I spoke with a youth worker several weeks ago who told me she prefers to stay away from conversations like homosexuality, transgender rights, and general sex stuff.
Her rationale was sound.
“It’s better to keep the focus on Jesus.”
She’s not wrong, of course, and I absolutely understand the desire to not want to have those awkward conversations.
But the problem is that the news, schools, and friends are talking about all of those things, and if we don’t have those conversations at church, then students will gain nearly all of their learning from Facebook memes.
I’m not going to tell you what to say, but I will tell you how to say it.
So when it’s time for “the talk”, here’s HOW to do it.
Seriously, tell them what you’re going to talk about before you talk about it.
You may think that 7th graders need to hear about how far is too far for totally valid reasons and their parents may think that they’re not ready for equally valid reasons.
In almost every case, the parents reasons trump your own. Parents have the right to know what you’re going to discuss and how much detail you’re going to divulge, and trust me, it’s better if they find out before your talk instead of after.
No youth minister has ever gotten into hot water for being too open and upfront with parents about what was happening in youth group.
But what about when questions come up?
What happens when a student or a whole group of students are faced with an issue and hijack an otherwise non-controversial session because a friend at school came out and they aren’t sure how to handle it?
Delay answering those questions until the next session.
Promise students that next week, we will talk about this fully and then follow through on that promise.
This gives you time to let parents know what’s going on, and just as importantly, it gives you time to really prepare.
TALK TO YOUR SENIOR PASTOR.
Just like parents want to know preemptively that you’re talking about potentially inflammatory issues, your senior pastor would also prefer a heads-up.
Give it to him.
KNOW CLEARLY YOUR CHURCH’S THEOLOGICAL POSITION.
You should speak from the Bible and from your own conscience.
If your personal position on any issue is well-considered and rooted in Scripture, but differs from the position of the larger denomination (or church)…
…I would never recommend capitulating to the denominational line (or church) instead of your own personal conviction.
But if you’re going to share something that conflicts with your denomination’s (or church’s) theology, you want to do so carefully, and you want to know that beforehand, not after.
KEEP OPEN EARS. AN OPEN MIND IS OPTIONAL.
Your students have wildly different opinions about issues like sexuality and those opinions come from a gamut of Biblical and non-Biblical sources.
You do not need to keep an open mind about issues that are Biblically clear for you.
But you do need to keep your ears open.
Give students time to think and process out loud, even if you disagree with what you’re saying.
The fastest way to lose your audience is to shut them up because they’re wrong and lecture instead about what’s right.
When I was in high school, I had a youth pastor who answered all questions about homosexuality by saying, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. End of story.”
It was a shame, because questions of sexuality deserve a much more thorough, well thought-out response and discussion.
There’s plenty of rich Scriptural wisdom to draw on, so draw on it.
UPHOLD LOVE, NOT HATE.
Regardless of your position on issues of sexuality, violence and hate are NEVER the path to take for any group of people for any reason.
Love is always the way.
You might think that this a no-brainer and that it doesn’t even need to be mentioned, but it might not be that way for your students.
There are, unfortunately, groups that both claim the name of Jesus and celebrate acts like the nightclub shootings in Orlando.
They are a small minority who claim an undue portion of the publicity.
For students on the fringes, they may read and hear about a Church that celebrates hate against homosexuals.
Make explicitly clear they know that you are not that Church.
Always promote love rather than hate.
KEEP JESUS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.
Conversations about sexuality are dicey and divisive, and at the end of the day, the most important thing is the love, grace, and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
Pray together and agree to walk together in a unified way to spread and share the love of Jesus even when there are disagreements among you.
Agree to have more conversations like this one in the future.
Written by Aaron Helman. Aaron has been in youth ministry for over 15 years and is currently a youth pastor in South Bend, Indiana.