Many churchgoers are in the liturgical season of Lent, a corporate time of fasting, self-denial and prayer, leading up to the events of Holy Week. But the married members of Relevant Church in Tampa, Florida, are planning on having lots of sex right up to Palm Sunday.
Pastor Paul Wirth issued the 30-Day Sex Challenge to his congregation: “Relevant Church is proposing a challenge encouraging married couples to purposely engage in sexual activity for 30 days and singles to intentionally forgo sexual activity for 30 days” (from Relevant’s website).
Why the 30-Day Sex Challenge?
Relevant Church leaders brainstormed ways to help couples deal with their top concerns: sex and money. After finishing a series on finances, they figure, now it’s time for sex. Pastor Wirth told media that the challenge is aimed at revolutionizing intimacy in marriages, and revolutionizing thinking among singles about what really makes relationships work.
The buzz about this in Tampa is growing. Those that expect the church to say “God hates sex” are having their assumptions overturned. Wirth said, “That’s just not true. I really believe that God wants us to have great sex.”
The church’s proposed billboard ad for Adamo Drive about the 30-Day Sex Challenge didn’t get past the censors. Posting the 30-Day Sex Challenge website was okay, but the tagline, “Are you up for it?” wasn’t. Neither was the content of a their promotional video that showed a few bellybuttons and a guy without a shirt. Relevant Church tweaked the billboard and video. Now the tagline reads: “Let’s talk about sex in an honest, meaningful way.”
Reactions from church members vary. “Our married people are far more fearful than our single people,” said Wirth. They know that the challenge isn’t to simply engage in physical intercourse but to connect spiritually and emotionally. The church is challenging married couples to embrace a Biblical picture of intimacy. Jarret Haas, the visual arts director of Relevant, said, “Sex is about more than intercourse and that’s what we’re trying to tell people.” “It’s just refreshing to have somebody finally talk about it and finally bring things up,” said single church member Becky Mahan.
My Reaction to the 30-Day Sex Challenge
Most of my reaction is forthcoming. Initially my post-modern-generation brain likes edgy programs and eye-catching ads. Nothing wrong with being a little edgy, right? Jesus was edgy. And certainly the church needs to dismantle once and for all the myth that God hates sex.
But perhaps the American church as a whole needs to reexamine its banners and buildings, how it taps media and mass marketing to reach new audiences. I’m reminded of Derek Webb’s song, “Ballad in Plain Red”:
just keep selling truth in candy bars
on billboards and backs of cars
truth without context, my favorite of all my crimes
‘cause everything’s for sale in the 21st century
and the check is in the mail from the 21st century
what works verses what’s right
hey what’s the difference tonight?
Only time and eternity will reveal the effect of our marketing strategies in the church. My prayer is that the banners and billboards drive people to a pulpit or a Bible study where they will hear the whole truth.
Mass marketing strategies aside, I am eager to read the community blog from Relevant Church members about their reactions, their feelings, and their sexual encounters—or lack thereof. It will be interesting to see if this approach proves to be a fruitful first step for their members to connect spiritually and emotionally.
I am hoping, especially for the singles, that their challenge to abstain from sexual intercourse also encompasses all forms of self gratification, such as use of pornography.
I really appreciate that Relevant Church is offering their attendees a format to journal their thoughts throughout the sex challenge. Members can print off the pdf booklet from their blog site and use it as a day-by-day devotional journal of their reactions. The booklet also offers couples and singles thoughts about their top 10 emotional needs and ways to communicate them. I appreciate it anytime the church gives practical tools for Christians to be more introspective and focus on quality relationships.
In general I think the challenge is humorous and eye-catching, but it will be important that the program not be presented as just another behavior modification tool. Habit-forming psychology aside, Paul said that the strength of sin is the law: tell my flesh what it can’t do or what it should do and it wants to rebel (Romans 7:7-12). Letters and laws written on tablets of stone (or billboards) bring death. The Holy Spirit brings life (2 Corinthians 3:6). If the sex-challenge is just another repackaged law (“just do this for 30 days and your life will change”), at most it will expose the root of broken sexual thinking and behavior and reveal the inability to live godly without Christ. This isn’t a bad thing of course, just like the Law of Moses wasn’t a bad thing. If used properly it should point to Christ as the one who saves.
My prayer for the Sunday morning attendees of Relevant Church is that amidst their challenge they are met with the life-transforming message of Christ, who’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). I pray the married men come face-to-face with Jesus who is the model of love for their wives (Ephesians 5:25). I pray the singles will discover a Jesus who offers real freedom: “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).
Best wishes to Relevant Church’s leaders as they navigate their congregation through the next 30 days.