14 Jul 2016
As the church steps into the trenches of the sexual struggles with which her people are wrestling, it is encountering a new reality and new challenges in how to do faithful ministry. As the culture continues to push into the church, the following “givens” impact how Christians are thinking about sexuality:
- Increasing cultural acceptance of homosexuality, especially among millennials
- Growing acceptance of a genderfluid and genderless society
- An awareness of Christians who experience same-sex attraction (SSA) but confusion about how to help them
- Legalization of gay marriage
- The encroachment of pro-gay theology and its inroads into the evangelical church
- The trend toward casual sexual relationships and co-habitation
- The ubiquity of pornography and the steady erosion of biblical sexual ethics
All of the above signals the need for churches to think strategically about how to “do ministry” as the culture continues to push into the church. John Freeman has spoken to church leaders and presbyteries, helping to bring awareness of the pressing issues that need attention. John highlights four things churches must address.
1. Leadership—insuring everyone is on the same page
While leadership certainly means your key leaders—pastors, elders, deacons, etc.—it also includes your leadership volunteers like women’s leaders, youth leaders, Sunday school and adult teachers, small group leaders, and so on. The importance of all leaders being on the same page, theologically and pastorally, has never been more critical. Asking the following questions will (hopefully) result in dialogue and clarification.
Do you know your current leaders’ views on sex and sexuality? Considering the “givens” listed above, how do you approach your leadership in determining what they believe and where they might be feeling pressure to change? We used to take it for granted that leaders would adhere to biblical sexual ethics, but some are changing their views and remaining silent about it. How do you get everyone on the same page?
Do you know if your leaders are struggling here? As important as what they believe, do you know if some of your leaders are struggling here? People, and especially leaders, hide sexual struggles. How can you call them to be honest, and in what ways do you help them? We know that when leadership falls sexually, it deeply injures the church and how people see Christ.
How will your leaders approach sexual issues pastorally? Key leaders have the greatest influence, so it’s more important than ever to make sure they believe fully in what the Scriptures say and will speak that compassionately to those who struggle. Sometimes that’s not easy to do, but true compassion is grounded in speaking God’s truth, not in defining truth as we wish it to be.
How would your church address a leadership candidate who experiences same-sex attraction? As we call believers to openness and honesty about their sexual struggles, we should expect to find men and women who live with same-sex attraction and are living faithfully according to Scripture. When they pursue leadership roles in the church, what help and assistance do they need?
2. Membership—confronting complex issues
The culture greatly influences church members. Confusion is growing as pro-gay theology, rooted in secular thought, influences believers who know too little of Scripture. How will your church in this new reality address some of the following scenarios?
What if someone identifies as a gay Christian? Is this a private matter known only to some, or is this becoming public? Do you know what this person means by adopting this identity label?
What about someone who supports gay marriage and homosexuality? Again, is this a private opinion or an advocacy position? What is a pastoral approach to members whose views are in opposition to Scripture? What if someone with these views wants to join your church?
Are you talking about sex and sexuality to prospective members in your membership classes? Do you approach the issue from a discipline angle, or first from a Christian worldview perspective? Or do you not mention the topic at all, and if so, why not?
What if a same-sex couple comes to faith (one or both)? What if they are legally married? How do you approach the complex situation of pastorally shepherding a family, particularly when there are children, when the parents are legally married?
What about church discipline? While recognizing the complex issues involved with sexual sin, where might church discipline come into play as someone is being shepherded through the ups and downs that go with this struggle? Is there an approach that is more helpful, or less so?
3. Church Culture—what kind of church culture do you want to nurture?
Do you have a sense of the culture in your church in how it relates to the culture “out there?” How does your church address the new reality of sexual issues that are prominent in the culture? How do you speak about them publicly, from the pulpit, in Sunday school classes, in the things your church writes? There is a big difference between churches that speak harshly about sexual issues and those that say hardly anything at all. The first approach leaves people hiding, and the other leaves people in confusion. That we need to talk about these issues has never been more critical, but the words we use (or do not use) are equally important. How do you speak to those who are opposed to his ways; and to those who are confused about what Scripture says; and to those who want to obey but struggle to submit to the Lordship of Christ in this area? Our approach, our words, our faithfulness to Scripture, and our presence with those who struggle are the many ways we show who God is to them.
4. Policies and Procedures—possible dangers ahead
Two seismic changes have transformed the landscape for ministry: the legalization of same-sex marriage, and the use, or threat, of non-discrimination laws and regulations, known as sexual orientation and gender identity ordinances. Churches with a history and tradition of opening their doors to the community for weddings and receptions, local community events, outside groups that use the church to meet—all of these connections may become problematic in light of the increasing use of anti-discrimination ordinances.
These new laws and court rulings mean that churches must carefully think about ministry in three key areas.
