GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP)–Christian leaders must address the critical issues of the day — even when they will spark controversy — but they must tackle sensitive topics in a way that honors God and not allow popular culture to drag them down into vulgarity.
That’s the philosophy Ed Young Jr. follows when he challenges members of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, to understand and express their sexuality in the context of God’s creative intent.
Young is senior pastor of the 30,000-member congregation, which has a main campus just north of the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and four satellite campuses in the metro area and Miami, Fla.
“Sex is a sensitive topic that, for far too long, the church has not talked openly and honestly enough about,” Young told Baptist Press in an interview. “But God was not shy to invent sex, so I don’t think the church should be shy to talk about it. However, I think those of us who lead have a very high calling when we talk about something like sex.”
The church’s reluctance to speak frankly about sex has allowed the larger culture to dominate the discussion and press its values on impressionable people, Young said.
“For year and years, in my opinion, we’ve taken the bed out of the church, and we’ve taken God out of the bed. Well it’s time to, I believe, bring the bed back in church and put God back in the bed,” he said. “We’ve been hesitant to talk about something that God was not hesitant to create, and it’s caused a lot of evil. We’ve allowed our culture to hijack sex. A lot of us have not preached about it in a direct way because we’re wanting to steer away from controversy.
“Those of us who teach have a responsibility to talk about controversial issues. I’ve talked about abortion. I’ve talked about same-sex marriage and homosexuality. I talk about premarital sex. I talk about the environment,” Young said. “We need to build bridges of love, but also to draw lines in the sand.”
When he preached on “The Poison of Pornography,” for example, Young spoke plainly to his congregation:
“I’ve counseled too many husbands and wives not to see the lethal effect of pornography,” he said. “It takes sexuality out of context and it turns it into a biological event or athletic competition and … sex is not a biological event [or] an athletic event. It should reflect the image of God.
“Sexuality has to flow out of a lifelong commitment in marriage,” he added. “First there must be love, understanding, forgiveness, acceptance, a mutual respect and then in a tender, loving way, you have the act of sex. Not the lie from pornography. So every time you look at porn, men, you’re destroying the dignity of women in your minds.”
When Young addressed “The Truth about Homosexuality,” he affirmed God’s love for homosexuals but also explained, “God says in His Word time and time again that sex is for one man and one woman in marriage.” Young shared statistics about the prevalence of promiscuity and sexually transmitted diseases in the gay community, then warned parents he was about to show a graphic video clip, giving them an opportunity to take any children in the sanctuary outside. In the video clip, a physician described the health dangers of gay sexual practices. Young closed by encouraging his congregation to stand with people caught in a homosexual lifestyle and help them find deliverance in Christ.
Young also uses platform props, in one case bringing a high-powered sports car onto the stage to illustrate that sex outside of marriage is like taking a fine automobile onto an off-road course. In another sermon, he contrasted a bed, which represented “big sex” within God’s boundary of marriage, to a dog bed, which symbolized “little sex” — casual “just sex” that reduces physical intimacy to an animal function.
Sex outside marriage “abuses and confuses … every single time,” Young said. “You abuse your mind. You abuse your body. You abuse your soul. You abuse the other person. You strip them of their humanity while you’re stripping yourself of your humanity. You’re getting naked outside the context of where nakedness should take place.”
A pastor trying to reach a lost community can find himself compromising biblical standards just to gain the approval of an audience, Young noted.
“It’s very easy to sort of go the way of the world, on one hand, and the way of the world would be to become this kind of shock jock, this person who does stuff just to get a laugh, just to get a reaction,” he said. “I’m all for using humor. I’m all for doing things that make people think. But there’s a line where we need to be very, very careful that we don’t become just a comedian or a shock jock, that we don’t say things just to get this big-time response or just to be controversial.”
While pastors need to be sure they don’t play it so safe that they never really get down to really talking about the issue in a helpful way, there still is a line they shouldn’t cross, Young added.
“You’ve got a line you can’t go over — from bathroom humor to scatological joking to even jokes about someone’s weight,” Young said. “I think the overall term that I would use would be discernment. Men and women who teach the truth need to seek and pray for discernment, the wisdom, the ability to make the right calls, especially when they’re rightly dividing God’s Word.”
To help him address sensitive topics in a tasteful manner, Young has assembled a team of men and women who act as a sounding board for what he plans to say in a sermon.
“The Bible says there’s a genius in the multiplicity of counselors,” Young said. “At Fellowship Church years ago, we started this team approach. When I’m planning a message, I have a group of people who help me craft the message before I actually present it. Several are pastors and others are homemakers. Some are single women who have ministries. I think it’s important as a leader to run it by several people you trust who will tell you the truth in love about actually how to say [things].”
As an example, Young mentioned the team’s reaction to a phrase he was thinking about using in a recent sermon.
“I said, ‘God made love, so husbands and wives can make love,'” Young said. “The people [on the team], they’re like, ‘Man, that’s cool; I understand what you’re saying, but you might want to explain the first part of that sentence first.’ So I said, ‘God made love — He invented it — so husbands and wives can make love.’ I think you can say most things in a tasteful way, in a way that honors the Lord, when you run it by or run it through a grid of people before you speak.”
While many preachers are doing an excellent job of addressing sensitive and controversial topics in a tasteful manner, a few are lacking in simple manners, Young said.
“There’s a real professionalism, some manners that are really missing in today’s ministry — and I’m not talking about being prudish,” Young said. “You can’t go over the edge of the ledge and use bathroom humor. You can be open and frank about it without being off-color, gross or sensationalistic. Sometimes people try to chase cool and in chasing cool, we can end up being the fool.”
No pastor should shy away from preaching on sensitive issues, but it must be done in an intentional manner or the message will be distorted, Young said.
“We have to be very careful in communicating. You can communicate it in ways that people understand,” he said. “But I guess if I had to err, I would err more on the side of talking about the elephant in the room, talking about controversial issues, as opposed to running from them.
“However, when you talk about controversial issues, you’ve got to do it in a wise and loving and discerning manner,” Young said. “If you don’t, it can be — and will be — totally taken out of context, and people might miss what you’re trying to say.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.