Not all churches that are inhospitable to LGBT+ people want to stay that way. Sometimes they recognize the problem and ask me how they can do better.

Ask and honest question. Get an honest answer.

This is especially difficult for churches that do not believe in marriage between people of the same gender or who don’t affirm the gender of trans people. Yet sometimes these churches still want to learn to minister well to the LGBT+ community. They believe that their stance doesn’t mean they can’t help and be there for queer people.

In one sense, it’s always refreshing to me to hear this. I have hope that if they keep asking these kinds of questions, things can get better.

But I am also concerned if there is the assumptions that this is a matter of packaging or programming. Such simplistic approaches can come from an underlying assumption that LGBT+ people are the spiritual needy ones and the church has nothing to learn.

Most non-affirming churches need way more than a tune-up. First, they need to acknowledge that they are causing harm to LGBT+ people. Then they need to learn to stop causing harm. Only then can they hope to minister to queer people.

The transformation needed to make this switch is not superficial at all. To stop causing harm to become a positive influence in the lives of queer people, even the closeted people in their own congregations who don’t feel safe enough to come out, is frankly monumental.

But I’m here to help point you in the right direction with these suggestions:

1. Take Advantage of Existing Resources

It would be helpful to begin by learning some basics. I wrote about what pastors should consider when preaching on LGBT+ related topics and those blogs would be helpful for non-ministers as well. The glossary is something anyone who is not familiar with the terminology should read through. I’ve also written other pieces on topics such as why the phrases “homosexual lifestyle” and “love the sinner hate the sin” are not helpful.

Those are some places you can look for information. There are so many others a google search away. A lot of people have worked hard to create easily accessible information on how to show respect to LGBT+ people. Anyone who is interested can find this information quickly.

Unfortunately, it’s more than an information gap that prevents non-affirming churches from effectively ministering to LGBT+ people. The real problem is the relationship gap.

Traditionalists often don’t know how to be in relationship with LGBT+ people. Don’t believe me? According to Barna, 87% of Evangelicals believe it would be difficult for them to have a normal conversation with an LGBT+ person.

No matter how much information you have, if LGBT+ people make you uncomfortable, we will know.

What happens if you do close that gap? How ready are you to be in relationships with LGBT+ people in a way that is genuine, unforced, and mutually respectful?

This is why updating your vocabulary is not enough. If you want to do better, you need to understand what the problem is an close the relationship gap.

2. Ask Why You Currently Aren’t Effective

Why doesn’t your church or ministry already reach LGBT+ people? Are there people currently in your congregation who are out LGBT+ people? It’s inevitable that you have at least a few queer people in your congregation, why aren’t they out? What about parents of LGBT+ people? Are they open? Why not?

If you know someone who is closeted or someone who is a parent and keeps that a secret from the general congregation, have a private conversation about why.

Then flip the question around so you can better understand it. Are you spending any time in predominately LGBT+ spaces? Are you in close and mutually respectful relationships with LGBT+ people? How might life as a non-affirming Christian prevent people from having these kinds of relationships? How might Christian leaders be especially impacted?

3. Foster Relationships of Mutual Respect with LGBT+ People

The next logical step is to cross that divide. Don’t start with trying to convince us to come to your church. Go to us.

There are conferences you can go to such as Q Christian Fellowship (formerly the Gay Christian Network) or The Reformation Project. There also might be some local events through these organizations you can attend.

Another suggestions is to show up at churches that welcome and affirm LGBT+ people. You can find them on this website. Before you go, call the pastor and tell them what you want to do and ask them if they can make some introductions to LGBT+ Christians for you.

If all this makes you feel nervous, know that LGBT+ people feel at least as nervous about attending your church.

4. Try to See Your Church as We Would

Once you have LGBT+ people in your life, ask them about what it might be like going to non-affirming churches.

You might get some surprising stories. You might also hear about common problems like the bait-and-switch: Churches that try to hide their non-affirming theology until LGBT+ people have dedicated time and energy into forming relationships there. Then they ask why that can’t serve or can’t attend a marriage seminar and are told only then that it’s because of their sexual orientation.

You might hear about being involved for years but never fully being apart.

You might here about people hiding their orientation for fear of rejection, or pretending like their partners are just friends.

