In college ministry you will have people struggling with homosexuality in your ministry.  And, if they trust you and you have been paying the price of time and making sure people know you are a safe place, people will eventually share their struggle with you.  But some people are just too ashamed or flat out scared to tell anyone, regardless of how they are treated and loved.  But it’s important to make sure we understand what these people are feeling.

This is a letter written by a previous student of mine.  I included it in a talk handout one night in midst of a series I did on homosexuality.  I love this man.  I don’t spend nearly enough time with him due to geography, but he wrote this while in college and I think it’s a powerful insight into the mind of a college student who is struggling with homosexual attraction.  Here it is:

The Other Side of the Rainbow 

So this is my chance to say everything that passes through my silent mind each day.

Maybe I’ll start with how I feel when I hear the word ‘faggot.’  Or with the fear that you won’t accept me, which leaves me too afraid to be honest.  Maybe I’ll start with gay jokes over another meal with my ‘Christian brothers’.  Or how I feel about the girl who claims she loves all ‘sinners’ yet people like me disgust her.  The guy who is so insecure in his own masculinity that he has to make fun of every non-athletic guy, whom he assumes is a homosexual simply because he doesn’t fit the American ideal of “manhood”.  My dad, who stopped hugging me. The living room, where I sit in silence, watching while my friends debate my salvation.

“Love the sinner, hate the sin” is a slap in the face.  Who said words don’t hurt?  Some celebrate homosexuality as though it was some beautiful blessing sent from Jesus himself.   Then there are those, who are so busy preaching their doctrinal statements, that their ‘love’ is masked by awkwardness, and any kindness means tolerant pity.  It hurts.

Some days I get so angry.  Don’t you see?  Don’t you see it’s me you are talking about?  I never wanted this.  Other days depression seems more an option…  Ironic that ‘gay’ people often aren’t so happy.

As for myself, I don’t know what the future holds.  Maybe isolation within celibacy will be my penance.  I can’t reconcile my faith and being openly gay.  I don’t want this.  Maybe, to everyone’s surprise, my demons will flee from me, and I may wake up tomorrow a happy heterosexual.  Maybe God will change me to the point I can get married.  I live within uncertainty.  So therefore I cannot pursue a lifestyle as though it held my confidence.  Yet I long for assurance like everyone else.  I want my white picket fence.

Those are a few of my thoughts. They are honest, but that does not mean they are innocent.  I am sure some who read this will be all worked up, ready to debate their enlightened opinions.  And curious gossips will try to figure out who is the faceless person behind this.  So I show a fake smile, and shame through silence.  Can you see my loneliness?

In my dreams, I’m free.  From peoples judgment.  From this sin that so entangles me.  From fear of falling out of the closet.  Or being swept under the rug.  That I won’t be alone for the rest of my life.  That I will never find my white picket fence, that I will still be accepted as a child of God.  Men will learn that affection and love are signs of true masculinity.  The church will be a sanctuary.  And I will find freedom from silence.

They say dreams come true on the other side of the rainbow.  I don’t think that’s really true.

Small Group Studies

 —  June 5, 2012 — Leave a comment

Well, SYM has now come out with a 72 week small group curriculum you’ll probably want to check out.  Okay, you’ll definitely want to check it out.  I’ve looked over the sample (get that here!) and it looks really, really good.

If you aren’t familiar with LIVE stuff yet, SYM provides a super easy backend to manage everything from leaders to content.  Definitely worth a look!  Check it out here.

Let’s be honest, the church has traditionally done a very poor job at handling this issue.  We have addressed it without the grace we all deserve to be given as new creations in Christ and we have just flat out ignored it.  But at times churches have done a great job at addressing this issue…and in my opinion, we are getting much better at it.

And if you are in college ministry, you know this issue cannot be ignored.  So, here are 6 quick tips/ideas for addressing this issue in your ministry:

1. Hold firmly to the whole of scripture.  Teach the truth and do not avoid saying anything, regardless of how hard it may be to say them.  And make sure you include the grace God has shown all of us…no matter how arrogant the people you are teaching may be when it comes to this issue.

2. Remember you have issues too.  Remembering your own weaknesses allow you to bring grace to others.

3. Remember this is not a simple issue to deal with.  People are struggling with this issue and it’s mixed into all sorts of feelings and desires.  This is messy and rarely are there overnight testimonies of how God miraculously took away the desire to be affirmed by someone of the same sex.  Pay the price of time and, at very least, acknowledge the complexities.

4. Accurately expose your students to different views.  People hold to different convictions, that’s inevitable.  The thing you don’t want to do in college ministry is only teach people your view.  You want them to know why you hold to your view over another, but make sure you accurately portray other views – even giving their strongest arguments.  People usually aren’t as stupid as our strawman arguments often make them out to be.  Address the hard issues to deal with.  The fact is there are a lot of arguments out there as to why the scriptures don’t apply to this topic as it’s viewed today.  Do your homework and don’t coward away from the tough questions people are asking.

