“Lord, I’m so sorry… I messed up again. Help me stop.”
This would be my almost nightly prayer for a number of years since the first time I began exploring my own sexuality out of curiosity. I was 11 then, and would keep my sinful habits a secret for years.
When I became a cell leader at 14, and a worship leader at 16, it became even harder to disclose such a thing to anyone as the fear of shame increased tenfold.
I mean, what would people think? On the outside, I was the pure, innocent girl on fire for God. But on the inside, I felt like a hypocrite – dirty, and alone in my struggle.
My church youth ministry did talk about sex and purity on the pulpit but it seemed to me that any discussion about sexual temptation and sin was targeted at boys.
Now I know this was a lie the enemy used to try and keep me from experiencing the freedom Christ won for me. When faced with temptation, we must fight from a position of victory and grace.
It is as Jesus declared, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
3 LIES ABOUT SEXUAL SIN
1. “Only guys struggle with sexual sin.”
Believing this, I felt there was something very wrong with me and made me even less willing to share with my female leaders or peers. I believed they wouldn’t understand and would be horrified.
The first time I plucked up enough courage to share with a leader did help in my journey to freedom. But while the leader listened and responded with something along the lines that I was forgiven, I still felt alone.
I continued thinking that she and other female leaders didn’t have such struggles and therefore never talked about them with me.
2. “You are alone.”
Sexual sin is probably one of the loneliest issues we might face as Christians. While the world openly brags or jokes about them, in church, sexual struggles are often shrouded in secrecy and shame.
I had a breakthrough at a church conference where I heard, for the first time in my life, a young Christian girl share her testimony about how God helped her overcome pornography and masturbation.
Her bravery gave me hope as I realised there were other girls who also struggled with sexual sin. It made me resolve not just to come clean for my sake – but for the sake of those I lead.
I resolved that my sheep would not feel alone like I did before.
3. “You can’t help it. You can’t stop.”
Temptation can be so great that it’s hard to resist.
But the Bible says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
This is your Heavenly Father’s promise to you – He will give you a way out of your cycle of temptation and sin.
This is the reason why as a leader, I ask practical questions or give advice that can be acted upon in order to help my member see a way out.
For example, “Is there something else you like to do to relax at night and could you do that instead to occupy your thoughts?”
My hope is that they won’t see my advice as restrictive or demanding, but as protective and helpful.
For this to happen, my sheep need to know that I love them, want them to succeed, and that this advice is actually “tried and tested” by me or someone else they trust.
Why talk about sex with your youth and young adult members?
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour; If either of them falls down, one can help the other up…Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10a, 12)
If you had fallen into a pit along a road, was rescued out of it, and see someone walking towards the same pit, would you not warn them and show them the way around it?
Walking together with someone means that you can look out for one another. In life’s journey, sexual sin is just one of the many possible dangers to be encountered. And God did not intend for us to walk alone.
My motivation for addressing sexual temptation and sin with my members is my love for them, wanting them to know they are not alone, and not wanting them to make the same mistakes I did. I invite them to walk with me where I have walked, to notice and avoid the pitfalls, and help them out of the ones they have already fallen into.
My husband and I have a wonderful married couple who have been our leaders and mentors since our dating days (for him, since he was a youth).
By walking with us, they have been instrumental in helping us overcome our struggles with sexual temptation and sin. To me, they live out Jesus’ way of loving their sheep with truth and grace.
They did not shy away from addressing our sins and keeping us accountable, but never once did we feel condemned or judged by them. They invited us to walk in the light with them.
They constantly reminded us of the power of the blood of Christ that purifies us and makes us new.
This made us willing and brave enough to account to them, and also gave us the freedom to walk away from sin and start afresh each time.
Like how I received such grace, guidance and love, I want my sheep to know they are completely loved.
God and their leaders care about every aspect of their lives – including their sexuality. I want them to know that God made sex to be beautiful and powerful. It is not a shameful topic to speak about.
And there is forgiveness, redemption, renewal and peace for every sin – sexual or otherwise – that they have committed. As leaders, we must take on this attitude in loving and discipling our members.
God made sex to be beautiful and powerful. It is not a shameful topic to speak about.
Just like me, I think many young people have bought into lies that keep them trapped in their sin and shame.
So if I want my members to experience freedom and not be afraid of coming into the light, then I must first walk in the light and invite them to walk with me. This means being real, truthful and vulnerable with them.
Just like how God used that girl’s honesty and truthfulness to help me break free from my own sin, I believe God can use mine to help others break free as well. The truth sets people free.
What helps me to talk about sex with my cell members?
Build trust, show grace, and empower.
Inviting your members to walk with you in their journey means they have to trust that you will be patient and kind, and be able to walk in their shoes (empathise) and show grace when they stumble.
Assure him or her that they were forgiven the first time they asked, and that God gives them the power to overcome.