You might here horrible experiences of insults and rejection.

You might hear about LGBT+ people who chose to abide by the church’s requirements and still didn’t believe they were seen as equal to straight Christians, even after their sacrifices.

If you get to know the LGBT+ community, you will be surprised at how common these experiences are.

Don’t stop with asking. Use your imagination to understand as much as possible what it would be like to be an LGBT+ person in your church.

Take some time envisioning yourself walking into a church with the person you love and having that church believe your relationship is a sin. Or imagine what it would be like to tell your friends at church that you are attracted to the same sex, or that you’ve always felt you were a different gender.

When anyone walks into any church they are not part of, they enter someone else’s home. How will things be here? Will I be acceptable here?

If a queer person walks into your church, you have all the power to make us feel at home or uncomfortable. Be aware of what that’s like for someone who has likely had terrible experiences with religion because of their sexual orientation.

Be ready for questions. Can the lesbian mom can serve in the children’s department. Can the gay man can help out in the youth program? Would you baptize an out LGBT+ person and under what circumstances? What happens when the kid in your youth group comes out as transgender? Do you require divorce of people in same-sex marriages?

More importantly, what must it be like for the people on the other end of these questions? Are you ready to see this through their eyes? Are you ready to face not only the difficulties this poses for yourself, but the difficulties it poses for those in the LGBT+ community?

In my experience, it’s difficult for non-affirming people do to this kind of emotional work. The reality of what church life is like in non-affirming churches for queer folks is hard to face even if you’re only imagining it. How much more difficult is it for LGBT+ people?

But ignoring reality was never part of being a Christian. Ministry without empathy is empty. There is no power without compassion.

If non-affirming theology is your conviction, you do no favors by not being understanding the full implications of your theology. You will come off to LGBT+ people as glib, even non-affirming LGBT+ people.

5. Look at the Log in Your Own Eye

I often hear non-affirming Christians talk about how they believe themselves to be sinful and in need of God’s grace just as much as LGBT+ people are. It’s easier to say this is a general sense then it is to get honest about the specifics, isn’t it?

In my experience, many Christians who do not affirm same-sex relationships or transgender identities are tragically unwilling to consider that they might have stigma and bigotry towards queer people.

Jesus said that before you can see clearly to take the speck from another’s eye, you need to deal with the log in your own (Matthew 7:5).

Following the teachings of Jesus means the first step towards ministering to queer people is to examine yourself. It’s a requirement to effective ministry.

The other suggestions I’ve made will get you ready for this step, but it won’t complete the process. If you are unwilling to confess your own sin, you will be jamming your fingers into other people’s eyes because you can’t see clearly.

This post may not give you the answers you were expecting when you say you want to minister to LGBT+ people. It’s not a how-to. I’m suggesting you should approach this as a more ingrained challenge. I’m suggesting you grow into the type of person who could do that work.

And neither am I done addressing this, because point number five needs further explanation. You can look for Part 2 next week.

This is a common question, and one that many people sincerely ask.

I can’t blame people for asking. When my romantic attraction to women finally broke through the layers of self-deception I had carefully constructed, I made a firm decision that I would only date men.

This is what I wanted for myself, what I believed, and what would afford me the life I wanted to live. It was an easy choice. This life would be free of problems with the church, with family, with my career, and with my own views about scripture.

My decision lead to getting serious about dating men. I ignored my interest in women, starved it out as best I could, and fostered my interest in men. As I went on dates, I felt relieved that I wasn’t gay. I thought about how hard it must be for those who are, having no choice to date in a way that’s acceptable. So I understand why people would wonder why someone like me would ever come out.

But knowing what I know now, I’m embarrassed I ever thought about it this way.

It’s Not About Celibacy, It’s About Integrity

Usually, the discussion about same-sex relationships is about gay people and not bisexual people. In fact, most people call it gay marriage and not same-sex marriage. Questions center on whether celibacy should be required of people who can’t have a healthy opposite-sex relationships. Often people ask whether in a fallen world we need to make accommodations for those who can’t marry someone of the opposite sex.

None of this applies to me or other bisexual people. Within this framework, the whole reason for coming out is an inability to be attracted to the opposite sex. So coming out as bisexual doesn’t make sense.

