In my last post I gave six reasons why we need to talk about sex and relationships in church. So how exactly we do this?
In one sense, the answer is as for any other issue – in our Sunday morning teaching, in our small groups, and in our personal discipleship. Let’s think a little more about each of these areas:
Sunday morning One of the guiding principles of St Michael’s and St Barnabas is that we teach the “whole counsel of God”. That means we aim to cover every part of the Bible. When we do that, we will find inevitably that we will cover passages that talk about sex and relationships. We don’t force the issue, but we aim to let the Bible do the talking.
This isn’t always easy, because on a Sunday morning we teach people with a whole range of backgrounds, some known, some unknown. This means our teaching has to be gentle and winsome, and connect with the gospel of repentance and grace. At the same time we always need the conviction that what the Bible says is of the Lord, and pray that the Holy Spirit will bring about real change and transformation in people’s lives as they hear. That is, incidentally, one reason why gathering before the service in prayer is so important. We need to pray that all of us don’t just hear the word, but really listen and act on it.
It may well be of course that as people hear teaching about a subject that deeply affects them they will have all kinds of reactions and questions. Sunday mornings are rarely the appropriate occasion on which to meet such questions.
This is where small groups come in. We need networks of small, safe gatherings where anyone can in confidence ask questions and share their experiences. These don’t happen overnight. We need to work hard at developing bonds of trust and security, and we need to work hard against sins such as gossip and slander which can destroy these bonds so easily.
But when someone is asking questions about sex and relationships, in my experience this shows that the Holy Spirit is touching their lives at the very deepest level. As I said in my last post, the greatest challenge people face to their faith is this whole complicated and messy area of relationships, and it is incredibly hard to face up to the fact, for example, you need to stop sleeping with somebody, or you need to break this or that bad habit. So in our small groups we need to have the real gift of friendship to support and encourage, through listening, through wise words, and above all through prayer.
This is where inevitably personal discipleship will come in. We need wise, godly men and women who can invest time and energy in those who are broken and hurting. This requires immense love, care and patience, and also wisdom to make sure proper safeguarding is in place. And the aim in all of this of course is to see how Jesus can be Lord over every area of our lives, even those that are most private and most difficult to deal with.
So much for the theory – what about the practice? I am at this point reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well recorded in John, chapter 4. It took place on neutral ground in the middle of the day. The woman would no doubt have known from the teaching in the synagogue what was expected of her life. But all the teaching in the world didn’t stop her from having a series of disastrous relationships. The disciples wouldn’t have understood why Jesus would want to speak with her, so they are not on the scene when the meeting takes place.
When Jesus tells her to fetch her husband, the whole sorry story comes out (verses 17-18). Jesus doesn’t judge her. But He lets her know He knows all about her, just as indeed we need to be always that no matter how private we think our lives are, Jesus knows already everything there is know about us. The woman’s reaction? She goes on a tangent about the right place to worship God. But Jesus lovingly and patiently leads her to the point. What this woman needs is an encounter with Him that will change her at the place where she is most broken and, dare I say it, most sinful.
And the result is, that having recognised Jesus as the Messiah, the woman returns to her village and spreads the good news. For this is the good news we all need to take on board, that in Jesus change and transformation is possible. Yes, we may find it hard to admit our need of change. Yes, we may not know how to change. But there is no area where Jesus cannot work by His Spirit to bring repentance, healing and transformation.