This post is written for church leaders and parents caring for LGBT+/SSA young people.
When our routine experience is one of seeing prodigals return to the church, it is easy to assume that outreach models and church programs are working. As this perception of effectiveness grows, we run the risk of missing those who are leaving the church – and discounting our role in their leaving.
The Christian music group Leeland captures a portrait of these departing prodigals in the song, Too Much. Who are these prodigals – and why do they leave? Leeland Mooring writes:
All these bricks and all these stones,
Have all been cast they’ve all been thrown,
Too hard, too hard.
Find me in the background looking down.
You’ll never see my face, I’m looking down.
When it comes to young people growing up with SSA in the church, many hit the prodigal years with a long history of bricks and stones that result in anxiety, fear, self-hatred, and an internalized expectation of condemnation. You won’t find them in the back looking down, because they are no longer around.
Rejection, judgment and exclusion have formed an internal hard drive to guard their heart. The software of their soul has become programmed to seek safety. Their content filter pre-defines that our-kind-of-church will never be safe for them. When they check-out and no one ever seeks them out, what else are they to believe? They are the forgotten ones. This is, sadly, nothing new to them. (see The Weight of the SSA Struggle)
I have the amazing privilege of “going” to those who fear the evangelical church. I come away many times deeply convicted that they are not defiant, rebellious or angry. Rather, they are tired of being forgotten and minimized. I discover nuggets of genuine belief in their hearts when I encounter them as whole persons.
One after another, I hear young people say: “To be teased and excluded. To leave and no one notice. It’s too much. If that is Christian love, I don’t want the church.”
While some of them act out their pain in unhealthy ways, it may surprise you to learn that many others are living out
the Gospel (outside the church) by caring for neighbors and strangers in
need. They serve hurting people, because they know how it feels to hurt.
When I read the Gospels, two truths convict me. First, the Pharisees nearly always propel those they perceive as sinners away from the church. Second, Jesus continually frustrates the Pharisees by reaching out to these very people. He even risks his personal reputation to “go” to forgotten and rejected sinners.
Our outreach models and church programs are designed to reach “the 99.” They are efficient because lots of people “come” to church. In the case of SSA/LGBT+ young people, however, we must understand that the only way to reach them is to “go” to them. This is the minimum threshold for any attempt at effectiveness.
Lead Them Home is a missional effort to seek out, dialogue with, understand, care for and invite back home “the 1.” It is not a policy or a program: it is a posture that seeks to reflect Jesus. I can think of no better place for these young people to be than in “your” church. I can promise you this, though. If you don’t go to them and prove that you are safe, you’ll never see their face.
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