One problem with this approach is that only heterosexual and gay orientations count. There is no space for those of us in the middle of the spectrum. Bisexuality is erased.

But I am in the middle, along with many others. So if you want to understand why I came out, it’s best to understand that my nature was bringing up a different question. Instead of asking, is lifelong celibacy the best choice? I asked, is love between women holy? Is it good?

Study, prayer, and soul searching brought me to confidently declare my answer—yes. Love between women and between men is holy. It is sacred, beautiful, and life-giving. Love in the face of rejection, hate, and fear is a reflection of the character of God. Choosing love over security is Christlike.

I did not come out because I had no other path to a relationships. I came out because I had no other path to integrity.

Many gay people come out for the same reason. That reason is often misunderstood as selfish when it’s really about integrity. In fact, if you find yourself wondering why a bisexual would come out at all, it might be an indication that you are prone to misunderstanding this key fact.

Many of us come out because we are morally opposed to the idea that LGBT sexuality and gender is sinful. In other words, we believe non-affirming churches are sinning in teaching destructive and false theology.

Pastoring with Integrity

Initially, understanding God’s affirmation of LGBT sexuality didn’t change my personal decision to date only men. As strange as it seems now, that’s how complete my decision was.

Essentially that meant thinking of myself as straight, at least publicly. Even from that mindset, I began to see that the nature of my ministry as a pastor must change. If I was going to fully support LGBT people, it would change the nature of my ministry. I would be fully inclusive, teaching queer people to accept God’s affirmation of their sexuality and gender despite the shame from churches and society.

Even if I were straight, this theological shift would have meant total disagreement with teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Ministering as an affirming pastor would have meant losing my job just as surely as coming out did. There have in fact been many straight pastors who have lost their jobs for coming out as allies of the LGBT community.

Being Straight has its Advantages, But I Don’t Want Them

At some point, it began to dawn on me that if God had no condemnation of same-sex relationships, what right did I have to avoid them? How could I hold myself back from something for my own convenience and let the judgment fall on others?

Hiding my sexuality in order to hold on to the advantages of being straight began to feel like a thoroughly unChristian thing to do. It’s the opposite of Christ’s incarnation. In the incarnation Christ rejected status in order to identify with the suffering. For far too long, I refused suffering in order to keep the status and advantages of being perceived as straight.

There was a moment that really clarified this for me. I was at my church, meeting with the team before the service started, and wondering how people would react if they knew in that moment who I was. Suddenly I realized, I’m supposed to be the queer person in this room. I’m supposed to bring the uniqueness of that experience into my ministry.

That was the dawn of an understanding that has only grown. I’m a much better pastor and minister now that I’m out. I am who I’m supposed to be, and I have so much to offer because of my sexual orientation and because I am offering myself as I truly am and not as some people want me to be.

Sexuality Cannot Be Divided

Unexpectedly, accepting and affirming my theology has given me a seemingly endless sense of joy. I’ve become whole. I’ve learned that choosing to only date men was damaging to me in ways I never understood.

Before accepting my sexuality, I wasn’t a happy person. When I accepted and affirmed myself and my way of loving, the sky seemed bluer, the future was brighter, and I found in myself an inner sense of peace and joyful strength.

Why was that? The Adventist church takes a holistic approach to health and spirituality. Only now do I understand that the theology I once believed was dividing me in ways that were profound and destructive. Calling the good parts of yourself evil inevitably leads to depression. Saying that same-sex sex is wrong is ultimately no different than saying that the way a gay or bisexual person loves is inherently evil. Particularly as a bisexual person, I harmed myself by calling part of my sexuality sinful and the other holy. It’s a divided way to live, and we are meant to be whole.

I only understood this through living it. I wasn’t looking for joy, but I found it nonetheless. It is one of the many good gifts God has given me.

One of my favorite gifts is this: That God gave me eyes to see not only the beauty of love between a man and a woman, but also of love between women. I’m forever grateful that I finally had the courage to reach out and take hold of that gift.

As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “The problem with sticking your head in the sand is that you leave yourself… exposed.” When it comes to LGBT people, too many churches are fully exposed.

Church members have serious questions. They know that the church is dropping the ball by not talking about something important and relevant to their lives. In the absence of any kind of message from the church, members are left guessing, and LGBT members especially feel isolated and ignored.

