.

Sitting in silence seems like the opposite of doing something.  So, more often than not, I say more words than I should.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.” – Psalm 46:10

And so I sit here tonight, wondering if I can begin to listen for God’s voice in the way that my children naturally lift their ears towards the heavens.  I wonder what being still actually feels like and if, once I experience it, I’ll find myself changed by it.

silence.

Consider this a call to listen this week.  Carve out time to seek the stillness that comes in being silent.  And, in that stillness, ask to see if there is anything that God would like to tell you.  If nothing else, know that God is there in the silence.  Like a father, watching his child learn what it’s like to listen for his voice.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Thoughts

 

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More than a “Good Example”

More than a “Good Example”

You cannot earn your child’s place in Heaven

Growing up in a small town, I loved driving past the local car wash on Main Street for one reason: they had a sign with changeable letters.

The sign owners would change the display often – switching from riddles, to knock-knock jokes, to [in]famous quotes, to sales… but, one thing stayed the same.  We all paid attention to that sign.

Fast-forward 20 years and you’d often find me driving past a similar sign that sits in front of a local church that I live near.  If you saw me drive past it today, you’d have seen me turn pale as I read this week’s “inspirational” quote:

churchsign

“The greatest thing you can give your child is a good example”

Here’s why I disagree and wanted to take down the words from the sign where I read them:

As parents, we cannot place the weight of our children’s future squarely on our shoulders. Our children need more than good examples. Good examples won’t get them to heaven, friends.

From a secular understanding, I’d totally agree. The only thing you can give your children, if this world is all there is, is an example to watch.  They’ll choose whether or not to follow that example – but it’s yours to offer.

From the understanding that I’m coming from, that there are greater things yet to come (and, by yet to come, I mean to say that there will be life that continues long after my lungs no longer have breath in them), the greatest thing I can offer my children is a relationship with Jesus.  The example I set for them will pale in comparison to the life-changing power of God’s spirit in their lives.

All too often, parents neglect the spiritual ramifications of their choices and their examples.  If I truly believed that the most important thing, 100 years from now, is my child’s relationship with their creator… would I ever choose to skip gathering with the Church because of sports, a birthday party or a homework assignment?  If I had a sign that hung over my door, reminding me that the one thing that matters is my child’s relationship with Jesus, would that change the way I approach the day?  I think it would.

This is not to say that a good example is meaningless.  Rather, the example I set shows my children what it looks like to be a husband and a father who loves Jesus.  But, friends, my example is not the greatest gift I can give to my children.  My example matters, but it isn’t enough to save them.  The school they go to, the grades they get, the sports they play, the scholarships they receive, the person they marry, the job they get or the house they live in will not save them.

That’s something that only a relationship with Jesus can do.

Unless, of course, this world is truly all that there is.  Then your example is all you have to offer.  If that’s your worldview, then this sign is for you.

However, I believe in something bigger than what I can offer my kids.

How about you?
Agree or disagree?

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2013 in Kidmin, Quotes, Thoughts

 

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Honor Your Parents: A Commandment

Anthony Prince Family

Honor Your Parents

A Commandment, not simply a “Good Idea”

I spend a lot of my life thinking about parenting and how families can best glorify their Creator with the lives they live.  So, because of that, I was recently asked to speak to our congregation about how the fifth commandment, to honor thy father and mother, should play out in our lives.  Now that the sermon is online (link posted below), I thought I’d recap here with some practical thoughts on honoring parents.

A Commandment

It’s good for us to consider that this command, to honor our parents, is included on the same list as do not murder and do not commit adultery.  As a command, we need to take it seriously.  The command isn’t something that comes with a clause at the end giving us the option to honor our parents at our discretion.  For those of us who seek to raise kids who honor God with their lives, we need to live lives that demonstrate this commandment in the way we honor our own parents and the way that we show honor to the other adults who are in our children’s lives.

On the Same Team

If you’ve heard me teach before, or have read this blog in the past few years, you know that I use the language of “partnership” when talking about the way that our church serves families in our community.  We can teach the next generation to honor their parents by joining their team and using language that shows that we value and appreciate their hard work.  For some ideas on how to best cast vision for partnership with other parents, check out this post:

Casting a Vision for Partnership

http://westcoastcm.com/2012/10/08/casting-a-vision-for-partnership/

Even with it’s Hard

A few people in my closest circles know that the last few months have been a hard season for me (and for my family).  When I had the chance to preach at our church, I shared some of my story – and what it looks like to show honor to our parents, even when they aren’t who we think we need them to be in our lives.

We tried a different approach to this sermon; our senior pastor spent the first half preaching on why we should honor our parents and I spent the last half discussing how it practically plays out in our lives.

