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How to Help Volunteers Have Conversations About Sexual Integrity

Jim Burns
Jim Burns Monday March 9, 2020
<? echo $type; ?> How to Help Volunteers Have Conversations About Sexual Integrity

Have you ever had one of those insightful moments that changes the way you approach a topic in your ministry? I did just last year when I spoke with the volunteers in our student and children’s ministry about sexual integrity. 

Our Next Gen team asked me to spend an evening helping our volunteers navigate the often-complicated world of sexual integrity with children and students. No big deal. I speak and write on the subject all the time. 

But this time was different. 

Why Our Volunteers Aren’t Prepared

I opened the talk with this question: “How many of you received good, positive, and healthy sex education from your parents when you were growing up?” My plan was to establish the fact that research indicates that kids who receive good sex education from home are less promiscuous and less confused. 

The problem was this: The vast majority of our volunteers (90%) hadn’t received any sex education from their parents. 

That meant two things:

  • Most of our volunteers were uncomfortable and ill-equipped to talk with the kids in their group about the topic of sexual integrity.
  • And most, if not all, of our volunteers were struggling with developing their own “theology of sexuality.”

It became a defining moment for me because of this reality: I could never assume that volunteers feel comfortable talking about this very important subject. 

Five Ways to Help Prepare Our Volunteers

I ended up tossing aside my presentation and took their questions and concerns instead. I figured that half the questions were ones they’d received from students and the other half were really their own personalized questions. 

This blog isn’t meant to be the “answer all” on the subject, but here are five “Do’s’” when it comes to volunteers and sexual integrity. 

1. Remember that volunteers are often the first adult a student is willing to discuss sexuality with

It’s an honor to have a kid confide, but along with the honor comes the responsibility of putting in the extra spiritual work of getting comfortable with your own sexual integrity.

I spoke at a parent seminar on Teaching Your Children Healthy Sexuality and they also asked me to do a special one-hour time with their leaders. Good idea. The leaders appreciated the training and the time to talk amongst themselves.

2. Develop a library of good resources on sexual integrity issues

A volunteer doesn’t need to be the “sex expert,” but it’s very helpful when they know where to find the answers. A resource library of good books, blogs, and other resources can be really helpful. 

Orange has a few great resources that can help you share with your volunteers:

3. Remind volunteers that they aren’t professional counselors

Too many times volunteers—and staff members—try to handle issues they aren’t equipped to handle. Learn when to refer to a counselor or staff person. 

No kid expects a volunteer to be the “sex expert.” Volunteers are often the first responder to be a listener, resource, coach, and pastor. But if the issue is beyond their expertise or experience, they can quickly refer the kid to someone who is more qualified. 

Many times, a volunteer feels safe because they aren’t a professional. The dialog that they can have with a kid can be life-changing. But when it comes to deep problems or pain, make sure your volunteers get the help they need.  

4. Find out if your church has a “theology of healthy sexuality” policy

If your church does or doesn’t have a formal policy, make sure you aren’t teaching kids something contrary to your church leadership theology. 

What’s the church policy on dealing with sexual abuse? Pornography? Gender identity? This can sometimes get messy, but it’s important to be as united with leadership as possible. 

5. Understand the various phases of healthy sexuality

Sex is mysterious, so kids will have questions at every phase and stage of their development. Make sure you’re talking with students in the right phase of their life. Don’t be like the volunteer who talked specifically and openly about their past porn addiction and how they overcame it to five-year-olds! That’s a major dose of TMI. 

But the same openness with teenagers would be more than appropriate. Parents need the same help with understanding the phases. Most parents wait too long to have dialog about important developmental topics. 

For example, since the average age of a kid viewing pornography in America is 11, they can’t wait to have the conversation at 16. (Here’s a helpful blog on this subject: Sexual Integrity Through the Phases.)

What questions are they asking?

Back to that night of training with the volunteers at my church. I asked them: “What questions are the kids asking?” We listed the topics on a whiteboard. The issues were blunt and sometimes complicated. 

Kids were asking about: 

  • gender identity
  • pornography
  • sexual abuse
  • sexting
  • how far is too far
  • oral sex
  • disagreement with parents on when to date
  • and a lot more

I know we didn’t settle all the issues that night, but the energy in the room was incredible. And I realized that not only do our children and students need honest, blunt, unashamedly Christian dialogue, but so do our volunteers.

Jim Burns is President of HomeWord and Executive Director of the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University. Jim speaks to thousands of people around the world each year. He has over 1.5 million resources in print in over 25 languages. Jim and his wife, Cathy and their three daughters Christy, Rebecca, and Heidi live in Southern California.