This past weekend we took 15 teens to Ocean City, MD to join about 4,000 other teens for our annual Youth Retreat.  Filled with guest speakers, artists, musicians and more, this has historically been a weekend which our youth look forward to very much, and which often promotes a deeper understanding of themselves and their faith. This year the guest speaker chose to tackle one of the most difficult topics to speak about with youth.  You guessed it: Sex.

So, for three general sessions the speaker implored to ‘live sanctified lives’ and ‘abstain from fornication’ and ‘learn to control our bodies’ without a trace of a convincing argument (other than because God’s word says so) or practical application.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for God’s word and listening to the Spirit moving through it; however, I can pretty clearly articulate why I believe the scriptures and choose to live my life as a disciple of its author.  All of the youth we took to this retreat (and I would venture to guess that 99% of the rest of the youth there) cannot.

The truth of the matter is that the average, run of the mill teenager does not absolutely believe in the authority of scripture.  They also have no idea what the theological concept of sanctification means or why it’s significant, and have heard adults tell them a thousand times in a thousand different ways to keep it in their pants, to little avail.

So why would one start a conversation with “well the bible says…” when talking to people who don’t believe in it’s authority.  We have to come from a different angle.  Any other angle in fact.  Reason, our own experience, a tv show or book series that resonates with our conversant, the opinion of a famous person whom is held in high regard, anything.  From there we build credibility for ourselves and our beliefs with us.  After a time, it will be appropriate (and necessary) to bring the scriptures into the conversation, but please don’t start with a list of things that we are told to do or not to do!  It immediately shuts down all conversation.  My mother often said that rules without relationship leads to rebellion.  It was true of her children and it is true of anyone being told how to live their lives by a stranger.

So, if you ever have the opportunity to speak to someone about your faith (specifically or generally) please consider the following few suggestions:

  1. Start with the general then move to specifics.  Being a disciple of Christ is about more than doing and not doing, sexing and not sexing, cursing and not cursing, drinking and not drinking.  It’s about being in relationship with our creator in order to restore, recreate, renew and reconcile the world.  So why do we start with the former, instead of the latter?
  2. Know your audience. People don’t just assume that the bible is the unequivocal authority on everything anymore. If you’re going to talk about sex to a bunch of teenagers  who don’t generally assume that everything in the bible is immutably authoritative then plan your discussion accordingly.
  3. Don’t use big fancy words if you’re not going to bother to explain them.  Sanctification is crazy complicated.  Even the people who know what it is usually have trouble explaining it.  It’s a big, complicated, difficult concept which people have written doctoral thesis on, and still barely scratch the surface of it’s implications.
  4. When talking to youth about difficult issues, (such as sex) be clear, be practical and be personal. If you’re trying to convince a room full of 4,000 teenagers not to have sex, you must speak plainly, you must explain your motivation for doing so and you must be willing to open up to them with the most intimate and difficult details in your life.

This weekend has made me realize just how out of touch with society and culture so many in the church are.  We need to drastically alter the way that we talk about our faith (in general) and sex (in particular) if we wish to have any impact on the world at large.  If Christianity was simply about a bunch of do’s and don’ts and rules for decent living, I would have walked out the door a long time ago