Is your children’s ministry ready for the Same Sex tidal wave headed your way?
Recently a 20-year-old children’s ministry volunteer at Crosspoint Wesleyan Church, a church in Canada, was relieved of his duties. Colin Briggs had volunteered since 2011.
The reason he was asked to resign?
“Having an openly gay male working in the children’s ministry may cause some parents to feel uncomfortable,” according to pastor Mark Brewer. The move to end Briggs’ work within the ministry was to “avoid any potential uproar.”
“I felt disappointed. Personally and towards the church,” said Briggs, quoted in a local paper.
Brewer said the church does not discriminate and welcomes everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or any other factor.
How would your church have handled this situation? Think it won’t ever be an issue for your church? Think again. It’s here—and there’s no running from it.
It’s clear that attitudes in our society toward homosexuality have been shifting in the last few years. In 2013, 53 percent of American adults favored changing laws to grant more freedoms for the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning) community, according to the public Religion Research Institute. This opinion has become the majority view since just 10 years ago when, according to a Gallup poll, 42 percent of adults took this stance.
In a 2012 survey of 2,144 adults, researchers found 44 percent believe homosexuality is a sin, 43 percent believe it’s not, and 13 percent say they’re not sure. (Survey: Big drop in those who say being gay’s a sin)
The survey also asked: “If you were considering visiting or joining a church, would knowing that the church taught that homosexual behavior was sinful impact your decision positively or negatively or have no impact?”
- 36% said this would have a negative impact
- 26% said it would have a positive impact
- 32% said it would have no impact or they weren’t sure.
And it’s not just in our culture at large.
- A slight majority (57%) of white and Hispanic Catholics now favor same-sex marriage, up from roughly one-third 10 years ago.
- Support for same-sex marriage among white mainline Protestants nearly doubled, from 36% in 2003 to 62% in 2013.
- Although acceptance has increased among black and white evangelical Protestants, the majority of each group opposes a universal right to marry.
It’s possible you haven’t had to deal with the subject of homosexuality in your ministry, but we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Whether we want to or not, it’s time to dialogue about the reality of LGBTQ individuals within your community, church, and ministry. We don’t propose to tell you what to think. this article is designed to help you look at both sides of the issue and to have a healthy dialogue with your church leaders.
“As a children’s minister, you must prepare for this tidal wave of an issue before you gasp for answers.”
Consider these two areas:
- How will you minister to children and families whose parents are LGBTQ?
- How will you respond to LGBTQ people who want to serve in your ministry? These are not easy issues.
When Children Have LGBTQ Parents
Here are eye-opening statistics about the makeup of today’s LGBTQ families, according to a report by the Movement Advancement Project, the Family Equality Council, and the Center for American Progress.
- In the U.S. alone, LGBTQ parents are raising nearly 2 million children.
- Of the 1.6 million adopted children in the U.S., 65,000 (4%) are being raised by gay and lesbian parents.
- About 14,000 foster children (3% of all foster children in the U.S.) live with LGBTQ parents.
Opinions vary on what it means to minister to these families. Some say that these families must be welcomed into the fellowship of churches—just as anyone else is welcomed.
“Authentic community matters to everyone,” says Brian Benson*, a veteran youth pastor of 15 years. “This is why the gay community is so important to the lives of LBGTQ people—it offers a reality of belonging that the church often doesn’t. But a church can stand firm on biblical truth and tradition while fostering a community that’s welcoming and affirming to people with different backgrounds and starting points with Jesus.” Benson knows the tension of this issue personally. Though I’m happily married and a dad of four kids, I’m attracted to the same sex. It’s due time the church starts engaging people like myself and others. I believe one way to do this is through biblical community.”
Not everyone agrees. Some assert that homosexuals must be excluded from the fellowship of the church to lead them to repentance from their sin.
The nonprofit corporation Mission to America’s response to “Gays in Church Leadership” states on its website (evangelical.us) : “Homosexuals make no effort to turn away from their sin. They even refuse to recognize their sin as sin—instead they glorify their sin…How can we even consider an unrepentant sinner (homosexual) as a leader, when Paul tells us such sinners (unrepentant) should not even be included in the fellowship of the church? Why must we exclude them from the fellowship of the church? It is for their own good, so they will have a chance to be saved. Otherwise we are enablers, helping the person to continue in their sin. ‘Then you must cast this person out of the church and into Satan’s hands, so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved when the Lord returns.’ ”
(1 Corinthians 5:5)
Many churches take this stance and base their position on Scriptures like this. Do you agree?
