Prior to departure, I didn’t know we had a transgender student joining us on our retreat. Being a multi-site church, we had students from other campuses attending the retreat that I had yet to meet. In addition, when the student registered online as a boy under one name and checked-in day of departure as a girl, with a different preferred name– our team was understandably surprised.
I was nervous. I was nervous of fumbling the opportunity to love this student well while also honoring our church policy. More than anything, I wanted this student to experience the boundless love of Jesus. However, I also understood there were practical matters such as rooming, church/camp policies, etc. needing to be addressed. I had only a bus ride to determine my course of action!
Following the retreat, my experience with this student was one of the primary highlights! In fact, the conversations and experiences I had during this retreat have significantly helped my view of ministering to the LGBT community.
This blog is not meant to offer concrete answers, but instead, I want to offer encouragement that no matter your church’s stance/policy, the relationship between our ministries and the LGBT community can not only work, but can be incredibly fruitful for all involved!
Here are 3 primary takeaways from my retreat experience:
- We can learn a LOT from the LGBT community.
Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions. (Proverbs 18:2, NIV)
The very first night of our retreat, I sat down with the transgender student and had a conversation I will never forget. I told the student how excited I was that she was attending the retreat with our group, that I wanted her to have an incredible weekend, and that I wanted her to feel valued, respected, and honored.
I shared with the student that our church does have a current policy stating that students/adults need to sleep/change in rooms in accordance with the gender given at birth. The student graciously respected the policy.
At one point I shared with the student, “We’ve had several hundreds of students attend our retreats the past 6 years and you’re actually our first transgender student – but certainly (and hopefully!) not our last! You can teach me so much. I want to become an expert in forming a relationship between the church and the LGBT community. I want to learn how to abide by church/camp policy, honor you, and also value the perspectives of the surrounding students. But ultimately, I want to honor, love and respect you. I’d love your help in gaining understanding!”
The student agreed. We made a deal that, rather than walk on eggshells, we would be open with one another and fellow leaders; that if an adult leader or I were confused/uncertain about a situation, we were permitted to ask the student about it without hesitation.
In addition, I asked the student to promise that she would come to me (or an adult leader) concerning anything that made her feel uncomfortable or disrespected.
Overall, this student could not have been more gracious, understanding, or flexible in her response.
- We need to stop fearing the LGBT community.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2nd Timothy 1:7, NLT)
As ministry leaders, we have to know our church policies. If your church doesn’t have a policy concerning ministry practices involving the LGBT community, then please pray about being the person that begins the process and submits the proposal to church leadership!
However, ultimately God is bigger than fears of lawsuits, insecurities of mishandling situations, or worries of the unknown. And as a wise leader recently shared with me, “People don’t care about policy.” Policy is vital, but implementation of policy is everything! All students need to feel honored, valued, and respected.
Members of the LGBT community are not threats to our church or ministries.
God can teach us so much from the LGBT community!
- Avoid choosing the wrong battles.
For we are familiar with [the devil’s] evil schemes. (2nd Corinthians 2:11b, NLT)
It seems that a common tactic of the devil is to distract the army of believers into shooting at shiny airborne decoys while he continues to blow up our bunkers.
In ministering to the LGBT community, it is so easy to choose the wrong battles (e.g. birth gender/name versus preferred gender/name, style of clothing, etc.). We need to continue to ask God to fill us with His Spirit and to make what’s most important to Jesus, most important to us. Sometimes I am uncertain of the right battle, however, I can detect the wrong battle and choose to focus elsewhere.
Above all else, God values our soul. We fight this spiritual battle for the souls of people. Let’s work together to stay on point concerning the mission of God and avoid wasting our time, energy, and focus on the devil’s decoys.
By the way, this student chose to follow Jesus at the end of the retreat – so take that Satan!
I have so much to learn in ministering to the LGBT community – I would love to hear your experiences and lessons learned!
Chad P. Bryan, Student Ministries Pastor, Grace Fellowship Church