Churchgoers often have relationships with more people in the LGBTQ+ community than church leaders. So how can pastors approach these topics?
By Ben Trueblood
One of the greatest fears we have as pastors is not having answers. We don’t want to feel inadequate or allow people to see our inadequacies. That fear, combined with a righteous motivation to lead our people in right thinking, can produce a pattern of avoiding difficult topics. This is the case in many churches as church leaders consider how to approach LGBTQ+ conversations.
A study from Lifeway Research found 87% of Protestant pastors have never been asked to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony. While many pastors are not encountering marriage requests from the LGBTQ+ community, the people of our churches are encountering friends, neighbors, and coworkers who are part of this community with increased frequency. Almost half of Protestant pastors (48%) say they personally know someone who identifies as transgender.
With the increased frequency of real-life contact, churchgoers want their leaders to help them understand and navigate these relationships from a biblical worldview. Enter the fear and subsequent avoidance. Pastor, I understand that cycle and have been in it myself. This is a difficult, and increasingly nuanced, conversation that is growing louder and reaching younger.
One of the most freeing phrases in ministry is: “I don’t know, but let’s find out together.” Entering a difficult conversation with the humility and courage to say “I don’t have all the answers” is the antidote to our fear. It pushes us beyond the discomfort and inadequacies that we all feel.“One of the most freeing phrases in ministry is: ‘I don’t know, but let’s find out together.’” — @bentrueblood Click To Tweet
Even in this moment, in this article, I don’t have all the answers. It’s my desire to give you what I believe are two healthy steps you can use to step into this messy space with your people while at the same time modeling an approach of seeking to live for Jesus in this cultural moment.
Seek education biblically
For many years, the answer in the church regarding the LGBTQ+ community has predominantly been: “the Bible says it’s wrong.” Previously, most people in the pews and even in the public accepted that answer, but that’s no longer the case.
The truthfulness of the biblical commands surrounding gender and sexuality have not changed. God’s design and desire is for us to enjoy His good gift of sex within the boundaries of a committed, marital relationship between one man and one woman. Churchgoers, however, desire and need more from those who are equipping them than simply a restatement of the biblical principle. The surrounding conversation is louder and closer to home than ever before. And it takes skill and courage to faithfully apply that principle today.
This is a tough situation for many pastors because they feel like they’re behind the curve on developing a robust biblical view of the issue. This leaves them feeling inadequate to answer some of the more nuanced and difficult questions. The result is a church that rarely (if ever) approaches LGBTQ+ issues and a congregation of people looking to the internet and social media to develop their worldview.“We can’t allow our current inadequacies to keep us from helping our people understand how the Bible, either directly or through applicable principles, instructs us on the issues of our current day.” — @bentrueblood Click To Tweet
But we can’t allow our current inadequacies to keep us from helping our people understand how the Bible, either directly or through applicable principles, instructs us on the issues of our current day. This is the practice of discipleship, and that practice takes time, energy, and effort. Our people may know the biblical truth but still need wisdom on how to apply it to their everyday context. Many times, leaders are content with holding the right position and saying the right words rather than seeking to disciple. We can no longer afford to take that approach.
Seek education culturally
Simply knowing the biblical commands is not enough for us to rightly engage this cultural issue. To respond with Christlikeness, we must understand what it looks like for us to love our neighbor in this moment. When we fail to see how to rightly apply these commands in a biblical manner, we become poor listeners who are content to merely shout our beliefs at the world. While that may make us feel good about being “right,” it does nothing to help our people live in this world and navigate the complicated conversations and relationships that are becoming more commonplace.“To respond with Christlikeness, we must understand what it looks like for us to love our neighbor in this moment.” — @bentrueblood Click To Tweet
The uncomfortable reality of this topic is that the people in the seats every Sunday are likely to have far more relationships and interactions with people from the LGBTQ+ community than many pastors in pulpits. Church leaders must be educated on the thinking and movements of the culture. Then they can help their people live with godliness and biblical fidelity even within relationships with people they disagree with.
For the sake of clarity, this isn’t another “the church needs to be more relevant” kind of viewpoint. It’s not the church’s role to begin with culture and use worship services as a “they say, we say” moment. Our gatherings should have God’s Word as their foundation, not cultural perspectives. However, we can do more to equip people to live within the current culture and to understand how the Bible speaks to everyday issues of life. Churchgoers need to see they can both live biblically and be in relationships with those who may hold different beliefs.
These things don’t happen automatically, however. They take time, effort, study, and a pastoral willingness to step into the mess and discomfort of real-life issues. The natural human tendency is to stop at discomfort. But God is calling us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to push through discomfort for the sake of discipleship.
Ben is the director of student ministry at Lifeway and has 20 years of student ministry experience, 14 of which were spent in the local church as a student pastor.