“[Using the Bible to justify mistreating LGBTQ people] is not only damaging to the people it’s used against, it’s also damaging to the source,” says music artist Jennifer Knapp. “It damages the reputation of religion when people believe Christianity at its core is antigay.” Knapp, formerly a Christian music artist who came out as gay in 2010, made those comments in an interview with The Advocate, an American LGBT-interest magazine.
Is there an in-between approach? Benson says, “You can extend a hand of fellowship to a person who’s LGBTQ and still not violate your biblical beliefs. Rather, you’re acknowledging him or her as a person, created in God’s image, whom Jesus died for on Calvary, and whom Jesus instructs us to love as ourselves. Jesus modeled this well, and we’re to imitate him in our words and actions. The gospel at its core isn’t a hierarchical system but one built on level ground before the cross. Jesus calls us to not fight culture wars or people but to fight for those who reside inside and outside his fold.”
The decision or theological stance that’s foundational to all other decisions your church will make with this issue: Is homosexuality a sin or a choice? If it’s a sin, is it a worse sin than other sins?
Grapple with this also: If LGBTQ parents aren’t welcome in your church, how will you minister to their children? What will you tell these children that would be the same or different from what you’d say to other children about their parents’ lifestyle?
Prepare, Don’t Repair
It’s never easy dealing with a volunteer’s moral struggle, especially when it’s sexual in nature. Sexuality is a sensitive topic that unfortunately is often polarized by negative histories, shame, and judgmental attitudes. Here are important steps your children’s ministry needs to take and decisions leadership needs to make before you’re faced with a volunteer who identifies him- or herself as LGBTQ.
- Check your church’s governing body to ensure the definition of family is clearly articulated in its doctrinal statements. Decades ago, the definition of marriage being between one man and one woman was uncontested in our culture. As a result, many older churches don’t have any theological language in their statements of faith to define what a family is according to their reading of Scripture. This lack of clarity exposes a church to legal liability when it finds itself having to discipline an unrepentant church member for sexual sin.
- Know your church’s behavioral standards for membership. Many churches have a statement in their membership covenant that outlines the expectations for the moral conduct of all members. Some of these expectations may be clearly drawn from scripture, while others might be more reflective of your church’s heritage. Regardless of whether you agree with all of the standards or not, as a children’s minister it’s your duty to abide by them and to lovingly hold your volunteers accountable to the covenant they signed when they became members.
- Ensure all volunteers know their responsibility to uphold your church’s standards of family and sexuality at the time they apply to serve in your ministry. It’s unfair to surprise a volunteer with a set of expectations that the person wasn’t aware of when he or she joined your team.
- Avoid a culture of fear. We need to uphold the Bible’s standards regarding sexuality and the family. And we also need to admit the church has a history of being driven by irrational fears and hatred.
- Find places for everyone to serve. The struggle with sin is universal. But so is the need for every member of the church to have a place to serve. Simply experiencing sexual temptation of any variety is not a sin. Your church can allow a place for every sincere follower of Jesus to serve with dignity and acceptance.
When an LGBTQ Person Wants to Serve
It’s one thing to welcome people into the fellowship of the church, but it gets more tricky when it comes to those people wanting to serve in your ministry.
Benson says that after asking, “Do I belong here?” the next question many individuals have is often, “Can I serve here?”
Again, there are very disparate views on this issue.
“This is, in many ways, a straightforward issue,” says Suzanne Coleman*, a veteran children’s ministry director. “The question is, are you actively participating in sexual sin of any kind—regardless of who you are or if you identify as LGBTQ? God calls us to love others—all others—and walk beside them in their faith journey.”
To many in the LGBTQ community, this is doublespeak. Is welcoming them into the fellowship
but excluding them from service treating them like lepers? Compassionate church leaders say not at all because there’s a higher standard for sexual sin. Again, actions will rise and fall on that pivotal distinction:
Is homosexuality a sin or a choice? If it’s a sin, is it a worse sin than other sins?
“My church doesn’t weigh sexual sin as more serious than other sins. However, we acknowledge the close relationship between sex and family in God’s eyes,” says Allen Fox*, a pastor and former children’s minister. Fox also works with family ministry and leadership development. “Because of this, we felt it was important to highlight this piece of our membership covenant for anyone who wants to serve in our family ministry.”
Fox admits it’s cost them volunteers. “Even so, staff and volunteers aren’t qualified solely by their talents and spiritual gifts. Character matters also. In 1 Timothy 3, the Apostle Paul laid out qualifications for two high-level church leadership positions. The list focuses on different aspects of what it looks like for Jesus’ character to form in the leader. This isn’t to suggest that competency and spiritual giftedness doesn’t matter. But no amount of talent and giftedness can compensate for a serious deficit in Jesus-like character, whether it’s sexual in nature or not. A ministry is better off with a volunteer of average talent and high character than settling for a volunteer with stellar abilities combined with poor character.”
