August 1, 2021

How My Church Helps Sexual Strugglers (And Yours Can, Too)

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“Does our denomination have a book on sex?” she asked me. It was an honest enough question. And it became the starting point for what was to come. I had originally met this young lady in 2008 in a Sunday school class that I was teaching. Her serious demeanor and sharp mind quickly impressed me. Now she was seeking personal help. Her question set me on my heels. Frankly, I did not even know whether such a book existed. Aspects of sexual brokenness in my immediate family had already honed my own interest in seeking biblical answers, but this young lady deserved a ready response, and I knew I was unprepared.

Getting Started

My thoughts spun backward to three years earlier. My own twenty-something son, Austin, and I had gone out for a pleasant dinner one evening. As he dropped me off at home, instead of saying goodbye, he hesitantly announced that he needed to share something with me. He told me he was gay and handed me an envelope of materials selected to help me “understand.” Quickly, he added, “Mom, you’ll get used to it.” I fumbled for coherent words and finally said, “Austin, I’ll always love you.” Little did he know that I was also pledging to myself, “He may think I will get used to it, but I never will!”

Both my mind and heart reeled after my son’s disclosure. Only after three months had passed was I able to share the details with my closest friend. As God would have it, during those three months, my church also sponsored a Saturday morning presentation by two Harvest USA staff members. Though the event had been announced in the church bulletin for several weeks, I decided not to attend. It just seemed too messy and raw of a topic for me to wrestle with, even though, as a teacher in a Christian school, I knew that a number of my students struggled with sexual issues. But now I had a personal reason to attend the presentation. Now there was no question that I needed a defined, biblical perspective that could benefit both my son and me.

This new terrain that God was calling me to navigate was not altogether unfamiliar. My former husband’s lifelong pornography involvement had undermined our marriage, our family relationships, and his pastoral ministry. Trusting God in the midst of close sexual brokenness was an undeniable part of his plan for me. With the addition of Austin’s situation, I now had to ask myself, “Would I ignore my pain and his plan, or would I use both for his glory?”

I have begun to value my own family’s experiences with sexual brokenness as a tool used by God to motivate me to persevere.

Not only did my son’s unexpected announcement rock my heart, but it also soon divided the world we had shared. It was easy to see that he was working to justify his choices, looking for ways to distance himself not only from me but also from his Creator. His connection to any church had been nonexistent for years, but now he joined an “accepting” church. Soon after, he moved out of town and connected with the man who would become his partner.

A new and sobering question became a regular part of my thinking: “Do I love my son enough to resist the seemingly easier path of accepting his self-identity?” Accepting his identity would, on my part, encourage something that the Lord says would actually be destructive to him. Even at the start of this journey, I realized that the correct path ahead would quite possibly be the greatest and most costly challenge of my life; however, my son was worth it. Wasn’t that exactly the example set by Christ in the way that He loved us?

I knew Austin was aware of Scripture’s stance. I also took comfort in the fact that he had been raised with sound, biblical training and the strong influence of Christian mentors who were used by the Holy Spirit to pour truth into his heart.

Reassured by what God had already put in place in Austin’s life, I personally focused on framing a compassionate, biblical response toward him. Parental instincts urged me toward using human “rescue” methods that seemed logical or promised to be permanently effective. Instead, I found comfort and resolution in recognizing that the core issue was not my son’s relationship with me or even his lifestyle choices; rather, his core issue was his personal relationship with his Creator and with Truth.

A new and sobering question became a regular part of my thinking: “Do I love my son enough to resist the seemingly easier path of accepting his self-identity?”

I never pushed, argued, or preached. Instead, I assured him of my love, availability, and prayers, reminding him that he had the freedom to fashion his side of our relationship as he wished.

Should I have done more? I realized up front that I was opting for a journey with length and details that would be left up to the working of the Holy Spirit— not necessarily according to my timetable and perhaps with an itinerary that might never become predictable or clear, even in hindsight. However, I wanted Austin to be dealt with by the One who loved and knew him best. Prayerful faithfulness, quiet love, compassion, an increasing grasp of the real issues, and—oh, yes!— exhausting patience became my assignments from God.

For Austin’s part, anything short of my complete acceptance and approval was unacceptable. Soon, he cut off all contact—a painful scenario that lasted for nearly ten years.

Getting Organized

Meanwhile, my church offered me a staff position that allowed me to participate in structuring our adult ministries. Personally, I was determined that we should biblically engage with any cultural issue, sexual issues included—a perspective that was fully endorsed, supported, and practiced by the pastoral leadership. Together, we proactively applied biblical teaching to cultural shifts by participating in discussions and teaching opportunities that addressed homosexuality, pornography, and domestic abuse.

