At YouthWorker, we’re always looking for a conversation that will help us understand how we can better unpack the Gospel for teenagers. The truth of Jesus impacts the entire life of a student. In light of that, we asked four seasoned youth workers to unpack their theology of sexuality as it relates to teenagers. Here’s how they answered that challenge. 

Steve Case: We cannot wave the scriptures in the faces of teenagers and say, “See? God doesn’t want you to have sex.” This is a decision that can no longer be made with just your heart. You have to use your head. Sex is not part of the “sin list” with R rated movies and smoking and dancing. This is real world stuff. The decision requires a level of self-awareness that is part of a relationship with their creator. You can make the “next level” decision based on “so she’ll think I’m a man” or “so I don’t lose him.” If you aren’t sure, you aren’t ready.

Teri Valente: Steve, thanks for going first. I was totally psyching myself out about answering this. I want it to be more like: Everything you think, feel, or believe about sex and your sexuality, sexual identity and sexual orientation is directly related to everything you’ve ever heard, thought, felt, or known about God and who you are in relation to God. It’s all from God and there are times and places it is good and beautiful, but out of those contexts it can damage your ability to connect to others, your relationships, your identity and your perception of your worth. HOWEVER – I think more often than not, despite what we think, feel or believe- we express, “It’s bad. It’s sinful. It’s uncomfortable to discuss – so I’ll leave it to your parents.”

Sara: A theology of sexuality is hard to discuss apart from a theology of personhood. Part of the reason we can’t simply look to scripture for all of our answers to what to tell our students about sexuality, is because scripture came from a time when personhood was viewed through a different lens. Too often people during the age scripture were property, women, slaves, and so on. When people are viewed as property even their sexuality is owned. However, we now understand each person to be a unique individual created the image of God, and that individuality extends into our understanding of sexuality. I agree with Teri that all of this comes from God, and I would also assert that we as youth workers need to start seeing teenage sexuality as part of a student’s individual being, that comes from the same wonderful creator. This doesn’t mean this part of our being can’t be used in ways that are damaging to our relationship with God and others, that’s where we come in as youth workers, helping youth navigate how our sexuality is used to relate to our creator and our fellow creations.

Jeff Baxter: I agree Sara. Personhood is key in discussing a theology of sexuality, but I respectfully disagree on your interpretation and approach to Biblical Scripture. When I approach a “theology of anything,” I have to start with what God thinks about it. That is theology. What does God think about sexuality? What does God think about sexuality when ministering to youth? In order to figure this out, I start with the Bible as the “outside myself” authority, pray, seek the wisdom of the church and listen to the Holy Spirit and as I am working out a theology of sexuality in youth ministry within the local church, I must be teachable and open to changing it over time in a changing culture.

Interpreting the Bible in context around sexuality is critical to understanding what God thinks. The principles of God do not change, but the methods adjust as we keep moving forward. With that said, God invented sex, sexuality and people (Genesis 1-2). It was his idea. This is why we must discuss these things inside and outside the local church with youth, parents and families. God made men and women including their minds, hearts, bodies and souls. People are complex, including youth. God’s intent was for man to glorify God. That is it. We have to figure out who to best do that! The Bible has much to say about what is moral and immoral when it comes to our sexuality. Much of the New Testament letters of Paul addressed the corruption of what was happening inside the local church. As people were coming to faith in Jesus, they were bringing their impure ways of living and thinking into the body of believers – the church. Paul shared some corrective teaching to help children, youth and adults pursue God’s best in all areas including their sexuality. We need to teach the same in our ministry contexts.

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About The Author

Jeff Baxter has been in youth ministry for over two decades inside and outside the local church. Jeff has an M.Div. from Columbia International University and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Family Ministry. He has served in a variety of denominations, but has settled with the Free Methodists. He is married to Laurie, and they have three kids (including two teenagers). Jeff is a lifelong learner who has written some books and blogs at SacredOutfitter.Blogspot.com, probably in a coffee shop.

Sara Galyon has been in professional youth ministry for six years and has worker with young people for 15 years. She has been working for the Methodists for the past six years and is now the Episcopal Youth Community Director for a parish in Madison Alabama. She is a graduate of Memphis Theological Seminary with an M.A. in youth ministry through the Center for Youth Ministry Training. She is a mom (to kids and dogs), wife of a fellow youth minister and underfunded world traveler.

Steve Case has been active in youth ministry for 18 years, currently at Windermere Union United Church of Christ near Orlando, Fla. He’s also a popular speaker and the author of several books, including Everything Counts, The Book of Uncommon Prayer, and The Big Book of Case Studies. (YS)

Teri Valente started in youth ministry as a summer camp counselor over 20 years ago. She has an ecumenical background, having worked for and been spiritually formed by several denominations and and parachurch organizations. (PCUSA, UMC, Episcopal, FCA, Cru, & UCC). She likes elephants, pandas, traveling, music and Instagram.

Tim Baker has been working with students for twenty-five years. He's the author of over twenty books, a professor of Biblical Studies and Youth Ministry at LeTourneau University, Director of Student Ministries at Trinity Episcopal Church in Longview Texas. Tim is the Executive Editor of YouthWorker Journal. @timbaker1

  • bekah

    Check out “The Theology of the Body” by Christopher West. In it, he unpacks how we understand God in and through our bodies. Human Sexuality is a HUGE part of this.