Speaking the Truth in Love When the LGBTQ+ Community Comes to Your Church

As the landscape of American cultural beliefs continues to shift away from the biblical parameters of marriage and sexuality, pastors are coming to grips with the reality that an increasing number of people in the pews not only disagree with their church’s teachings on sexuality, but actually personally identify as LGBTQ.

According to recent data, 7.1% of adults in the United States identify as something other than heterosexual. That number is double what it was 10 years ago in 2012.

Although the percentage of people who identify as LGBTQ is likely lower in your local congregation, odds are that it is something north of 0%. This has certainly been the case for the churches of which I have been apart. 

This is both a challenge and a privilege, as you have a unique opportunity to tangibly live out both the grace and truth of Jesus. 

While this matter is complex, here are four things pastors might consider as they seek to shepherd the people in their midst who identify as LGBTQ. 

Cultivate an Inviting Atmosphere

While pastors are not at liberty to change their church’s biblically defined convictions to decrease the tension that broadly exists between the LGBTQ community and evangelicalism, that doesn’t mean there is nothing pastors can do to create an environment that is welcoming to those who are not in complete alignment with the church’s teachings, whether in principle or in practice. 

In fact, this is something that all pastors should strive to do, as people often need to “belong before they believe.” Thus, those who struggle with same-sex attraction or who identify as LGBTQ ought not to enter your church building seeking Jesus only to be met with stern and disapproving looks. 

This is much the same for those who struggle with other sins related to sexuality and marriage, whether they are sexually active outside of marriage, cohabitating, or have been divorced on grounds that were biblically unjustifiable. These are all issues that pastors have long been interfacing with. Only, we must ensure that we do not offer a measure of grace to some that we are unwilling to offer to those in the LBGTQ community. 

Pastors ought to be clear and consistent about the fact that not every person who becomes involved with the church starts at the same place in their beliefs or practices. Welcoming in all those who need a genuine encounter with Jesus is a primary function of the church, and this principle must be extended to the LGBTQ community as much as it is anybody else. 

Don’t Shy Away From Your Convictions in the Pulpit

While pastors should take care that no one is unwelcome in their midst, they should likewise take care that the presence of people who identify as LGBTQ does not cause them to shrink back from declaring “the whole counsel of God” to their congregation (Acts 20:27).

Sex and marriage are topics that arise often in the New Testament, and they should likewise arise in your teaching from the pulpit. When it comes to teaching about the biblical definition of sexuality, pastors should strive to frame their words as though they were in a one-on-one conversation with people who are engaged in the very things they may be teaching against. 

In fact, it would be a wise practice that, prior to delivering a sermon that touches on issues of sexuality, a pastor would reach out to an LGBTQ-identifying attender with whom they have rapport to personally share what they intend to preach. They should welcome feedback and adjust their tone and wording accordingly, even if they do not alter the overall content of their message.

You might be surprised by the level of theological disagreement an attender may be willing to tolerate with their pastor and still remain under their teaching—so long as they still feel seen, heard, and loved. What’s more is that you may begin to move the needle and shift how they understand God’s intention for sexuality in ways you previously thought impossible. 

Define Clear Parameters for Church Leadership

As pastors and churches cultivate an environment that is welcoming to those currently outside the church’s teachings without sacrificing the teachings themselves, what they will find is that a number of practical concerns begin to arise.

For example, what measure of leadership will your church be willing to endow to someone who is LGBTQ-identifying? Can they help park cars? Can they be greeters or ushers? Can they serve in children’s ministry?

At some point, your church will need to begin drawing lines. Spend time in prayer and discussion with your elders and other leaders about what those lines should be. Then create guidelines and parameters in light of those discussions. 

Set clear expectations and ensure that your entire staff, board, and all your leadership teams understand those expectations.

Doing this will inevitably lead to uncomfortable and at times thorny conversations. Nevertheless, these difficult conversations are yet another pastoral opportunity to walk with the attenders and members of your church in both grace and truth. 

Pray for Wisdom

None of this is easy. It’s messy and complicated, and you’re not always going to get it right. We need the Holy Spirit to empower us with wisdom, prudence, courage, and love. Pray for these things. Start praying for them before you find yourself in a situation where you are in dire need of them. 

Proactively pray for those in your community and your church who identify as LGBTQ. Pray that they would feel comfortable enough to come to your church. Pray that what they encounter through your church would be the lifesaving message of Jesus. And pray that as they encounter Jesus, his kindness would lead to repentance (Romans 2:4). 

Pray the same for yourself.

This article originally appeared on churchleaders.com and is published here by permission.