Certainly, the Body of Christ is never left untouched by the culture outside the Church. As we took initiative on these issues, we found many in our congregation who were both grateful and ready to learn and minister. Together, the secular culture around us and the Body of Christ inside the Church proved to be willing participants wanting solid answers. Other local churches were soon represented among those who responded to the training, informational, and support resources we offered.

Prayerful faithfulness, quiet love, compassion, an increasing grasp of the real issues, and—oh, yes!—exhausting patience became my assignments from God.

The fledgling ministry grew as we focused on training witnesses and workers and began to structure outreach and activities. I attended Harvest USA training sessions on how to present their materials. Based upon known needs within our own congregation, we also hosted Harvest USA seminars, such as Shattered Dreams, New Hope and Raising Sexually Healthy Kids. Men’s integrity groups were established to offer support, instruction, and accountability. We introduced a support group for women whose marriages were being affected by pornography, and we established two support groups for parents of gay and transgender children. We also devoted several adult Sunday school series lasting three months each to educating church members on current sexual issues, such as homosexuality and biblical gender roles. This summer, we also incorporated Harvest USA teaching videos. All of these opportunities are open to our congregation and non-members alike. Relevant printed materials are readily available at our literature rack. My involvement in our church’s counseling ministry, primarily to church members, has become a useful link as well.

Getting Real

In our metropolitan area within the last fifteen years, we have built an identity as a church that ministers seriously, biblically, and openly to those affected by sexual struggles. Not only are we able to serve our own church membership, but we’ve also become a resource hub—and perhaps a point of hope—to area churches that lack the time, resources, or simply personnel to initiate what we have to offer. Surely it was a given that, just as my puppy runs to her food bowl, believers and churches would seek out and support these solid and badly needed resources…

Not so!

Not everyone applauded, or even wanted to take advantage of, what we’d prepared. I encountered believers who simply weren’t going to “go there,” and the same was even true of several area churches that were known for their gospel-driven approach. One pastor did not want to risk “offending the senior saints” by having Harvest USA do a seminar at his church. Some felt that they must mute or modify the truth, even though they claimed to care for their strugglers.

Surprised, but more saddened than anything else, I realized that my own thinking needed re-orientation— not my adherence to biblical sexuality, but my personal assumptions concerning the readiness of the Body of Christ to face several root questions:

  1. Does the pressure of cultural norms weigh more heavily on us than the authority of Scripture?
  2. Are we and our churches ready for a future that will likely put us at odds with others, including our legal authorities?
  3. Are we willing to educate ourselves on some unpleasant, even politically incorrect, subjects in order to adopt a compassionate, biblically oriented approach to our everyday world?
  4. Are we willing to cultivate and prioritize serious habits of prayer and personal availability in relationships ordained by God that we might otherwise not have chosen?

When these questions are addressed head-on, the answers will almost certainly produce an unavoidable, often unforeseen, reality check. Sooner or later, regardless of our position in the local church and whether or not we experience a personal crisis, today’s culture will confront almost every believer with its sexual trends and questions. On some level, each of us will be called upon to respond to current sexual deceptions; such is the function of Light in the darkness. Even if we can anticipate what is coming, few of us are prepared to give a godly response. Especially for those of us in church ministry, such a journey is usually uphill and costly in some way. The temptation to soft-pedal what Scripture teaches may well be overwhelming at times. But, with eternity in mind, that is never a viable option.

Getting Personal

Clearly, the sexual issues of today constitute a significant watershed test for the Body of Christ. Instead of backing off or wringing my hands, I have begun to value my own family’s experiences with sexual brokenness as a tool used by God to motivate me to persevere. Essentially, it’s an ongoing, personal process—begun in my own heart, independent of what my local church has in place. I personally must:

  1. Cultivate my own pursuit of Scripture, along with my relationship with Jesus Christ.
  2. Practice a serious pursuit of prayer.
  3. View sexual strugglers through the eyes of my Savior.
  4. Seek God’s direction for when and how to minister.
  5. Remember that His truth is unchanging and is always Light.

Whether or not the Church is in crisis today is a common question. The wiser question is whether or not the Church will be willing to take the steps needed to meet the individual and collective crises of those around us.

Not every believer’s path or motivations will exactly mirror mine, but all believers have an obligation to know truth, to obey it, and to share it. We never know His timetable, and, often, we do not see His work. But we are assured of the goodness of those “wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure” (Isaiah 25:1). May He find us equally faithful.

In this article, we do not disclose our author’s real name because she has requested to remain anonymous.

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