Blog Archive

It’s hard to be honest with someone about your struggles.  We feel weak and shame in admitting that we don’t have everything together. But for those who live with same-sex attraction, the struggle to be open and honest with others in the church is far more intense and scary. Desmond talks about this intense fear, and how it hurts both the struggler and the church.

Click here to go deeper on this subject in Desmond’s blog: “Hiding my same-sex attraction—Part 1.”

Walking away from an emotional affair is painful; it can feel like death. In fact, something does need to die: the unholy attachment between two people that never should have been. In my first two posts in this series, I shared how you can identify an emotional affair and how to take the first steps out of it. In this final post, I’ll share what healing looks like over the long haul for everyone involved.

After the confession of sin and the intentional breaking of all ties between the two people involved, the next step is both immediate and lifelong: what is Christ asking you to pursue and commit to so as to grow in relational, emotional and sexual integrity? Answering that question will be necessary to not just get through this pain, but to grow in and through it.

If you’re the single person

What led you into the emotional affair was, most likely, a desire for something good. Longings for companionship, emotional intimacy, and being loved are good desires! These desires, however, always motivate us in a direction—towards Christ or away from him, towards godly love for others, or towards self-centered interests. You now know in what direction those desires led you, so here are some things to reflect upon—and to do—to move in Christ’s direction.

  • Focus on God’s grace for brokenhearted sinners. Turning away from our sin hurts, and this will be excruciating. I don’t want to sugar-coat this. But, see this pain as one that heals, freeing you from the enslaving pain of secret sin and an unholy, obsessive relationship.
  • Steep yourself in Scripture and learn again how God’s word brings deep comfort.
  • Learn about a biblical view of God’s design for singles in regards to relationships, including friendships with both men and women.
  • Press into a study of what wisdom looks like in dating relationships, and what godly marriage is.

What led you into the emotional affair was, most likely, a desire for something good. Longings for companionship, emotional intimacy, and being loved are good desires! These desires, however, always motivate us in a direction—towards Christ or away from him, towards godly love for others, or towards self-centered interests.

 If you’re the married person

  • Same for you, drink deeply of God’s mercy for you, a suffering sinner who is desperate for God’s comfort.
  • Actively turn towards Christ and your spouse in new and selfless ways will be your most important step. God is now calling you to cultivate spiritual intimacy and friendship with your spouse and to bear patiently with him or her in their healing process. Marriage counseling will help you find and repair the fractured connections between you and your spouse, helping you grow forward into a relationship based on trust and true intimacy. Your character is formed through the promises you make and the commitments you keep.
  • Continue to close all paths and doors that can connect you to this person. And I do mean all. God never said to manage sin; he said to kill it. He doesn’t say kick the sin out of the living room of your heart, but you can keep it in the back guest room. But if it is impossible to cut off all ties due to circumstances, then you must have rigorous accountability about your commitments.
  • Be ruthlessly honest with yourself and track down what your heart most wanted in the emotional affair. You will find idols that have owned you (Jesus replacements) that need to be unearthed and dismantled. [1]
  • Don’t do this alone: get help and accountability. This should involve a wise counselor and spiritual friends who will remind you that one thing that got you into the mess was not being honest with God and others.
  • Accept that your obedience in doing all this will hurt. The pain of letting go and accepting these losses will sting for a long time, most likely. This is normal, brother or sister! Anticipate it, and ask God to give you faith to believe what is true, and resolve to walk forward into wholeness and integrity. It is worth it.

Be ruthlessly honest with yourself and track down what your heart most wanted in the emotional affair. You will find idols that have owned you (Jesus replacements) that need to be unearthed and dismantled.

If you’re the spouse who was betrayed

  • How will you handle being sinned against in a traumatic and trust-crushing way? Will you turn towards the God of comfort, strength, and healing, or find comfort in sinful ways? As your spouse turns away from the sinful entanglement of the emotional affair, will you walk forward with your spouse into a new marriage built on forgiveness, honesty, and trust in Christ as your foundation? These are critical decisions you must make early on when your hurt is greatest. Only you can make these decisions, and through the Holy Spirit, you can be led into a new spacious place of healing and hope. 
  • You, too, will need accountability. Besides a marriage counselor for you and your spouse, find a friend or two to be totally honest with. It will feel embarrassing to admit that your spouse was unfaithful to you. This betrayal was intensely personal, and while the affair was birthed out of your spouse’s sinful heart, it’s natural to “wear it” like a garment of shame. Ask God to lead you to the helpers and friends he has for you, and pray that your heart will be ready to receive his provision!