While this issue gets a lot of press, the reality is that the First Amendment seems quite solid in protecting ministers from performing same-sex marriages. However, the matter is more uncertain if your church has been open to hosting outside weddings and receptions. What steps can your church take to remain open to traditional weddings while not hosting wedding events that oppose biblical truth?
Building usage by outside groups
Apart from weddings, building use for other outside events might become more difficult, particularly for churches that rent their facilities or allow them to be used by the community. The challenge for churches that want to remain invested in their local community is to determine how to both invite and define that involvement, in ways that will avoid potential lawsuits.
Anti-discrimination laws regarding employment are another new reality that is increasingly stepping on religious turf. Churches that discipline ordained staff for misconduct are again protected by the First Amendment. But addressing non-ordained staff behavior is not so clear. What if a staff person comes out as transgender, or a staff person legally marries someone of the same gender? Gender fluidity and sexual orientation are major battlegrounds for employment law today. The area of employment law for religious groups seems to be up for grabs today. How churches will be affected is not yet clear, but they should now find ways to try to protect themselves while also shepherding staff who are struggling in these areas.
We’ve just scratched the surface on a few of the crucial issues churches are facing with these new realities. Harvest USA can help! We can help you think through these issues and conduct a healthy conversation among your leaders.
Contact John Freeman at firstname.lastname@example.org to get the conversation started.
03 Feb 2016
I was camping out in Hebrews 11 recently. That’s the chapter where many of the heroes of the faith are listed. Three names immediately stuck out for me. First there is Abraham. Not once but twice, Abraham offers his wife, Sarah, to other men to sleep with to save himself. And when it seems the covenant promise of an heir won’t ever come true because of old age, Sarah suggests he sleep with her bondservant. He immediately says “okay.”
David is listed there—a man after God’s own heart. But we know he was also hotheaded and impetuous at times, often acting first and thinking later. He was a deceiver, murderer, and adulterer. He had at least six wives and several concubines.
Then there’s Sampson. What!? God, you’ve got to be kidding! Sampson? He was the Charlie Sheen of his day! His life was ruled by scandal. When he saw a beautiful Philistine girl, he told his parents, “Go get her for me.” They put up a little fight because God had forbidden the intermarriage of heathen people with the Israelites. Sampson basically said to them, “I don’t care—go get her for me.” Then we see that he visited houses of ill-repute. His love (lust?) for Delilah was almost the downfall of the emergent nation and was his ruin.
These are the kind of men counted among the great men of faith. It doesn’t make sense. How can it be when each was involved in sexual sin or approved of sexual misconduct? How could these men be those in whom God took pleasure?
The record of these men’s lives is the story of ordinary but broken followers of God. Not a pretty picture, but an accurate one. They did great things for God, but they also struggled greatly too.
I think it means this. The record of these men’s lives is the story of ordinary but broken followers of God. Not a pretty picture, but an accurate one. They did great things for God, but they also struggled greatly too. Yet God blesses men like this (like us) because he mixes his grace with our corruptions—as a rule, not an exception! It’s not about our sin, although he takes that extremely seriously; it’s about his grace.
In one of my favorite books, The Godly Man’s Picture by Thomas Watson, written in 1666, there is a chapter entitled, “Comfort to the Godly.” Honestly, I think it should have been entitled, “Comfort to the Scoundrels.” Watson says this,
“There are in the best of saints, interweavings of sin and grace; a dark side with the light; much pride mixed with much humility; much earthliness mixes with much heavenly-ness. Even in the regenerate there is often more corruption than grace. There’s so much bad passion that you can hardly see any good. A Christian in this life is like a glass of beer that has more froth (foam) than beer. Christ will never quench remnants of grace, because a little grace is as precious as much grace. As a fire may be hidden in the embers, so grace may be hidden under many disorders of the soul.”
It’s true—this side of heaven, grace and holiness are always mixed with our corrupt hearts. But experiencing God’s grace and forgiveness should move us towards a growing desire to be holy. I find many men who come for help to our ministry erroneously thinking there will be a day when they won’t desire or want things that would take them down dark roads. They think their hearts are, one day, not going to want bad things—therefore, they spiral down into depression and hopelessness when they do! Our hope is not in perfection here, or even in freedom from temptation, but in the realization that faith and obedience is a real possibility, because of God’s grace.
In his book, Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex, John expands on this encouraging point that God takes us as we are and that even while he transforms our lives, he continues to work in us while we remain a mess of both corruptions and grace. Click this link to get the book.
18 Nov 2014
Atlantic Monthly has a distressing but highly informative article on teen sexting, “Why Kids Sext:” http://m.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/11/why-kids-sext/380798/
It’s a great read. But, be prepared to be distressed and a bit unnerved.
