It’s a question I get asked a lot from church leaders and those wanting to start a ministry for gay individuals. So, here’s my quick and easy answer: the first step in creating a ministry for people with same-sex attractions is to not create a ministry for people with same-sex attractions.
While your ministry idea may be one built with great intentions, it is one with a wrong focus. In the church, we love to put people and issues into boxes, because we think we need to deal with things individually rather than collectively. And in some cases this may be necessary, but not with all things. I think when this happens we begin to really hinder biblical community from actually happening. While the Epistle writers spoke about individual issues, they mostly spoke to the collective group about specific things, so the whole body could help one another grow in Christ Jesus. I love Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:25-26, “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
Though we are individuals, we are the Body of Christ. There is no “us and them,” rather “us” living together for Him. When it comes to ministry, I feel this is incredibly important to keep in mind, especially when talking about ministry to gay and lesbian individuals.
Take an already “outside” group, put them into their own ministry (bible studies, small groups, etc) and what do you have? An “outside” group who feels even more “outside.”
While a bible study can be separated according to sex, it doesn’t need to be separated by sexual orientation. Same goes for small groups.
The point of bible study, small groups, and ministry in general, is not to “change one’s behavior” but to allow the Spirit to transform individuals into the image of Christ. This cannot happen apart from community.
I love the story of Lazarus being raised in John eleven. Lazarus has been dead for three days, when Jesus comes to raise him back to life. As Lazarus comes out of the grave, he’s still in the burial wrappings, and his smell is not the most pleasant. There’s probably some awkwardness mixed with the amazement, as Lazarus stands there with everyone watching him, fully alive but trapped under the grave-clothes. Jesus looks at some guys and says, “Go unwrap him.”
Jesus understands that Lazarus cannot get out of the wrappings himself, and He doesn’t expect Lazarus to do so. Instead, Jesus expects friends to unwrap Lazarus. Jesus expects them to get close and personal to the former-dead-guy, and his decaying-body-smell, in order to help Lazarus get free from the things that hold him bound.
Helping people with their mess of life stinks sometimes. But as followers of Christ, who came willingly into our stench, we are called to come alongside other people, willing to do whatever is needed to help free them from what binds them.
There are many things gay individuals can learn from straight people, just as there are many things straight individuals can learn from gay people. Married couples have a lot to offer singles, and vise versa. Age groups shouldn’t be a hinderance either, as all ages need to learn from each other. How can this happen if they are not within a group together? How can this happen if there is not space created for relationships to start and grow? How can this happen if everyone is divided up into their own small groups, learning how to be the church while separated from the church?
Gays and lesbians don’t need their own ministries or small groups. What they need is to be included into the already established ministries of the church they already attend.
Just some thoughts and questions to think about the next time you ask, “How do I start a ministry for gay people within my church?”