Is there life after an emotional affair? Yes, friends, there is! But only through following Christ through your own “Garden of Gethsemane,” one day at a time. Saying to God, Your will be done Father, not mine, but your will be done, will be your daily prayer. God is strong enough to get you to the other side of this affair and the wreckage it has brought about.  He is your healer, redeemer, and will always be faithful to his word.  It may feel impossible at this moment, but he can bring beauty from the ashes, comfort to your heart, and give you an amazing chapter of grace in your life story.

[1] For some resources to learn more about this, listen to my workshop at the Gospel Coalition’s 2016 Women’s Conference here:  Cultivating Emotional and Sexual Wholeness; and I recommend two excellent books by Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage (for married couples) and Sacred Search (for singles).


You can watch Ellen talk some more about this on her accompanying video: Emotional Affairs: When Closeness Becomes Destructive – Part 3.  These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

Ending an emotional affair is hard. It can be so hard that some choose not to end it even when it’s clear that the relationship is wrong and doesn’t honor Christ. But there are practical steps you can take to know how to get through this process—and come out stronger on the other side.

Click here to go deeper on this subject in Ellen’s blog: Emotional Affairs: When closeness becomes destructive—Part 3

Now that you know the danger signs of being in an unhealthy emotional affair in Ellen’s first blog, what do you do now?  Hear three key steps that Ellen gives on moving toward repentance and spiritual health.

Click here to go deeper on this subject in Ellen’s blog: Emotional Affairs: When closeness becomes destructive—Part 2

Navigating life when you feel lonely is tough. When God-given desires for relationships go off the rails of what is holy and wise, we’re headed for a mess. Sometimes, the result is an emotional affair.

In my first post, I described an emotional affair as an unholy connection between two people (one of whom is married, if not both) that involves a level of intimacy that rightly belongs in marriage. Perhaps you’ve realized, like Josh from my first blog post that you are in a relationship that has moved into this dangerous territory.

To honor Christ, and to keep this relationship from further harming you and others, you need to take active steps to disentangle yourself

If you’re in this situation, what do you do now? To honor Christ, and to keep this relationship from further harming you and others, you need to take active steps to disentangle yourself. Here are three steps to take.

First, you need to confess the sin of this relationship to God, your spouse (if married), and to at least one, if not two, trusted and spiritually mature friends. DON’T confess your sin first to the person with whom you are having an emotional affair. If that person isn’t ready to let go, he or she might try to convince you to stay. Go first to God, and then to a friend or two you can trust. Those friends can help you discern the best way to communicate the situation and your decision to the other parties involved (the person you’ve had the affair with, and your spouse, if married).

You’ll need courage, friend, and resolve to take this step! You wouldn’t be in an affair if you weren’t getting something out of it. Peter wrote that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV), and that power includes taking steps to end your emotional affair. God never expects his children to muscle their way through hard and costly obedience; no, he calls us to trust in him to empower us to do the right thing. He is able to strengthen you as you humble yourself before him and others.

After confessing to God and key people, your second step is to break off this relationship and prepare to grieve, as letting go of it will hurt! You need to communicate clearly that the relationship cannot continue. I often find that some women stay stuck in sinful patterns or relationships because one, they fear the pain which comes from letting go and are unsure how to grieve the loss of the relationship or two, they can’t imagine how God will comfort the deepest parts of their hearts. So, they stay stuck.

Peter went on to say that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials “(2 Peter 2:9 ESV). He knows you! He will rescue you from fear and give you comfort as a huge part of your heart will feel empty. One of the painful consequences of any relationship that has become too big in our lives is the way it can block intimacy with the Lord. Ending the relationship can feel like you are entering an emotional wasteland, but this can actually be a path back towards abiding in Jesus and experiencing new intimacy with him.