If we exclude all character deficits from serving in the church, what then?
“I believe it’s possible for a person to love Jesus and serve him faithfully while struggling with same-sex attractions,” says Benson. “All of us fall short of God’s glory, Paul says, so let our approach to each person and situation be biblical, appropriate, and just…If we’re going to keep people from serving based on ‘struggles,’ then who’ll be left to serve—or fill the church building?”
One lesbian told the story of how she was serving in a church until the pastor discovered she was homosexual. She was promptly asked to step down. She said the judgment and condemnation has kept her from returning to any church.
Grapple with this: Will you allow LBGTQ people to serve in your children’s ministry? If so, why? If not, why not? How will you determine if someone is LBGTQ? Are there any places for LBGTQ people to serve in your children’s ministry? What other criteria do you have for people to serve?
Benson offers some important thoughts: “I believe in having an application and a given set of standards for all leaders within the church. People should have a relationship with Jesus, they should teach the truth of Scripture, they should uphold the beliefs of the church, and their manner should always imitate Christ. If a church doesn’t have this already set in place, it’s long overdue to happen.”
He adds, “When filling roles within ministries, the litmus test shouldn’t be, ‘What is this person’s sexual preference?’ but rather, ‘Does this person have the gifting?’ ‘Does she have a consistent relationship with Jesus?’ ‘Does he hold the church’s beliefs?’ ‘Is this person trustworthy?’ all the while praying for the Spirit’s discernment.”
Coleman disagrees. She says, “There’s a higher level of scrutiny when it come to children’s ministry. It’s our duty and calling to do everything to protect and nurture children, and that means those serving them must be living a life of sexual purity. Part of our adult volunteer interviewing process is to clarify whether they’re living according to God’s plan for sexual purity, which allows for sex within marriage between a man and woman.
“If they’re not, we work with them as partners and mentors, but we don’t allow them to serve—regardless of what the sexual sin is.”
When the Truth Comes Out
When someone reveals that he or she is LGBTQ, chances are strong that your initial response will stay with that person for a long time—perhaps for life. Here are six things to consider when this moment happens from Shawn Harrison, author of Ministering to Gay Teenagers (Group).
- Don’t freak out. First, remember that to the person telling you this news, this step is a huge deal. It’s likely taken a long time and a lot of emotional energy to get to this point. Hear what the person has to say, and then thank him or her for telling you.
- Let the person know you care. Caring isn’t condoning—Jesus did this with everyone he encountered.
- Follow James 1:19. This isn’t the time to spout off verses about homosexuality, purity, or even sin, but rather a time to “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”
- Ask questions. “When you say gay, what does that mean to you?” “Does anyone else know?” “How can I help you in your faith journey?”
- Ask for permission to share. You need to tell some people, such as your senior pastor and key ministry leaders, depending on your church’s protocol. But parents and prayer chains don’t need to know.
- Remember that it all comes back to Jesus. There are two groups of people in this world: those who need a relationship with Jesus and those who need to grow in their relationship with Jesus. Everyone fits into one of these groups, and each group centers on one thing: Jesus himself. If Jesus isn’t your starting and ending point in a situation such as this, then your points are wrong and you need to refocus.
After your initial conversation, assure the person that your church is still his or her church family–and then ensure that remains true.
Where do you land on the spectrum—complete dismissal or complete acceptance?
Benson recommends something in the middle: “Rather than simply dismissing someone from service because they struggle with their sexuality, consider providing a mentor for that person,” Benson suggests. “Imagine the difference if an elder or member of the church, strong in faith and grace, took such a person under his or her wing in mentorship. What if the church provided a safe place for people to ask questions, search Scripture, grow in Christ, and find a community of people willing to navigate the journey with them?”
Most tsunamis are caused by seafloor earthquakes deep under the ocean’s surface. The water spreads out in opposite directions from the fault, gathering momentum until the wall of water grows to dangerous heights. The water barrels toward shore at the speed of a jetliner.
The same-sex tsunami has been gathering speed for decades now. Is your church ready? Your leadership team must grapple with these issues in an environment of respectful dialogue and searching Scripture. May God give us all wisdom in these days.
What does this mean to YOU?
We want to know how you’re handling this issue in your church or ministry. Share your experiences by commenting below or on our Facebook page.