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When my pastor decided I was unfit for ministry

I recently had to leave a local church because the new pastor and I disagreed about same-sex attraction (SSA). That church was no longer helping me grow in the likeness of Christ or allowing me to follow God’s call on my life for His kingdom. It was a prayer-filled, yet painful process to decide I could no longer be part of that church. So how did I get to that point and how did the pastor’s perspective impact my spiritual health during that time?

Fourteen years ago, I had just moved back to my hometown and was looking for a church. Of course, no church is perfect, but this church had solid biblical preaching, spirit filled worship and great community. I got connected to a small group and started serving in the children’s ministry. This church was my family and my home. 
I also got involved with Celebrate Recovery at this church, a programme often associated with addiction recovery, but open to anyone seeking help from “hurts, habits or hang-ups”. I was not yet “out” in regards to same-sex attraction, but I would share generally about struggling with lust and sexual sin. There were moments of truth, conviction and repentance. And there were moments of grace, forgiveness and freedom. There was a community that supported each other in the hard things and rejoiced with each other in the victories.

…it seemed like we were saying similar things just with different vocabulary

My first few years at this church were some of great spiritual growth in my life. I learned a lot about walking in freedom and not giving into temptation. Still, even as I celebrated what God was doing in my life and heart to fight against lust and temptation, I felt an underlying shame knowing that when temptations did come, they were oriented towards those of my same sex. 

I sometimes wonder what healing I would have known then if I had been honest about my SSA with that community that was full of grace and truth. Instead, I spent years on my own trying to understand how it might be possible to be same-sex attracted, hold a traditional biblical view of sexuality and follow Christ. I came to better understand sin, human depravity and temptation. I was more aware daily of what it means to take up your cross and follow Christ. I was more on guard and ready to stand against temptation. I was relying more on Christ and His strength in me. I developed a richer theology of singleness and what it means for the church to be family. 
Eventually, I started opening up more about my experience with SSA with a few people in that church and some Christian friends not connected with that church. In general, it sparked beautiful conversations. People listened to my experiences of both struggles and freedom. They asked questions and opened up more about some of their own temptations and struggles. 

We talked about their kids who were struggling or had friends struggling with sexuality. I started to see how God was using my testimony to edify and encourage other believers in their own walk with Christ. My own faith was growing, and the body of Christ was being strengthened as we talked about discipleship and community in the life of a same-sex attracted believer. Gradually the internal shame was chipped away and replaced with holiness and joy. Then, a couple of years ago, the church got a new pastor. I knew I needed to share with him my experience with same-sex attraction, both because it would help him as he pastored me, and because God was continuing to lead me to be more open about SSA and ministry for SSA people. From our first conversation about these things, it was evident that we weren’t communicating well. Still, I did everything I could to allow him to fulfill the biblical role of pastor in my life. 

One valuable thing the pastor asked me to do was write down a statement of faith to clarify what I believe about sexuality. I was happy to do this and found it helpful for my own processing and in communicating clearly with others. I sent the pastor what I wrote and invited his feedback or further questions. Not getting anything in response, I assumed he was OK with what I wrote. 

Due to circumstances I won’t recount here, I ended up writing a long letter to the board of elders of the church sharing my history of SSA, how God had been working in my life in recent years, what it looked like to submit to Christ and walk in holiness with SSA and my sense of calling to participate in ministry similar to the work TFT does. When I finally met in person with the whole board of elders, I felt completely grilled. 

One specific question I remember was, “If you’re helping someone who experiences SSA, would you advise them to repent of their sins, follow Christ and ask God to change their heart to be heterosexual?” I answered, “I would advise them to repent of their sins, follow Christ and ask God to change their heart to be holy.” I explained that I did not see heterosexuality as the goal, rather the goal was submitting to Christ no matter what direction temptation pulled. 

As the conversation progressed, there were moments it seemed like we were saying similar things just with different vocabulary, but there were other times I knew we were disagreeing in some core areas. As the pastor talked, I felt like the very person who was meant to help lead me closer to Christ was instead negating the past decade of sanctification and growth that God had brought in my life and pushing me back into shame. I was frustrated and gutted. I wanted to leave the church then, but that would have been leaving out of anger, which I knew wasn’t right. A few days later, I attended a TFT women’s conference. As I shared about that meeting, several TFT friends nodded in understanding. Multiple people said they had spent a long time helping their pastors learn about SSA and what a faithful life in Christ can look like with SSA. This seemed like a daunting task, but I was committed to my church, and I left that TFT weekend ready to continue working things through with the pastor.

Over the next several months I continued sharing with the pastor things that God was doing in my life and options I was considering for the future. Finally, he made a definitive statement of his position saying, “Based on my understanding of your theology, we will not be recommending you for any further education or ministry.” There it was - what we had been tiptoeing around for months was finally stated outright. Because I was not actively repenting of SSA itself, he found me unfit for ministry. That was the moment I knew I had to leave. I know the pastor was upholding his own convictions of what he believed the Bible says, but I could not sit under a pastor who saw me as an unrepentant sinner for the very thing that God had used most in my life to teach me about following Him. I had explained to the pastor that if same-sex desire is expressed as a longing, craving or lustful thought, I would unequivocally call it sin and find it needing repentance. But not every temptation grows into sin. The capacity I have to experience temptation towards those of my sex is not itself sinful. 

I often use an analogy from a 1000-mile bicycle trip that I took one summer. One morning as I got on my bike and started actively pedaling in the direction of my goal, I said aloud, “I don’t want to do this.” No one was making me take that trip. I could have turned around and gone home at any moment. In a way, I expressed a desire to quit, but that potential was never something I saw as an actual option. My mind and heart were fully set on my goal. I never wavered in pursuing the thoughts and actions that would keep me moving in the right direction. Every analogy breaks down eventually, but here’s my point concerning my response to temptation: I can either allow my mind and heart to dwell there, which would lead to sin, or I can take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and keep my mind and heart fully turned towards Christ. 
We all need pastors who will help us stay oriented to Christ no matter what temptations come our way. We need brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we can share both struggles and joys. We need conviction of the Holy Spirit that will lead us to repentance when we have sinned. May our churches be places that help us grow in Christ and through which we are encouraged and equipped to engage the world for His kingdom. 

This article was originally published in the Summer 2024 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.

Download the Summer 2024 edition of Ascend

To give space to discuss certain articles in greater depth, the TFT staff team will be recording occasional podcasts under the banner “Ascend Higher”, covering the issues raised in a more conversational style. To hear it for yourself, you can use the audio player below.