Ending the relationship can feel like you are entering an emotional wasteland, but this can actually be a path back towards abiding in Jesus and experiencing new intimacy with him

What do you do if this person goes to church with you? Is a coworker? A member of your extended family? You’ll need wisdom to navigate this terrain (which is why having mature believers alongside you is crucial). You may need to find a new church or job, or have a season where you avoid family gatherings.  When hearts become emotionally entangled in an emotional affair, the disentangling process often requires radical steps like these. They are painful and costly, but worth it!

If you can’t remove yourself from being around this person due to circumstances, you need to be sure you have specific accountability. This means having people ask you:

Are you being faithful in not having any contact with this person?

Are you doing everything you can to pursue your spouse and godly friendships with others?

How are you guarding your heart in unavoidable circumstances when you are around this person?

Finally, what is God calling you to pursue and cultivate in your life now? Your emotional affair allowed a person to displace the central place of God in your life. With that person out of the picture, drawing near to God may feel emotionally unappealing. Give it time—but keep taking steps toward your relationship with God. It usually is a long process for emotions and hearts to heal and become untangled. God is calling you back to himself and will work to give you “the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Phil. 2:13 NLT).

Meeting with a counselor or wise friend to address the deeper issues in your life which made you vulnerable to this emotional affair is important. For the married person involved, you and your spouse will be helped by a season of marriage counseling to help you grow together in Christ and in your intimacy as a couple (more on this in my third post, as I explore what help the offended spouse needs).

Let me end this post with how Josh and Sara dealt with their emotional affair.

Josh did not go to Sara or her husband first to confess the sinful relationship. He contacted a Christian friend and shared what was going on. The friend prayed with Josh and offered to go with him to one of the elders for counsel.

Josh decided with his elder’s support to set up a meeting for the two of them to meet with Sara and Craig. At this meeting, Josh confessed that his attachment to Sara had grown beyond what is appropriate. He realized he needed to break ties with her and thus attend a new church for at least a season. He kept his focus in this meeting on his behavior and sin, not “confessing” for Sara.

Faced with Josh’s humility, Sara broke down and confessed her unfaithfulness to Craig, as well as using Josh’s attention to feel good about herself. Shocked and hurt, Craig was silent. In the weeks that followed, he and Sara began to talk more honestly about their marriage than they had in years. Craig acknowledged ways he had allowed ministry responsibilities to distract him from his family. The sin of Sara’s emotional affair was not his fault, but he humbly recognized that the foundation in his marriage was fractured and needed attention. The elders gave him a sabbatical with a mandate that he and Sara pursue counseling and the rebuilding of their marriage.

How can we avoid emotional affairs? By growing in wisdom and living in the truth of Romans 13:14, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires“(ESV). If you’re married, consider reading our magazine issue on godly sexuality that addresses several key issues for couples. If you’re single like me, consider reading my online article, “Sexuality and the Single Christian: Godly Answers in a Confusing World.”

Next week I’ll finish this series with thoughts on what the process of healing looks like over the long haul, for everyone involved.


You can watch Ellen talk some more about this on her accompanying video: Emotional Affairs: When Closeness Becomes Destructive – Part 2.  These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

God calls us to friendships that are rich and deep. But for some friendships, as they grow over time, a warning line is crossed, and an emotional affair begins. Friendships that become emotional affairs may be enticing, but they are a relationship catastrophe waiting to happen.

Josh had been at a new church for four months when the pastor’s wife invited him to join their community group, which was a weekly gathering of both singles and married couples. Sara and her pastor husband, Craig, wanted a group where married couples mentored singles.

Josh and Sara hit it off, and they discovered lots of common interests between them. Their conversation easily flowed during the fellowship time before the Bible study. Sara was surprised how much she missed Josh when he couldn’t attend. Josh realized that the time he had to talk to Sara became the main reason he enjoyed the group. Not a big deal, it’s just talking.

Then the conversation time moved into texting. Not a big deal, everyone texts. But when the two of them began texting about community group issues, their sharing became more personal. Josh’s work stress and loneliness as a single man, and Sara’s challenges in being a pastor’s wife, gave them ways to grow more emotionally intimate with each other.

Then it happened. Their texting became a nightly ritual as Craig was often asleep by 9 pm, and Sara, a night owl, would reach out to Josh to check in and see how he was in regards to his prayer requests. Their texting often lasted an hour or more.  The warning line had long since been crossed.

