A pastor told me the story recently of a woman who said she was looking forward to the church’s upcoming evening for married couples. Then she introduced the woman standing next to her: “This is my wife,” she said.
This pastor was prepared for that in some important ways: He treated them with grace, and he invited them to have a sit-down conversation. “We need to lead with grace, and follow through with truth,” he said to me as he told the story. But he also admitted the conversation caught him off guard. It was awkward.
A small town church leader in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula told me of a woman who’d applied to work at the church’s weekday coffee shop. She told him she was a lesbian. He said he’d want to talk with the church’s advisory board about her. That was all it took. She escalated it immediately: “Obviously you don’t want me here!” The local LGBT group made plans to picket the church that Sunday.
Any one of us could have had those conversations. Are we ready for them? I don’t think so.
If there’s one chief complaint gays, lesbians, and trans persons have about Christianity, it’s that they feel unwelcome, shunned, treated as dirty around Christians. I’ve been asking around, and I haven’t met one pastor who believes that’s how anyone should be treated. (I know those pastors exist, but from my experience they must be a tiny minority.) But in all my asking around, I’ve only met one pastor whose church has trained or taught its people how to respond to the gay in their midst.
Entire denominations have adopted legal protections from gay incursions. It’s not a bad idea. Gay activists target Christians for attack, and your church should be ready. The Alliance Defending Freedom offers free resources to help you with that. For your own protection, you really must not overlook this step.
But please, do not stop there! In fact I’d rather you didn’t even start there, for there’s a ministry priority that precedes it. Your church members must know how they’ll greet the two men who walk in the door holding hands. Your preparation could make all the difference between the men coming to faith in Christ on the one hand, or calling in activists to picket your church on the other. Why wouldn’t you want to get ready?
So how, then, do you prepare? I recommend a three-step process. It’s not simple; each of these will take some time. In this world, though, you can certainly expect the time spent to be worthwhile — especially when you use this as a springboard to teaching youth the truth.
It’s both wise and loving to begin by assuming their purposes are the same as anyone else’s: to worship God (or come to know him for the first time) and to enjoy fellowship and friendship. It’s also wise to be prepared for the reality that some LGBT persons have other purposes in mind, for not all of them are friendly to Christianity. Prepare your ushers and greeters with what to say and do in either case.
But be sure to note that word “train” in number 3. It means more than having a discussion. Just as in the police force or the military (or even in driver’s ed!) it includes simulations. Ushers and greeters should practice various potential situations via role-playing with each other.
The steps I’ve recommended here are very basic. They’re bare minimums. Your leadership team may object to studying the issue — especially reading more than one book! — but look at it this way: This is the number one challenge confronting Christianity today. Isn’t it worth investing some energy?
If your church makes it through the first three steps, you’re farther ahead than most. But think of what other ministry you can build from that point. Where might you expect questions about sexuality to arise? Are you ready?
Youth leaders and teachers, even down to ages 9 or 10, are likely to face questions about homosexuality. I’d go so far as to say they’d better face those questions, once kids hit middle school age — even if the young people are afraid or ashamed to ask! Young people tend to think Christianity is wrong on these issues, unless they’ve heard the truth explained clearly and lovingly. So train these leaders and teachers, using some of the same material your leadership team used.
Here’s the point: Prepare. Study. Be ready to minister. It may very well make the difference in many people’s lives.