If you can’t think of anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Sound advice from my mum, especially when it seemed the arguments between my sister and me could end in bloodshed, again.

Watching our words is a principle many of us take seriously, and with good reason. When it comes to difficult conversations, however, it can become something of an excuse to avoid speaking out or a shield to protect us from being misheard. 

This has been especially true when it comes to having conversations around sexuality and identity in the church. Over the last few years our cultural stories have shifted to embrace an LGBT-positive stance. Those of us who hold an orthodox biblical position have found it increasingly difficult to engage in conversations when such views are seen as, at best out of date, and, at worst, bigoted, abusive and immoral. 

But it is important to engage young people in these conversations. Conversations around sexuality and identity are concerned with the most fundamental tenets of what it means to be human: who am I, what will make me happy, how can I live my best life? The gospel – the good, true and beautiful news of Jesus Christ – has much to say on these topics; we just need the courage and the competency to navigate these issues well. 



At the risk of making a sweeping generalisation (possibly the first of many), young adults are wired to listen out for compassion, or the lack of it, when it comes to difficult issues. People’s experiences, pain and stories are at the forefront of a young adult’s mind when conversations around sexuality take place. These aren’t abstract concepts, this is their story, or their sibling’s, their best friend’s. These are stories of exclusion, of being mistreated or marginalised. If the starting point of the conversation doesn’t acknowledge the reality of the issue manifest in people’s lives, or the impact an orthodox biblical position might have on how someone is living, you’re not going to get much further. 

Ask questions like, How has traditional church teaching impacted you or people you care about?”. Acknowledge the pain or judgementalism that people may have experienced because of Christian teaching in the past and apologise for it. Offer compassion and let people be heard. 

Recognise the bigger stories involved

We are storied creatures. We live our lives as if we are telling a story. We make sense of the world around us through stories. But we are also being formed by the influence bigger cultural stories have on us. We story others and we are being storied. Conversations on sexuality and identity are influenced by several bigger stories which we need to listen out for and be aware of. 

Firstly, there is the rejection of how the church previously storied the LGBT community. Thanks to an over-privileged perspective on marriage and the nuclear family, sex was the aspiration for Christians, but only for those blessed enough to be straight and married. Everyone else was in, varying degrees, inferior, therefore missing out or left behind. 

Then there’s the storying of our culture by Freudian thought, where sexual activity is the highest form of pleasure and pleasure is the pinnacle of a flourishing life. When combined with post-modernism, where everything is relative, individual and self-defined, so we are storied into the belief that we get to define our own identity and anyone who wants to stop us is robbing us of our humanity and our chance at happiness. 

Slogans such as Love is love’ and You do you’ hint to these relative, hyper-individual narratives that seem self-evident and benign. But they hide the truth that as much as we project our identity out to others, we receive our identity from others too. 

These storylines are strong and persuasive; they are also often unconscious and adopted without reflection. In other words, most of us live out these stories without realising it. Conversations with young adults need to be sensitive to the wider stories at play and gentle in unpicking the assumptions and implications that emerge from them. 


I firmly believe that whilst conversations on sexuality and identity of fraught with challenge and pitfalls, avoiding the subject entirely is not an option. If adhering to a traditional understanding regarding sexual behaviour is a criterion for leadership or responsibility in your church, but you’ve never taught on it, explained why or shared that with the church community, then you are doing a disservice both to their discipleship and to their ability to witness to their faith with others. 

Go slowly, listen before speaking and think through the implications of what you are teaching. Look for stories and examples and learn from others. Jon Tyson and John Mark Comer are both managing to navigate this well in their contexts in the US, and it’s well worth checking them out, along with Living Out or the work of David Bennet for more UK-aware perspectives. 

Who does Jesus say I am?

Who is storying us? When it comes to sexuality and identity, who’s story are we living? As humans, we crave intimacy, we desire to be known and loved, we hunger for community, fulfilment and purpose. Jesus understands these desires that are in each of our hearts. He promises us intimacy – He calls us friends. He offers us love and acceptance: There is no greater love than this: that a person would lay down his life for the sake of his friends.” He roots us in family – the church – with Him at its head. Yes, marriage has a place in the life of the church, but much louder is the invitation to friendship, community and family. 

If friendship is a gift of intimacy offered through the gospel, then we need to prize, support and facilitate friendships in our churches. If marriage is just one of the ways to be known, loved and part of community, then we need to actively affirm and enable the other ways as well. Ultimately, if we are to be persuasive in our conversations with young adults on sexuality and identity, then we need to embody the reality of our position in how we live and how we are formed – we need to practice what we preach.

The gospel is good news for everyone. It’s more than saying something nice; it’s sharing something beautiful. These conversations around identity are so important. It may take time and consideration to get to the heart of the good and beautiful truth of Jesus in regard to someone’s sexuality, but it is worth the effort. The gospel always is.

This blog is part of 7 Conversations, a suite of interactive, integrated resources for leaders in local settings seeking to understand young adults and bring them into a rock-solid relationship with Jesus.

7 conversations your church needs to have to reach young adults

7 conversations your church needs to have to reach young adults

A suite of resources to help your church reach, engage and disciple 20s and 30s Find out more