Some Raw Thoughts on Ministry Formerly Known as Exodus International

Last night I wrote a brief post addressing Exodus International President Alan Chambers’s apology to the LGBTQ community concerning the work of Exodus International.

Literally two minutes after I posted my blog, Exodus issued a press release stating they intended to close their doors and the leadership is establishing a new work known as Reduce Fear.

My initial reaction was simply, “Wow.” And that has been echoed across my social media feeds by people from all perspectives.

But as I watched Alan’s opening statements from the Freedom Conference last night, and I started processing exactly what was happening, I began having very conflicted emotions.

This is a little bit of public processing, but I hope it may start a dialogue about the statements made and the changes occurring. I also hope it gives those who aren’t celebrating the changes at Exodus permission to express their equally real feelings and know they are heard and validated.

Dear Exodus International Board Member Mr. Tony Moore, when you say, “We’re not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people, BUT…”
the “but” negates the ways God used Exodus positively.

Yes, there are those who have had horrific experiences in Exodus affiliated ministries. That occurs in EVERY ministry, in every church, b/c we are broken people ministering to broken people.

It’s sort of like saying, “I don’t mean to be hateful, but…” and then unleashing a torrent of vitriol toward a person or organization. Yes, you did mean to be hateful.

And yes, you did imply God’s work was negated by your apology.

There are those of us who met the Jesus of mercy, grace, forgiveness, freedom, and love in the people who ministered with Exodus, and the apologies issued in the last couple of days ring with the implication that our positive experiences were a fluke or a mistake.

Is that what you believe now? Are lives transformed but the Gospel heard through Exodus ministries simply people deceived? If we wait it out, are we going to finally accept we really are gay and God’s ok with it? Do we need to begin embracing who we really are and the “fact” God loves us where and how we are?

You’re caving to those who came to Exodus looking for one thing or were promised something that wasn’t delivered. What about those of us who came to Exodus just looking for Jesus and found Him?

Were there problems? Yes. Did some things need to change? Absolutely. But to shut down 37 years of ministry seems reactionary and short sighted.

Mr. Chambers stated that the purpose of the new work, Reduce Fear, is to “come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.”

Has that not been the goal of Exodus all along? It has been since my first experience with an Exodus affiliated ministry in 2005.

Sometimes a name can carry so much baggage that a name change is most beneficial to the work being accomplished, but there is more going on here than a simple name change. There is a shift in focus, purpose, and doctrine that saddens me.

There is no hope in surrender to anything other than Christ, and last night’s announcement feels like a cultural surrender for those of us who only found freedom and love in the hard, painful, complete surrender to Christ.

Can joyous freedom and fleshly attraction not co-exist simultaneously in the human heart? Does the presence of temptation negate the Holy Spirit’s strong work in enabling us to resist those temptations?

What exactly are you saying about God, sin and homosexuality, Exodus/Reduce Fear?

Unwanted Same-Sex Attraction, Counseling and the Church

At the recent Exodus International Freedom Conference, a gentleman from a large metropolitan area who runs a ministry center for people who seek healing from various forms of sexual brokenness and struggle asked a very good question. Due to time constraints at the workshop, I did not have time to answer him as fully as I would have liked, so I am posting a more complete answer here.
This minister essentially said that, due to the current political and social buzz surrounding issues related to homosexuality, he has a very difficult time finding counselors in his area who will work with people who come to them declaring that they are seeking healing from homosexuality as one of their counseling goals.
This very question was the inspiration and purpose of our workshop. I for one agree with the removal of homosexuality from the DSM as a psychological diagnosis; it’s not a psychological issue, it’s a spiritual one. And I would issue caution going to a counselor to discuss “Unwanted Same-sex attraction”, even though that “diagnosis” is still listed in the DSM-IV. Reason being that the suggested treatment is not to help someone work through issues and seek a change in orientation. Rather, accepted treatment of unwanted same-sex attraction to help the person accept their homosexuality and learn to embrace and celebrate who they were created to be. That approach will (hopefully) be contrary to the teaching being received in church and discipleship and will, therefore, be counterproductive to the person seeking help. Those working within the counseling and church communities need to be on the same page, working toward the same goals, which should be the goals set forth by the person seeking help and wholeness.
So, to answer his question, I teach that it is the role of a counselor, whether they are biblical or secular in their worldview, to deal mainly with a client’s emotional and psychological struggles. There are myriad issues facing someone who struggles with unwanted same-sex attraction; sometimes it’s the impact of traumatic events early in life. Sometimes a client needs to sort through issues concerning emotional entanglement, overcoming a “victim mentality” or other misconception of self, or an issue of addiction to either people or chemicals. Notice that these are all issues that are separate from sexual orientation itself; many people in unhealthy heterosexual relationships deal with the same issues and move from one unhealthy heterosexual relationship to the next, never correcting their core issues and beliefs concerning themselves and God. It is the role of a counselor to help someone learn new ways of relating to themselves and to others, to work through and heal past wounds.
It would fall under the role of the church (discipleship and accountability partners specifically) to walk alongside someone struggling with homosexuality to teach them how to apply what they are learning with their counselor in a biblically correct manner. Counselors can teach behavior modification and cognitive therapy techniques to help a person see why they’ve made the choices they’ve made and how they can begin to make new, healthier choices. But it is only through intense discipleship and time in the Word can one be transformed through the renewing of their mind (Romans 12). And it is only through the renewing of the mind, the breaking down of strongholds, the revealing of lies believed and the replacement of them with Truth that can bring true peace and healing in Christ. What is beautiful and complex about both the design of humanity and the grace of God is that, as a person sorts through emotional and psychological issues and becomes healthy and balanced in those areas, believing spiritual truth and allowing it to soak to the heart becomes easier as well. Working in all areas, a little bit at a time but all at the same time, allows for continual healing and consistent work towards the goal of conformity to the image of Christ.
So if you are searching for a counselor to help deal with issues related to unwanted same-sex attraction and you do not have an Exodus ministry or counselor in your area (You can find out if you do here), find a counselor you trust to help you identify and improve upon counseling related issues and find someone in your local church you trust who will walk through the spiritual implications of your struggles. Humans are complex beings, and matters of identity and relationship impact us wholly, mind, body and spirit. Surround yourself with competent people who can help you find healing and wholeness in all of those areas.

