Recently, I saw a video that really got under my skin. It portrayed a family coming to church together, sitting down to hear the sermon, and then the pastor opening his Bible and preaching from Song of Solomon. What followed were exaggerated expressions of horror on the parents faces, goofy fascination on the son’s face and wonder and curiosity on the daughter’s face.
The message: Big Church is for Grown Ups. Send the kids to Children’s Church instead.
This video bothered me on so many levels.
First of all, seeing a family come to church to worship together is a beautiful thing and I can’t fathom telling them that they are not welcome to do so.
Second, of the 31,102 verses in the Bible, how often is the pastor going to preach on that one and not give some advance warning to parents about the text? How can we use that as precedence for keeping kids out of corporate worship?
But the final one, the one I had a hard time putting into words, was beautifully captured by my friend and fellow seminarian Mary Trent in this thought-provoking testimony of personal experience with, as she put it, “sex, the Church, and our children.”
I’m blessed to share my space today with her and ask you to carefully consider her words as we seek to bring our children up with healthy and godly views of sexuality and God’s Word.
At one point in our journey, we (the parents), decided that our brood would read the through the Old Testament together. Each family member would get to pick a book and we’d read through it as a family.We made it through some pretty impressive (and arduous) territory. Seriously y’all, we made it through all of the crazy stories where certain maidens “lay” with certain menfolk and they “conceived” a child. The kids didn’t flinch. My goodness! We made it through the awkwardness of Onan in Genesis 38, and still there were no words from the peanut gallery!
My husband and I were utterly amazed that our kids were absorbing the content of these stories. We thought this was a sign both of their maturity and our willingness to openly embrace the topic of human sexuality with our kiddos. We had, after all, been talking with them about S-E-X (in age-appropriate ways) since their curious minds began thinking up interesting questions surrounding the subject. So I (prematurely) gave us a great big pat on the proverbial parenting back and we forged ahead.
Then we hit the book of Esther.
One of our 10-year-old twins chose the book of Esther because she remembered a sermon she’d heard preached when she was but a wee 8 years old. She said, “Ever since then, I wanted to read the whole book.”
The thing is—I remembered that sermon. Its content included talk of sexual image, and appropriate marital relationships. So imagine if you will sweet reader, my reaction when she made her selection. I didn’t look a seminarian. I looked like a terrified mom, shaking in her yoga pants.
It was during the reading of Queen Vashti’s refusal to (ahem) “perform” for her husband and his friends that prompted my then 6 year old to ask, “Why wouldn’t she want to let the men look at how pretty she was Mommy?” My husband and I exchanged a few awkward glances and returned her question with our own. “Why do YOU think Queen Vashti wouldn’t want to show off her beauty?” Before she could answer, one of her sisters chimed in saying, “Maybe she didn’t like being a thing for other men to look at. She probably wanted her husband to love her, respect her, and she maybe didn’t want to share that part of herself with anyone else.” MIC. DROP.
I ran out of the room, away from the conversation. I went to a place where no one in my family could see me cry BIG, HOT, UGLY, tears. Don’t get me wrong; this was a cry of joy and I needed to process this joy in private.
It was the Holy Spirit confirming to me that kids don’t need G-rated sermons and coloring sheets during worship to “occupy their minds on something spiritual while adults get the adult-necessary instruction from a Sunday morning service.”
Can I tell you something?
The subject of sex is something that I have struggled with my. entire. Christian. life. I grew up thinking that sex/sexuality was a thing you put in a drawer and didn’t think about until you got married. It was a forbidden and dirty thought until you said, “I do.” To curb the insatiable sex-crazed teenaged mind, the Church of the 90s-early 2000s (bless its heart), encouraged parents to purchase purity rings and host prom-like events (with Rebecca St. James’ song “Wait for Me” playing in the background), where we, the teens stood in line and signed pledges of abstinence.
Make no mistake. I believe sex is a gift meant to be enjoyed by married couples. I am not mocking the efforts or the intentions of the Church of my youth, but I think it’s a mistake to bench the kids from corporate worship because (oh my goodness) the topic of sex may come up in the sermon.
Parents, our iPad, smartphone-loving kids are being bombarded with images and advertisements that sear the world’s image of sexuality into their minds and hearts. Even if you have a browsing filter or don’t allow your kids to watch TV or surf the net, they will encounter this mistaken message from their peers.
Please hear me. Your kids need to know about God’s sexual standards. I am suggesting that yes; we the parents talk about sex with our kids. But I am also suggesting that we don’t separate sex from the Church and that we don’t separate our kids from the topic of sex when it comes up in the Church. It is sometimes (always), awkward. It is sometimes (always), going to incite eye-rolling and red faces, but the conversation is necessary and it needs to happen both at home and within the community of Christ-followers.
I am so proud that my kids and their friends are growing up in this exciting time of the Church! We hear a lot of what we do wrong, but I think we also do a lot of things right.
Bringing our kids to worship, allowing them to take in the information, and trusting the Holy Spirit to plant the seeds of wisdom and understanding in their hungry souls is definitely something to celebrate.
Because of the Church’s faithfulness to embrace all things and speak with honesty and truth, my daughters have a much healthier understanding of sex and sexual identity than I ever did.
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About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.
I grew up Catholic and my parents never had “a talk” with me about sex or sexuality. It was all left unspoken, as if somehow I would know what to do when I later married. I did understand that they didn’t approve of sex before marriage, but there wasn’t much else. Kudos to you for being up front with your children and teaching them God’s view on the subject. They will thank you immensely when they have their own children.
A resounding yes! And Mary’s story made me want to have a big ugly cry too! Good thing I’m at work and that isn’t going to happen… at least not here, not now. Thanks for this article!