For several years, I’ve been using the term “sexual discipleship®” to describe the passion behind the ministry of Authentic Intimacy. I’ve noticed that when people hear me put those two words together, they are intrigued. Although you may have been discipled in your walk with Christ at some point, chances are, that discipleship never permeated questions about sexuality.
I grew up in the church with loving, caring parents who had “the talk” with me and offered dating advice as and when they felt I needed it. My youth group and Christian school had days and even weeks with a focus on purity, dating, and sexuality, but they addressed these topics tenuously. The teachers seemed nervous, measuring their words, as the kids appeared to tune out or squirm in their seats.
As I’ve grown into adulthood, the same strategy seems to have been implemented regarding sexuality—a class or book occasionally offered to teach about sex in marriage; it seems the Church’s general approach toward sexuality is to offer pockets of sex education. Let’s compare that approach to how culture tackles the topic of sexuality. It is everywhere! In every media outlet imaginable, we are aggressively confronted with a message of how to think about gender, sexual activity, dating, and sexual identity.
The result is that even godly, committed Christians are far more likely to think like the world on sexual issues because they have been trained to do so. Sex education teaches us what to think, while sexual discipleship trains us how to think. The church has offered sex education while the culture is sexually discipling, forming our opinions and worldview on everything sexual.
What Is Discipleship?
We often throw words like discipleship around without taking the time to consider what they actually mean. A discipleship approach is very different from an educational model. The essence of discipleship is expressed through Moses’ charge to the Israelites as they prepared to enter the decadent culture of the Promised Land:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4–9, NIV)
There are three critical elements in Moses’ teaching that still apply to discipleship thousands of years later:
- A clear understanding of what is right, what is wrong, and the lordship of God in our lives
- A daily integrating of that teaching into everyday life
- A modeling of what it looks like to walk according to God’s commands
If we want to know what sexual discipleship looks like, we can just take a look at the world. Honestly, they are modeling it masterfully! The world’s system has its own great commission. They are doing a fantastic job of converting us into disciples of a secular worldview and sexual agenda. Much of the media, news outlets, and educational leaders are aggressive about passing on their sexual values to children and adults. You are shunned and ridiculed if you express an opinion that differs from these values.
From what you observe through entertainment media, news outlets, the government, and the educational system, is the messaging about sexuality from the world clear and consistent? You bet it is! From preschoolers to senior citizens, the world’s sexual mantra is loud and clear. Scroll through your news feed. Browse random magazines. Flip through the latest shows, surf the Internet, walk around on a college campus, and you will see very consistent messaging. In fact, we are barraged by the world’s sexual doctrine everywhere we turn.
It is conceivable that young people today may never see what it looks like to live with sexual virtue and integrity. However, they will inevitably be exposed to hundreds—perhaps thousands—of examples of what sexual immorality looks like. Sexual discipleship is a lot more than a “talk” or retreat teaching about sexual purity.
It means walking with people through the journey of sexuality through all stages of life and addressing questions that arise from life experience and cultural pressures. Sexual discipleship goes beyond sex education. Biblical sexual discipleship paints a complete picture of sexuality as not simply something to avoid but a great gift to be treasured, celebrated, and reclaimed.
How to Sexually Disciple
The ministry of Authentic Intimacy is built on this concept of sexual discipleship and involves a few key principles that we can all apply to Christian community.
- Integrate sexuality with spirituality. Early on in ministry, I learned that every sexual issue is also a spiritual issue. Unfortunately, most of us grew up with a church silence about sex that taught us to compartmentalize our sexuality. We never learned to recognize God’s presence, His power, and His compassion related to our sexual struggles and pain. Christian communities and families need to be bold and forthright about becoming safe places to talk about sex, ask honest questions, and shepherd people towards true healing.
- Go deeper with your understanding of God’s heart for sexuality. It’s not enough to recite the rules and tell people what they can and cannot do. Sexual discipleship means a willingness to explore the deeper questions of why God created sexuality, why He defined sexual immorality as He did, and where He is in the midst of our struggles. As one apologist told me, people today are not concerned about whether the Bible is true, but whether or not God is really good. If we can’t explain the heart of God related to sexuality, people only know the rules without knowing the Redeemer.
- Pursue sexual integrity through all stages of life. Take a moment to consider this question: How has the lordship of Jesus Christ impacted your sex life? Sure, you may know to avoid premarital sex, but what difference does the saving power of Jesus make beyond that? Are we greater lovers in marriage? Are we truly marked by freedom from the shame of the past? Do we treat others with greater compassion and mercy than the world does? Have we received a deeper healing from the impact of childhood sexual trauma? Tragically, the answer to most of these questions is “no.” The vast majority of Christians have very little idea of how to integrate their sexuality with who they are as followers of Jesus Christ. Integrity by its very word means to integrate rather than to compartmentalize.
What would happen if Christian parents and the Christian community were committed to defining, teaching, and modeling a godly sexual worldview? What if several times a day, we were given positive messages and examples of God’s beautiful design?
This is the heart and passion behind everything we do at Authentic Intimacy.
Book: Rethinking Sexuality by Dr. Juli Slattery
Image by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash