In yesterday’s post I began wrestling with a great question from a reader who wanted feedback on establishing a policy that prohibited same sex partners from participating in the same women’s or men’s group (in order to establish a healthy, non-sexual, environment). Keep in mind that the only coed experience their small group structure provides is for married couples. They also provide groups for men and groups for women.
My Initial Response
My initial response was to ask, “What is the purpose of these particular groups and groups in general in your small group ministry? The purpose of the group determines who it is designed for, who would be eligible to attend, and who would be encouraged to find another group.”
The reader responded in part by writing that their mission statement was “To compel the unconvinced to become passionate followers of Christ.”
When I read that, I knew immediately I needed to get the Gateway Church take on the larger issue of building a “come as you are” grouplife culture. I asked Kirby Holmes, the Group Life Pastor at Gateway Church in Austin to provide some insight:
Kirby: I wrote about this subject recently in a post on my own blog. I think it will give some insight into how God is using Gateway and our Small Groups to love people without excluding them based on their sin behavior. We have chosen to be an open community for all to come as you are. If the church you are responding to wants to fulfill its mission statement of compelling the unconvinced to become passionate followers of Christ, then they can’t be exclusionists in their community spaces. They must be inclusionists. The culture they want to create as a church will begin to hang by a noose if they choose exclusionism. It is for this reason that Gateway does not have a membership process. You are either a part of the community by showing up and being known or you’re not (We do, however, use a standard of character/behavior for leadership at Gateway as defined by 1 Timothy and Titus).
Mark: Kirby, they’ve stated that the purpose of their LifeGroup Ministry is to “help people grow in relationship with God and with other believers.” What would a restrictive policy mean in terms of accomplishing that purpose?
Kirby: My question would be, “how can people in special or highlighted sin situations like homosexuality ever participate in community at the church if not in small groups? If they are unwanted there and excluded then where do they go to have relationship?”
Mark: I know your lead pastor, John Burke, has written about building a culture that is inclusive. How has this influenced Gateway’s approach?
Kirby: In No Perfect People Allowed, John Burke (Gateway’s lead pastor) points out that most gay men and women are looking and longing for love and acceptance and that most of them would turn off the part of their life that is attracted to same sex relationships if they found it. From the outside looking in, we tend to overemphasize the sexuality side of homosexuals and underemphasize that they are holistic people as daughters and sons, employees, hobbyists, creatives, tax payers, business owners, friends, etc. Describing them only as people with a certain sexual attraction is very limiting to who they actually are as people. There’s much more to them as a person than just a sex act. Having a same sex attraction is not a sin. The sin is in acting on the attraction, in the same way it is a sin when a heterosexual single acts on the attraction.
Mark: I think another important aspect of your culture has to do with dialogue as opposed to debate.
Kirby: It’s far more important to create a culture of dialogue in the church than debate. If we want to debate homosexuality and use the Bible as our weapon we will lose a whole generation of postmoderns who are longing for a new kind of family (since most of theirs are usually broken). We must include people in loving relationship and dialogue.
Mark: What kinds of resources has Gateway provided in building a come as you are culture?
Kirby: Our website has a page dedicated to sexuality featuring a Sunday morning message titled, “Same Sex.” In the message three gay individuals who have been a part of the Gateway community share their stories about how transformation is happening in them. It is an amazing message of truth and hope for this generation. You can see the page and watch the message right here.
Mark: Thanks for sharing with us Kirby. It’s been very helpful to hear about Gateway’s come as you are culture.
What do you think? Are you facing this challenge in your small group ministry? You can leave a comment by clicking here.