Purity Small Groups Aren’t Optional Anymore
If you could only do five things in ministry, what would they be?
At our regional staff retreat we were challenged to come up with our top five non-negotiables. Weekly meeting, discipleship, Bible study, evangelism, and fun events filled most lists. I painstakingly slid in small group purity studies. Eyeing my list, my friend Dave gave me a skeptical look. “Purity studies?” he said. “Jason, you’re going to have to explain that one to me.”
I understand his skepticism. To put purity studies on my list, I had to bump down something good. Like evangelism good!
But I’m convinced small group purity studies are vital in campus ministry today. So, for my friend Dave’s sake, here’s my defense with five reasons why your ministry needs small group purity studies.
1. The Need is Great
When I arrived at Penn State University in 2001 as a freshman, I was already a porn addict, though at the time I had no idea that pornography was addictive. I met The Navigators through their Bible study recruiting and pizza giveaways. I was praying for a group of men who wanted to follow Jesus in college, and I thankfully met some in my Bible study.
That first semester, I broke the ice in Bible study and asked if anyone else had ever struggled with pornography. One by one they went around confessing that they too struggled. 100% of my Christian buddies were stuck in the same addiction!
This was in 2001 – before smartphones, tablets, internet-connected gaming devices, smart TVs, or even high speed wifi. We had hulking desktop computers with thirteen-inch monitors connected to the web by an Ethernet cord plugged into the wall. At that time, the internet itself was fairly new.
Today’s freshmen grew up online. They can’t remember a day without the internet. Most have had portable internet-connected devices since middle school with unlimited high speed access. They have grown up in a digital-porn-filled world, where all of the temptations of the world are accessible with a few swipes on a screen. Research shows that the younger generation is so used to porn, they ranked “not recycling” as more immoral than viewing porn (The Porn Phenomenon, Barna 2016).
Making matters worse, sexuality and pornography are taboo subjects in the church and with parents. It is highly unlikely someone has talked to your students about their struggles with sex or porn. They have been left to fend for themselves in our constantly connected culture, and when they have questions about sex, they most likely turn to Google rather than the Scriptures.
Campus ministers see the need is great, and may try to tackle the issue with a special event or a talk at our next meeting. And while I don’t want to discourage you from doing that, we must understand addictions like pornography are rarely solved through a one-time event. To undo years of bad habits, students will need something ongoing like a small group purity study.
On our campus we invite every student in our ministry to participate in a purity study starting freshman year. We don’t want to create a stigma that this is a group for addicts, rather we present it as another way to grow in your walk with Christ by specifically addressing sexual purity.
2. Incredible Gospel Opportunity
“Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” Matthew 21:31
Why is Jesus able to make this profound claim? Because the gift the tax collectors and prostitutes had was the knowledge they were sinners! If you’ve been doing campus ministry longer than ten minutes, you know your students struggle with sin. If you have students who don’t struggle with sin, good luck convincing them of their need for Jesus.
But the silver lining of the sexual brokenness of the rising generation is that the Gospel is for sinners (Mark 2:17)! The Gospel speaks the loudest into our greatest areas of brokenness. Addressing this issue applies the Gospel to the core of their deepest hurts, guilt, and shame.
3. Community is More Powerful than Knowledge Alone
The Navigators’ purity study resource has some awesome information in it. It addresses the reality of using sex like a drug, truths about false intimacy, compulsive behavior, shame, grief, forgiveness, and false intimacy. But I have yet to give a student the study and say, “read this and then you’ll stop all sexual sin.” Why? Because lacking this information is not the primary problem.
If you had an alcoholic who had been drinking for years, would you give him some information on why alcohol is wrong, pray for him, and send him on his way confident that he can now walk in freedom? I hope not! You would more likely connect him with an Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Step Program and get him connected to a community for addicts. This is what a small group purity study offers: an ongoing community group where information and strategies come alongside deepening relationships to get at the root of addictive behavior.
Isolation fuels addiction. We are designed for intimate relationships with God and others, but in our addictive struggles, Satan whispers the lie that we are the only one. As a result, bringing our sins into the light comes with tremendous fear and expectation of judgment.
Chances are good that the Bible studies in your campus ministry are in small groups. You probably don’t hand out your studies and have the students complete them in their dorm room alone and then pray for themselves. The idea is to get them into community.
1 John 1:7 speaks of the power of fellowship: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Small group purity studies provide a place for students to be known alongside other strugglers who can undo the lie that they are the only one. Healing comes in communities where they can share their struggles and be met with grace instead of judgment.
4. Freedom Unlocks Leadership Potential
The first men’s small group purity study I ever led was in 2009 with eight sophomores. My campus director was skeptical. Was this worth my time? The next year I transitioned to my current assignment and moved across the region. But I heard a report from my old campus that these now-Junior men had blossomed into leaders in the ministry!
So, what happened?
Well, Hebrews 12:1 commands us to throw off every weight and sin which clings so closely so we can run! These men had cast off some heavy burdens. They had found a community where they could be real about what they were going through and met other men who they could battle with. As a result, their leadership potential skyrocketed.
In The Navigators, our desire is to produce lifetime laborers who will labor in God’s Kingdom wherever they go after college. Sexual sin is such a weight and burden it will hinder their walk with Jesus, destroy their ministry potential, and can crumble the foundation of their marriage and impact the next generation through their kids.
Understand by age eighteen, when they arrive on campus, we are already well behind. The largest group of pornography users are ages 12-17 (Stop Porn Culture). But if we don’t address this issue, when will it stop? When they graduate? When they get married or have kids?
Small group purity studies provide the opportunity to have students lay down their heavy burdens and unlock their leadership potential.
5. Low Time Commitment – High Impact
I’m not asking you to overhaul your ministry. I realize as campus ministers we are often overwhelmed just trying to keep our current objectives moving. However, small group purity studies can be one resource to meet a huge need on your campus, grow the depth of community, unlock leadership potential, and help students walk in freedom from addiction. You can do all this in under one hour a week. That’s all it takes. It’s a low time commitment that can lead to a high impact.
In my ministry of approximately 70 students, we start one men’s and women’s purity study each fall, primarily inviting freshmen. We share from the front at our large group meeting and at each Bible study, and then text individual invitations to gauge interest.
These groups will last one semester, and if we have enough interest for a second group, we will start another one in the spring.
We have also made completion of a purity study a requirement for student leadership (and I’ve never had a student argue with me about the requirement).
So, would small group purity studies crack your list of top five non-negotiable items on your campus? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments section.
- The Navigators small group studies, “Walking in the Light” for men and “Into the Light” for women (email Carol Rugg at Carol.firstname.lastname@example.org to request access to free pdf).
- “Surfing for God” by Michael Cusick for men.
- “Sex and the Single Girl” by Dr. Julie Slattery for women.
- Video curriculum for men. “The Conquer Series” This is an excellent series but takes about 2 hours a week, so difficult to do in addition to a weekly Bible study.