Why We Progress

Sometimes life gives you glimpses of cultural progress.

I got one of them yesterday. In a Facebook group I’m part of a youth worker posted this question:

Any suggestions on how to handle homosexual or bisexual relationships in the group. We have a new attendee that I want to be careful with teaching in love but not ignoring what God says about it.

Now, the question itself is contemporary– I’m not knocking the question, stick with me.

Lots of churches, particularly churches in less populated parts of the country, are just now engaging with the question for the first time.

The answer I gave in that thread, “How do you treat other relationships? Same diff.” is not considered a controversial one. It’s not a liberal, progressive, or even conservative answer– It’s just a common answer.

But that same answer? It was very controversial just a few years ago. When I gave a very similar  answer in the Love is an Orientation DVD in 2011 it was pretty edgy. I actually had to get clearance from the non-profit I was working at to say it. There were meetings, lots of meetings, hand-wringing, fretting, vetting, and questions about if my private position should be “our” public position before they finally said it was fine for me to appear in the training videos, much less offer that advice. 

This is what progress looks like on a micro level. 6 or 7 years ago the majority of church youth groups would have either not have ever experienced that question or would have an answer born out of textbooks instead of their own practical, street, theology. But today? Even relatively conservative evangelical churches in small towns would agree with the advice I gave.

Why Progress Matters

This morning, as I was thinking about this question I had a little bit of a flashback to questions I got interviewing at churches 15 years ago… questions that seem so completely foreign that we forget how fast culture progresses.

  1. “What do you think about mixed bathing?” — In 2002, I had multiple churches ask me if I thought it was OK, from a biblical perspective, if teenage boys and girls could be in the pool at the same time.
  2. “What do you think about mixed dating?” — Again, in 2002, I had multiple churches ask me if I thought it was OK, from a biblical perspective, if teenagers of different races or ethnicities dated.

In both cases these weren’t mainstream questions. But these were serious questions in interviews. Both the asking of the question and how I answered were significant matters for whether a church wanted to hire me. More importantly, I had to decide if I wanted to work in congregations where questions were still normative enough that they’d come up in a job interview with a youth pastor.

One thing is certain: Culture will continue to change and labels will continue to shift, too. Things which seem crazy to talk about today will one day be mainstream and in only 15 years will be so commonplace that we’ll assume you live in the sticks if your thoughts haven’t kept up. In fifteen years we won’t wonder about what to do with two girls holding hands in the back of the church van because… today’s 15 year olds will be the youth workers, they’ll know intuitively to treat everyone’s sexuality is treated the same, because that’s what they grew up with. It’s as native to them as their mobile phone is today, the question will feel as offensive to their sense of justice as the casual racism I was asked about.

The question for us is simply about posture. Are we ready to stay focused on our ministry regardless of changes in culture? Or are we going to hold onto “the culture we grew up with” to the detriment of  the main focus of our ministry? 






2 responses to “Why We Progress”

  1. Tash Avatar

    It won’t surprise me if this post slides under the radar for a while. But it shouldn’t because it’s a profound and helpful observation that is empowering to all manner of people who work in and with social organisations.

  2. Shawn Michael Shoup Avatar

    So thankful for your voice and impact in the youth ministry world, Buddy. You are a hero. #seriously

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