Here’s a link to directly download the sermon 
The Spirituality of Family

Here’s a link to our sermons on iTunes
Glenkirk Church Podcast
(look for the sermon titled, “The Spirituality of Family”)

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2013 in Thoughts

 

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Casting a Vision for Partnership

Casting a Vision for Partnership

Ideas about the why and the how-to of vision casting toward partnership

Most parents in your congregation have no idea why they bring their kids to your church.  That might seem like a ridiculous statement… but, I think it’s more true than not.

If you were to survey families in your church (assuming they’d actually do the extra work of filling out a survey and turning it back in) do you think that you’d get a consistant answer from various parents, grandparents and guardians about why their family attends church?  On their own, families will develop a variety of reasons for church attendance and it’s your responsibility, if you want to develop a partnership between your church and families in your community, to begin casting a unified vision for why a family brings their children to your church.

Here’s how:

Cast vision with what you say

Words have the power to help create and form reality.  Our children are born without names and yet, because we choose a name for them and speak it into existence, they come to know that you’re addressing them when their name is spoken.  In a similar way, you have the power to speak partnership into existence by using partnering terms with parents in your congregation.

Try building words & phrases like “partnering”, “partner”, “come-alongside”, “same team”, “in this together”, and “widen the circle” into the vocabulary you use during conversations, teaching moments and parenting gatherings.  Look for moments to say, in front of kids and students, that you’re on the same team as their parents.  You get bonus points if parents are actually around when you use this language.

Cast vision with what you print

This might sound redundant, but the words you type matter almost as much as the words you speak.  Are you the kind of person who posts angry things about parents on your Facebook page?  It seems to me that a good partner would encourage the person their working with – not talk smack about them in a public forum.  Consider what it might look like to be the biggest cheerleader the parents in your congregation could ask for.

The next time you send an email, think about using words of partnership in your writing.  Talk about initiatives that involve partnership.  Talk about what it looks like to partner with you in raising kids who love Jesus.  My emails all end with “partnering” language.  That’s not an accident.  If the language you use when you write simply talks about the programs you offer for kids, don’t be surprised when parents expect a new exciting program instead of a partnership from you.

Cast vision with what you show & celebrate

Have you ever noticed that most kids, when asked who their favorite superhero is, don’t think of mentioning the Invisible Man?  Invisibility might be a neat power to think about having, but kids aren’t heading to your local Target next Halloween to buy the latest “Invisible Man” costume.  Batman, Superman, Ironman and Disney Princesses will continue to dominate the costume aisle for any sort of foreseeable future.  The Invisible Man has always had a PR problem… because nobody can see the guy.

With that in mind, you need to know that the vision of partnership between parents and your church has to be something that families can see before they know what they’re aiming for.  It’s up to you, leader, to find ways to show your congregation what partnership looks like.  Recently, a family at our church shared with us that their daughter had decided to follow Jesus at their house – and you better believe we’re sharing that story like crazy. If, in our context, we’re trying to equip families to talk about their faith at home, I couldn’t paint a better picture than parents leading their daughter to Jesus and then circling back to the church to celebrate the new life in their family.  Don’t let your vision for partnership remain invisible – find ways to show it to your congregation and your community.

This is part of a series of posts on serving families in our communities.  To see the notes and slides that go with this series, visit: http://westcoastcm.com/2012/10/03/turning-parents-into-partners/

other posts you might enjoy…

Parents into Partners: Strategy #1
http://westcoastcm.com/2012/10/06/parents-into-partners-strategy-1/

Dreaming in Orange
http://westcoastcm.com/2011/09/22/dreaming-in-orange/

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2012 in Kidmin12, Orange, Thoughts

 

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Parents into Partners: Strategy #1

Parents into Partners: Strategy #1

Be Like-able

Partnering with parents in your church often begins with your heart; before any strategy is put in place, there has to be a relational bridge between you and parents in your community if you hope to partner with them in ministering to their children.  If the phrase “partnering with parents” makes you roll your eyes, you’re going to need to get your own heart into the right place before you try to launch a new partnering initiative.

People help who they like

In general, when they have a choice, people choose to spend time with people they like.  Consider what it might do to your attendance numbers, or at least the frequency of a family’s attendance, if the volunteers and staff in your children’s ministry made the top of a family’s “favorite people” list.

Think back to your years on the playground as a child.  If you had the choice to play a game with other kids, you probably would choose to be on a team with someone who was a good teammate, right?  The last person kids on the playground want on their team is the child who goes around tripping everyone or the one who decides that they can win on their own and ignores the rest of the team.  Friends, if you want to partner with parents, work hard to be someone who is fun to play alongside.

Think about the last time your family had a bad/unhappy/unfriendly waitress at a restaurant – most people, when given the chance, would try to get a different waitress the next time they went out.  And, seriously friends, we have something better to offer than any waitress at any restaurant in your town – don’t let your attitude or friendliness get in the way of a family choosing to come back next weekend.

