Is not having sex the most important thing about being a Christian?
And what does sex have to do with mission?
Those of us working with emerging adults are seeking to shape the lives of our students in multiple ways. We desire for them to develop a Christian sexual ethic and to develop an understanding of Christian mission. These are two MASSIVE shifts.
If the research is right, and I’m convinced that it is, then most of the students that we work with have a very weak understanding of God. According to the National Study of Youth and Religion, the majority of Christian teens and emerging adults believe that the central goal of Christianity is personal happiness. God is relegated to a problem solver who is available when needed to increase personal happiness, but otherwise is seen as uninvolved in their lives.
This view of the Christian life and of God is not sturdy enough to lead young people through the massive shifts leading to sexual purity. If God’s primary desire is personal happiness, why would people ever choose to limit sexual activities? Sex seems to make people happy. And so we try to convince students that by delaying happiness now they will have greater happiness later. This argument is not very effective in the long run, as evidenced by the failure of the True Love Waits campaign.
But as Christian leaders we know that forming students’ sexual ethic and practice is vitally important. It is so important, and takes such an investment of time, that we may accidentally give the secondary message that Christianity is primarily about sexual purity. Students can begin to feel that the most important thing about being a Christian is that they don’t have sex or look at porn.
Ultimately this is no more helpful than believing that Christianity is about feeling good.
We don’t need a generation of Christians who believe that the aim of Christianity is personal happiness. Nor do we need a generation of Christians who believe that the aim of Christianity is sexual purity. Rather, we need a generation of Christians who are on a mission from God.
Biblical, missional Christianity invites all who follow Jesus into a way of life marked by radical intimacy with the triune-God, authentic community with members of the Church, and mission in the world in the way of Jesus. The aim of Christianity is not personal happiness, but a God-formed people who join in the redemptive work of God in the world. We must begin by inviting our students into this kind of Christian life. They need to receive the invitation to become missional disciples.
I’ve become convinced that forming students’ sexual ethic first requires forming their missional identity. A feel-good God simply does not enable sexual purity and chastity. And apart from missional purpose, Christian sexual ethics lose their foundation.
But, as students accept the invitation to the adventurous life of mission with God, they also receive a context for a lived sexual ethic. A growing intimacy with God calls students into an understanding of sex as designed by the creator God. Growing in authentic community with members of the body of Christ begins to transform private sexual practices into a corporately held discipline of chastity. Partnering with God in God’s mission in the world invites students to rethink sexual practices in light of missional effectiveness rather than personal pleasure.
So what are those of us who invest in emerging adults to do? Focus on forming missional identities in our students, leading them to become people who are part of God’s community joining in His redemptive work in the world. As part of this missional formation work, we need to talk about sex. For students on mission with God, Christian sexual ethics begin to take on a deeper purpose. But if we focus only on forming sexual behavior, we may end up with students whose only mission is not to have sex or look at porn.
How are you helping students to develop missional sexuality?
Have you had any successes or misfires?
Please share your experience as we together seek to shape a generation of students faithful to the call of God in all areas of their lives.