I’m here to help you figure out how to courageously and intelligently wade these choppy waters. If you missed the first article, I’ve already shared three principles and you can find them here.

Be Honest

Sometimes when we preach it’s easy to focus on how we want things to be. At times that even means a bit of sanctified imagination about how things are. I empathize particularly with the challenges of being an affirming pastors in a non-affirming environment. I’ve been there.

If you are straight and in this situation, you might be trying to make your church affirming in an under-the-radar kind of way. But if your church or denomination is non-affirming, there will be real, hard limits to that affirmation. It’s important to faithfully describe these limits, no matter how badly you wish they didn’t exist.

What does your church teach about same-sex intimacy and people with gender identities different from their biological sex? Is your church affirming and accepting? Is it trying to be? Or is it non-affirming?

Don’t over promise. If your church requires LGBT to embrace non-affirming theology in order to experience full participation, don’t try to hide that reality. Please don’t use a bait-and-switch tactic in which you are initially accepting but inform them of the real limits only after they get attached to your community. Be honest about your church’s position. Don’t say they are accepted when they can’t be members, help in the children’s department, teach, or pursue ministry.

Here’s an example of what you might say if you pastor an non-affirming church: “If you are here and you are LGBT or questioning your sexuality, I can’t you what you should do. You are the one who is going to have to make that decision, because you are the one who has to live with your decision. This church teaches that God’s design is that marriage is between a man and a woman, sex outside of heterosexual marriage is wrong, and that God gave you your gender through biological identity at birth. It’s the official doctrine of the church. We believe that it’s the sexual ethics taught in the Bible. Not everyone here believes that, but most do. We are here to support you in pursuing that goal, and we believe it is the best, most satisfying, and most holistic way to live. If you believe differently, this might not be the church for you.” This is honest, and it’s only fair to say it.

On the flip side, I am an affirming queer person and trans ally. Any church I pastor would not be a supportive environment for someone pursuing celibacy. It’s important that we not try and hide our cards because we want to attract more people. That’s dishonest and wreaks of manipulation and salesmanship.

Consider Vulnerability & Give Hope

One of the biggest dangers for queer people in traditional churches is isolation. They often feel alone, damaged, and rejected because of the messages they’re received and the silence imposed by the church. As a result, they suffer mental health problems and attempt suicide far more frequently than others in your churches.

Is your sermon going to make this problem better or worse? Is it going to make LGBT people feel more isolated or less? Will they walk away feeling hope and solidarity, or feeling even more alone and scared?

The best way to give hope is by sharing positive stories about queer people. Too often the only narrative heard in churches about LGBT people is how hard it is to be in the church, or what horrible lives they live when they leave the church and embrace their sexuality. This is an impossible choice.

Offer an alternative, and make sure it’s credible. Even if your theology is non-affirming, there are people who choose celibacy and have healthy lives. If you don’t know how to offer hope credibly, you aren’t ready to preach this sermon.

Do Your Homework

If you were to preach a sermon on grace, forgiveness, marriage, the incarnation, the gospel, or any other host of topics you would not only be drawing from your studies that week, but also from years of study both formally and informally. You would have a larger sense of context to put the message into and a basic understanding of the social issues, interpersonal issues, and theological teaching.

But most pastors pastors have never had a class on human sexuality and their understanding of the lives of LGBT people is limited. Perhaps you haven’t read a whole lot on the theological considerations either, or you’ve only read one side. That makes it especially important that you do your homework on this topic, because you probably don’t have the same background of knowledge you have on most topics.

Read some books, get familiar with the language, understand the experience of LGBT people, talk to LGBT people and have them review your sermon. Unless you already have the background, this topic will probably not be one you can prepare for in one week.

Just add some LGBT themed books to your reading, have lunch with someone who can give you some insight, and take your time processing the information before you get down to the actual sermon writing. It will make the preparation much more comfortable and the sermon much more powerful.

Then, when you get ready to write, use the categories of this blog and it predecessor as a checklist to help you prepare. You will end up with a sermon that is well thought out, helpful, and that will be good for your church and for you. You will shed light on a difficult situation. You will give people hope and bring their lives out of the shadows.