Exodus Freedom Conference: The Reality of Grace

Last week’s Exodus International Freedom Conference was a HUGE blessing to all who attended! This year’s theme was “The Reality of Grace” and each speaker brought a message of that reality to those in attendance. God’s grace IS a reality in which we can rest, and it was such an encouraging reminder to me of His love and grace.

The workshop I presented with Salida Brooks was well received and encouraging to many. We spoke about the role of the church and the counseling community in the healing process of those who have suffered trauma.

Please continue to be in prayer for those who counsel and minister on the “front lines”. Pray that those seeking healing will find it in the Great Physician.

Several opportunities for further ministry with other groups around the nation were presented; please pray that God will open doors for unified work with other ministries.

During our workshop there were several excellent questions asked that we were only able to give very brief answers to due to time constraints, so over the next few days I will be addressing some of them at length.

If you have questions concerning ministry with people who struggle with overcoming past trauma or same-sex attraction (both were topics addressed in our workshop), please post them in the comments section and I will do my best to answer them.

Can Pain Ever Be Good?

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 1 Peter 4:12-16

While I was at the Exodus Freedom Conference last month, I attended a workshop for ministry leaders led by Jeff Buchanan. The workshop was entitled Moving Forward into a Culture of Discipleship, and Jeff’s purpose was to equip ministry leaders in the work of growing grace-saturated disciples of Christ within both our ministries and the Church at large. Part of what he taught has particularly stuck with me the last couple of weeks and I wanted to share a few points that I have been able to put into immediate practice both in ministry and in my own life.

Jeff stressed the fact that, as believers, we must learn about and embrace a theology of suffering. So many today seek a life of comfort and ease and happiness. Televangelists preach a prosperity gospel that is anything but biblical. Some teach that if we do God’s will, then God will bless us with material prosperity and physical well-being. I find that thought interesting considering that even the Son of Man had no place to lay His head. If Jesus was homeless and suffered horrendously on our behalf, the idea of comfort and ease should be foreign to his followers as well.

But what do we do with the equally true concepts that God loves us and desires what’s best for us but also allows suffering and tremendous pain in our lives? To 21st Century Americans, pain and hardship do not equal good. All pain is bad pain and personal happiness is the ultimate goal. The passage at the beginning of this post flies in the face of American entitlement and once again shows that, sometimes, pursuing the American Dream requires us to pursue the exact opposite of the Christian life.

Peter addresses two types of suffering in 1 Peter 4: suffering brought upon ourselves by our own poor decisions, and suffering on behalf of Christ and his Gospel. How do we know the difference? There can be two types of physical pain: destructive pain like the pain that is caused by illness and injury, and growth pain caused by exercise and rehabilitation. Pain caused by illness or injury can be destructive for the rest of your life if you do not also experience the temporary pain of physical rehabilitation. Growth pain usually alleviates destructive pain, at least partially if not completely.

In this workshop, Jeff included two very helpful bullet pointed lists that help us determine what pain is good, growth oriented pain, and what pain is destructive in our lives.

