Read Part 1 of an overview of our 2011 ministry news:
“The Church That Saves Lives” mobilizes evangelicals to combat bullying and prevent gay teen suicide. Our November 15th event was attended by dozens of church leaders, counselors and parents of gay teens. I was pleased to have representatives of PFLAG Boston in attendance as well. Collaboration with LGBT+ leaders on these two critical issues is needed. We must work together to save young lives.
What does it look like to “save lives?” Meet Tim, a 21-year old college student from the Midwest. As my family took down Christmas ornaments in early 2011, Tim called me via referral. He had just survived his second suicide attempt in 6 months. Tim had many difficult questions, but what he needed most was love, acceptance and support.
Tim’s professional care covered him just a few hours per week. While I am not recommending an untrained person to play counselor, I am asking us – as representatives of the church of Jesus Christ – a very important question: “what happens after Tim receives professional care during the remaining 95% of his week?” He needs a Sustainable Support Network (or SSN) that includes pastors, counselors, mentors, peers – and family.
In Tim’s case, his father is distant and incapable of providing emotional support. His mother is busy raising younger siblings and working to put food on the table. Sadly, Tim’s family situation leaves a gaping hole in his SSN increasing his vulnerability to additional suicide attempts. Tangible care means that we ask: who will step up?
Many church leaders have homosexuality in a theological box. When I say that, some will think I am pro-gay. That is not the case. What I mean is that they engage gay people on the basis of doctrine rather than tangible care. We might be tempted to view Tim as the guy who needs repentance and miss the reality that low support raises suicidality. Thankfully, a local church leader has been a surrogate father to Tim. It turns out that Willard lost his own father as a boy, and understands some of Tim’s pain. Willard sees that Tim has REAL support needs.
My church promotes mentorship and spiritual direction, but I am responsible for finding others to serve these roles in my life. With suicidal persons, they often lack the energy to conduct this search and do not handle rejection well. Willard’s role, then, becomes critical for Tim. He is “the” local leader who can help Tim enhance his SSN. Over the next months, Willard worked with Tim’s church. I worked with Willard, Tim’s mom, his roommates and a campus ministry leader to increase his support. Over time, Tim began doing this on his own.
At times, Tim needed a pastor; other times, a father; and still other times, a counselor, mentor or friend. You know there is hope when Tim laughs! Sometimes, he just needs a comedian. In everything, Tim needs to see (in us) and hear (through us) “the still, small voice” of God. We must get over any discomfort with homosexuality, silence our attempts to fix, and simply listen. Tim will give us clues as to what he needs if we will listen well.
As summer approached, Tim’s anger surfaced and he decided to leave God and the church. I told him: “Wherever you go, God will be with you. And Tim, I am here for you — no matter what.” This is what Christ has done and continues to do for us. Tim needs to know that God will never let go. We must avoid condemnation and rejection.
After a few months, Tim circled back to the Cross. He told me: “Bill, I finally realize that the reason I cannot be in a gay relationship is not because of the church: or the pastors who have hurt me; or those who judge and reject me. The reason is simply that God will not give me spiritual peace in that place. I am learning to accept this.”
Did I jump at his theological correctness with a grand celebration? No. The factors driving Tim toward a same-gender relationship are still present. He needs assurance, so I simply said: “Tim, whether you run, hide, lash out, or give up, Jesus never gives up on you. He is your Heavenly Father who beckons, ‘Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest for your soul.’ Tim, you don’t have to run away. You can run to him.”
Today, Tim faces difficulties but he is stronger as Christmas approaches. Tim says, “Lead Them Home is the most positive example of hope and encouragement that I have ever seen inside the Christian Church. Bill is neither apathetic nor disengaging. Through persistent interactions with me, I am honestly looking more into Christianity as the way of truth and life. As far as the church goes, that will take time. There are many wounds.”
Soli Deo Gloria.
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