Spiritual Leaders Agree: The Church Isn’t Ready for What We’re Facing Today
I’ve sat down with half a dozen pastoral leaders lately, asking them about churches’ readiness to face the new challenges in our fast-changing culture. These were all regional leaders, not all in the same denomination, but representing several hundred churches through the pastors they in turn lead.
Every one of them shook his head soberly and said, “We’re not ready.” And what’s true for their churches is also undoubtedly true for Christians across America.
Not Ready for the Sex and Gender Challenges
We’re not ready, they told me, for the sexual/gender revolution when it hits their churches. Some of their churches have altered their constitutions, giving them basic legal protection when outsiders ask them to perform gay marriages. None of them, though, said their members, or even their greeters or ushers, had any training on what to do when two men walked in the church holding hands, or when an obvious male walks in wearing a dress.
In case you might wonder, my short answer to that is that churches must let them know everyone is welcome to be there. Ushers and greeters should be trained to know that sometimes — although rarely! — LGBT people visit churches for the purpose of stirring up controversy. But they should assume the best, leading off with an attitude of warm welcome unless and until they see conflict arising.
Besides that, there are important gospel considerations for the whole church to bear in mind: that Christ loves us all; He died for us all; He welcomes all, but on His terms, not ours. But that information is for later. The first thing church members need to know, given the heat of the sex and gender controversies, is how to greet the LGBT individual or couple when they walk in the door.
But that’s just one point among many. I’m belaboring it a bit so I make another point: We’re not prepared; not for this, and not for a lot of other challenges — even though some of them are so likely, you could might as well go ahead and call them predictable.
I gave a talk on sexuality to a charismatic women’s group a couple months ago. I was interrupted halfway through by a lesbian woman who took over the meeting — despite all my attempts to treat her calmly and humanly — until the meeting host had her forcibly escorted from the room.
No one knew she was going to be there or do that. In retrospect, I think we handled it pretty well. Also in retrospect, though, I should have had it in mind that this sort of thing might happen.
Has your church talked about these things? Do your pastors and lay leaders know their own beliefs about them? Do other church members know? Has your church thought it through enough to be ready? Or do members and leaders honestly think, “Nothing like this will ever happen here?”
Yes, It Can Happen Here
What about the family member who comes out as gay: Are we equipped to minister to that entire family?
A church near me hosted a Christian college professor speaking to teens on homosexuality. Two of the youth walked out angry: They were bisexual, and they didn’t like what they were hearing. Did I mention that I would consider this church one of the strongest and best for miles around? Again, do the staff and lay leaders at your church think this will never happen there?
What about the family member who comes out as gay: Are we equipped to minister to that entire family? That isn’t just a pastors’ question; the whole church’s response makes a difference. And I haven’t even touched on other basic issues. I mention the LGBT spectrum of questions first, because it represents the tip of the spear that’s aiming at the Church today. But it’s hardly the only new challenge we’re facing.
The Question Looms: Are We Ready?
That’s why these pastors said, “We’re not ready.” I wasn’t asking them merely to satisfy my curiosity, by the way. Here at The Stream we’re committed to helping Christians (and others) understand the issues. I’m also leading another project specifically geared toward building churches’ spiritual readiness.
And the first step in that is waking us up. We live in a new era. One pastor told me the older churched generation still tends to think we live in a Christian culture, where people would believe in Christ if only they heard the message clearly enough. This pastor knows those days are over. All these leaders know. Still the question looms: Are we equipped for it? Are we ready?
Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ. Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor.