A Student's Story of a Helpful Pastor
When I began my sophomore year in college, I had been attending an Exodus referral ministry for about six months. One of the biggest things this ministry emphasized (which Iím very grateful for), was getting involved in a local church. I had been going off and on to a small Baptist church just outside of town and really liked the college ministry. The college pastor there was very friendly and would try to chat with me each Sunday before I left. I would talk briefly, even coolly, with him, and then quickly find my way to the exit. After a month of school I began to feel the urge to talk to him privately. I knew I needed to tell him my struggle with homosexuality.
A couple Sundays went by. I avoided asking to meet with him over and over. Finally, I got the courage to ask, and he excitedly agreed to meet me for breakfast on campus the following week. What happened in our meeting together was a pivotal part in my healing journey. In so many ways, he did it right. And I hope, that through my experience and how he helped me along, this will be helpful for all those that are in leadership at a church, campus ministry, or any other ministry.
As the morning of that day approached, I became more anxious. Sometimes I prayed that he would call me up and say he had to reschedule due to a conflict Ė anything to get me out of talking to him. I worried constantly about his response. How would he react to my struggle with such a taboo issue? Would he reject me? Would he judge me? Would I disgust him? All these things were spinning around in my head, making me nauseous Ė literally. The dreadful day came and I grabbed my bag, walked down the stairs and outside towards the food court. I breathed heavily, preparing myself to do, what I thought was, a ridiculous thing.
As a church leader itís important to understand the significance of someone coming to confide in you about their struggle with homosexuality. Iím not saying everyone is going to feel the same angst I did. But more often than not, those who struggle with homosexuality have experienced condemnation from the church rather than grace. So for an individual to come to you with this, itís very plausible that he or she is coming to you with iron butterflies thrashing around in the pit of their stomachs. Acknowledge their courage in confessing this struggle. Itís no small task. Understand they may have faced fear and apprehension leading up to your meeting.
All my years growing up I never had a mentor Ė an older figure I could look up to and admire. There was still a little boy inside desperately seeking a man to pour into my life and counsel me. So, when I went to the college pastor, my intentions were not only to tell him my baggage, but also to receive something from him. When a person comes to you and shares their struggle with homosexuality, they arenít looking for a pat on the back, or a thank you for being honest. Theyíre looking for some sort of investment from you. Whether that investment is emotionally engaging with them on a continual basis, checking in on them, or taking the time to seek out the best resources and people to help them, we must steward those confessions and vulnerability well.
So, as I went through the breakfast line with the college minister we made small talk. I was completely distracted the whole time, my stomach in knots. We sat down and after a few minutes of casual talk he asked what it was I wanted to talk to him about. I took a deep breath, and went for it. I talked for a while about my whole life Ė things that had happened to me as a child, how I came out when I was 15, and how the Lord called me back to him. The entire time I spoke, he listened. Once I verbally vomited all my garbage up on him he didnít look horrified, he didnít scowl at me, and he didnít scoot his chair away from me.
He thanked me for my vulnerability and courage. He received me where I was with compassion, joy, and encouragement. Our meeting and dialogue was a stark contrast to what I had envisioned beforehand. He viewed my struggle with same-sex attraction as any other struggle one might face. It wasnít a bigger, more disgusting sin. In that meeting, whether he realized it or not, he truly helped me drop my defenses. He welcomed me, and even shared some things from his past that made the ground level. I wasnít received as a pervert dealing with the nasty sin of homosexuality. I was received as a brother who was struggling alongside all others with fleshly desires and human brokenness.
Luckily for me, he agreed to be an active investor in my life. We began to meet on a weekly basis for breakfast, and he mentored, discipled, and cared for me. Through his time, wisdom, love, and compassion, I experienced a much higher level of healing and freedom. He had never struggled with homosexuality before, but he naturally came in and helped me along in a struggle he didnít necessarily understand from a psychological standpoint. But he definitely understood from a spiritual standpoint.
A tremendous amount of my own healing came from a man who didnít understand homosexuality. But, he didnít need to. He understood the human condition. He understood his own propensity for temptation, and out of that he was able to minister to me. I didnít go to him for counseling for my homosexuality. I went to him for something much greater. I was seeking discipleship from someone who could see the man God created me to be, and not the sinner Ė disgusting because of what I used to be.
If someone comes to you with this struggle, you need not stress out or worry you have no idea what to do. You may not understand fully their struggle, but you can certainly relate to the battle of the flesh, and the pursuit of holiness we are all called to. More than anything, a person who has same-sex attractions isnít looking for you to fix them, but to love them and come alongside them in their journey. My college minister wasnít perfect, but he could see the man I could be, and helped me pursue the identity Christ had for me.
Iím so very grateful that I was able to have a mentor like him. There isnít a fixed formula for responding to someone confessing they have same-sex attraction. But as a leader and steward of people, the first step must be on knowing who you are and your desperate need of a savior. Itís through that lens you can receive and honor this information a person shares with you in a humble manner. Ultimately, as with anyone else, discipling is what a person dealing with same-sex attractions needs Ė not a fix, or constant diatribe of "donít do this, donít do thatĒ. See them for who they truly are Ė a child loved by God who is destined for something more. May you be a light in, and have a profound impact on, the life of someone struggling as my college pastor was for me.
This was originally posted on the Exodus International blog.