My Favorite Posts on PTSD

The “My Favorite Posts” series on my blog is how I catalog posts I’ve written to help my readers find the material that is the best-fit for their interest or need. I hope this series creates a more user-friendly experience for my readers and allows this site to become a trusted resource hub for the church.

Seminar Resource:

On-Line Evaluation:

Blog Posts:

Tweets of the Week 4.27.16

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

Is Your Church a Safe Place for People Who Experience Same Sex Attraction?

DoAskDoTellLetsTalkImagine you attended a church where your life struggle was never mentioned as an area to receive care, and, if it was mentioned, your struggle was the adversarial portion of a culture war commentary. How would your week-to-week experience of church be different? This is the experience of many people in our churches.

If you want the answer to the question that titles this blog to be “yes,” then step one is to realize that we already have church members who experience same sex attraction (SSA). Just like those who are dealing with any other struggle, we should thank God for bringing them to our churches, and ask God to help us serve them well.

This is an important starting point because it ensures we are not thinking about “those people” who are “out there.” This first assumption moves the rest of this post from a hypothetical to a necessity; it is no longer something that “would be nice if we could get to it” but becomes a pressing need because we realize we already have friends, classmates, or colleagues who don’t feel comfortable talking to us (evidenced by the fact that they haven’t).

Think about this way: what does it communicate when, by our silence, we assume no one in our church experiences SSA? The clear (hopefully unintended) message is: you don’t belong here and we don’t have anything for you.

Loneliness is already one of the most difficult experiences for individuals who struggle with SSA. When the church’s silence seemingly confirms the belief that their struggle has to be a secret we only magnify this loneliness.

So, what would change if we assumed some of our members or guests experienced SSA? I believe one of the first things that would change is that our motivation to learn about homosexuality would change from polemical and political to pastoral and personal. We would want to be able to get to know a person more effectively rather than make a point more persuasively.

That is why I wrote Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends. I want it to be a resource for churches – more specifically, individual Christians – who realize being an ambassador of Christ to every tribe, language, people, and nation (Rev. 5:9) is not just a mandate to proclaim the gospel to every geo-ethnic group on the planet, but to be ready to embody the gospel well to the various life experiences of every person we meet (I Pet. 3:15).

Undoubtedly, this raises many questions:

  • Can an evangelical Christian develop these friendships without compromising the teaching of Scripture?
  • How can I have a good conversation that doesn’t devolve into something that feels like a debate?
  • How do I handle some of the personal discomforts that may arise?
  • What if I accidentally say something offensive because I’ve not had many friendship conversations like this?
  • How do I start a friendship if someone has not already entrusted me with information regarding their struggle with SSA?
  • Can someone experience SSA and be a Christian? How much does becoming a Christian change one’s sense of attraction?
  • Is there a difference between same sex attraction and embracing a gay identity? If so, how might the nature of our friendship change?
  • How do I develop a friendship with someone who experiences SSA and the subject of homosexuality not dominate our conversations?
  • How do we navigate some of the difficult conversations that will undoubtedly arise?

A blog post is too brief of a forum to address all of these questions, but I would encourage you to read my book Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk, Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends by Mark Yarhouse, or The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convertby Rosaria Butterfield for guidance on these questions and the many other questions that have popped into your mind as you read this post.

But in the remainder of this post, I will offer a few suggestions for pastors and church members who want their churches to be safe places to discuss a struggle with SSA.[1]

  • Avoid crude humor about homosexuality. In general, Christians should abstain from humor on any topic that is rooted in shaming or mocking others. This falls short of God’s command, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12).
  • Avoid utilizing stereotypes about the gay community. Utilizing stereotypes demonstrates laziness in our professed willingness to get to know people for who they really are. In the eyes of someone who experiences SSA, such laziness is very likely to disqualify you as a safe person to talk to.
  • In our sermons and lessons, we should include SSA in the list of things someone might be struggling with—just like lust, pride, loneliness, anger, or any other common sin. Just as importantly, our tone of voice when speaking of SSA should not communicate disgust, condescension, or perplexity.
  • Be careful how you characterize political positions. How you present the position you are against is at least as important as how you present the position you are for. To be trustworthy, you must represent fairly those you disagree with, neither vilifying them nor suggesting they are unworthy of compassion and understanding.
  • Don’t “out” someone. It is unwise to put someone on the spot with a question like, “Are you gay?” Even if you think you know, respect this person’s right to disclose the information on their timetable. Nobody wants to live with a secret. If you prove yourself to be a safe person, they will want to talk sooner rather than later.
  • Speak sympathetically to the struggle of SSA. Humble statements can go a long way. “I can only imagine how hard it would be to experience unwanted same-sex attraction and feel caught in so many cultural debates. Trying to figure out who to talk to might be as hard as anything else. That would be incredibly lonely.” A statement like this in social contexts where homosexuality is being discussed raises a flag of peace to be seen by those looking for a safe friend.
  • Study one of the books listed in this post with your small group. It may work best to first equip existing friends within your church. A small group that has learned to be a safe place for SSA conversations is an excellent beginning for a church, and an ideal place to invite someone who may experience SSA. It can give your friend a chance to see that your church may actually offer real community.

Most importantly, when you have the opportunity to become friends with someone who experiences SSA, invest in that friendship in at least three ways.[2]

First, have fun together. Mutual enjoyment is a good indicator that a friendship is not devolving into a project relationship. Mutual enjoyment builds memories and stories. Mutual enjoyment strengthens the relationship. And the stronger the relationship is, the less likely either of you will be to give offense or take offense. What the fun looks like will vary in every friendship, but try to see the fun for what it is—the mortar between the bricks, rather than merely the icing on the cake.

Second, go broad, not narrow. If SSA is the majority topic of conversation, your relationship will become more therapeutic or polemical than friendly. So spend the majority of your time talking about subjects other than SSA. This is how you make the friendship about life and shared interests, not about SSA as such. For example, if the two of you have this kind of discipleship relationship, study a book of the Bible together or a mutually relevant Christian book. Seek what God says about all of life together, not just SSA.

Third, allow your friend to speak into your life as well. The most effective way to gain the right to be heard is to listen. Particularly if your friend is a Christian, they have something to offer you. Even if they’re not, they have a life experience that is different from yours and can offer a fresh perspective. Much can be learned about how someone thinks by asking, “How do you see my situation? What would you do and why?” Asking these kinds of questions will likely bless you and advance the friendship you want to build.

[1] These points are excerpts from chapters 1 and 6 of Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk

[2] These points are excerpts from chapter 4 of Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk

 

My Favorite Posts on Pornography

The “My Favorite Posts” series on my blog is how I catalog posts I’ve written to help my readers find the material that is the best-fit for their interest or need. I hope this series creates a more user-friendly experience for my readers and allows this site to become a trusted resource hub for the church.

Seminar Resource:

On-Line Evaluation:

Blog Posts:

Recommended Books:

Tweets of the Week 4.20.16

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

SJI Forum & Panel: Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk (Videos)

DoAskDoTellLetsTalkOn April 12, 2016 The Sam James Institute of The Summit Church hosted a forum built around the subject of my book Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: How and Why Christians Should Have Gay Friends. The forum consisted of a presentation that over viewed the content of the book followed by a panel discussion with individuals who either experience same sex attraction or have extensive ministry-counseling experience in the area of same sex attraction.

Below is the video recording and handout from this event.

Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends // Brad Hambrick from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Notes: SJI_DoAskDoTell_ForumNotes

Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends // Panel Discussion from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

 

My Favorite Posts on Forgiveness

The “My Favorite Posts” series on my blog is how I catalog posts I’ve written to help my readers find the material that is the best-fit for their interest or need. I hope this series creates a more user-friendly experience for my readers and allows this site to become a trusted resource hub for the church.

Seminar Excerpt:

  • Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Communication (Unit 6)

Evaluation:

Blogs:

Tweets of the Week 4.13.16

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

7 Suggestions for When You Preach about Homosexuality

DoAskDoTellLetsTalk“The pulpit drives the church” is a common ministry plumb line.[1]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-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-unchosen 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.

We must acknowledge that God’s people have frequently not modeled this distinction well. Call people to repent for whenever their words or actions have failed to represent God’s heart for people who experience unwanted SSA and the gay community. If people leave your sermon thinking only the LGBT community needs to repent, it will reinforce the values that make it feel unsafe for Christians who experience unwanted SSA to confide in anyone until their loneliness and disillusionment compels them to leave the church feeling hurt and angry.

5. Avoid applause lines and humor for self-comfort on stage.

Preaching can be lonely and intimidating. After all, it’s only you on the stage and everyone else is staring. This isolation might give you some appreciation for those in your congregation who feel the loneliness of not having an outlet to talk about their experience of SSA.

Sometimes we use a one-liner or humorous remark to assuage our discomfort more than for the benefit of our audience. These moments are particularly dangerous in a sermon on homosexuality. This does not mean clear, concise take-away statements or humor are off limits in this message; it just means you should think about them in advance so that you can evaluate the unintended message or offenses you might be sending.

6. Be intentional about providing resources and outlets for conversation.

Think of three audiences for these conversations. One audience would be the general church member who wants to be a better friend (i.e., ambassador of Christ) for individuals who experience SSA. This is the primary audience for Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk. Another audience would be parents of a child who has come out as gay. Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends by Mark Yarhouse is an excellent resource for parents.

As you provide this guidance to friends and family members, you are demonstrating that your church wants to be a safe place to talk about SSA, which is vital for the third audience: the person who experiences unwanted SSA. For this, I would offer several suggestions:

  • Be clear about your joy and your sadness; joy that these individuals are at your church and sadness that they have likely felt their struggle has been off limits to Christian care.
  • Acknowledge the fear that is involved in disclosing a struggle with SSA. None of us want to acknowledge any of our weaknesses or sins, but the social climate around the subject of homosexuality adds an additional layer of trepidation.
  • Be available for pastoral conversations but be clear that you want the entire church to be a safe place. Private conversations can be an excellent first step as someone gets comfortable with part of their life being known. But pastoral counseling can never replace community. Counseling without friendship is like being stranded in the ocean and given a raft for one hour a week but being asked to swim the other 167 hours.
  • Mark Yarhouse has written a workbook for individuals putting their experience of SSA into words. This tool can be recommended to help individuals grow more comfortable with what they would want to say when they are ready to disclose what they were experiencing.

In each of these suggestions, your role in the sermon is threefold:

(a) to help every member of your congregation to represent well both what God’s Word says about homosexuality and also what God’s heart feels towards those who experience SSA;

(b) to provide resources for family and friends who experience opposite sex attraction to see that friendship does not require compromising God’s standards; and

(c) to cultivate a safe environment and offer achievable steps so that individuals who experience SSA can have the Christian community God has intended as they explore embracing and/or going deeper in the gospel.

7. Invite feedback.

Hopefully you are already in the habit of receiving feedback on your sermons. On controversial subjects this is even more important. Inviting feedback is another way to make your church feel safe for those who experience unwanted SSA but have not yet confided their struggle to anyone.

When we neglect to invite feedback, we create a context where people feel like they are speaking to someone who is closed; resulting in their words being more forceful. Hopefully you can see how inviting feedback does more than make the tone of your Monday-morning-inbox lighter. It is a vital step towards a more civil conversation on a subject that is notorious (on both sides) for divisive rhetoric. Until someone invites a conversation, there will be endless debates and attacks.

Consider saying something like this in your sermon, “I know this message will raise many questions. That is good. When we discuss these questions let us remember that how we share our thoughts and concerns may be the most important application of this sermon. We must learn to have conversations, not just debates. Until we can have good conversations in the church, where we share the same faith but possibly have different emphases or concerns, how will we do so with friends who disagree with Christianity and need to hear the gospel? In this sense, how we raise our questions, thoughts, or concerns may be the best measure of how prepared we are to embody this sermon.”

I pray these suggestions allow a sermon you preach or lesson you teach about homosexuality to provide not only an accurate biblical theology of sexual ethics, but also prepares your congregation to become better ambassador-friends of the gospel to members of your congregation who are struggling in silence. I also pray it opens doors for members of your congregation to befriend members of your community, who will only realize the gospel is for (not against) them, if we are willing to develop a relationship with them.

[1] A “plumb line” is a short pithy statement that captures a key ministry value.

Reflecting on 4 Amazon Reviews of Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk

DoAskDoTellLetsTalkI must admit the review phase of releasing a book like Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends intimidated me. It seems nearly impossible to write 100 pages on a subject like this and not come under significant scrutiny. It was not the scrutiny, however, that concerned me. It was the potential that controversy would make the desired outcome of my book – friendships of influence – less likely instead of more available.

With that said, I have been very encouraged by the initial reviews that have been posted on Amazon. Some like the book more than others, but as I’ve read them, each reviewer seemed to get what the book was intended to be. The critiques have been very fair and accurate.

In the space below, I will reflect on excerpts from four of the reviews. My hope is that this will provide another way for you to know what the book is about and whether it might serve you well.