It’s not just distressing because teens are taking naked photos of themselves and sending them to others (usually boyfriends), but what appears to be a “so what” attitude about doing this by these same kids. While the majority of teens who sext do so consensually, there are still terrible unintended consequences that can occur, and the article points out several. More disturbing are those situations where some teen girls cave in to relentless pressure to send photos to boys. That’s not only manipulative; it can turn criminal when the naked photo of a minor is distributed online.
But in spite of attitudes changing about this activity, one thing also remains: the double-standard of girls losing out and being shamed, while boys are seemingly immune from consequences. In the ongoing descent into sexual chaos which our culture pushes, some things never change.
It’s an article worth reading by every parent. But what should a parent do once they’ve read it? Let me suggest four ways to respond.
One, I suggest you don’t react in fear and grab your child’s cell phone and demand to look at what’s in it (though you might very much want to do that!). And, don’t rush to punish your teen if he or she has done something like this. You won’t win your child’s heart by over reacting, and that’s the key here. Behavior is important (because behavior has real-world consequences), but character is paramount, and helping your child understand her heart is what will ultimately help her to shape her behavior to do what is right (and honor God in the process).
Two, don’t shut down access to technology, either. Taking away the cellphone or restricting Internet use won’t really work in the long run. Technology is too embedded in our kids’ lives (and ours), and trying to shut down what is ubiquitous, and what society is increasingly relying on, will only drive your teen underground. Trying to control our kids’ lives will only train them to be deceptive. It’s not control you want over your child’s life; it’s involvement in their life.
Three, parents need to wisely interact with their teens regarding their use of technology. Yes, they need monitoring. They need supervision and guidance. Think long and hard before giving your young child a smartphone. They are fun, informative, fascinating—and potentially dangerous They can be portals to some of the darkest corners of life. Are your children using smartphones, tablets, laptops, video game devices? Unless you oversee their usage and know where they are going on the web, they WILL access bad sites and maybe engage with people who can seriously harm them. And you won’t know about any of this, because web browsers are now almost universally private when it comes to concealing the history of accessed websites. Effective filters and accountability software should be as mandatory in homes as smoke-detectors. Seriously.
Four, start talking to your children about sex and their sexuality. The silence of parents is driving our kids to the most broken places on the planet to learn about sex: from the Internet, and increasingly they are emulating the practices and standards of pornography as being normative for sex. But God’s message on sex is that it is a gift to be given in a committed, covenantal union between a husband and wife, and that protecting it until such time comes is not only ideal, but it is also realistic. Not easy in today’s over-sexualized culture, but not unattainable, either. Honoring God with our sexuality is worth pursuing—for ourselves, and for our children.
We can help our children navigate this journey. But they need us to speak up. They need us to be involved, helping them to see and understand what God has said about using his gift of sex, and how their hearts need continual direction to align their sexuality with sound, wise, life-affirming biblical practices.
The benefits and blessings of managing their sexuality are life-long. When you show them the way, you’ll be learning how to live with this awesome gift, too.
To learn more how to talk to your kids about sex and how to oversee their use of technology, go to http://harvest-usa-store.com/ and check out Harvest USA’s mini books, like iSnooping on your Kid: Parenting in an Internet Age and What’s Wrong with a Little Porn when You’re Single?
A question often asked here at Harvest USA is a common one. “Why do people—Christians even—go back to a gay life after they have come for help?” It’s a legitimate question. For Christians who believe the Word, the Scriptures, and believe that faith in Christ makes one a “new creation,” the issue may seem confusing, but the answer must be honest and biblically grounded. Here is the sixth reason to explain what might be happening here, as we have seen some common denominators over the years in our ministry.
Living in dishonesty
People don’t just jump back into disobedience. What usually happens is that they walk back step by step, and both they and those around them are typically unaware of what is happening. In every case at Harvest USA, in which someone has come for help and then gone back into the gay life, this has happened. When some come back later, we ask them when they first began to experience strong and overwhelming struggles to the point of giving in; they will point back to a specific period in time long before they fell.
Yet they never opened up to anyone about the struggle! Instead, they chose to pursue bondage again to sin—totally in secret. When questioned about why they didn’t come and share their heart with anyone about their struggles, virtually the same answer is given: “I knew you would tell me it was wrong.”
In each case, when the heart begins to do what it wants to do, the idea of honesty with those closest and best able to help was intentionally not pursued. Often, the person will be open with others in the gay life—or even with those in a gay-affirming church—during their time of secrecy with you. Why? Because when they decided to slip back, the thought of hearing what you would say would cause them even more distress! Already struggling, they wanted to get out of the struggle (see the post on demandingness), and hearing truth, even truth spoken with love and mercy, was something they had already closed their ears to.
Those who begin to walk in this kind of dishonesty are sometimes beyond help at this point. They see their new change of heart as a refreshing kind of “freedom” because it eliminates—even if only temporarily—the distress they are in.
