This Christmas, Equip is celebrating five years of equipping churches by sharing stories of pastors who have been trained by Equip. We’ll share how they’ve used Equip’s training to directly care for those who experience same-sex attraction in their churches according to a historic sexual ethic. This story comes from Kyle Banks, a Director of Students and Families at a local church in Nashville. Watch the full interview, read Kyle’s story, see the difference your giving has made over the past five years, and celebrate with us all that God has done.
Back in 2009, I dove head first into mentorship with a group of young teenage guys at my church for the first time. I once heard someone say that starting a relationship with a teenager is like being the bar that holds a person in place for a roller coaster: the first thing they do is shake you to see if you can be trusted to keep them safe. Those guys shook me pretty hard, but I hung in there and we walked through the ups and downs of their high school lives. In many ways they inspired me to go on to work in vocational student ministry.
Fast forward to 2014. I had been working as a full time youth minister for a few years, and I remember a conversation I had with one of my high school senior guys. We were discussing what the Bible has to say about marriage and sexuality, and he said he was having a hard time believing why God wouldn’t want two people of the same sex who love each other to be married. He said he had friends who felt the same way, including more than a few of his Christian friends. That last part really surprised me. I had been ministering under the assumption that all Christian teens held to a historic sexual ethic. It occurred to me that I was not prepared for this cultural shift.
I began asking some big questions: How can we help young people think like Jesus when it comes to sexuality? How can we equip young people to discern what is true and what is false in our culture when it comes to sexuality? How can the Church become a place where young people who experience different kinds of attractions are welcomed, loved, and taught to steward their sexuality for the glory of God? I didn’t really know where to start.
Fortunately, a close friend suggested I attend an upcoming workshop in town that was specifically designed to equip youth ministers for this cultural shift. There, I was introduced to an organization called Equip and its founder, Pieter Valk. What I learned in that short workshop was enough for me to ask Pieter to coffee so I could learn more. Since then, Pieter and his team have been equipping our Student Ministry staff for this work.
One of the most important things Equip has taught us is how to create a youth group culture where young people feel safe enough to be honest with youth leaders about their sexuality. For us, that has involved a continual posture of learning. Trainings, articles, conferences, stories, and conversations with Equip have provided the backbone of our learning process. In addition, we began to communicate with our students and families our desire for young people to share with us about their sexualities. Rather than do this once or twice a year, Equip has encouraged us to do this regularly, both in public communication and in personal conversations. We make every effort to do this in a way that is both faithful to the historic sexual ethic and filled with compassion for sexual minorities. Equip has given us this helpful equation: empathy + orthodoxy = love.
Our mission is to follow Jesus in loving people to life. And by God’s grace, our church is becoming a place where young people who experience romantic attractions to people of the same sex can also experience life in Jesus. Just last year, two students in our church shared with us their experience of romantic attraction to both guys and girls. These students had already built trusting relationships with our staff and adult leaders, and once we began to communicate our desire for students to come talk to us it paved the way for them to come out with their experiences in private conversation. It has been a huge honor and privilege to walk with them on this journey, giving them room to ask questions and look for answers and offering wisdom and prayer as well. The goal is for them to join all of us as we steward our sexuality for God’s glory and as we are made more and more like Jesus, a man who never married and never had sex.
If you are a pastor looking to better minster to same-sex attracted people in your church, I have three pieces of advice that continue to be just as much for me as for you:
Prioritize humility. Many times we short-circuit our learning by being defensive or because we think we know the answers already. I’m guilty of this all the time. But if we can remain humble and willing to learn we open up better opportunities to grow and love.
Develop a plan. This isn’t the sort of thing where we can check a couple boxes and move on. This is an ongoing process of listening, learning, and equipping those in our care. It is a giant task and perhaps the most significant issue the church will face in our day. Without a solid plan we will see many more young people leave our churches over this issue.
Forge real friendships with gay people. This might be the most important thing. It changes the way we minister when we have close friendships with people who actually experience what we are teaching about. These relationships haven’t changed what I believe the Bible teaches about sexuality, but it has changed the way I speak about it for sure. More than that, however, it has changed my life. I’m thinking especially of my dear friends who experience same-sex attraction and are committed to celibacy. They have ministered to my heart and built up my faith in ways that are hard to put into words. I will be forever grateful for their vulnerability, affection, and courage to follow Christ with this unique cross they have been called to bear.
Do you want to learn more about how your church can better love those who experience same-sex attraction? Please consider reaching out to Equip for help. Our church still has a long way to go, but I can’t imagine navigating this road without Equip’s help.
If you want to foster relationships with the youth in your church, reach out to Equip today about our training opportunities.