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Sex and the Great Commission
Several years ago, I shared with a friend the vision of Authentic Intimacy. My friend listened patiently and then shared her honest opinion, “Why is it important to help people have better sex lives? Shouldn’t we be spending our time feeding the poor and sharing the gospel instead?” That same friend is now an avid supporter of this ministry. What changed?  Sexuality has historically received very little attention from Christians. In the wake of the sexual revolution, youth pastors and parents crafted purity messages, hoping to incentivize teenagers to save sex for marriage. This generation is now reaping the fallout of silence and simplistic approaches to the complexity of human sexuality.  You may think that sexuality is a peripheral topic, delegated to specialized ministries and counselors. In this blog, I hope to convince you that reclaiming biblical sexuality in western culture is now absolutely essential to accomplishing the Great Commission .  The core of Jesus’ commission to His disciples is two-fold: make disciples, baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (evangelism) and then teach them to obey everything I have commanded (discipleship). Individuals and ministries that are ill-equipped to enter the space of sexuality will be hamstrung in their efforts to both evangelize and disciple.   Sexuality and The Gospel I had just finished speaking at a conference in St. Louis and was exhausted. My coworker, Kristi, and I stopped at a local coffee shop to kill a few hours before our flight home. As we worked on our laptops, we could not help overhearing a very intense conversation in the booth behind us. A young woman was meeting with a mentor, sharing agonizing details about how her marriage was failing apart because of sex. After about thirty minutes, the older woman left and the young woman sat alone, still obviously emotionally hurting.  I looked at Kristi and we both knew this was a “divine appointment.” I approached the young woman and said that I couldn’t help but overhear her conversation. I briefly explained that I run a ministry helping people navigate sexual issues and asked if there was any way I could encourage her. She ended up joining us in our booth, gave us a brief rundown of her situation and finally asked the question that was on her mind. “Will I go to hell if I divorce my husband and marry a woman?”  This woman was not primarily asking a sexual or marriage question. As a lapsed Catholic, her agony was spiritual. How could she navigate her sex life in a way that wouldn’t destroy her relationship with God?  In this generation, sexuality represents one of the most pressing issues standing between people and God. Daily, we see teens and young adults walking away from the faith of their childhood over questions about sex.  Does God love trans people?  Where was God when my uncle sexually abused me?  How can I trust God when the church is filled with hypocrites and predators?  Why would a loving God give me desires that I can’t act on?  Is God a misogynist, telling women to essentially be sexual slaves for their husbands?  History has proven that Christian doctrine is robust enough to entertain every question of the human heart—even our sexual questions. However, the Church is woefully ill equipped, falling back on quoting verses without a compelling explanation of God’s heart for human sexuality. Evangelists and apologists regularly remind me that if we can’t engage sexual questions, seekers want nothing to do with Chrisianity. In his exposition of John 4, John Piper  explained that Jesus knew that “the quickest way to the heart  is through a wound.” To reach the woman at the well, Jesus had to identify the source of her thirst. In the same way, we must be ready and equipped to enter into the sexual wounds and questions as we share the Living Water with a lonely and thirsty world.  To be frank, many have experienced the Christian church as a source of deeper sexual wounding rather than a place of healing. The shame, silence and hypocrisy (not to mention the atrocities of clergy abuse) has pushed people further from the mercy of God. This will only change as God’s people intentionally push past long-held traditions and humbly step into the hurt with the hope of Jesus Christ.    Sexuality and Discipleship Jesus did not call us to make converts, but disciples. Christian discipleship means the whole-hearted pursuit of stewarding our lives under the sovereignty and Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Following Jesus goes way beyond our actions. We are new creations in Christ Jesus, set apart and called to be transformed in our thinking and desires. There is perhaps no arena in which discipleship is more necessary today than sexuality.  God created us as sexual people. He is the One who invented sexual desire, reproductive organs, and the pleasureable brain chemicals involved in sex. Although you may blush reading this sentence, can we agree that God created the orgasm? God is also deeply aware of how painful and destructive our earthly experience of sexuality can become. Yet, most Christians act as if they must manage their sexuality on their own, never thinking to integrate biblical truths in this area of their lives.  As a result,  the majority of committed Christ-followers (including Christian leaders) have no idea how to steward their sexuality. They have real-world complex questions like: Is masturbation a sin?  How do I stop looking at pornography?  Should I get a divorce if my spouse had an affair?  What is the purpose of my sexual desire as a single Christian?  Would God allow me to attend my son’s gay wedding?   How do I deal with the impact of past sexual trauma on my marriage?  If my wife never has sex with me, do I have grounds for divorce?  Do I call my niece by her requested male name and pronouns? Are sex toys OK within a Christian marriage?  I promise you that every one of these questions (and many more) are top of mind for the men and women (young and old) to whom you minister.  The good news is that you can be equipped to engage in sexual conversations! In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul instructed the early church on how to be unified and equipped to do the work of God. He reminded them that God had granted the members of His Body spiritual gifts for the purpose of unity and spiritual maturity. As each part does its work, we will no longer be like spiritual infants, tossed around by the thinking of our culture. This is not the work of a single ministry; it is our work together.  Jesus did not leave us alone to figure out how to accomplish the Great Commission. As with the first disciples, He promises “I will be with you always!” The Father has given us the Holy Spirit who will lead us into all truth, giving us everything we need right here, right now.      If you would like to learn more about sex and the great commission and how to address tough questions like the ones mentioned in this blog, consider becoming a member of Sexual Discipleship today!  
