“God’s Word changes hearts, but especially on sensitive subjects, God’s Word is often most effective in relationships of trust.”
Those in ministry are familiar with the saying, “The pulpit drives the church.” The tone of the pastor will be the tone of a church and the emphasis of the pastor will be the emphasis of a church. That makes what a pastor says on any subject very important.
Having just written Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends, I wanted to offer some points of consideration for pastors. However, in doing so, these opening lines from Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk should be noted:
Conversations on controversial issues do not go well when the dialogue happens community-to-community or figurehead-to-figurehead. Whether it’s race, religion, or politics, groups don’t talk well with groups. Too much is at stake when we feel like our words and actions represent a collective-whole.
Two individuals from those respective groups are much more likely to forge a good relationship, influencing one another in various ways. Unfortunately, listening well is too quickly viewed as compromise at the corporate level; representing each side fairly feels too much like agreement.
That is why the aim of this book is friendships. Friendship is the level at which influence can be had, because the dialogue does not seek to represent-an-agenda but to understand-a-person. Friendship is what protects “good points” from becoming “gotcha moments.”
While this post is about preaching, my book is about friendship. If we rely primarily on platform ministries rather than living room ministries as our means of representing Christ to those who experience same sex attraction (SSA), we likely will not see the fruit God desires. Why? Preaching equips God’s people to represent God well as they live out the gospel in living rooms, break rooms and around dinner tables (Eph. 4:11-13).
The greatest impact of any sermon is not in the one-hour service with God’s people gathered, but in conversations and applications during the other 167 hours of the week when God’s people scatter. This plays heavily in the recommendations below. It is God’s Word that changes hearts, but especially on sensitive subjects, God’s Word is often most effective in relationships of trust.
With that said, here are some points to consider if you are preaching or teaching on homosexuality.
1. Become friends with someone who experiences SSA first.
We should be wary of preaching on a subject if we don’t have a friend who has that experience. And if you find that you don’t have a friend who identifies as gay or struggles with SSA, be sure to express additional humility, thoughtfulness and love as you teach.
Your sermon will likely be different if you’ve cried with, or at least been deeply burdened for (Rom. 12:15), a friend who experiences SSA. Having conversations that wrestle with the implications of unwanted SSA, hearing your friend struggle to reconcile their faith with their attractions, and helping your friend find a place of authentic connection with their church will impact the tone and texture of your sermon.
2. View your message as something that will open conversations.
The best thing your sermon on homosexuality will do is start personal conversations, either directly between church members or indirectly as a church member invites someone to listen to your sermon and share their thoughts.
If you assume your sermon will start a conversation with someone who experiences SSA, you are less likely to use strong us vs. them language; creating a sense of alienation. When your goal is to start a conversation, you will be less prone to speak in a way that implies your message is “the final word” on the subject and more intentional about raising questions that cultivate a good starting place for relationships to begin.
3. Be intentional and consistent with language.
In Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk I advocate for using language that differentiates same sex attraction, gay identity and homosexual behavior. These differences have been developed by Mark Yarhouse and are helpful in at least two ways: (a) they distinguish the involuntary, un-chosen aspects of same sex attraction from the volitional aspects of embracing a gay identity or engaging in homosexual behaviors, which (b) helps the person who experiences unwanted SSA see that God offers comfort and strength for their journey as well as forgiveness for when they sin.
If God is felt to only offer pardon for sin and not comfort for hardship, he is experienced as only Judge and not as Father.
4. Remember people are never called an abomination; only behaviors are.
It is impossible to biblically teach on the subject of homosexuality without addressing the “abomination passages” (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13) at some point. However, if you read these passages, it is clear God is only calling the act of sin an abomination. You should emphasize that the whole Bible is about God’s desire to redeem sinners and adopt them as His sons and daughters.