5. Have a testimony or two shared.  If you know someone who is willing to be open and honest about their struggle, have them share.  I have had single friends share that have personally struggled for over 30 years, couples that have worked through the issue of adultery in this context, and have had college age people share.  I’ve had people that have seemed to overcome the struggle a bit and others share who are having a very hard time.  The bottom line is people need to know others have deep struggles as well.  There is some discernment necessary here, but overall having people share openly about their struggles has proven to invaluable in my ministry experience.

6. Never, I mean never, make homosexual jokes.  This deems you unsafe and arrogant in the mind of someone who struggles.  Don’t make jokes in person or in a message.  Don’t imitate someone using a different voice that could in any way be portrayed as someone who is homosexual.  These are things that many people don’t pay close enough attention to…but it is critical if you want to have a loving, Christ-centered ministry to hurting people in your ministry.

In the last 2 weeks I have gotten 6 emails from leaders around the country that are a part of a church that is seeking to hire a college pastor.  Each of them have asked me for questions I would ask a potential candidate.  So, I thought I would give a short post here with some questions I would definitely want to ask and a bit about why.  I’ll start with these four – not in any particular order…

1. What role does a college age ministry have in the context of the larger church?  If you’ve read any of my books, you know what I’d be looking for in this.  I wouldn’t be overly concerned about the candidate nailing every vocabulary word, but would definitely be interested to see what the convictions were.  The overall philosophy and approach of the ministry can be shaped over time, but I would definitely be looking for assimilation and connection with other older adults in the church to be a key part of the answer.

2. How do you think we as a local church can support what God is doing on the campus nearby?    Far too many church-based leaders try going onto campus and taking other ministries into consideration.  Sometimes it’s much more effective to simply join in what God is already doing on campus rather than trying to start something new and competing for the same students.  Local churches have much to offer campus ministers (namely older adults/mentors and facilities) and we ought to consider partnering more than anything else.  The bottom line here is I would be looking for some big-K Kingdom mindedness.

3. What do you think the first few months of you being on staff would look like?
 This questions would ideally be answered with a relational focus versus programatic ones – both with staff and students.  I would want to get a little insight into whether or not the person can balance quantitative (numerical) measurements with qualitative (relational) ones.  I of course want the person to be relational, but not just in theory.  This answer would help me see if it’s more theory or reality.

4. Why did you initially consider being on staff here?
 The one thing I don’t want to hear is because the candidate has family nearby.  I of course value family, but I’d be looking for their understanding of our church, our mission and culture and need of a ministry to college age people in the area (if they lived outside the area).  Being closer to family is not a game stopper, but if it’s the initial reason they are moving into an area it would at least be a yellow flag for me (the reasons for this one probably deserves a post by itself…I’ll consider doing that at some point).

Mission Trip Musts [4]

 —  May 23, 2012 — Leave a comment

Today we tackle the 4th “must” of college ministry mission trips.  It’s a natural one for all, but still important to include:

4. Give the opportunity to serve. 

Giving people an opportunity to give of themselves on a trip is huge. For us, putting on the camps in Romania was not just physically draining, but emotionally as well. Having people come back exhausted and yet fulfilled is a great outcome for these trips, so planning in light of that is good. In addition, the service aspect allows college-age people (or anyone for that matter) going on the trip to plan, organize, be creative (with crafts, games, etc.), and implement all kinds of things. They can be a part of bringing a solution and accomplishing something that brings a sense of justice to a situation.  They can be a part of leading something specific and directing others toward a goal.

Most important, in my opinion, is to make sure we help them process through how to serve in similar ways in their own neighborhoods and cities back at home.  This can have a significant “jolt” in their thinking and lifestyle.

Mission Trip Musts [3]

 —  May 21, 2012 — Leave a comment

In the previous two posts I have included the following things I believe are musts for mission trips for college age people:

  1. Give Exposure
  2. Create [sometimes brutal] Teachable Moments

Today, here is a shorter one, but just as important:

3. Invite older believers on the trip. 

This is the obvious point here. This is a phenomenal way to have this aspect of our ministry feed our end goal of deeper inter generational connection. We’ve had older adults come and shoot video, be a part of a team and even lead a team. The key is simply having them join the team. When a college-age person and an older adult share this type of experience together remaining connected back at home is much easier.  And in college age ministry, cultivating these types of relationships are the key to effectiveness!

Because of this, we can then encourage older adults to simply continue spending time with those they became closest with on the trip. The connection was naturally made through the trip so now it’s just a matter of continuing the relationship. Another practical thing we can encourage older adults to do is make sure they share about their experience with all of their friends. The more they’re honest about what they learned and particularly how much they value the relationships they built with college-age people over the course of the trip, the better.

