4. Have a posture of acceptance.
While you may not believe the lifestyle is biblical, you have to remember that it’s our job to love and the Holy Spirit’s job to convict. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 22 that we are to do two things: love God with all of our heart, and love our neighbor as ourselves. We will not always agree with how our neighbors live their lives, but if we’re going to love them, we must do so generously.
5. Be thankful for the opportunity.
God has sent every person to your small group for a reason. You have no idea how God is going to use side conversations and interactions to plant seeds for changed lives. Every single person in your group is a sinner in need of God’s grace and love—and this is true of any new person coming to your group, too. You have the opportunity now to be full of grace, seasoned with salt, rather than simply dumping salt on their heads.
—Chris Surratt is author of Small Groups for the Rest of Us (available September 2015).
Point Them to the Hope of Jesus
Gateway Church in Austin, Texas, holds an orthodox view of gay sexuality. I think we’ve done a great job, though, of living out our theology with gay men and women in a way that has made a big difference in their church experience. A big part of that is the fact that we do not condemn or condone the gay lifestyle. These seem to be the two main ways the church has responded to gay people. We are exploring a third way with them—the way of hope. A small group has an incredible opportunity to explore the way of hope with a gay couple.
Though most Christians know someone who is gay, they’re not in community with them and, therefore, can only imagine stereotypes of gay people. Small groups that are open to men and women who are gay will find that they don’t want to change the institution of the church, or even be an activist for the gay agenda—they’re just trying to find love, hope and healing in their life.
This is why having small groups that are accessible for gay couples is so important. One thing we must do as the church is personally get to know gay men and women. When you hear their stories, your first response should be to grab a Kleenex, not your Bible. More often than not, you will hear stories of struggle, trauma, abuse, isolation, or fear driving much of their lives. Hearing these stories and responding with compassion will help you walk the way of hope together.
The way of hope is about being compassionate toward people, but it’s also about pointing them to Jesus. Inviting a gay couple to start following Jesus is more important than talking to them about their same-sex relationship. Jesus is the one capable of doing transformation work in the inner-life of a person.
We have never expected anyone to change his or her outward behavior before being in community with us. If your church is expecting people’s outward behavior to change before they get into your church community, you’re not on the same mission as Jesus. Jesus invited anyone to his table to dine with him, just the way they were. It’s through Jesus, and connecting into his life, that we’re changed at a heart level. This internal life change is what motivates behavior change. Small groups that point their entire group, including gay men and women, to start following Jesus’ leadership in their lives follow the way of hope.
There is a tremendous opportunity for the church to be open to gay men and women. Small-group leaders who can lead a community toward grace-giving acceptance, building relationships through vulnerable storytelling and pointing people to Jesus will go a long way in the mission of Jesus to love all people—even our gay neighbors.
—Kirby Holmes is Lead Groups Pastor at the Northwest Campus of Gateway Church in Austin, Texas.
Gracious Welcome Doesn’t Require Agreement
For the past 15 years, I’ve worked with Christians on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate—including many gay Christians. We strongly disagree with one another, but we agree on the centrality of Christ and the need to love one another.