 

Exceprt from Review One

“This is not a book about the church as a whole, but primarily is a book for individuals who want to know how to honor Christ in their relationships with those who are SSA.”

Yes, that is accurate. This is not a book that develops a program or corporate ministry strategy. It is a book for individual Christians who want to learn how to navigate their own internal obstacles. It wrestles with some of the misunderstandings of Scripture that would prevent them from developing quality friendship with individuals who experience same sex attraction (SSA).

 

Excerpt from Review Two

“Where I feel that Hambrick fell short in his work is in the focus of the book. He seems to be overly concerned about making friendships with people of differing lifestyles, without offering guidance for where those friendships should lead – back to Jesus Christ. He seems to assume that if we as Christians are simply friends with many people, our lifestyles will be enough to win people over to Christ. That may be the case in some instances, but I don’t see any urgency on Hambrick’s part to share the gospel…

Overall, I feel this book is a great starting point, and is wonderful reading if you’re willing to be more Christ-like in how you relate to people that are different from you. It just doesn’t go far enough down the path of the friendship.”

I can understand why this reviewer would say there was a lack of urgency in my book. While I think Chapter Five provides a framework for how to build conversations towards a clear presentation of the gospel, I caution against moving too quickly and getting ahead of where your friend is on their faith journey. For some readers, this patient approach may feel too passive. I can appreciate their evangelistic fervor, but hope having a framework for assessing where someone is on their faith journey will allow their evangelistic conversations to be more tenured with those who are further from making a personal faith commitment.

I agree that my book does not go far enough down the path of friendship. Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk is intended to help Christians navigate their internal and theological obstacles to friendship with those who experience SSA. In the introduction, I recommend Jonathan Holmes’ book The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship as a needed supplement for those who realize their approach to friendship is more casual than Scripture prescribes.

 

Excerpt from Review Three

“Brad Hambrick states simply at the beginning of his book that the goal of the book is to ‘help the church better embody the gospel we proclaim and be the family of God,’ and while some may be frustrated by the lack of a polemical stance he takes, but the more I read the more I was captivated by his approach, and found it effective – especially in this context. The point is not to win a debate in our interactions with others, but to simply engage with them…

By far I found the most helpful chapter to be the final one, where he condensed much of the contents of his book into an imaginary conversation, where he invited us to listen in to how he would have a conversation and be a friend to those who might be hurting, and ultimately, how to “help the church better embody the gospel we proclaim and be the family of God.” In this section, Hambrick shows how we can be honest, but kind, and careful, but open, and ultimately, how we might be effective for Christ and loving towards others.”

I appreciate how this reviewer understood why I chose the content I did (and did not) include in the book. I don’t believe that deconstructionist polemics (i.e., picking apart the other person’s beliefs) is the most effective or Christ-honoring way to do ministry in this instance. Instead, I hope as this reviewer found, that building trust through understanding is the best way to gain a hearing for the gospel. Many who experience SSA are already Christians and are seeking a safe relationship in which to think through how to honor God and find community in the church in light of their unwanted SSA.

I was surprised by this reviewer’s comment about chapter six. I think this final chapter will vary from “most liked” to “least liked” by most readers. It was hard to condense extended conversations into a single hypothetical dialogue in a way that did not seem forced or stereotyping. I hope other readers will have a similar response to this final chapter.

 

Excerpt from Review Four

“I finished the book with a great deal of regret. I can list only three people I have interacted with and had the knowledge that they experienced same sex attraction. I had only three people and I did not make myself a person that any of them could feel comfortable enough with to share their hearts. How sad that I missed out on my chance to get to know some really amazing people. How sad that I did not share my own brokenness with them. How sad that we did not journey towards God’s grace together. Never again will I knowingly let that opportunity pass me by.”

This review left me with mixed emotions. I don’t enjoy being the prompt for regret in anyone’s life. But the fact that this reader also felt compelled and equipped to be a better steward of future relationships is very encouraging to me. This is what compelled me to write Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk. My prayer is that this reader and many other Christians will be more effective ambassadors of Christ. I hope my book can:

(a) help break the silence for Christians who experience unwanted SSA but feel very alone in the church, and

(b) help Christians be more loving embodiments of the gospel for non-Christians who experience SSA or have embraced a gay identity and believe that a biblical sexual ethic is hateful because they have not yet experienced friendship with a Christian who contradicts this belief.