Mission Trip Musts [2]

 —  May 17, 2012 — Leave a comment

Yesterday we looked at the first thing I believe we “must” include in our mission trips for college students.  Today we will discuss the second thing:

2. Create Teachable Moments (and brutal ones)

If you take a trip to a second-world country like Romania or a third-world country like India or Cambodia, expect the college-age people that go to be rocked. Expect their hearts to be engaged and their minds to do some intellectual gymnastics. Be prepared to deal with the anger they may feel toward Americans and the American lifestyle when they come back. They usually look at the amount of money, how it’s used and the over abundance of material possessions to be repulsive after these experiences. And, in many ways, rightly so. But how they handle that can be another story. As leaders we have a chance to sieze as well as create teachable moments to help people process the trip in an effective way.

I remember a trip we took to India. We served in a few ways there, but the trip was more of an exposure trip. We went to two or three different ministries a day, listening to the stories of missionaries and their ministries. We spent 12 days in the slums of India, where the poorest of the poor live. We were in some tribal areas outside of Mumbai (what we refer to as Bombay) as well as some slum areas in the city. In fact, Mumbai is said to have the largest slum area in all of Asia having over 1 million people in this one slum. It’s unbelievable to spend time there. Heartbreaking, for sure.

Well, part of the exposure trip is to expose people not just to missionary possibilities, but also to the culture. So I did something a bit risky at the end of a trip to India. I didn’t tell anyone, but the very last day we packed up in our rural location and headed into the city for our last night. Nobody knew where we were going. We took the train into the city (which is a total experience in itself!) and then a cab from the train station to the Gateway of India. This is a national landmark that you may have seen in pictures. We gathered there, sat down by the water, and debriefed some of the trip. Being right next to the slum area we talked about our time there, the things we saw, the things that stood out and those that broke our hearts. When we were done I told everyone to put their backpacks on and we were going to go to where we were staying for the night.

They didn’t realize it, but we were already there. Directly across the street was the Taj Mahal Hotel. This hotel is five star, plus. It’s the nicest I’ve ever stayed, anywhere. If you go to the pool, you have a personal servant. If you want anything, they get it for you.

People were shocked.

No, actually they were angry.

“How could we go through all this, learn what we did the past two weeks and then stay here tonight!?” they asked. “How much are we paying for this!?” one person asked as he pulled me aside.

The intellectual gymnastics began.

I told everyone to go to their rooms, take a shower and meet back in the lobby in an hour. After that hour we walked down the street to a restaurant to get dinner. It was there that we began to discuss this issue. There were some real times of tension, but in the end it was a great teachable moment. The bottom line was that right outside of the walls of the hotel was the largest slum in all of Asia. But India has both extremes and I wanted them to see that. In addition, I didn’t just want them to understand it in theory, I wanted them to feel the dichotomy between the two worlds. And they definitely felt it. It was a challenge to them to begin thinking about what they value as they go back home. We talked about the abundance of comfort we live in everyday and how when we go back we have a choice: we can remember the stark contrast we live in compared to the rest of the world, or go through life focused on our own comfort and forgetting how others live.

[sample taken from College Ministry From Scratch]

Mission Trip Musts

 —  May 16, 2012 — Leave a comment

Doing mission trips with college age people is an incredible experience, for sure.  Over the next few posts I simply want to lay out a few things I believe we should include in our trips.  Here is the first aspect:

1. Have an aspect of exposure. 

Many people, especially in America, have huge misperceptions of what it means to be a missionary. Our students were able to see people with a four-year degree volunteering in the nursery, holding, changing, and feeding babies. They were able to see a guy from Sweden who was there to help with computers. They saw some Germans who were there to teach orphans the construction trade, or people from Switzerland who taught the kids to be mechanics. They were exposed to just about every vocation in one way or another and saw how any trade can be used in the “mission field.” Suddenly these students saw how their “field” of interest could potentially be used for the benefit of someone else rather than just for themselves. Not to say that they would need to move to Romania to use their vocation for God, but it helped them think through their vocation very differently. This was one of the biggest long-term impacts of our trips. Far too many people feel like they have to abandon a particular field of ministry to “do something for God.” That couldn’t be more false.

I even did some trips where we limited the serving aspect of the trip and focused almost solely on this exposure aspect. I’ve led these types of trips in Cambodia, India, and Vietnam. These trips were designed to simply expose college-age people to as many different types of missionary work as possible. They would see anything from a music teacher volunteering in a Cambodian orphanage to a guy who started a church and seminary in India. They would see a mechanic training orphans in that trade, a second grade teacher on a mission base, or a stay at home mom. The goal was to get those who went on the trip to think through their vocational perspectives and life direction differently. And by exposing them to all kinds of people, trades, and stories perspective is easily changed. Even if they don’t move overseas, this is a life lesson we can teach: you don’t have to abandon a profession or field to live your life for God.

 [sample taken from College Ministry From Scratch]