I believe the best way to build trust and give others the courage to open up is to be honest about your own struggles, past and present. This helps us not to feel alone, and demonstrates your trust in sharing yours first.
Importantly, it helps our members see that they are not any “less” than their leaders. Their leaders are also sinners saved by grace and do not pretend to be holier-than-thou.
Be patient and kind; empathise and show grace when they stumble.
Having said that, I think there is wisdom in sharing only what you think will be helpful. Discern. Being real doesn’t mean you need to disclose every single detail to every one of your cell members.
Even while writing this, I had to seek the Lord’s wisdom in how much detail of my own personal journey to include, knowing that this would be read by members of the public!
Sometimes, sharing too much or sharing at the wrong time could stumble instead of build someone up.
Asking questions to help your members come to their own convictions and solutions can be empowering, especially if you are leading older youth and adults.
It’s important that you give them the opportunity to take ownership of their decisions.
Set a culture of openness and safety.
As a leader, it is my responsibility to set a healthy, Christ-centred culture in my cell group that encourages trust and honest sharing.
This is usually best modeled, but it should be spelled out as well so that everyone is aware of their rights, freedoms and expectations.
I love that during a recent church conference for young adults that focused on understanding and having conversations about sexual purity, a “3 C’s culture” was recommended for facilitators to adopt and communicate. I found these 3 C’s to be a very helpful guide.
Choice. Everyone has the right whether to share or not, when to share, and how much to share. Letting everyone know that they can be free to share or not share is a powerful way to let people know they are respected and generally leads to more willingness to trust and be open.
Courage. Everyone has the freedom to ask any question. As a leader, this can be daunting, but I remind myself and my members that I do not have all the answers. It is perfectly alright to say you don’t know, and either open it up for discussion, further study, or seek advice from your pastor or leader.
Christ-centredness. Remember that all our conversations are to be edifying and honouring to God. He is in our midst and He wants to speak to us too.
Speaking of this young adults conference, due to the coronavirus situation, it was carried out online in the form of webinars, followed by small group discussions over Zoom.
It was the first time I had ever participated, let alone facilitated as a leader, in such a conference.
I had talked about sex with some of my members when they opened up to me about their sexual struggles in private, or when my husband and I needed to advise dating couples about setting physical and emotional boundaries.
But I had never intentionally had conversations about sex, with my cell members as a group or in a cell setting. I was incredibly nervous and am so glad to have had both my own leader and a mature cell member to support and encourage me.
The Church must not be silent about the topic of sex.
Sometimes it helps when there is a platform where it is expected that this topic will be talked about.
Speak to your church leaders and pastors about the possibility of meeting such a need in your youth and young adult ministries. The Church must not be silent about the topic of sex.
I think the conference not only ministered to the participants, but also helped leaders like myself broach the topic with our small groups and opened up more conversations and opportunities for ministry.
Another possibility is to use appropriate occasions and seasons to open up discussion and teaching in the small group setting, for example, having a “Valentine’s Day special” and intentionally speaking about guys, girls, sex and purity.
Splitting the guys and girls for discussion helps to ease some awkwardness and help people feel more comfortable asking questions and opening up about their personal struggles.
What can I do when someone does open up to me about their sexual struggles?
I believe how Jesus responded to the woman caught in adultery is the best example for us. He was not shocked. He did not condemn her. Neither did He say, “Aww, there there… It’s okay…”
He said, “Your sins are forgiven. Now go and sin no more.” Jesus loves us too much to just leave us in our present state.
Grace is not opposed to truth. The truth is that sexual sin is not okay – and grace declares that you are forgiven, set free, made new.
And out of that marriage of lament and gratitude comes the transformation and conviction to stop sinning.
Listen. Don’t jump straight into giving advice. As you listen, tune in to the Holy Spirit too. Seek God about how best you can minister to and support this person.
Don’t be afraid of opening “cans of worms”. God is never surprised by what He finds hidden in the deepest recesses of our hearts and lives. Neither is He alarmed or afraid of dealing with our sins and wounds.
Ask the Lord for wisdom. It is also helpful to have at least another leader or mentor whom you can turn to for help for more serious issues that you might find difficult to handle alone.
Professional help or meeting with a pastor or counselor might be necessary too – don’t be afraid to suggest these or seek them out. Offer to go with your member if they would you like to.
Now, I do not pretend to be an expert in such matters. But thank you for allowing me to share my journey, my thanksgiving to the Lord, and what I am still learning.
None of us are immune to temptation and sin in this life, “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
So come, hear Jesus saying to you and your cell members, “Walk in the light with Me.”
- Have you ever had a conversation about sexual purity in cell group before? How did it go?
- What are some things that might be hindering authenticity and vulnerability in your group?
- Practically speaking, how can you foster safe spaces for important conversations like these in your group?