We have teens and young adults in our church who are gay, bisexual, and transgender. At one point not too long ago, we had to deal with two girls who were actually kind of making out with each other during our large group time. I eventually had a private conversation with the two of them about appropriate and inappropriate PDA (Public Display of Affection) in general while at church. But, I handled this just like I would any couple–straight or gay.
As I thought about it later, I realized that I’m sort of glad we had to address their PDA. It told me that they feel comfortable in our church. They feel welcomed…like they belong. Of course, they were being naughty and we dealt with it. They received it very well because they trust me. I’ve worked hard to build a good relationship with them. I know that if and when the right time comes, the Lord will guide our conversations where they need to go. But, that incident told me that we’re on the right path.
While I and our church have retained an orthodox theology of human sexuality and ethics that is firmly rooted in God’s original intentions as outlined in the early chapters of Genesis and all throughout the scriptures, our ministry practices are gracious, loving, and accepting while remaining Christ-centered, biblically rooted and dependent on the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification. We do not want anyone to feel like they are not welcome in our church simply because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Furthermore, we recognize that gender identity and sexual orientation in today’s world is extremely complicated and should not be treated lightly.
Here’s how I (currently) think we should practice ministry when kids say they are gay.
1. Lead with Love
Love and accept them no matter what you think of their orientation or sexual identity.
The two greatest commandments are to love God and love others. Regardless of what we think of anyone and their choices or brokenness, we are to love and accept them no matter what.
2. Jesus First
Help them develop a relationship with Christ the same way you would for any other kid.
Our first missional goal should always be to help kids develop an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ. Our first missional goal should never be to change someone’s behavior. Our second goal should be to help them experience health and healing in their life as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts. Changes in behavior follow afterward. Relationship first. Health and healing second. Behavior third. This is how we should approach everyone including kids who are gay.
3. Make Disciples
Disciple them the same way you’d disciple any other kid.
When we disciple kids, we seek
- BELONGING – First, we seek to move kids from simply attending church to finding a sense of true Belonging IN the Church and in relationship with Christ.
- PURSUING – Second, we seek to inspire kids to begin Pursuing life with Jesus (finding their identity in Christ, gaining knowledge of the Word, and find a place to serve and help others).
- PRACTICING – Third, we strive to equip them to become one who is Practicing spiritual habits, healthy relationships, and wise decision making.
- CONTRIBUTING – Fourth, we work to empower them to become one who is ministry-minded, Contributing to the ministry of the Covenant Church and God’s mission in the world.
We do this with all our kids.
Notice what stage of growth in which “healthy relationships” fall…the third stage. Notice what stage in which “wise decision making” falls…the third stage. It takes a long time with lots of other more foundational teaching and spiritual growth to take place before behavioral practices can fall into place.
4. No Labels
Don’t put a label on them.
The adolescent years are full of confusing changes, experiences, and feelings regarding their sexuality. The teenage years are still malleable and formative. If one thing is common to all teens, its identity experimentation. They’re constantly trying to figure out who they are. Unfortunately, labels can stick with kids whether we or they like them or not. There even comes a point when kids (adults too) feel the need to defend their label for the sake of showing strength, or even coping with the pain of the label itself.
Labeling kids as anything other than a child of God is detrimental to their ability to securely find their identity in Christlabeling athletic kids as jocks, labeling smart kids as geeks, labeling effeminate kids as gay. While kids may come to a place of identifying themselves as gay, we don’t need to falsely reinforce that label. Rather, we must continually reinforce the biblical truth that our true identity is not found in our sexuality, nor ability, nor sub-culture, nor anything other than Christ himself.
5. Ask Questions & Actively Listen
Make sure you are asking questions more than making statements.
Ask about their journey, their life story. Ask about their relationships. Ask about their experiences. Ask about the feelings they’ve had about themselves. Ask them to reflect on what has led them to their conclusion. Ask them what they think of what you’ve taught and why. While on this journey of reflection, invite the Holy Spirit to reveal to you what is important, what other questions to ask, and how to respond.
Make sure you are engaging in active listening.
Reflect back to them what you are hearing them say. Paraphrase what you are hearing from them so that they know they are being heard by you. Hearing that you are hearing them can be very encouraging to them. Your constant empathy … not sympathy … your constant empathy will meet such a core need in such a healing way that trust will be built and a relationship of discipleship can be established.
6. Teach Intention, Fall, and Redemption
Before we begin teaching, I invite all of us to do our own personal theological work to realize (and get ourselves to come to emphasize) this one most pivotal BIBLICAL TRUTH:
The CONDITION in which we are BORN is NOT indicative of God’s INTENTION for us.
Then, when we teach – whether in speaking to a large group, leading a small group discussion, or having a personal conversation – we must teach the following three truths in this order.
FIRST, teach what the Scriptures reveal about God’s original intention for all of human sexuality…not just homosexuality.
When we teach on (and against) homosexuality isolated from the rest of our sexuality, we remove it from the very context that is most helpful. God had an original plan for our sexuality. We must teach it in its entirety. Namely, that…
1. God created male and female to be an intimate community of three persons (God, Male, and Female).
2. God created man and woman as equal partners in life and responsibility.
3. God created us male and femaleequally called and equally gifted; mutual in submission, love, and respect.
4. God created sexuality to produce communal intimacy, physically expressed WITHIN the protection of faithful heterosexual marriage.
5. God designed sexuality for the purpose of reuniting male and female in the protected covenant of monogamous marriage.
6. Gender/Sexual Dominance (male dominating female, female dominating male, sexual abuse, etc.) and Gender/Sexual Variance (psychological and biological) are the result of the Fall right along with all the other ways our world is different from what was intended (our relationships, our environment, our politics, our mental health, our physical health, etc.).
7. Gender/Sexual Dominance and Gender/Sexual Variance are NOT God’s intention for humanity and are in need of redemption.
SECOND, teach what the Scriptures reveal about the FALL of Humanity
Teach what the Scriptures reveal about the fall of humanity from God’s intention and the current REALITY in which we ALL find ourselves: Our lives are drastically and negatively affected by sin in every aspect including spiritually, relationally, physically, mentally, and sexually.
THIRD, teach what the Scriptures reveal about God’s loving redemption
Teach what the Scriptures reveal about God’s loving redemption through Jesus Christ for all of us who accept it. Teach about His promised presence to not only forgive our sins but to also FREE us from our sin. Teach about His promise to guide and sustain us in the MIDST of our brokenness, while we are subject to the reality of living with the condition in which we were born. We are loved regardless of the condition in which we are born and the situation in which we find ourselves.
7. Let the Holy Spirit Work
Trust in the Holy Spirit’s continued work of sanctification.
A teen’s journey as they develop their sexual identity is long and complicated. We should never assume that it’s simply a matter of choice nor anything we can control. We must trust in the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work for only He knows the heart of any man or woman, gay or straight, and will be faithful to complete His work in His time.
I’d like to end this post by encouraging you to always remember, in every situation, to first Lead with Love. Let your love for these kids reflect the love that Christ has for them. Put judgement, personal comfort levels, moral expectations, and fear of other people’s opinions aside and love them. The Holy Spirit will guide you the rest of the way.