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I had the opportunity to attend the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) national conference last week in Nashville, Tenn. This was a powerful event that was greeted with much interest.

It was reported that more than 1,300 attendees were at the conference, but from the “two-eye theory,” I would guess there had to be at least 2,000 people in that big ballroom at the Opryland Conference Center (which has to be the largest building on earth, and it definitely felt like it with all the walking I did).

This conference was needed, and more church leaders should attend similar meetings, ones that are conducted properly. A requirement for such meetings is a willingness to learn with humility and without preconceived notions about the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.

One of the best comments from the conference was made in the first session. Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, kicked off the conference, and in his opening talk he said, “We know what the Bible says, but we want to know what do we do now? It’s going to take an awful lot of Christian thinking. It’s going to take an awful lot of prayer. It’s going to take a lot of agonizing conversations – the kind of conversations that take place in the middle of an emergency.”

For the past couple of years, evangelical churches have been involved in making some critical decisions that church leaders have not experienced since the Apostle Paul confronted the Church in Corinth. And this is happening all over the place – multiple states and even in the U.K. – and will only continue.

Not only does this crisis involve the influence of the LGBT community and its supporters, it involves the state of marriage. Churches have failed in emphasizing the importance of the institution of marriage. And this institution doesn’t just involve two people who are joined in holy matrimony. It involves the whole church family, even those who may be single temporarily or for a lifetime. I’ll explain further in this piece.

I wish I could share everything that I took from the conference, but I’m sure you would stop reading if I did. Instead, I will offer three things I learned for you to contemplate:

  1. We are not prepared.

Churches abroad do not know how to handle these societal changes. Many are panicking and demonstrating a militant response. Some are conceding with a so-called “third way” option.

Yet other churches want to do what is right, but there may not be one exact process for how to observe obedience to the truth while also demonstrating grace. What I mean by this is some churches have a greater exposure to the mission field of the LGBT community while others have a few who struggle with same-sex attraction and just need someone to walk with them through this dark valley.

No matter the level of ministry, churches need to remove the mentality of “Us vs. Them.” This means overcoming the characteristics of homophobia, no more sharing of gay jokes, realizing that sexual orientation is to be taken seriously and doing more than just studying the six Bible passages that mention homosexuality.

Russell Moore, ERLC president, summed it up best at last week’s conference when he said, “We have to be reminded that we are not ministers of condemnation. We are ambassadors of reconciliation.”

  1. How you view marriage affects how you view homosexuality.

This second point is easier for some to accept more than others, but marriage is at a confusing state today. This isn’t just about the current debate over “same-sex” marriage. This confusion involves how the church emphasizes marriage.

I’ve heard on more than one occasion somebody say “Well ‘same-sex’ marriage doesn’t affect my marriage,” and then conclude it is best to be passive about the issue. This is just one example of flawed perspectives.

As I said, marriage does not just involve a bride and a groom. Without even discussing procreation as a major distinction point between marriage and ‘same-sex’ marriage, we can broaden the topic even more. Marriage is an amazing gift from God, and all wedding participants and observers should be reminded what marriage represents.

“The purpose of marriage is for the display of the Gospel and a demonstration of the glory of our God,” said David Platt, new president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. Unfortunately, today’s churches have lost focus of the importance of marriage, and this affects how they view homosexuality.

It is too common of a perception that disagreeing with the current acceptance of ‘same-sex’ marriage is passing judgment on those who participate. Those who believe this apparently have a low perspective of marriage. The church is at fault for this way of thinking.

Those who are single, divorced, widowed are not always given full consideration and recognition when the church celebrates marriage. This should not continue. Whether married or single, all people can have an appreciation of what marriage represents, and every wedding ceremony should include an emphasis of the Gospel. If more churches would find ways to present the Gospel at wedding ceremonies, perhaps this could begin a positive change, not only in the divorce rate but also in a greater way to value marriage against all cultural attacks.

  1. Churches need more integration.

Churches are great at providing specialized Bible study classes and functions. Young adults, median adults and senior adults all have their own groups. Some of this life-stage sorting can be helpful, but too much can be damaging, even to the point of extinction.

I am convinced that churches of today, regardless of size, that make a greater emphasis to involve more mingling among generations will have a greater chance to exist tomorrow. To be more specific, millennials need more encouragement to make church a priority in life. If they make church a priority, then marriage becomes a priority. Also, it means the number of future church leaders increases.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not promoting a match-making strategy. If a single adult were to meet their spouse at church, then I say “Great!” Speaking from experience, I know very well this can happen. But the blessings of a church family are more than possibly finding one’s future mate. For those who may be single for a season or a lifetime, being actively involved with a church family can help them and help the church.

“We now live in a culture where more people are single than are not single,” said Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Network. “The church has been slow to wrestle with that reality because that is not what we were prepared for. If the culture reveals that single is the norm not the exception, what will it take to bring them into the congregation? Ministry can’t be ministering to singles but alongside singles. There needs to be a better integration.”

And with integration, this means offering opportunities that do not involve life-stage divisions. Have more mentoring opportunities at church of experienced adults connecting with college students and young professionals.

My church recently created a college adoption ministry, allowing for families to “adopt” a college student to be a part of family functions. This is a great way to not only allow a college student to have a home-cooked meal and a place to do laundry but also provide the student a greater exposure to the importance of church community.

Churches have a long road ahead of dealing with the cultural issues of homosexuality and the state of marriage, but the ones that choose community over condemnation and reconciliation over rejection will be miles ahead.