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Thoughts from the ERLC Leadership Summit

Apr 25, 2014

Day One

One does not have to be in ministry very long to know that the issue of sexuality is a hot topic. And one just needs take a glance at the hashtag #erlcsummit to see that this is a conversation both “inside” and “outside” the church that is engulfed in much heat. Include that the gospel is intimately connected to the story of Redemption, of a Son leaving home to pursue and secure a bride at great sacrifice, and it makes this a timely conference. The talks from yesterday addressed important topics for pastors and members to think through together.

Pornography (Speaker: Heath Lambert)

Heath Lambert, a Biblical Counseling Professor at Southern Seminary, as well as the author of Finally Free, began the conference with a topic that is ravaging our churches—pornography.

It is truly an understatement to say that Pornography is a massive problem in the church—even among its ministry leaders and pastors. In fact, Lambert said. The greatest moral threat to Evangelical Christianity is the pastor who teaches rightly about homosexuality and then retreats home for an hour of pornography. Lambert compared Pornography to the forbidden woman of Proverbs 7 and posed that this is a matter of life and death. He pointed out the connections in that pornography appeals, like the forbidden woman, to our most based desire, for life to be about us. In addition, she argues that this will just be a little secret that nobody will know about. Finally, she says you do not have to worry about “me,” which plays right into the pornography culture whereby women are consumed without a thought of their needs or their good (He shared that 90% of people in porn industry are involved in some form of drug abuse, and an “actress” said this was so because drugs were the only escape to deal with how they are treated).

This is a matter of life and death as Proverbs 7 states, and Lambert gives some practical and theological ways for us to fight for life over death. He began with the foundational point that it is impossible to resist this forbidden woman apart from the grace of Jesus Christ. Lambert ended with an appeal to the evangelical church to be at the forefront of a movement to fight for and protect women from being consumed and abused, while at the same time awakening our Sons and the World to the idea that there is something much more beautiful to look at… and His name Jesus!

The Pastor’s Purity (Panel Discussion)

Next, a panel discussed how the pastor can wage war for his own purity. As the panelists discussed, because of their position of public leadership in the church, pastors must be doubly on guard and willing to make war with their sin. The panel pushed those listening to understand that this is first a belief issue (A Christ-Centered outlook on sex and purity) and the belief always goes before fighting (i.e. cutting out one’s eye by: putting safeguards on your computer, setting up accountability relationships, and not being alone with women that are not your wife – this caused a stir on Twitter).

In addition, when it comes to the life of the local church, pastors (and aspiring pastors) were challenged not to make the standard of holiness “the next guy” whom you might be tempted to judge yourself against, but instead the holiness of God. A helpful reminder for those thinking through “qualifiedness” (if that’s a word) is that this is not up to one’s evaluation of themselves anyways, it is up to the church who affirms whether the aspiring man meets the qualifications of an Elder. Finally, in the context of the local church, pastors were encouraged that when it comes to sexual sin church discipline “has to be on the table.” In church discipline we not only call the sinner to repentance, but also protect the weak and fight sin;  this is a must if we are going to personally make ourselves accountable and if we are going to protect, particularly women, those abused and hurt in our churches.

Discussing Sexuality with Teens in Your Home and Church  (Speaker: Jimmy Scroggins)

Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of First Baptist West Palm Beach, held one of the more frank talks I have heard on the issue of sexuality. I would strongly recommend listening to this message. He began by saying he has been humbled in this area and that he was much more confident to talk about sexuality and teenagers before his sons became teens. He wishes he could tell that his thoughts in this area led to a pain-free environment, but it isn’t so!

Scroggins points out that teens today have it much different than teens in the 80s when there was no internet or cell phones (if he wanted to have a CD or VHS that his parents did not approve it was contraband, now those things can be hidden deep in a phone). He pointed out that today’s culture is marked by morally ambiguity, access, radical autonomy and that porn is a given, sex is expected, Gay is Ok (he lamented that even when he gave a very sensitive talk on homosexuality in his church that teenagers saw him as a bigot), and marriage is a capstone not a cornerstone). Scroggins challenged that these cultural trends have to inform how we teach and train teens in our churches and homes.

He proposed the way forward in continually building and rebuilding a culture of marriage in the home and church where it is honored and cherished. And he pointed out the necessity to start early—a great starting point is premarital classes and parents of young kids in your church. He gave some practical teaching points on how to teach children early on this topic by affirming their gender at an early age. And he challenged pastors to never talk about sexuality without speaking about marriage since this is God’s design for sexuality.

Pastoral Care for Sexual Sin (Speaker: J.D. Greear)

J.D. Greear, pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC, concluded the evening with some wonderful challenges for dealing with sexual sin in the church and how to interact with the sin of homosexuality with both grace and truth.

Greear pointed out that evangelicals should maintain the high ground on sexuality since sexuality is God’s idea. In addition, pastors and churches should seek to fight sexual sin at its root (not just fruit) but showing off the multi-faceted beauty of the gospel. Greear then modeled for the listeners one of his principles for dealing with sexual sin (Don’t avoid hard topics) as he moved to discuss homosexuality.