Leverage social media: be a person

Because I go out of my way to leverage social media, I know that some parents from my church (my pastor’s wife included) read this blog.  With that said, I kind of feel like writing what I’m about to write is like walking out to take the garbage to the curb and realizing I forgot to change out of my pajamas.  Just because there are moments of my life when I wear Guitar Hero shorts, my neighbors don’t need to see what goes on behind the scenes.  However, because they are not my primary audience in this space, I’m going to share some thoughts on how I’ve helped them learn to like me over the last few years.

I work hard to be a face that families care about and one of the most effective ways I’ve found in helping families learn to like me is by leveraging The Facebook.  My wife and I stay in constant dialogue about what we reveal via social media and, typically, transparency wins out over privacy.  We often ask ourselves, “is this a part of the story of our family?” If it is, then we share it.  If it’s something divisive (political views, posts of judgement, complaints about people in leadership) then we back off from posting those thoughts.

This week, for example, a young teacher at my son’s school told me that she’s been praying for my son and was thrilled to see the picture of his cast getting removed that I posted to instagram.  This teacher went on to tell me, during a 50 second conversation, that this was the first thing she’d prayed for since someone she loved lost their battle with cancer three years ago.  Families in our community are watching our story as it unfolds and are finding moments along the way where they relate to us and engage our story.

This is more than just making a space online for parents to see your church events (people engage with and relate to faces more often than logos) – it’s a place for families to get to know your face and your story in such a way that they begin to like you.  It’s not being manipulative as long as you make sure that being authentic is a high value of yours.

Return phone calls and emails

This one is (mostly) for the youth pastors in the room.  But I’ll let the children’s ministry folks in the room listen in.  Parents will not partner with you if they cannot get a hold of you.  Partnership is a two way street – if you send out weekly or monthly emails to families in your church, you better read and respond to emails that families send to you.  If you want families to call you in times of need, you better return their phone calls when they call your office and leave a voicemail.  Boundaries are important, don’t get me wrong.  I often tell families that I don’t look at my phone between the hours of 6pm and 8pm every night because my family owns that time.  Just keep in mind that families who cannot get a hold of you will be less likely to partner with you.  It’s as simple as that.

Smile. Often.

If you hate The Facebook, or can’t stand listening to voicemail, there’s still an easy first step that you can take this weekend as you begin trying to partner with families.  Smile.  Often.  I have a friend who, when she relaxes her face, makes a frown.  It’s not because she’s upset – it’s just how her face works.  I’ve watched other parents avoid conversations with her when she’s letting her kids play on the playground because they don’t want to engage the angry person.  If you have a face that easily looks angry, stressed or sad, you may have to work harder at smiling when you see people on a Sunday morning (even though you’re tired, your rooms weren’t set up right, a child just threw up in the toddler room and the women’s toilet in the bathroom is clogged with purple playdough).

This doesn’t give you an excuse to be fake.  I’ve had a hard couple weeks as a person and I’m willing to share that with people who ask how I’m doing.  At the same time, I find joy in the ministry that I’m called to and I make it a point to share that joy with others.  If people like seeing you, they’re more likely to talk to you.  And, as I’ll write in a later post in this series, it’ll be hard to get parents to take the next step toward engaging in a partnership with you if they don’t talk to you.

So, smile this weekend.  And give a parent in your ministry a high five.

This is part of a series of posts on serving families in our communities.  To see the notes and slides that go with this series, visit: http://westcoastcm.com/2012/10/03/turning-parents-into-partners/

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Kidmin12, Thoughts

 

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Parents into Partners: An introduction

Parents into Partners: An introduction

Serving a NEW GENERATION of Families

When talking about Family Ministry, we first have to admit that the modern family looks a whole lot different than our culture told us that it should look 50 years ago.

I’ve posted this video before, but it’s worth watching again, as we consider what it looks like for the church to serve and reach out to the modern family:

And, if that was how your neighbors thought of the definition of family in 2010, consider what this clip says about what they might now consider the “new normal”:

One of the tag-lines for this new show should cause you to stop and consider what it looks like to effectively minister to families in your community:

You don’t have to be related to be family – different is the new normal

So, let’s consider, as we begin to think about how to best partner with parents in passing the faith on to the next generation, that we’re not dealing with the Beavers anymore (that is, if we ever thought we were actually dealing with perfect families).  Instead, we are called to serve single parents, guardians, neighbors with an extra seat in the car, teens who bring their younger siblings to church, adoptive & foster parents, and couples in your congregation who are struggling with infertility.  Consider what it looks like to partner with the hardest family situations in your ministry.

It’s with that frame of mind that we move forward.

It’s for families who most need the grace of Jesus that we’re called to share the Gospel.

This is part of a series of posts on serving families in our communities.  To see the notes and slides that go with this series, visit: http://westcoastcm.com/2012/10/03/turning-parents-into-partners/

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Kidmin12, Thoughts

 

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