Fear and shame enter into this kind of dishonesty. We have seen it in those who have come to us after spending time in Christian counseling, having never really opened up about the real issue of their same-sex attraction or behavior. Instead, they talked about loneliness, depression, and the like, issues which skirted around and shrouded the truth of their struggles.
It’s been our experience that no one gets better, no one grows, unless they lay the cards on the table—all the time! Both with God and with other people. People dealing with same-sex attraction, as with other sexual sins, must be ruthlessly honest with themselves and a few, selected other people they are willing to trust. Sexual struggles and sin move people into lives of denial, secrecy, and silence.
These self-protective mechanisms are simply deadly. It is only in a community of mercy and truth (what should characterize the church) that fear and shame can be overcome and honesty becomes as regular as breathing. If only the church were truly like this, would we see men and women less likely to flee into sexual sin and into communities that support such behavior? When the church, even imperfectly, loves sexual strugglers with mercy and truth, then the struggler is in a better position to see and respond to Christ’s love, even when their hearts are divided. God understands our divided hearts, our doubts, and our deep pockets of unbelief.
These situations are painful for all concerned. It is especially painful to see those you love, with whom you’ve spent much time and in whose lives you have built a growing relationship with, seem to desert all that they once held so strongly. No one escapes this tragedy.
These six factors are the main reasons that people revert back to sinful behavior. I must point out that these reasons are not unique to people with same-sex attraction. I have seen men and women in the church who have deserted the faith or left their marriage vows, and their reasons for doing so can be the same ones I highlighted here. The heart of the person dealing with same-sex attraction is not unlike the heart of any other sinner. Every one of us is prone to follow his own course in life. It’s only the Lord’s grace and goodness that keeps anyone pursuing the truth and living life on God’s terms rather than his own.
Updated 5.3.2017, 6.1.2018
17 Jul 2012
Along with the sense of guilt, long-term sinful habits and hidden desires create a deep sense of shame. Shame is what happens when we begin to identify directly with our sin—when we view our sin as what we are, rather than something we do. In the face of mounting guilt and an inability to change, our sinful behaviors or desires become a source of personal identity.
One brother recounted the shame of being called a “jerk off” as a teen because masturbation had been a central part of his life since early childhood. Since he was secretly enslaved to this behavior and lived with profound guilt for years, he believed he was a “jerk off” in a very deep sense
The power of shame lies in the “hiddenness” of our behavior or desires. Shame grows and overwhelms us when we keep things hidden in the dark. We were created by God for intimacy, to be known by others. But in our shame, we are too scared to let others see who we really are, to know the worst things about us. As a result, we live with the nagging sense that if others truly knew us, they would reject us. We become committed to hiding behind a mask and living a life that is a lie. We begin to project an illusion for others to see, but this just intensifies the problem. As our hypocrisy increases, so does our shame. As shame deepens, we become more committed to the façade. We enter a relational cycle as destructive and ensnaring as our struggle with sexual sin.
Why is shame so destructive? It always results in estrangement from others. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you are a social outcast. Many people wrestling with deep shame are the “life of the party.” Everybody knows and loves them, but inwardly they are living a life of hiding, desperately afraid of others finding out. They live with a constant fear of exposure. Although they know they are well-liked, shame makes them think, “Would people really like me if they knew____?” It may appear that they have many rich friendships, but inwardly they are deeply alone because no one truly knows them. The pressure of living a lie is a crushing burden that often leads to depression, seemingly unrelated anxieties, other destructive behaviors like self harm or substance abuse, etc.
For others, their sense of shame leads to both inward and outward isolation. Instead of living a public life that is a sham, they increasingly withdraw from relationships, both because of their fear of being “found out” and the increasing pain of living with others without being truly “known” by them. There is a cost to our souls when we live an illusion before others, never known for who we truly are.
The only way to find freedom from this cycle is to risk exposure. Listen to the promise of 1 John 1:7: “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” (ESV). Did you hear the double promise? If we humble ourselves and risk exposure by “walking in the light,” instead of hiding in the dark in our shame, God promises we will have fellowship—genuine intimacy—with each other, and we’ll get what we’ve been longing for: cleansing from our sin. The only way out of the cycle of sinful behavior and relational estrangement is to be truly known. Only honesty and vulnerability with others in the body can deliver us from both shame and slavery to sin.
How is shame manifested in your life? Are you outgoing but hiding, withdrawn, or in between? In which relationships are you most “hidden?”
This excerpt is taken from Harvest USA’s workbook for men, Sexual Sanity for Men, Recreating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture, published by New Growth Press. This workbook is excellent for small groups and one-on-one mentoring. You can check out this workbook and other resources in the Harvest USA bookstore at www.harvest-usa-store.com.