Sensitive Preaching On Sexual Topics Sam Serio September 1, 2005 A travel agency was upset that their local Yellow Pages advertised that their agency specialized in “erotic” tours when their ad was supposed to say “exotic”. Oops! Just a difference of one word (in fact, one very small letter) resulted in a huge flood of interested but disappointed callers and eventually a lawsuit. As Mark Twain once said: “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug!” “Choosing the right words” is the toughest job for today’s preachers who want to effectively preach to the sexually wounded and addicted people in their church. The sexual revolution has severely maimed our church’s children, teenagers, singles, men, women, and grandparents; no age or gender has been spared. Amidst the millions of women who have chosen abortion or who have been raped or sexually assaulted, do you think that none of these women ever attend your church? Among the millions of children, teenagers, men or women who were sexually molested at a tender age, many hear your sermons. Do you help them? Among the millions of men who struggle with an attraction to other men or to young children, are you naive enough to think that none of them will visit your church? Is it just possible that the men who have their eyes on you in the pulpit have those same eyes on the porn sites just a few hours earlier? Sexual hurts and habits are usually hidden quite well behind the smiling faces and firm handshakes on Sunday. When it comes to preaching about sex, most preachers are like a clumsy bull in a delicate china closet forgetting that these people are so fragile or already broken. I counsel people all the time who tell me they would NEVER go to their preacher for help after hearing what they said about sex on any given Sunday! There is NO way! Rarely do people ever see any public competence or pastoral compassion about sex. Review your past sermons . . . Our voices get much louder and our gestures get more forceful whenever we mention pornography, fornication, abortion, or homosexuality. You might hear some “Amens” but did you see those who slide down in their seats? Would you want to receive counseling from a person who said what YOU just said? Would you seek help from someone who rants and raves about your hurt or issue? You’ll never have a private counseling ministry to sexual offenders or victims in your community if your preaching content and communication style continues to be cold. We must adopt neither a Victorian nor a Corinthian mindset about sexual topics. I want you to preach in such a powerful way that your people WILL be drawn to you and not away from you! They’ll learn that you really do understand and can help them! You ARE the best expert in their world for how to properly deal with guilt, anger, shame, fear, self-esteem, helplessness, pain, temptation, or bondage. The world knows the problem but not the solution. The church knows the solution but not the problem. We were too scared to preach about sex and now look at the results. Here are some practical principles and biblical patterns to learn: 1. Plan ahead to write out your pulpit sexual language. Go through the painstakingly slow but important process of writing down your sermon words about sex so that you will hear it out loud before others will hear it. Discard and replace your words over and over again so that they sound just right. Privately practice and act out the exact words, tone of voice, and pulpit gestures. As you practice your preaching, most importantly practice your hearing of your words. Do not trust yourself to casually or instinctively “wing it” with the wisest words. I remember a preacher describing a woman in his sermon who had a wild past before she was a Christian. She fell in love with a godly man and the pastor was giving them pre-marital counseling. He wanted each to know the other’s sexual history and used these words in his sermon: “I wanted the man to realize that he was getting a used car and not the new car he thought he was ordering.” Ouch! The pastor meant well but it sure didn’t come across well. How many people instantly and silently felt like a used car, just then? Is that how God views me now? Should everyone who has had premarital sex view themselves now as a used car? What about the woman who was raped or the child who was molested by her uncle? Is she a used car, too? Will you seek help from someone who thinks you’re a used car? 2. Your goal is personal ministry, not public controversy. Don’t pause and profusely apologize for the sexual content in your sermons. God doesn’t apologize in the Scriptures for using sexual language; why should you? He gives us not a red light nor a green light but instead, a flashing yellow light to proceed with caution. You answer to God and not to the older Methusaleh’s in your church. Your goal is not to scratch itching ears but to stir people’s hearts. A sermon’s sexual language is to be constructed like you’re building a bridge to reach hurting people – people who hurt from their own (or other’s) sexual sin. Don’t draw attention to what you say; instead, spotlight why you say these words. It’s all about people, not politics. Sex is not an issue you preach about; it’s about individuals you reach for. Have these sincere motives and your words will follow (Matthew 12:34). People won’t be inclined to criticize your message when they can see your motives. 