The Pain in your Life is Growth Pain if you are:
• Becoming more vulnerable in your relationships with God and with other people
• Humbly recognizing your own character flaws and are allowing God to correct them
• Taking relational risks; stepping out, learning to trust, revealing your true self to people
• Relearning healthy and godly relational skills and boundaries
• Dealing with the emotional wounds and trauma of your past
• Overcoming passivity and learning how to stand up for Truth and righteousness
• Overcoming destructive patterns that you have become dependent upon and are learning to depend on God
• Dealing with grief and loss in an expressive and productive way.

The Pain in Your Life is Destructive Pain if you are:
• Refusing to face character issues
• Choosing wrong relationships and unsafe people
• Repeating destructive patterns and not assuming responsibility
• Harboring unforgiveness
• Living with a false perception or romanticized ideals
• Living in a state of self-pity

So what causes pain in your life? Are you suffering because of the sinful choices of others and your suffering is beyond your control? Are you suffering because you stood up for what is right and are now experiencing persecution for it? Or are you suffering because of your own choices? There is good news for each situation!

If you are suffering due to the sins of others, God is clear in Scripture that He is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18) and deals justly with the sinner (Romans 12:19). If you are suffering on behalf of Christ, Scripture tells us to take joy in sharing in his suffering because we will also share in His glory! And if you are suffering because of your own foolish choices, there is repentance and forgiveness in the cross and the time spent in destructive pain can be redeemed through growth pain.

Whatever kind of suffering you may be currently experiencing, don’t waste it! Allow God to use it for your good and his glory. Cling to him. Grow in your faith. Share what you’ve learned with others. Be a testimony of his grace to a suffering world. When you suffer for the right reasons, don’t deny the pain, but make sure you acknowledge the accompanying grace and peace and joy of Christ. If you’ve lived your life in destructive pain and are now experience growth pain, don’t give up on the healing process. See the difference in the two types of pain and take comfort in the fact that this season of growth pain will prevent you from experiencing a lifetime of destructive pain. Keep your eternal perspective.

Ministry Update, Summer 2010

Hello Prayer Partners!

I hope you are all having a blessed summer and are enjoying some time with friends and family.

Here is a quick update for you so that you know how to pray for this ministry.

Tomorrow I am heading to Irvine, CA, and the 2010 Exodus Freedom Conference through Exodus International. This will be three days of much healing for hundreds of people who seek freedom from homosexuality and much equipping for friends, family and ministers who seek to walk alongside men and women in that journey. This is the 35th anniversary of the Exodus Freedom Conference, and it is returning to the site of the first conference. As you can imagine, the atmosphere in California is not particularly welcoming to a conference that is designed to help those leaving the homosexual lifestyle. Planning for protests and rallies and pro-gay gatherings has been going on almost as long as planning for the conference. Here is how you can pray over the next few days.

Safety for those traveling to the conference.
That we will have opportunities to share the Gospel with those we meet on the way.
That those who come seeking healing will find it
That worship times will be freeing, authentic and Christ-centered
That those who come to protest will have positive experiences and will see the love of Christ in conference participants
For boldness and compassion for those who are speaking and teaching
For wisdom as we counsel many hurting people
For supernatural strength and encouragement for those who are working in the Conference.

This will be a very intense but encouraging time for everyone involved. Your prayers are greatly desired and appreciated!

Back here in Chattanooga we have some good things going on as well! God is greatly blessing the group of women that began a discipleship small group together in February. They are all fighting hard to find their freedom and identity in Christ and it is a rich blessing and encouragement to watch their faith and confidence grow each week. We have expanded our group for the summer to include women who come from all walks of life. We are going through the study Believing God by Beth Moore. We began this past Saturday night and will have over 20 women participate with us! These women are single, married, divored and widowed, they are ages 16 to 67 and come from many diverse backgrounds. But they are all unified in their desire to genuinely believe God so that they are equipped to live out the faith they claim. The excitement in the room was tangible as women openly shared of their desire to move past lives of mediocrity in order to enjoy the rich blessing of abundant life in Christ! Please pray for this group over the next ten weeks. We meet on Saturday nights, 6:00-8:00, and they have all made quite a commitment to give up their summer Saturday evenings in order to have this time of discipleship and fellowship. Please pray that God will bless their faithfulness and obedience richly and that their growth will ignite the sparks of revival both in their personal lives and in their respective churches.

God is doing an amazing work in the lives of the women I get to work with each week, and it is a blessing to see that growth. As a teacher, whether in the school room or in a church or conference room, there is nothing better than watching the lights come on in the lives of your students as they have “Aha!” moments. God promises that we will find Him when we seek Him with all of our hearts (Jeremiah 29:11-13). There is an ever-increasing desire to know and to love the Savior, and transformation in the lives of women who faithfully seek after Him cannot be denied.

Thank you all for your prayer support! I will send out an update next week concerning the Exodus Freedom Conference.