There are thousands of books, strategies and ideas about how churches grow. Many church-growth models focus on numbers, ministries, events, and other means of building up the body. These things aren’t bad, but when I think about church growth, I can’t help but think of Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus: “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15).
“Speaking the truth in love”—this is an often-neglected paradigm for church growth.
This is the last of three articles in a series on the church and transgenderism. In the first article, “The Church and the Transgender Moment,” we explored definitions regarding transgenderism and why the church should neither ignore this cultural movement, nor those within its circles. The second article, “How the Church Can Engage Our Transgender Neighbors,” focused on seeing our transgender neighbors as real people, in real circumstances, with real prayers, who desperately need the Gospel of Jesus Christ just as much as you and I.
The focus of this article is how the church can address issues regarding sexuality and transgenderism in a way that stands by the truth of God’s Word, while doing so in a way that is loving to all of its hearers created in the image of God.
In large part, the church finds itself woefully behind in conversations regarding human sexuality. Many in the church understand God’s biblical design for male/female genders and the relationships between the two. We want to model biblical manhood and womanhood. We want to uphold God’s design and purpose for gender, sex and sexuality. Unfortunately, as we have been carrying on a (discreet) conversation within the church about Godly sexuality, a much louder and multi-layered conversation has grown outside our doors.
While the church has assumed the transgender conversation is a minority voice, we are recognizing more and more that the heralds of the transgender movement, and their message, are becoming a woven part of the fabric from which our cultural systems are derived.
If our churches are to grow both in biblical fidelity and gospel-effectiveness, we are going to have to address some difficult topics. We must speak the truth of the Gospel but also do so in a way that loves the church, equips our families and spreads the hope of Jesus Christ to our transgender neighbors.
Speaking About Transgenderism…
.…In The Church
The first rule for any church desiring to speak the truth about transgenderism in love is simply to do it. The Bible has a lot to say about sex, gender and sexuality. God has clearly defined His beautiful purpose and plan for men, women and their relationships. The Bible is unapologetic about our broken nature and how it works itself out in every aspect of our lives. The Word of God is active in its reach (particularly in the Epistles) to address communities and people ravaged by sexual ambiguity and perversion.
Preach hard texts and uphold the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Make the ground level at the foot of the cross and champion Jesus as our only hope in life and death. As the Word is preached and topics about sexuality, brokenness, confusion or idolatry are presented, we shouldn’t think examples from the modern gender conversation are taboo. As we address examples of gender dysphoria, we must also remember we are talking about real people in real circumstances with real prayers. How would we want someone to talk about or share the Gospel with us if we were in their shoes?
If we’re not talking about gender and sexuality in the church, the only voices our people are hearing regarding these topics are from those un-influenced by the Word of God. If the church is to join the conversation about sexuality in our modern era, we must be proactive. We must also be courteous and respectful to those who are personally struggling, or know someone who is struggling, with sexuality or gender identity. We must remind our churches that there is room at the cross for the sexually broken.
…With Our Kids and Teens
This is a difficult one. For parents or leaders of emerging generations, conversations about sexuality can be difficult to approach. Let us remember, however, that the discussion has already started. Our kids are growing up in a world sloped toward gender fluidity. We are only now recognizing how sharply slanted that slope is.
When it comes to the transgender conversation with our kids, the best place to start is by simply asking questions. Have you heard anything about being a boy or a girl that you have questions about? Do you think a boy can become a girl? What are the differences between girls and boys? What makes those differences and why do you think they are there? What do you think the Bible says about gender?
Having conversations with our kids or teens at their level is essential. However, we must actually know what their level is. Parents are often surprised at what their kids have seen or heard regarding gender and sexuality. They are also surprised to know how open our kids and teenagers may be to discussing the issue. As mentioned earlier, this is a conversation our kids are growing up with. It’s not as unapproachable to them as it may seem to us. As parents and ministry leaders, we must continually reinforce to our kids that we are safe people to come to with difficult questions and that the Bible has answers.
There is much more to say regarding the church and transgenderism. At this point, one of the most significant hurdles for the church to overcome in speaking the truth in love about transgenderism is the double-edged assumption in our society that there is no truth and the church does not love. We will need to show our neighbors that we are not enemies that must be debated with, but broken people adopted by an amazing God who want others to know the life-altering salvation available only through the cross of Jesus Christ.
Rather than gearing up for a debate, the most effective tool we can utilize in talking about, and with, our transgender neighbors is the Bible. Reading through books of the Bible together allows Scripture itself to address tough topics in context and enables us to prayerfully walk alongside those with questions. The Bible should also afford us the humility to not approach anyone else from the standpoint of derision. Aside from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are all dead in our sin.
As we speak the truth, let us do so with the love of Christ that led Him to the sexually broken woman at the well and called her to worship God in Spirit and truth. Let us be honest with one another in the way David was approached about (and repented of) his sexual brokenness. Let us be filled with the Spirit who guided Philip to the sexually-altered eunuch and led Paul to speak openly with the church of Corinth about the sexual confusion and distortions of their age.
May we speak the truth in love, and in so doing, strengthen and grow the church under the authority and headship of the One who is making all things new in Christ – including us.