3. Use an accurate but contemporary Bible translation. Don’t use a Bible translation that has lots of unknown, antiquated, and strange sexual words that you’ll surely have to explain sooner or later on in your sermon. The more you have to explain sexual terms, the greater chance you’ll hang yourself. Compare Genesis 26:8 in the King James Version (“Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife”) to Genesis 26:8 in the New International Version (“Isaac was caressing his wife Rebekah”). Why take the time to try and explain what “sporting” really means in our language when you don’t have to? Compare the KJV of Deuteronomy 25:12 describing a woman “who putteth forth her hand and taketh him by the secrets” to the NIV translation where “she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts.” Compare the wordings of these two translations for Genesis 39, especially. There are many other examples in the Bible that could be given. You see my point. Why should you become an easy pulpit target when you don’t have to? Let the accurate modern translations do the work for you here and make your job easier. Use the exact same words that God uses so that you won’t be wrongfully accused of using dirty language from the pulpit. You do want to keep your job, right? 4. Brevity and quality are so much better than quantity. Be wise but not wordy when it comes to your sexual language from the pulpit. Rarely do you ever need to preach a whole sermon addressing any sexual topic; instead, target certain sermon sections where you can insert appropriate sentences! Use a pause or change your voice to reinforce your point and let it truly sink in. When it comes to sex, you don’t have to say a lot but you do have to plan a lot. Believe me, people DO REMEMBER those few words or sentences mentioning sex. You said something that your people have probably never heard from the pulpit. You tenderly touched them in their most painful, sexual, and vulnerable spot. A wound that is deep or fresh only needs a gentle touch and pain is quickly felt. You will be amazed that the Holy Spirit will use your few but wise words to do His work. Another reason to say little is because God does. You don’t have to go into a lot of sexual detail because God doesn’t! Even the most famous sex scene in the Bible has very little detail! In describing David and Bathsheba, 2 Samuel 11:4 says that “she came to him and he slept with her” (NIV). That’s it, no more facts were given! He also left out all the details about King David’s sexual sin in Psalms 32 and 51. 2 Samuel 13:14 (NIV) describes Amnon’s rape of Tamar as “he raped her”. Judges 19:25 (NIV) says “they raped her and abused her throughout the night.” God could have described these rapes more graphically but He purposefully chose not to. Little is ever said about the sexual attraction between Samson and Delilah. Do we really know that much about Joseph and Potiphar’s wife? God said little about the incest and homosexuality in the church at Corinth. He doesn’t describe the type of sexual immorality in the church in Thyatira. The list could go on. God could have said SO much more but He didn’t. He purposefully omits the sexual details as He directed the writers of Scripture what to include or not include (2 Peter 1:20,21). Just imagine what steamy details that today’s television or movie producer would include within these Bible stories! God did not describe the bedroom scenes, what they were or were not wearing, the seductive tease or sensual nature of the actions, the physical orgasms they experienced, or the performances they gave. His ways are above our ways; so why do you think He leaves the sexual details out of these? 5. Your goal is to teach, not tempt, in mentioning sex. God does not dwell on what happens before – or during – the sexual scenes in Scripture but He does dwell on what happens later on as a result of these scenes! That is His pattern and it must become ours as we address any sexual topics, too. He wants us to learn, not lust. Education, not imagination or titillation, is His goal. After describing (briefly, of course!) the sexual immorality in 1 Cor.10 which was taken from Exodus 32, we’re told why it was mentioned here in verses 11-13: God wants us to learn from their mistake! He didn’t describe Rahab’s life as a prostitute (He could have) but instead He describes her obedience afterwards in Joshua 2. The same is true of the woman in John 4; we’re told of her new life and testimony, not her old life. We’re not given any details about the ex-homosexuals in 1 Corinthians 6 but only the fact that they were changed by God’s power. And we’re not told about the nature of the incest in 2 Corinthians 2 but only about the proper treatment of this man. Even some of the most sexually graphic Bible chapters (Ezekiel 16 and 23) are mentioned by God in order to teach spiritual life lessons (see Ezekiel 16:30ff and 23:28ff). Earthy, raw, and sexual language found in Deuteronomy 23:9-13 ends with the spiritual lesson found in verse14. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were removed by God. The incest of Lot with his daughters produced two nations of wicked people who troubled Israel. Revenge on Shechem’s rape of Dinah resulted in the murder of every man in the city. The sexual sin of Reuben in Genesis 35:22 is exposed and punished later in 49:3,4. The lust of Potiphar’s wife sent an innocent man to prison and the lust of Samson brought his and his nation’s downfall. David’s adultery led to the death of an innocent man and also of his infant son. Amnon’s rape of Tamar prompted Absalom’s murder of Amnon. Solomon’s sexual partners caused him to stray from God and bring judgment on the nation. Do you see this important biblical pattern? Any and all sexual language from the pulpit should be used in the same way and for the same purpose that God uses it: to stimulate our holiness, not our hormones. As you keep that in mind, your new sermons will be on solid ground, not thin ice! 6. Use emotional words to draw out sexual memories. Now that you are beginning to formulate a new preaching pattern about sex, what types of words shall you use? How shall you preach? What’s the next step? I want to teach you something that revolutionized my preaching and counseling . . . People have EXTREMELY good memories whenever their sexuality is violated. Chemically and emotionally, these memories are deeply implanted in their minds. Sometimes their pain is SO intense that they will try to forget it or even create alternate worlds to live in so that they won’t have to deal with the horror of it all. Again, a slight touch of a fresh wound is all that it takes to get someone’s attention. Target the emotional effects, not the sexual activities, that have taken place. Study a concordance, commentary, or lexicon to discover how that particular Hebrew or Greek word that God used to describe that painful emotion or sexual action is used elsewhere in Scripture and in other non-biblical texts. It’s definitely worth the work as you understand the depth of that emotion from your study! Once you understand the reasons for and repercussions resulting from rape, sexual molestation, homosexuality, promiscuity, pornography and abortion – you’ll see preaching opportunities springing up from so many non-sexual topics or texts! Here are emotional phrases I’ve found helpful in drawing out sexual pain or sin: – No matter what someone has done to you or what you’ve done to them . . . – No matter what difficult, painful, physical, or sexual experience you have had . . . – No matter what you struggle with, what habits you have, who your master is . . . – No matter what pain or injustice you’ve suffered that you did not deserve . . . – No matter how angry, dirty, or guilty you now feel now because of what you have done to someone or because of what someone has sadly done to you . . . “JESUS understands your feelings of shame, anger, pain, filth, hurt, loss, betrayal, and humiliation. You are not alone. He gives you the comfort or strength that you need to make you whole again, regardless of your past.” Sexually wounded or addicted people (regardless of which ever sexual topic) all share those common emotions that Jesus did as He became sin for us on the cross. A great place for you to start is to carefully study the emotional effects that Jesus experienced from Isaiah 53, Hebrews 4, and while He suffered on the cross. The more I study of Jesus, the more I know that He totally understands the people that have experienced the worst injustices, violations, physical and sexual humiliations. I also know that He can release sexually addicted people from ANY deep attraction or habit. In my preaching and counseling, I encourage people to lay down all of their sexual sin – or pain – at the cross of Jesus, who can bring healing like none other. 