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Reader's Corner: "Single, Gay, Christian" by Gregory Coles
Single, Gay, Christian by Gregory Coles is a small, easy-to read book that packs a powerful punch. Coles is exceptionally articulate and does an excellent job of communicating his thoughts and feelings.  Coles wrote the book as if he is sharing his ponderings and experiences with you, a trusted friend. As you read, you feel as if you are his confidant, listening and learning as he processes his early experiences with attraction to men, his wrestling with God to make him straight, his examination of the Bible to make sense of his experience, and his choice to sit in the tension of longings that God hasn’t taken away.  I found this book particularly helpful to understanding one man’s experience of gay attractions while still clinging to the love of Jesus. So often, LGBT issues become a conversation to debate, missing the humanity of those about whose lives we deliberate. Greg invites us to zoom in on his experiences and share his tensions—up close and personal.  Reading this book, you can’t help but garner an affection for this young man. He is authentic, deep, caring, delightfully bright, funny, and sincere in his love for Jesus. Greg is honest about where he is still wrestling and doesn’t pretend to have the answers to many pressing questions, even as they overlap with his own experiences.  The title of the book brings forth the debate with which Greg’s name is sometimes associated. Can a follower of Jesus also claim the title “gay”? Aren’t the words “Christian” and “gay” mutually exclusive? Greg explains why he has chosen this adjective to describe himself rather than the commonly used evangelical description “same-sex attracted.” Whether or not you agree with his conclusions, he brings light to the complexity of the issue.  My only hesitation with this book is not what it contains, but what it lacks. There is a deeper layer yet to uncover. Single, Gay, Christian expresses Greg’s wrestling with his gayness mostly in light of the sinful behavior he is called to avoid. He explains that he will never get married because he is not attracted, and likely never will be, to women. I think there is more to it than that–not just for Greg, but for all of us. Following Christ is about more than surrendering our behavior. Additionally, we must examine how we have integrated the world’s system into our assumptions and reasoning. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). God not only wants to address the potential for sin in our lives, but also bring to light how we each have been influenced by the thought patterns of our culture. Without question, our western culture has increasingly given sexual desires and experiences an exaggerated voice in our identity and decisions. What’s more, we’ve learned to make life decisions about love and marriage largely based on felt attractions. Works like Nancy Pearcy’s Love Thy Body and Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self help us understand why our sexual desires and sense of “sexual” selves have become such central components of our identities. As Trueman writes, “In biblical times or in ancient Greece, sex was regarded as something that human beings did; today it is considered to be something vital to who human beings are.”These western assumptions confuse not only those who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, but also Christians who no longer feel love or attraction within their marriage.  If our sexual desires are such a determinant, what about the bi-sexual Christian? Or how about the woman who discovers, a decade into her marriage, that she is actually attracted to women? I wonder if much of our wrestling with Scripture is amplified by the assumptions of sexual desire, personal experience, and identity that are rooted in the world’s system of thought, which is passing away (See I John 2:17).  I would love to see Greg wrestle with questions like: To what extent have we bought into the lie that sexual experiences and desires must be part of my identity? Why do the Scriptures fail to identify people by adjectives like “single,” “heterosexual,” or “married” as identity markers?  And is it possible that entering into biblical marriage is more of a call to unique covenant relationships and potentially has little to do with sexual attraction?  From what I’ve already seen in Greg, it wouldn’t surprise me if these themes show up as he continues to mature in ministry and his personal journey.   
