In the first part I examined the fact that all pastors will have to talk about sex from the pulpit because the Bible talks about sex- often. But how often a pastor needs to talk about it will differ according to the needs of the congregation. John MacArthur probably doesn’t have to talk about sex often. I’m not sure I’d want him to talk to me about sex, that would be like talking about sex with my father-in-law. Just doesn’t seem right. Mark Driscoll, who pastors a church filled with young converts, will have greater need to address the subject.
How should a pastor speak about sex? That is the topic I want to pick up now. Just because you should talk about it doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind.
When I was taking classes for my counseling degree we had a course on sex. I know you won’t believe me, but sex comes up often in counseling situations. One day we spent time on an exercise. We split up into small groups of both men and women. We had to practice saying “penis” and “vagina”. It was incredibly funny for me because one of my classmates was really struggling to say them in mixed company. That was so far out of her comfort zone. But when you try to do this, it can be weird for anyone.
We were trained to use the proper terms for things, not slang. We called oral sex just that- not a Lewinski or any number of other terms.
There are potentially four contexts in which a pastor will address sex and sexual issues. The pastor will preach on the subject. He will teach about these issues in small groups and Sunday School. He will talk about these topics in counseling situations. He may have the opportunity to write about them. I think he should use proper terminology in all of those contexts.
This is where Mark Driscoll crosses the line. I applaud him for being willing to address these important topics. But I think he errs in how he addresses these things. He has made some progress, however. If you compare the series on the Song of Solomon done in Scotland years ago to his more recent series on it at his home church, you will notice a difference. He used more wisdom, but I suspect not enough wisdom.
In the pulpit, the pastor should be more general about sex. You need to be clear- for instance, fornication refers to any sexual activity outside of marriage. If breasts and genitals are involved you’re engaging in a form of fornication. He does not, in that context, need to spell it out more than that.
He probably should keep in mind how Scripture talks about sex as well (noted by Carl Trueman). In terms of marital sex, the Scriptures use lots of imagery to veil it. The marriage bed, so to speak, is kept honorable. It is not regarded in crass form. While marital love should be playful, I don’t think we should be crass in speaking about it. Even in talking with CavWife, I wouldn’t ask her to f—. There is much implied by that term that I believe has no place in the marriage bed. I’ll address that more in part 3 when in the context of a redeemed sexuality.
There are times when the Scriptures are “ugly” and more explicit when discussing sex. That is in describing the sin of God’s people in terms of adultery. I may not preach from Ezekiel 16 and 23, but I know godly men who have. It is in your face, even in our cleaned up translations. Israel is spreading her legs for everyone. She’s seeking lovers with enormous genitals. She’s on her knees before them. God is capturing the desperation and depravity of their sin using these sexual images.
In a small group or SS setting, the pastor can be more explicit. The audience, I’m assuming, is adults. The pastor should still not be crass. But he can be more open about things. I don’t think I’ll ever preach from the Song of Songs. I’ll handle that in SS since this exultation of marital love includes references to foreplay including oral sex. But the pastor still needs to use discretion.
When people come to you for counseling, you can be the most specific. But you still should avoid the use of crass slang. We are seeking to bring people out of their darkened understanding of sex and into a godly understanding of sex. You will cover more topics which pertain to that person or couple. That discussion may include unusual sexual practices- bestiality, group sex, bondage etc.
The last potential context is books. I can’t seem to find my copy of Dillows’ book on the Song of Songs. They cover a variety of subjects since it is about counseling for sexual issues. Doug Rosenau’s book A Celebration of Sex also covers a variety of subjects, and he followed his advice given to us in class. He stuck to proper terms.
I guess it is a matter of your audience. Rosenau wants to lift up an audience, not join them in their state. Driscoll speaks like his audience. In some cases this is good. But in this case he should refrain. He’s not a comedian, and shouldn’t try to talk like one when talking about sex.
Let’s summarize that if we can. A pastor should always use discretion when talking about sex, refraining from slang terms. While preaching he should speak as generally as necessary to get the point of the text across. In a smaller group he can be more specific without being explicit. In a counseling setting, he should be as specific as the need requires. Those who listen should not ordinarily be offended by how we say it.