I know first hand how isolating it can be to be a queer person in a traditional church. Sometimes it seemed like I was the only one. The church didn’t know what to do with me, that much I knew. My existence in the church was unacknowledged, and for my part I tried to make my sexuality invisible.

Had a pastor had the courage to address me in a sermon in a way that was open and gracious, it would have helped. Instead, the few references to sexual minorities that made their way into sermons did more harm than good.

Now that I’ve accepted myself and educated myself, I realize that things don’t have to be this way. If you’re thinking about preaching on LGBT topics, I’m here to help. Here are three simple things you can do to make a difference.

Acknowledge LGBT People and Speak to Us

While your sermon might be mostly forgotten by the straight people in your church, the queer people will probably remember it forever. I remember all kinds of little things pastors said in sermons and things I read over the years that I’m sure straight people never thought twice about. So please speak to us. We are listening more closely than anyone.

Most sermons I’ve heard about LGBT issues never once addressed queer people in the congregation. We are spoken about as the other, people separate from the group being addressed, as if we weren’t even there.

These sermons were all about what the church teaches or how we should be more compassionate towards LGBT people. But if you ignore queer people in the audience, you have failed to model compassion, and your words are hollow. Don’t tell people to love us while you yourself ignore us.

Here’s a helpful question to ask: What message do LGBT people need to hear? Get that clear. Then I’d suggest you spend some time thinking about what messages you are sending unintentionally. Ask yourself, “if I were queer, how would this come across to me?”

For example, if you spend your sermon talking about how we need to show more grace to LGBT people, you are sending us the message that they will not receive grace in the church. It might not be bad to send that message because it might be true. However, you have a pastoral duty to address the pain of this reality.

Give Voice to LGBT People

What would you think of a sermon about marriage from a single person who never so much as quotes a married person? The sermon would have no credibility. Or how might you feel if the only perspective they shared from a married person was from a miserable married person? Such a sermon would only bring discouragement.

I listened to a sermon promoting greater compassion for LGBT people. In this sermon, the only LGBT voice that was given was the reading of a suicide note from someone who was bullied for years and finally killed himself. The intention was good. He wanted to build compassion, but he didn’t consider the impact on queer youth. He never did talk about the amazing life that gay teen might have had, nor did he talk about the reality that life usually gets better for queer people as they get older.

There are a lot of sources of healthy queer perspectives. Try blogs on this site, try the Gay Christian Network and Justin Lee’s blog, you can always google search, or best of all get to know a LGBT person who has reflected on these issues and is able to help you. You can also contact me through this website if you’d like. There are a lot of resources available if you start looking.

Address Real Problems in Practical Ways

Preaching a sermon on this topic is a golden opportunity. There are clear problems you can address and myths you can clear up. You will help heal families and protect people who are LGBT. Some of these suggestions might seem unnecessary to you, but they are reflective of common experiences for LGBT people.

Here are some guidelines you can share:

  • Don’t use the term “gay” as an insult.

  • Don’t use derogatory terms. “Homosexual” is usually a derogatory term, and you probably know worse terms.

  • When you tell an LGBT person you care about them, don’t add a “but I disagree…” Just love them. If

  • Sexual orientation does not change as a general rule. How you feel is almost certainly how you will always feel.

  • If your child comes out to you:

    • Do not tell them to leave your home or make them feel that you don’t want them there. Homelessness is a huge problem for LGBT youth, especially transgender youth.

    • Be aware that suicide is a very real possibility. If you are highly rejecting of your child, they are 8.4 times more likely to commit suicide.

    • Tell your child you love them, and never stop supporting them as an individual, even if you disagree with their life choices. Don’t remove financial support or try to pressure them to make the choices you believe are right.

  • Listen to the LGBT people in your lives. Honor them and their stories.

By reading this blog, you have already taken one step towards shedding light on a difficult subject, and I thank you. When I preached on this topic, using these principles, I had church members coming to me in tears, sharing difficult situations they’d been struggling with for year without telling anyone. The sermon opened up important conversations that needed to happen, and your will do the same. Take courage, you are on the right path, and even if you get some push back, it will be well worth it.

In the next few days, I will be adding another post with three more principles for preaching on LGBT topics.