Few of us expected pastoral ministry to involve so many conversations about relationships. For many of us, deep convictions about salvation and scripture draw us into ministry; and yet beyond the halls of seminary, we discover that the issue of sexuality in relationships is not a fringe topic that we can set aside in favor of more “spiritual” issues. It comes up everywhereand often. Any gospel ministry worth its salt has to grapple with questions devoted Christians have about navigating relationships and sexuality in a sex-drenched world.
As ministers of the gospel, here are three myths about male-female relationships we need to debunk:
Myth #1: Sexuality and relationships are private matters.
We all know of “private” sexual behavior that has caused nuclear-bomb-level public devastation. Years of Christian ministry and entire church communities can be undone by one affair or accusation of sexual misconduct. Faithfulness with our sexuality affects our witness and either upholds or destroys the trustworthiness of our testimony.
Myth #2: Sexuality and relationships are secondary matters because spiritual formation is our primary calling.
What we believe about who we are and how we relate to each other as men and women matters. It matters missionally for the global mobilization of the church, and it matters pastorally for every believer’s spiritual formation. Ministry in the trenches reveals that the way we steward our sexuality and relationships is a discipleship issue, from the intimate levels of marriage, and extending to the broadest level of church ministry and evangelism. Spiritual maturity (the goal of spiritual formation) has love, faithfulness, self-control, gentleness, faithfulness and kindness as its hallmarks: these are nothing if not relational. If we have all the spiritual gifts and all the knowledge, but have failed at love, are we not resounding gongs and clanging symbols (1 Corinthians 13:1-2)? Equipping believers in everyday relationships to abound in their practical love for one another more and more is central to our obedience in the faith.
Myth #3: Sexuality and relationships are primarily topics focused on dating and marriage.
The church has many wonderful resources for Christian men and women expressing their sexuality as wives and husbands, and for those hoping to head in that direction. But long before we are husbands and wives (if that is something calls us to), every believer needs to learn to handle themselves as men and women around each other. Living faithfully as God’s male and female image-bearers is something we need to do from birth to death: God created us as inherently sexual beings. The conversation about sexuality isn’t done and dusted if one happens to get married, either—husbands and wives still need a framework for living faithfully as men and women in a world that is unavoidably populated by other men and women. There’s just no escaping sexuality—own, or that of others.
The beauty of the way Scripture speaks of male and female relationships within a community is that it gives us a family matrix: we are more than men and women in danger of crossing paths, rather, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We don’t have to create friendships to establish our communities: rather, we are called to cultivate the family God has already created and find ways to express in community.
—Bronwyn Lea, author of Beyond Awkward Side Hugs: Living as Christian Brothers and Sisters in a Sex-Crazed World
How to Use This Book & Study
Beyond Awkward Side Hugs will equip you to face some of the common questions asked about relationships between Christian men and women:
- How do we keep relationships with the opposite sex healthy—and still hug each other after small group?
- Is it possible for married men and women to be friends with people of the opposite sex?
- What does it mean to be a woman if you’re not a wife, or a man if you’re not a husband?
- How can we create healthy, close-knit communities with space for singles, widows, and families in a #metoo and #churchtoo age?
Jesus’ pattern for church living was one of family—of brothers and sisters living in intimate, life-giving community with each other. Solidly grounded in Scripture and woven through with pastoral experience and wisdom, Beyond Awkward Side Hugs invites us to leave behind eroticized, fear-based patterns and move toward gendered, generous relationships between men and women of character as we love one another as Jesus did.