One night Josh felt compelled to be honest and blurted out in a text: I think I’m in love with you. He waited nervously for her reply, and it came within seconds: Me too…my heart’s grown cold towards Craig. No one’s ever understood my heart the way you do. I need you! Her text gave Josh a rush of intoxication and yet, seeing her words also jolted him: Sara was married, and her husband was his pastor!

Josh panicked. Now the reality of their too-close friendship hit him like a punch to the gut. What was so enjoyable and enriching was now an entangled mess. How would their friendship now go forward? What if this got out? Would he have to leave the church? Would Sara’s marriage survive?

If close friendships are an important God-given gift to us, how do we discern if boundaries are being crossed into a danger zone?

Though Josh and Sara never touched one another, they had cultivated an unholy and messy relationship: an emotional affair. An emotional affair happens when two people (one of whom is married to someone else) share a level of emotional intimacy that rightly belongs only to a spouse.

Many men and women miss the alarms going off when a relationship begins to cross obvious warning lines. They assume that because there’s no physical or sexual involvement, the relationship is ok.

But one day an awareness kicks in, and they realize it’s moving in the wrong direction.

Marital unfaithfulness includes any form of shared intimacy with someone other than your spouse. Similarly, it’s not ok when singles become emotionally attached and intimate with a married person.

If close friendships are an important God-given gift to us, how do we discern if boundaries are being crossed into a danger zone? Psalm 16:3-4a says, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply” (NASB).

Here are some diagnostic questions to help discern if your relationship has morphed into an emotional affair, where a close friendship has become “another god” to run after.

Is there any secrecy or deception involved in your interactions?

How much contact are you in (face to face, over devices, social media, etc.) and how does it compare to how much time you connect with your spouse?

If you are single, how does your contact with this married person compare to other close friendships?

Do you have romantic feeling towards her/him? Sexual chemistry? Mental preoccupation? If yes to any of these, are you seeking to feed or flee from these tempting dynamics?

What is the content of your communication? How would your spouse (or mentor, pastor, close friend) react if she/he saw your texts, your emails, or overheard your private conversations?

Does this relationship inspire you towards obeying Christ, or away from him? Does this relationship propel you towards your spouse, or away? Does this relationship motivate you to invest more passionately into loving other people or isolating yourself and focusing on this one person?

Brother or sister, if these questions (and your answers) make you uncomfortable about this relationship, then: PAUSE! HALT! STOP! You — and your friend — are in danger.

Look, God wants us to have rich and meaningful relationships whether we are single or married. God delights in Christ-centered friendships that stay within the boundaries of his Word, boundaries that are healthy for both friends.

But God never intends for any of his good gifts to become a heart-hijacking reality that steals joy and betrays a spouse’s trust. God is committed to removing relational attachments which lead to sin and distraction. Emotional affairs are a cheap substitute for what God graciously gives: unfailing love and true intimacy of the deepest kind which is ours in Christ!

Next week I’ll write about how to get clear of an emotional affair if you find yourself deep into one.

Join me for my Woman-to-Woman webinar on three consecutive Monday evenings in September, the 11th, 18th, and 25th. For more information or to register, click here:  Woman-to-Woman webinar info page.


You can watch Ellen talk some more about this on her accompanying video: Emotional Affairs: When Closeness Becomes Destructive – Part 1.  These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc

Friendships are great. We need them, and we are drawn to them. But some friendships can get too close, especially friendships that involve someone who is married to someone else. Do you know the warning signs if this is happening to you, or someone you know?

Click here to go deeper on this subject in Ellen’s blog: “Emotional Affairs: When closeness becomes destructive—Part 1.”

Christians who are single have a real battle to face. In the midst of sexual temptation, they can easily wonder where God is in this ongoing struggle.

Jesus made many things abundantly clear to his followers, and they particularly apply to those who are single. He was clear about his love, forgiveness, and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit to live a holy life.

It can seem like God has left us on our own in this struggle, telling us what to do but seemingly not helping us. Oh no! Jesus is there with those of us who are single.

His disciples understood that following him had to be synced up with a willingness to let go of sin, die to self, and to embrace obedience as we “stay in our lane” in the race of faith.

…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1–2, NIV)

This race of faith, however, isn’t easy. For those of us who are single, staying within God’s boundaries for sexuality can seem impossible. Life without sex feels tragic to some, foolish to others. Sexual integrity is an experience of both sanctification and suffering. Sanctification, because as we battle to slay sin and to live fully for Christ, we learn to entrust him with every area of our lives, growing in Christlikeness. (See 1 Peter 1:6–9.) Suffering, because resisting the enticement of sin and temptation is a trial common to humanity and an unavoidable reality of living in a fallen world.

It can seem like God has left us on our own in this struggle, telling us what to do but seemingly not helping us. Oh no! Jesus is there with those of us who are single. He absolutely gives us help in our sexual struggles. I’d like to focus on three ways to help us see that he is indeed present. By looking at who he is, we can understand what he provides.

  1. Our loving Lord and Creator. We belong to Christ, and all things were created by him and for him (Colossians 1:16-17). These wonderful truths orient our hearts and our thinking when ‘staying in the lane’ of sexual faithfulness is tough. When we believe that our entire self belongs to Christ (body, thoughts, sexual desires, relationships, etc.) and that he has a specific and wise plan for how we are to ‘use’ each of these things, it helps us to bend the knee of our will to him. We can submit, though it might be with tears and painful angst, “Lord, your will, not mine… your will, not mine! Help me, comfort me, rescue me.”
  1. Our Rescuer and way of escape. 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 explains that in every temptation, there is a way of escape out of it. God himself is our refuge and place of escape when we rush to him, nestling in close to him, allowing his enveloping presence to stand between us and the sexual temptation. Think here of Jesus, when he walked unwaveringly on storm-tossed waves to his scared and exhausted friends. He entered into their experience, calming their hearts and the outside forces battling against them (Matthew 14:22-33). Ponder the image of Christ as Shepherd, who knows his own, and gently holds and carries them (Isaiah 40:11, John 10:14-15). God rescues us from temptation by entering into our circumstances of sexual and emotional struggle.
  1. Our Redeemer and Mercy-giver. Our Lord knows we’re not going to stay in our lane 24/7. He is holy, commanding us to throw off sin. But the throne he sits on is one of mercy and grace (Hebrews 4:14-16). Therefore he is also gracious, receiving us in our desperate need and hearing our cries for help, especially in our brokenness. If you struggle to know what to say to him when those times come, look to the words of Psalm 13, 16, 34, or 51. These words can give voice to your own words. You can also find a worship song and pray it to the Lord.

Teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus you’re my hope and stay!
(“Lord I Need You,” Matt Maher, 2013, All the People Said Amen (Live))

The most important tool in battling sexual temptation or emotional pain is knowing Jesus. And knowing that he wants you to run to him when you are even at your worst. As a single man or woman, you need more than behavioral strategies to succeed. You need a growing understanding and trust in Jesus. He gives us his presence and his power to run the race of faith that bears out in sexual faithfulness!

Nonetheless, we DO need a specific battle plan. That’s what we’ll look at in the next post.


To see Ellen talking about this issue, click on Ellen’s video blog, Sexual Integrity for Singles: It’s not a tragedy, and it’s not impossible, Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters (together with the accompanying written blog) in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

As the church steps into the trenches of the sexual struggles with which her people are wrestling, it is encountering a new reality and new challenges in how to do faithful ministry. As the culture continues to push into the church, the following “givens” impact how Christians are thinking about sexuality:

  • Increasing cultural acceptance of homosexuality, especially among millennials
  • Growing acceptance of a genderfluid and genderless society
  • An awareness of Christians who experience same-sex attraction (SSA) but confusion about how to help them
  • Legalization of gay marriage
  • The encroachment of pro-gay theology and its inroads into the evangelical church
  • The trend toward casual sexual relationships and co-habitation
  • The ubiquity of pornography and the steady erosion of biblical sexual ethics

All of the above signals the need for churches to think strategically about how to “do ministry” as the culture continues to push into the church. John Freeman has spoken to church leaders and presbyteries, helping to bring awareness of the pressing issues that need attention. John highlights four things churches must address.

1. Leadership—insuring everyone is on the same page

While leadership certainly means your key leaders—pastors, elders, deacons, etc.—it also includes your leadership volunteers like women’s leaders, youth leaders, Sunday school and adult teachers, small group leaders, and so on. The importance of all leaders being on the same page, theologically and pastorally, has never been more critical. Asking the following questions will (hopefully) result in dialogue and clarification.

Do you know your current leaders’ views on sex and sexuality? Considering the “givens” listed above, how do you approach your leadership in determining what they believe and where they might be feeling pressure to change? We used to take it for granted that leaders would adhere to biblical sexual ethics, but some are changing their views and remaining silent about it. How do you get everyone on the same page?

Do you know if your leaders are struggling here? As important as what they believe, do you know if some of your leaders are struggling here? People, and especially leaders, hide sexual struggles. How can you call them to be honest, and in what ways do you help them? We know that when leadership falls sexually, it deeply injures the church and how people see Christ.

How will your leaders approach sexual issues pastorally? Key leaders have the greatest influence, so it’s more important than ever to make sure they believe fully in what the Scriptures say and will speak that compassionately to those who struggle. Sometimes that’s not easy to do, but true compassion is grounded in speaking God’s truth, not in defining truth as we wish it to be.

How would your church address a leadership candidate who experiences same-sex attraction? As we call believers to openness and honesty about their sexual struggles, we should expect to find men and women who live with same-sex attraction and are living faithfully according to Scripture. When they pursue leadership roles in the church, what help and assistance do they need?

2. Membership—confronting complex issues

The culture greatly influences church members. Confusion is growing as pro-gay theology, rooted in secular thought, influences believers who know too little of Scripture. How will your church in this new reality address some of the following scenarios?

What if someone identifies as a gay Christian? Is this a private matter known only to some, or is this becoming public? Do you know what this person means by adopting this identity label?

What about someone who supports gay marriage and homosexuality? Again, is this a private opinion or an advocacy position? What is a pastoral approach to members whose views are in opposition to Scripture? What if someone with these views wants to join your church?

Are you talking about sex and sexuality to prospective members in your membership classes? Do you approach the issue from a discipline angle, or first from a Christian worldview perspective? Or do you not mention the topic at all, and if so, why not?

What if a same-sex couple comes to faith (one or both)? What if they are legally married? How do you approach the complex situation of pastorally shepherding a family, particularly when there are children, when the parents are legally married?

What about church discipline? While recognizing the complex issues involved with sexual sin, where might church discipline come into play as someone is being shepherded through the ups and downs that go with this struggle? Is there an approach that is more helpful, or less so?

3. Church Culture—what kind of church culture do you want to nurture?

Do you have a sense of the culture in your church in how it relates to the culture “out there?” How does your church address the new reality of sexual issues that are prominent in the culture? How do you speak about them publicly, from the pulpit, in Sunday school classes, in the things your church writes? There is a big difference between churches that speak harshly about sexual issues and those that say hardly anything at all. The first approach leaves people hiding, and the other leaves people in confusion. That we need to talk about these issues has never been more critical, but the words we use (or do not use) are equally important. How do you speak to those who are opposed to his ways; and to those who are confused about what Scripture says; and to those who want to obey but struggle to submit to the Lordship of Christ in this area? Our approach, our words, our faithfulness to Scripture, and our presence with those who struggle are the many ways we show who God is to them.

4. Policies and Procedures—possible dangers ahead

Two seismic changes have transformed the landscape for ministry: the legalization of same-sex marriage, and the use, or threat, of non-discrimination laws and regulations, known as sexual orientation and gender identity ordinances. Churches with a history and tradition of opening their doors to the community for weddings and receptions, local community events, outside groups that use the church to meet—all of these connections may become problematic in light of the increasing use of anti-discrimination ordinances.

These new laws and court rulings mean that churches must carefully think about ministry in three key areas.

Weddings
While this issue gets a lot of press, the reality is that the First Amendment seems quite solid in protecting ministers from performing same-sex marriages. However, the matter is more uncertain if your church has been open to hosting outside weddings and receptions. What steps can your church take to remain open to traditional weddings while not hosting wedding events that oppose biblical truth?

Building usage by outside groups
Apart from weddings, building use for other outside events might become more difficult, particularly for churches that rent their facilities or allow them to be used by the community. The challenge for churches that want to remain invested in their local community is to determine how to both invite and define that involvement, in ways that will avoid potential lawsuits.

Staff behavior
Anti-discrimination laws regarding employment are another new reality that is increasingly stepping on religious turf. Churches that discipline ordained staff for misconduct are again protected by the First Amendment. But addressing non-ordained staff behavior is not so clear. What if a staff person comes out as transgender, or a staff person legally marries someone of the same gender? Gender fluidity and sexual orientation are major battlegrounds for employment law today. The area of employment law for religious groups seems to be up for grabs today. How churches will be affected is not yet clear, but they should now find ways to try to protect themselves while also shepherding staff who are struggling in these areas.

We’ve just scratched the surface on a few of the crucial issues churches are facing with these new realities. Harvest USA can help! We can help you think through these issues and conduct a healthy conversation among your leaders.

Contact John Freeman at [email protected] to get the conversation started.

It’s easy to go on idol hunts. Do you know what I mean? A student might be sitting in front of me, talking about how hard life has been for him, how sexual sin just keeps dominating him—and I’m on the prowl! I’m hanging on to every word, thinking, That smells like worship! Is that an idol!?

To be an idol-maker is to be a sinner. And for many of us, the sinner category is the only category out of which we operate when we minister to students. I’ll confess: I tend to love both quick fixes and be the “fixer” of people. And when I’m operating from the sinner category, it’s easy to call students to simple repentance and demand quick change.

But simply emphasizing this category results in conversations like these:

“Dude, repent. You just need to stop this. It’s destroying you.”

These conversations often result in impatience and frustration for both me and the student I’m trying to help. But, like all emphases, the category of “sinner” doesn’t give us the total picture. God gives us another category, one that nuances and deepens our ministry to students.

Sufferers. Not Just Sinners.

The Bible tells us that our students are not simply sinners; they are sufferers as well. In fact, the Scriptures make suffering a stipulation for sharing in the coming glory of Christ: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, their heirs—fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17).

Paul says, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…” (Philippians 1:29). Doesn’t a large part of our suffering as believers have to do with the “passions of the flesh” that “wage war” against our souls (1 Peter 2:11)?

All of us are walking battlegrounds, hosts to the war between flesh and spirit. As new creations in Christ, we bear the scars. The very presence of the “old man” waging war against our new selves means that we are sufferers.

What are some sufferings that students might face? For a student who struggles with same-sex attraction, her gifts and personality might not match up to the particular cultural group in which she lives. Feelings of isolation, shame, and being out of place might result from not living up to a certain societal ideal of what it means to be a woman.

She didn’t choose her gifts! And she didn’t choose to have a peer or parent say, “What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you like to do X like the other girls?” Her gifts that don’t correspond to cultural norms or those comments made by peers or parents are not sins on her part; they are her sufferings.

For a student who struggles with pornography, his home life might be an absolute mess. His mom and dad might constantly fight. Perhaps he perceives porn as his only escape and refuge from life’s storms. But he didn’t choose his home life! It is a part of his sufferings.

What Difference Does This Make?

While students who struggle sexually need to hear the call to repentance that comes from the sinner category, they also need the compassion, empathy, patience, and oftentimes listening ear that come from the sufferer category.

The way we talk to a robber and the way we talk to someone who has been robbed differ drastically. We would usually be stern with the robber. But how would we speak to the one who has been robbed? We would be gentle. We would be compassionate and empathetic. We would be patient as they work through feelings of insecurity and fear. We might simply be quiet, letting our presence do the talking. As sexual sin rears its head, students, many of whom are new creations in Christ, are simultaneously the ones robbing themselves and the ones being robbed of the joy that Christ brings.

Sometimes we need a firm hand to guide us. Other times we need a gentle hand to sustain us. Sometimes we need to hear about our need to rest in our identity in Christ. Other times we need to be told to pick up our tools and start working. The truths we give to students shift depending on the situation.

The category of sufferer provides our students with the truth that, though they sin, they are not defined by their sins. They can cry out to the Lord for help in the very moment that they are being assaulted by sin and temptation. This category also helps students draw near to the Lord who knows what it is like to suffer. He willingly suffered in their place and is with them now in the valley.

We might not operate out of the “sufferer” category every time, but when students are so beaten down and broken over their sexual sin that they can’t find the strength to move, this can be a useful tool. This category will help students find the helping hand of Christ who is God With Us and gives us, as ministers, godly and nuanced patience, compassion, empathy, and love for the students under our care.


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