7. Communicate hope and healing, not just hatred. Preachers happen to say some of the dumbest or meanest things when they mention sex in their sermons. I can tell you stories of what people have told me. The one I wish I could personally undo was a comment I once made incidentally about homosexuality. I said “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” My congregation chuckled and of course, I felt kind of proud of myself. Looking back, I now ask God to forgive me for how I said what I said. I was not thinking of how it was heard by some who struggle with that temptation who were listening. What was a homosexual person feeling inside when my congregation now laughed at them? Did I offer any hope? No, I offered a simplistic and negative comment. Would they have come to me for counseling, based on what I blurted out casually? No way. Most sermons on abortion, homosexuality, promiscuity, or pornography leave the impression that God is totally and utterly disgusted with the person who does it. Rarely is there any mention of mercy for molesters, forgiveness for fornication, purity from pornography, or hope after homosexuality. It’s usually only negative. For some reason, preachers publicly denounce sex as the worst sin. Why? God hates all sin, not just sexual sin. Why do we choose to be so hateful about sex? Richard Gere plays the role of a wealthy businessman with Julia Roberts playing the role of a sleezy prostitute in the movie “Pretty Woman”. Remember what he said as he reflected on his life as compared to her life: “ You know, we do have a lot in common after all, don’t we? Both of us screw people for money.” Oh, how I wish preachers would remember that! Why do we ignore non-sexual sins in preaching? Why do we elevate sexual sin above all the rest? God doesn’t, so why do we? We have a variety of people in churches who screw people for money in lots of ways. In John 4, Jesus preaches to the woman at the well. He doesn’t rant and rave on and on and on (as we do) about her previous and current sexual sin – but He also shares the good news that she can be forgiven, changed, and made new again. Jesus offers hope to the promiscuous woman in Luke 7:36-50. Jesus was totally different in His approach towards the sexually wounded and addicted people in His time compared to the typical religious leaders who shunned them. Jesus ministered to sexual sinners but most preachers would never do that today. Yes, Paul told the church to expel the man guilty of incest but also to forgive him once he repented and that they were still being too harsh on him (1 Cor. 5 and 2 Cor. 2:5-11). In 1 Corinthians 6, remember how the Apostle Paul reminds the church that there is mercy and victory available for those who were willing to repent from sexual sin. Sexual sin never has the final say. Only God does and He offers transformation. Do we preach this gospel of hope, change, and forgiveness for sexual sin, too? Never preach against any sexual behavior without equally sharing the wonderful hope, grace, mercy, pardon, and victory available for those who are in Christ Jesus. Always be aware that whichever sexual sin you preach about was probably done by people who are hearing your sermon. Did they hear any message of hope from you? As a preacher and pastor who is delicately dealing with such difficult topics, your main goal is to help your people get past the hiding of their sexual suffering or sin. They have gut-wrenching stories to tell! As one woman told me: “What they did to me is not even done to dogs!” Preach in such a way that these wounded people will come to you and express their hurt, shame, anger, fear, or guilt to you. It was so exhilarating and liberating for David to finally come clean in Psalms 32 and 51. People need to confess their sin or pain to their preacher. Help them. They have silently suffered long enough and gave up hope that they could ever be normal. Their lives were turned upside down by someone else’s or their own sexual sin. Like the women who were sexually violated and abused in 2 Samuel 13 or Judges 19, there are women in your church who weep bitterly and feel they are worthless and disgraced. Like the sexual assault and humiliation described in Genesis 34, there are men and women in your church who are consumed with grief and rage. The sexually wounded and addicted come see you every Sunday but will they ever hear you preach that God can help even them in their deepest need of sexual confusion? Let us open our eyes unto the harvest but let’s also examine the wreckage! Like your Master, may you be freshly anointed to preach the good news of healing for the broken-hearted and freedom for the prisoners of today’s sexual revolution! _________________ Sam Serio is a Christian counselor and director of Heal My Hurts ministry in Alpharetta, GA. _________________ Here is a personal checklist to consider as you prepare your sermons: Your voice? Listen to how you preach. George Whitfield said “Every minister must be a Boanerges, a son of thunder – as well as a Barnabas, a son of consolation.” Can you do both, in the same sermon? Eye contact? Look directly into people’s eyes when you’re preaching on a more emotional tone or sexual topic. Make it easier for them to confide in you, later on. Gestures and posture? If you look uptight, your people will be uptight too. Smile. Lean forward towards your people. Extend your arms and reach out with open hands. You don’t have to clench your fists; that doesn’t make you look very approachable. Leave the pulpit area? Since some people get upset at any sexual language from a pulpit, leave that fortress and walk towards or amidst your congregation. Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.