This talk certainly garnered much heat on Twitter, but Greear gave some helpful and challenging points to think through as christians speak the truth in love on this topic. As I would recommend that you watch this talk to hear it from the source, I will only mention two: Greear challenged that the point for us can never be homosexuality, but has to be the Lordship of Jesus. Finally, after several points of how to love the sexual sinner, Greear challenged the church that just because you are ticking people off does not mean you are doing something wrong. He pointed to the example of John the Baptist’s beheading and stated that he thinks if “Christian bloggers” had been around in that day they would have been equally disappointed with John as they are with today’s evangelical leaders who risk their necks to speak to sexual issues with which those who want to defend the “good face” of Christianity and the overall culture oppose strongly.

Day Two and Three

Day 2 and 3 of ERLC Leadership Summit provided more fireworks on Twitter. They also provided some great content on how the gospel interacts with sexuality and how the church should respond in this age of confusion both inside the church and out. As this post is only meant to be a recap, you are encouraged  to watch the sessions in their entirety to learn more about these issues.

Day 2 began with Dr. Mark Regnerus speaking on the Sociological Trends in American Sexuality. He provided a lot of slides with research information about the changes in American sexuality. Particularly noticeable in his research was the onslaught against marriage in our culture as increased non-monogamy is one the rise. But most disturbing is the effect that pornography and online dating have had on women. According to Regnerus, with the increase of accessibility to easy avenues of sex, the sexual capital that women hold has progressively been cheapened, thereby making it possible for men who are failing at life to be the ones who have the upper hand in the bedroom. Again, please listen Dr. Regnerus’ session in its entirety for all of the statistics and research presented.

Next, Dr. Russell Moore, the President of the ERLC, gave a Q&A on topics of sexuality and the public square. This is a must-watch as he discussed issues of parents/pastors equipping on sex, sexual abuse, sex-change repentance, divorce, and many more. In the midst of wise and convictional counsel, one thing was clear: Dr. Moore is not afraid to tackle any tough topics or questions.

Dr. Moore was followed by Dr. David Prince, Pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, who spoke on The Gospel and Your Childrens’ Sexuality.” Similar to what I wrote yesterday about Dr. Scroggins’ talk, Dr. Prince gave helpful counsel on how to encourage and protect the sexuality of children. Throughout his session he gave thoughts on how to instruct our children at an early age to embrace and pursue a biblical view of their gender and how to teach them in direct language without being crude. He gave examples of how he prays for his children in this area: “Thank you that you made Luke a male, and Lydia a female, help them understand how to have their gender surrendered to identity of Christ.”

One of my favorite talks of the conference was Pastor Matt Carter’s, Pastor the Austin Stone Church and renowned Bird-Catcher, talk on exposition and sexuality. Carter, who pastors in Austin, TX, was told that he could never grow a church in Austin by preaching expositionally through books of the Bible. Well, he has proven that wrong and encourages expositional preaching as the best way to address all of the sexual confusion in our culture and churches. Some helpful thoughts from Carter:

Romans 10 is clear that there is power in the Word! If we believe that, we will believe that in area of sexual confusion and we will preach the Word as God has given it to us.

This talk was followed by a helpful panel on manhood where pastors discussed topics like: What does biblical manhood look like? How do we engage men in our churches? What does it look like to lead a family in today’s sexual culture? What will be the greatest threat to the next generation of families? And many more. I’d highly recommend checking it out.

Dr. Moore gave the last talk of Day 2 in a sermon entitled, “Walking the Line: The Gospel and Moral Purity.” This is a must watch. Moore highlighted the way demons want to fight on issue of sexual sin. They first want todeceive with a lie as old as the garden itself: “Has God really said?” They want to make those trapped in sexual sin (whether that be heterosexual or homosexual) believe that it is really “ok” just like Eve eating the Apple. They also want to accuse and make sexual sinners believe they will never be able to made right with God. Moore challenged all to preach a gospel that presents both truth and grace–one that lets sexual sinners know they will be held accountable for their sin, and also that one stood in our place to handle our account if we will repent and believe in Him! Moore admitted the gospel is a strange message and encouraged all to embrace the strangeness of a World Emperor who would take the account of others and grant them no condemnation if they will be found in Him. That’s Good News!

Kevin Smith, Teaching Pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Lousville, Ky, concluded the conference talking about Keeping the Marriage Bed Pure. This is a must-watch as well—another one of my favorites. Smith pulled no punches in his talk and pointed out how honoring God’s design for marriage, as well as building a culture of marriage, is vital for our churches. He also challenged us to see that the main threats to marriage are not from homosexuals but from the divorce culture where many children have heard dad’s say, “I’ve left your mom,” even at times for someone 2 years older than themselves. Smith was clear that homosexuality is clearly taught as sin in the bible, but challenged pastors to address the more major issues “in house” first. He said, “If you’ve been a pastor for 20 years and haven’t preached about divorce then shut up about homosexuality.” Smith’s point was not that we should not declare homosexuality is wrong (he addressed that clearly); it was that we should fight first the sins in our congregations that are even more frequently challenging our marriage beds.

Note: Some other breakouts to check out are Tony Merida’s Talk on Sex Trafficking, where Tony points out the massive problem this is in our world. If we love the Bible (which over and again speaks of justice) and if we are parents (if we see these victims as our own daughters) we will fight diligently to combat this problem. He also gave practical advice about how to start fighting and raising awareness of human sex trafficking no matter where you live. In addition, check out Baptist21′s Jon Akin on Resisting Adultery. In this session Jon gave helpful counsel from the Proverbs on the primary means of sexual temptation, the consequences of sexual sin (both temporary and eternal), and how Solomon ultimately point us to a personal relationship with Wisdom, Jesus Christ, and the gospel to fight sexual sin.