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4 Reasons to Join a Sexual Discipleship Cohort
Scripture is filled with examples of the importance of working with one another. We learn about iron sharpening iron in Proverbs, how two are better than one in Ecclesiastes, and the metaphor of the body of Christ throughout the New Testament. We need one another in ministry and in sexual discipleship.  At Sexual Discipleship®, we provide many ways to learn and grow personally through resources like our e-course, blog, interviews with experts, Java Packs, and small group curriculum and training. All of these resources can be explored on your own, but one opportunity stands apart; a chance for members to experience the beauty of sexual discipleship in community––our Sexual Discipleship cohorts. These cohorts are for Sexual Discipleship members only (learn more about membership). We understand that your time is precious, but we believe that devoting seven weeks to go through the Sexual Discipleship training e-course with a cohort will be well worth the investment, both on a personal level and for your ministry. Here are four ways participating in a cohort will expand and enrich your experience with Sexual Discipleship: 1. Personal transformation. As leaders, we often enter into learning environments to become equipped in ministering to others. While that does happen, another surprising thing occurs ––God radically changes our own hearts. We hear testimonies like this again and again with leaders in our cohorts.  One of our members shared this about her experience. “I signed up for the SD Cohort to learn more about the bigger issues of sexuality that are facing young people today, so that I may be better equipped to enter into the hard and uncomfortable conversations that I have with those I disciple. What I found was that, though God is equipping me for those conversations and for those relationships, He wanted to change my own heart in radical ways and give me a deeper and fuller and more beautiful understanding of the story He has written on all our hearts. I encountered Him in a whole new way and have begun to see how our call into intimacy with each other mirrors His desire for us to know Him intimately.” 2. Learn from one another’s experiences.  In a group, you learn what has worked and what has not worked in different ministry settings. Leaders share about their experiences taking sexual discipleship into their ministries, churches, families, non-profits, and one-on-one individual relationships.  One participant shared, “It has been very encouraging to get to know others who are walking similar paths and seeking a Biblical perspective when facing similar challenges. Exploring difficult topics together and being able to ask difficult questions has given me more confidence. Listening to different experiences and approaches and sharing resources has been very helpful.” These conversations also grow your confidence in leading small groups and sexually discipling others. The cohort provides a framework and teaches believers how to think about sexuality and ministry. One leader shared, “It’s deepened my own understanding of sexual brokenness and sexual integrity. Meeting such a diverse group of other committed believers who are authentic about their own brokenness was so refreshing and encouraging. I feel much more equipped to enter this conversation with my family and church.” 3. Brainstorm together to move past roadblocks. Many leaders come across roadblocks as they begin to implement sexual discipleship into their ministries. Common roadblocks include: not having the approval of a pastor or staff team, feeling overwhelmed with where to start, or encountering your own sexual brokenness that needs to be addressed first. In the cohort you will be able to share your personal roadblocks and be encouraged by knowing others are walking alongside you in similar situations. One leader shared that after hearing other ministry leaders processing their own roadblocks, she felt more equipped and confident in moving forward with her own sexual discipleship plan. During the cohort, you will engage with the Sexual Discipleship training e-course (preview here). One participant shared that she continues, even months after the group has ended, to refer to the topics from the e-course over and over again as she has conversations with others in her church and in her daily life. She believes the e-course and workbook have helped her know how to better lead the women at her church.  4. Know you are not alone in this battle. In a cohort, you will meet with other leaders from all over the world who are learning to sexually disciple others in churches, organizations, etc. and to hear their wisdom and thoughts. One leader said, “Meeting other leaders in similar ministry contexts has expanded my network!” Many leaders stay connected even after groups end.  Another leader shared, “I loved connecting with other people from around the globe that share my passion and desire to spread the good news and help the captives be set free, especially in the area of sexual brokenness. I was touched by each story of my cohort friends, and seeing how God has brought them where they are right now was truly an inspiration to me. I feel that I am better equipped, that I have more resources at my disposal for tackling different topics, and above all I am encouraged in what I feel is my calling. I really enjoyed this experience.” You too can learn and grow with other leaders who are also passionate about discipling others in the area of sexuality.  Here is what you can expect from joining a cohort: You will complete two lessons of the Sexual Discipleship e-Course per week. This includes watching the course videos, completing the questions in the workbook, and if possible, digging into additional resources recommended at the end of each lesson. You will be part of a private discussion group with your cohort where you can share thoughts, ask questions, and discuss content. You will join a live Zoom call with other members, led by our Director of Discipleship or a trained Sexual Discipleship Certified Leader, each week during the cohort. The cohort will end after all lessons are completed (after seven weeks), and you should be fully prepared to take your course quiz!  Sign up for our next cohort! If you are unable to join at that time, you may sign up for the waitlist here. Cohorts are for Sexual Discipleship members. If you're not a member, you can sign up here.     Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash.