April 17, 2024

How to Talk About Human Sexuality & More (with Pastor Rich Villodas) – Episode 344

rich villodas how to talk about sexuality & more

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How to Talk About the Tough Stuff (Part 2)

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We’re in week two of our series on “How to Talk About the Tough Stuff,” where we’re having conversations with pastors about politics, mental health, theology, and sexuality.

Church leaders need to help believers learn to love God and love others within our current cultural context.

That’s why we created this series packed with super practical wisdom to challenge and encourage pastors to equip their congregations to talk about these tough topics.

HOW TO TALK ABOUT: HUMAN SEXUALITY & MORE

“I have sensed a need from God to be courageous in these moments and recognize that not everyone’s going to be happy with what I’m saying.”

In this conversation, I sat down with Rich Villodas, Pastor of New Life Fellowship—a large, multi-racial church in Queens, NY. Based on his 11 years of experience leading this congregation, Rich offers wisdom for discipling our diverse churches on tough topics like sexuality and politics. 

  • Pastoring in a diverse congregation
  • Preparing messages on tough topics
  • Building a foundation of spiritual formation
  • Modeling humility and curiosity
"Not everything that I pray for requires a pastoral statement, but naming things for prayer is a good place to start." — @richvillodas [episode 344] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet "Like most pastors, I want to be liked. I don't want to cause unnecessary friction. At the same time, I have also sensed a need from God to be courageous in these moments and recognize not everyone's going to be happy with what I'm saying." —… Click To Tweet "Pastors, our primary task isn’t creating content. It’s the formation of our character." — @richvillodas [episode 344] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet "The most important work that we have is our own interior work and our life with God." — @richvillodas [episode 344] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet
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Transcript

Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. In recent research, the Barna Group found that only a quarter of U.S. adults believe that the church can help create meaningful change in a divided nation. But what if rather than impact the conversation of politics, the church can help shape our character. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy continue our series on How to Talk About the Tough Stuff in church with a conversation with Pastor Rich Villodas. Before we go there, though, if you’re brand new to the podcast, make sure you head to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe to get our episode show notes. When you do, each week, you’ll get an email with resources to support that week’s episode, including our Leader Conversation Guide. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now, before this week’s conversation, here’s Tony.

Tony (00:59):

This episode is brought to you by Planning Center, an all-in-one software to help you organize your ministries and care for your church. With an easy-to-use platform of products, you can bring people together with event signups, room and resource reservations, automatic volunteer scheduling and much more. Start using Planning Center for free now at planningcenter.com.

Amy (01:26):

Well, welcome back to our listeners, and Tony, it’s good to see you. Did you know that I was in your neck of the woods this week? I just got back from, let me think. Kennesaw, is that, am I pronouncing that right? Georgia.

Tony (01:37):

Kennesaw, Kennesaw, Georgia, just down the road from us. And you didn’t stop and say hello.

Amy (01:42):

I, I had this feeling I was nearby, but, you know, I was busy. But, it was good to be in Georgia.

Tony (01:48):

Well, as a matter of fact, I wasn’t home because I, I was still in Georgia. But I was down in Augusta, and unfortunately, just a week too early because the Master’s golf tournament is going to be next week, as we’re recording this conversation. So, I just missed that. But, it was fun to be in Augusta as they’re preparing for the big golf tournament.

Amy (02:10):

Hey, I hear there’s some big, like eclipse happening soon. Are you on? Are you at a church in the pathway of the eclipse?

Tony (02:18):

I just missed on that, but I know we have teammates that are gonna be actually experiencing, what is it called? The path of, path of totality.

Amy (02:27):

That, I think that’s it.

Tony (02:28):

We, yes, so now you’re gonna know as you listen to this, this podcast, how far in advance we record these, as well.

Amy (02:39):

We are in week two of our series on How to Talk About the Tough Stuff. And if our listeners missed the first episode of the series, first of all, please go back and listen to that because we got to hear some amazing wisdom from Pastor Rick Atchley on addressing mental health in the church. But if you did miss that, the context of our current series is that it was created to be packed with super practical wisdom from senior pastors to senior pastors and teaching pastors to challenge and encourage them to equip their congregations to talk about the tough topics in our culture today. And, Tony, it looks like we have another great guest joining us today.

Tony (03:15):

That’s right. In this conversation, I got a chance to sit down with Pastor Rich Villodas. Rich is born and raised in New York, and he’s also the lead pastor of New Life Fellowship. It’s a great multiracial church in Queens. He’s also the author of books that you may have read: the, the book Good and Beautiful and Kind and also the book The Deeply Formed Life. And he actually has an exciting new book come, coming out later this summer called The Narrow Path. And we’re gonna chat a bit about that book in this conversation because it kind of parallels some of this discussion about engaging tough topics. But I wanted to include Rich in this series because, well, if there’s anyone who knows something about preaching on tough topics in a post-Christian culture, it’s a pastor from New York City. So, with that in mind, here’s my conversation with Rich.

Tony (04:14):

Well, Rich, it’s good to connect with you today. I’ve actually been following you in your ministry of New Life Fellowship Church for several years. But before we jump into today’s conversation, can you share a bit of your backstory for our listeners?

Rich (04:27):

Yeah, thanks, Tony. So good to be with you. And the same, I’ve been an admirer of your work over the years and how you’ve served churches. So, really grateful for this conversation. Yeah, you know, in terms of my backstory, I, I did not grow up in a Christian home. I grew up in a home that was quite indifferent towards things of Christianity. But my parents sent me to church as a child with my grandparents who lived down the block from us in Brooklyn, New York. So born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. And by the time I was 12, stopped attending church because I wasn’t really getting anything out of it. By the time I was 17, found myself back in the church because I started dating a pastor’s daughter. And so that gets you back in the church very quickly. And that relationship ended. And one day, here’s the really quick story of it. One day, as a 19-year-old, so depressed, walking from Queens to Brooklyn to our home, I noticed that my four younger siblings were invited to that small church I used to attend as a child. And they had some revival service going on. It was a Spanish-speaking Pentecostal church. And so, I thought maybe someone could pray for me there. And I walked two blocks to the church, a church that typically had about 30 people. There was about a hundred people in that space there. A preacher got up, started preaching from Ezekiel 37 about a valley of dry bones, and God wants to breathe life into you. And somehow, my parents found their way walking to church after me. They just felt the, my father in particular felt, and he wasn’t a Christian, a pull, a tug to go to church that day. And this preacher said, “Hey, who wants the breath of Christ? Who wants the breath of life?” And on that night, 15 family members came to faith in Jesus in 1999.

Tony (06:11):

Wow.

Rich (06:12):

My parents, my four siblings, myself, cousins, uncles, aunts, I mean, it was, it was entire families were coming to Christ in that neighborhood, August of 1999. And from that point on, I just had a deep desire to preach. I had a deep desire to tell people what I got myself into, and was very zealous. Went to college. I didn’t know Christian colleges existed when I was 19 and 20 years old. I found out through a radio advertisement that college, Christian colleges existed. Went to a school called Nyack. Then went to Alliance Theological Seminary and got up my MDiv there. And then started working at a church called the Brooklyn Tabernacle, which is a large church in New York, overseeing their college and young adult ministry for four years. And then, as a 28-year-old, heard about a church called New Life Fellowship, which was in Queens, and a guy named Pete Scazzero. I was reading his book in 2006 the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. And when I was kind of counseling my peers, and as, as you know, college students and young adults, I kept giving them his book in 2006. And then, I realized, you know what, I should check out this church for myself. And 2008, that’s when I joined their staff team. Two thousand thirteen is when I succeeded Pete five years later. And so, it’s been about 11 years since I’ve taken over for Pete, about 12 years since I’ve been functionally leading our church. And it’s, it’s been a wild ride. And last, I’ll just say is, you know, married to Rosie for 18 years. We have a daughter, Karis, who’s 14, freshman in high school, and our son Nathan, who is nine and in fourth grade.

Tony (07:54):

Well, thanks for sharing some of the backstory. And actually, that is gonna be a good foundation for the conversation that we’re having today because we’re focusing in this series on teaching on tough topics. And I have to think that this is something that’s even more top of mind for you, given the fact that your church is located in Queens. I mean, do you agree with that?

Rich (08:14):

Oh, yeah. And part of what makes it challenging, number one is just the nature of New York City. You know, lots of folks think that New York City, as a whole is, you know, left-leaning, very liberal. And in some cases, that is, that’s the case. But because of our vast diversity in Queens, Queens, you know, every New York City borough is so different. And if Queens was its, was its own independent city, it’d be the fourth largest city in the United States. That’s how large we’re talking. Brooklyn would be number three to give you a sense of like scope.

Tony (08:47):

Wow.

Rich (08:48):

And so in Queens, you know, our church has 75 nations represented in a neighborhood where 123 languages are spoken. We have every kind of diversity you can imagine. And so that makes for a very challenging task every Sunday to preach. But especially when very challenging topics surface in a given year, that that’s kind of the, the air that I breathe and the water that I drink over here in New York City.

Tony (09:17):

No doubt about it. So, in that context then, what are you finding are the most tension-filled or challenging topics today?

Rich (09:26):

You know, I, I, I do think there, it’s, it’s usually four topics. It usually it’s around sexuality. It’s around racism or racial justice and reconciliation. It’s around politics. And then, fourthly, it’s around just global tensions.

Tony (09:45):

Yeah.

Rich (09:45):

To be in an international community like I’m at in New Life means that whether something happens in Ukraine, whether something happens in Latin America, whether something happens in Israel and Gaza, lots of folks in our church are going, “What are you gonna say about this? And what do we think about this? And how do we respond to this?” And so to have four, so that, you know, when the pandemic hit it, things were already problematic for me in Queens. And then, you add a global pandemic to that reality. The last four years have been extremely difficult. But, yeah, the, on a, on a regular basis, those four issues are what’s surfacing in the life of our church.

Tony (10:25):

So, just as a follow-up, do you, do you feel compelled and is, do you sense it’s your part of, kind of your mission and calling that when anything happens across the globe that you do have to speak to it? Or how do you decide what you need to speak to and what maybe you shouldn’t speak to?

Rich (10:47):

You know, I think there’s two ways that I think about that. One is around naming some things for prayer in a Sunday gathering and then, secondly, offering pastoral statements. Not everything that I pray for requires a, a pastoral statement, a reflection. Because of the nature of my diverse community, lots of folks ask, “What do we, how do we think about this? What does it mean to respond to this?” And when I sense that there is enough, you know, a critical mass of people within our church with questions, it’s often then. Sometimes, I just know it because of the perennial issues that come up year after year. And to say, you know what? I think this is something I need to respond to or write about or post to our church or post on social media. But, whenever there is something generally in our world, tragedy that strikes, you know, the recording of this year, you know, Japan just experienced another earthquake. And so, you know, we have a number of Japanese folks at our church, and so just to name that in a worship service. You know, whenever conflicts happen out there, we feel them in our church, which means we don’t have the luxury to say, “You know, we’re not gonna mention that today.”

Tony (12:00):

Yeah.

Rich (12:00):

Because the, the sheer fact that we’re mentioning it is an act of love to many of within our community. And so, for some things, it’s just definitely prayer. But depending on what the nature of the issue is and how many people it affects, that’s when I might now write out or offer a pastoral statement, which the two are very different.

Tony (12:20):

All right. So you mentioned the four topics related to sexuality and racial divides and politics and then global issues. Do, do you think those topics, Rich, have shifted over time? And if so, what do you think is driving that?

Rich (12:36):

Yeah, I, I, I do think it’s shifted. Without being too reductionistic here, I think, I do think social media has changed the landscape on so many of these things. It’s not that these mat, issues did not exist prior to social media. But the fact that everyone has an opportunity now to share, and we get an opportunity to hear every person’s thought and opinion on whatever given matter, adds a level of, I think, social pressure. Adds, adds a level, a layer of tension because we are now very clearly seeing what people think about very complicated matters, which leads to all kinds of other conflicts. And so, I do think the advent of social media has made it that much more complicated to address these issues because, especially as a pastor, if I can talk as a pastor. As a pastor, I’m seeing all of the various perspectives, and in some ways, I’m feeling now a greater sense of urgency to respond. Moreover, I do think the 24/7 news cycle, and as that has changed and morphed into what it is today, has created now a whole new reality before us. And so my tension is, as a pastor understanding that a good portion of the people that I pastor are being shaped by cable news discipleship. And so, because of the kind of ubiquitous nature of social media and cable news, I think those two realities have changed how we see global realities, racial reconciliation or racial divide, politics, sexuality, things along those lines.

Tony (14:34):

Well, Rich, here’s, here’s, this kind of gets to the heart of where I wanted to go in today’s conversation. You’re, you are obviously aware when you’re about ready to teach on something that you know is a challenge for people in your congregation.

Rich (14:49):

Yeah.

Tony (14:49):

Or has the potential to create some tension within your congregation. So, how, how do you, as a pastor prepare, and do you prepare any differently for those types of messages?

Rich (15:01):

Yeah. You know this has come outta lots of failure, Tony. And so, in 20, 2016, 2017, I made lots of assumptions about our church, who our church would support, vote for, all of that there. And so, because of those assumptions, some of the things I posted on social media, some of the things I said from the pulpit, I think hurt some folks, alienated some folks. And so I realized, especially in light of the vast diversity of our church, every church now is in many respects has a level of political diversity that probably didn’t exist before. But I feel that very deeply in our church. So yes, I’ve, I’ve had to make some significant changes. I’ll mention two in particular. One regarding politics and one regarding sexuality.

Tony (15:47):

Okay.

Rich (15:47):

In politics in 2020 after 2016 and some of the things that I think I was a bit flippant about, I really was a significant course correction in terms of how I framed what I, what I did as a pastor. We did a six-week, a five-week series on God, politics and the church before the election in 2020. And I began every sermon with these words. And it was really important that I said these words. I’d start from the beginning. I said, “Whether you Joe, vote for Joe Biden or Donald Trump, you’re welcome to come to our church. My, I pray that and hope that you see politics through Jesus, through the lens of Jesus and his teachings and not Jesus through the lens of your politics.” I said, “I hope that we would be curious as to why different members of our community see the world differently, and that we would be humble and prayerful as we are engaging in these conversations.” For me to set the tone in that way, I think did a lot for the life of our church, even in navigating those five weeks. And it wasn’t that I didn’t take a stand on certain things, or I, I wasn’t clear on what I thought were important kingdom values reflected in the life and teachings of Jesus. But I think I was trying to set the stage in that way. I didn’t do that prior. Additionally, with sexuality, you know, last year we did a 10-week series on human sexuality, where we addressed so many different things. Everything from gender dysphoria, from same-sex marriage to, you name it, we talked about it over 10 weeks. But this is what I did. That series, it took me a year and a half of preparation before I said one word. And that year and a half was based on three different groups of people that I had to get aligned with: our elders, our staff team and our core, kind of core leadership community. New Life is about, you know, 1200 to 1500 people. And so, the leadership community was about a hundred and a hundred, 150 people or so. Our staff team, especially our pastors, there’s 10 pastors on our staff, about 30 staff altogether. And then, our elders, about eight of us. And a year and a half, Tony, I, I wrote documents. I submitted it to our staff team to help me strengthen it, to check my blind spots. To name like, if we were gonna do a series, this is what we would touch on. What are the supplemental things we needed to do? What are the things that need to happen be, between Sundays? I took our elders on a couple of retreats where we spent days talking about this and praying through this. And, you know, I have some significant diversity on our, on our elder board, as well, in terms of how they think about matters of human sexuality. And so, it took a year and a half of preparation before I gave one sermon, but by the time I gave that first sermon, I felt so protected. I felt so aligned, be, that no one was gonna be surprised by anything I said, maybe some in the congregation but our elders, our staff team, our leadership community, generally. But that was about a year and a half of lots of work and preparation before one sermon was given.

Tony (19:06):

Just outta curiosity, what have, what reaction, if any, have you seen on both of those topics from people in your church?

Rich (19:16):

You know, I, the reaction first of all was, it was very gracious. You know, we have, we, I mean, we hold to a historic kind of position on human sexuality. At the same time, we recognize that the church as a whole has some repenting to do in this area. And so, for example, you know, some folks received it well, some folks were like a bit nervous. New York City’s, you know, there’s Pride month all over the country, but there’s a big parade in New York and in many cities around the country, you know, on various Sundays in June. And I remember one Sunday in particular, I just led our church in a prayer of confession and repentance saying, we need to lead the way in confessing the ways that we have hurt and marginalized people. And lots of folks really felt seen and relieved. Others started wondering, “Oh, where are we going with this Rich?” You know, although, although I’ve repeatedly stated where we stand on things theological, some folks still just get really nervous about things. But by and large, I think because of that year and a half and because of how those matters were framed, some of the things were also conversations, interviews that I had with folks on the, on Sunday mornings because I just realized some of these matters require such nuance and care that a sermon is just not the best place to give that level of articulation. And so by and large, it was received really, really well. And I think we’re still seeing the fruit of that.

Tony (20:59):

That’s so encouraging. So, let’s, let’s talk for a minute. With all that preparation, now, you’re actually in the message itself, and you have your congregation.

Rich (21:12):

Yeah.

Tony (21:12):

Watching, listening, engaging with what you’re saying. In the moment, when you’re delivering a message and you’re, and you know, that you’re pushing a bit on a tough subject for, for the folks that are listening, how do you approach those specific moments in your message?

Rich (21:30):

Yeah. You know, I, I avoid eye contact with people I think don’t like me at that moment. And that’s what, so I’m looking. I’m looking for people who are nodding their head in agreement, and I just preach to them, you know. I think there is some of that in me. But, you know, my, my sermons are very, carefully crafted. You know, I manuscript everything, and then I internalize. So I’m manuscripting 2,000 to 3,000 words per week, but when I go up there, I’m internalizing what I’m, what I’ve, what I’ve said, so that I’m very clear on what I’m gonna say. Now, I do leave moments for mo, you know, spontaneity and what I sense in the moment.

Tony (22:13):

Mm-Hmm.

Rich (22:15):

So in, in the moment, you know, I am very much aware, and I, I, I have a way of taking on or interpreting body language from people. And so whether someone has their arms crossed or whether they’re, they’re, they’re looking intently at me, it’s very easy for me to come to lots of conclusions on what they’re thinking in that moment. And what I’ve discovered over the years is sometimes that’s true. That, that they may, there maybe are offering some form of displeasure in their body language. And at the same time, I’ve discovered often that’s not true. You know, I greet people after our services in the lobby area every Sunday and make myself available to them. And oftentimes, it’s just conversations catching up. And then lots of times people wanna talk about the sermon briefly. And what I’ve discovered is some of the folks that I thought were not happy about a message would come and say, “I really needed to hear that today.” And so, in the moment, it is very difficult if I, you know, in terms of body language. Like every, I, like most pastors, I want to be liked. I, I don’t wanna cause unnecessary friction within our church. I, I don’t, I don’t want people sending me long emails. Yet at the same time I have also sensed a need from God to be courageous in these moments, and to say, not everyone’s gonna be happy with what I’m saying. And I think I’m in good company with Jesus and with some other folks in the scriptures. Not everyone liked what Jesus had to say. The biggest thing I’m hoping is that my words are, are fueled and formed by the life, by the ethic, by the teachings of Jesus. And if I could with a clear conscience, get up there and do that, and say, “My words are reflective of Jesus, and this is how I see Jesus.” Then, I think I can sleep well at night.

Tony (24:10):

So, in this conversation, in this and in the series, we’re really focusing more on how pastors prepare to engage tough topics.

Rich (24:20):

Yeah.

Tony (24:20):

But, Rich, it’s my sense that believers in our churches really need some help learning how to navigate these tough conversations in their relationships, as well, with friends, coworkers and family members.

Rich (24:31):

Yes.

Tony (24:31):

And honestly, and you alluded to this, I just don’t think the places where we are consuming content in today’s culture are helping us in this.

Rich (24:40):

Yeah.

Tony (24:40):

Because in many instances, those platforms are designed to create anger, fear, division. And what makes me sad is I see this happening in people’s closest relationships where division and anger and fear are starting to creep in and really split relationships. So, how would you recommend pastors, churches, how can we equip believers in our congregations to navigate better these tough conversations with their most important relationships?

Rich (25:12):

You know, it’s interesting because I, in, in 2020, what, in a given year, whenever there are national tensions, I’m, I’m grateful that a lot of pastors reach out to me about,”Hey, Rich, what are you thinking about this area here?” And what I’ve discovered is part of the reason we’re able to do what we do in Queens with our very diverse community is because for a number of years, we have created a particular emotional and spiritual foundation in order to go in these directions. That doesn’t mean that everyone within in our church has alignment in this, but you know, my predecessor, Pete Scazzero, you know, he’s known for his emotional health, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. And I asked him one day, “What’s the fruit of your material?” Like, what’s the ultimate end of your material that you’ve created? And Pete, who has been shaped profoundly by family systems theory, you know, his doctorate was in family systems with a focus on the Genogram, said to me, “It’s differentiation.” And my definition of differentiation is what I think we’ve tried to build into the life of the community over many years. And my, my, my working definition of differentiation is to remain clo, is the process of remaining close to God, remaining close to myself and remaining close to others, especially in times of high anxiety. A simpler way of saying that is differentiation is about distinguishing myself from others without disconnecting from them. And so, we have built in for many years our a formation strategy around exactly this. How do you grow in curiosity, humility? How do we listen well and speak well? So that addressing these issues right now, they’re still difficult, but I think we have enough of a foundation. The challenge is most churches have not built in a foundation like this, so it makes it very difficult to just go from zero to a hundred and say, “We’re gonna talk about sexuality today, and we’re gonna talk about race today. We’re gonna talk about politics today.” It’s just like the infrastructure of the church from a formational perspective has not been equipped enough or, or to absorb the level of disruption and distress. And so, for me, my advice is, and I’m not saying you have to wait, we never get to a perfect point where we go, “Okay, now we’re ready.” But I think the question is, to what degree are pastors wrestling with their community around some of these issues of listening well, curiosity, paying attention to our own reactivity and emotionality, our own anxiety. I think the degree to which we’re doing that stuff is the degree to which we can actually go deep on some of the polarizing issues of our society. Otherwise, I think we find ourselves teaching on things that cause more disruption because the community doesn’t have enough, the, the capacity to absorb, you know, what’s being taught or shared from the pulpit.

Tony (28:18):

That’s so good. All right. I have one more question after this, but any final encouragement for pastors, for church leaders on this topic of tough conversations?

Rich (28:30):

I, I, I do. Yes. I I do think, and this is what some of my mentors have said to me over the years, in, in terms of using that differentiation language, I think the pastor’s primary objective in navigating through this is paying attention to their own differentiation, their own ability to remain close to God, close to themselves. And what I mean close to themselves, I mean, close to your own values, your preferences, what you, what you know, what’s resonating inside you and remaining close to others. The ability to do that is very difficult. And it requires a level of interior examination, a willingness to, to look at our own react, our own reactions and anxiety. So, I think our primary task is not simply creating content. I think our primary task is a particular, the formation of our character in order to absorb. And if we can do this as pastors and show curiosity and humility and be clear and at the same time be humble, I think now that has a ripple effect to everyone else. And so my primary task as a pastor and as a leader is to pay attention to my own interior life, so that when I show up in these spaces, whether it be my staff team, our elders, our leadership community or on Sundays, they’re seeing something in me, I, that hopefully ripples out. So, for fellow, fellow pastor, the most important work that we have is our own interior work and our life with God.

Tony (30:03):

All right, Rich, this has been so good. And this is gonna be very helpful to pastors and church leaders, but another resource that’s gonna be very helpful is your new book. Can you tell us a little about, a little bit about that?

Rich (30:16):

Yeah. In July of this year 2024, I’ll be releasing my third book. It’s called The Narrow Path. And it’s, it’s about the Sermon on the Mount. So, I have spent the last few years reflecting on the teachings of Jesus. I think it’s safe to say that this portion of scripture, Matthew five through seven in particular, might be just, might be the most important set of teachings in the entire Bible. And if not, it’s gotta be number two, Tony. I, you know, so, and so, for me, it’s how do we think through the Sermon on the Mount for our day? It’s me addressing some of the issues that we’ve talked about already, all the things that Jesus has outlined. But, the image of the narrow path is essentially this. On the outside, Jesus’s teachings look very maybe narrow or rigid or, you know, it doesn’t seem reasonable, but when you get on the inside, it actually leads to a spacious, a spaciousness of life. And so, really, it’s, it’s a narrow path that leads to a spacious life through the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. And yeah, very excited about seeing what it does in the world.

Tony (31:26):

Well, I wanted you to mention that because I mean, given the topic of today’s conversation, really the Sermon on the Mount, there were some tough, there were some tough topics that Jesus addressed.

Rich (31:37):

Absolutely.

Tony (31:38):

And it’s certainly a great model for us to be considering as we’re thinking about the tough topics of today’s culture, as well. Well, Rich, thank you so much for joining us for today’s conversation.

Amy (31:52):

Well, a politics sermon series pre-2020 election and a 10-week series on human sexuality, Pastor Rich is certainly no stranger to talking about the tough topics. And I loved Rich’s point that when it comes to spiritual formation, we can’t just jump from zero to a hundred. We have to build a strong foundation of spiritual formation in our churches so that people are able to handle these more complex topics with curiosity and humility. And of course, we can’t control people’s responses. No one will ever agree a hundred percent, but if we can foster a community of listening, respect, you know, dialoguing, et cetera, we won’t have to be so afraid to talk about the tough stuff. But what stood out to you most from that conversation, Tony?

Tony (32:37):

Yeah, Amy, just to be honest, it’s, it’s the stuff that probably hits me personally. And the encouragement and challenge to remain curious and to continue to learn why people think differently than I think that’s really what struck me in this conversation. And it’s interesting how God does things in our lives and kind of says, well, for me, “Tony, pay attention.” Because not only was I hearing that very loud and clear through my conversation with Rich today, I saw something kind of in, in a similar vein from author Adam Grant. And he was sharing about the hierarchy of thinking styles on his social media channel this morning and talks about moving from being a cult leader to a politician, to a contrarian, to a critical thinker and then the pinnacle of the hierarchy of thinking styles is being a learner. And what he said is, you care, the learner is characterized by this phrase, “I might be wrong.”

Amy (33:43):

Mm-Hmm.

Tony (33:43):

And I was just thinking, man, our, our world would be such a different place if people with influence approach approached life with that I-might-be-wrong posture. And I think it’s really helpful for us to think in those terms, as we’re encouraging people in our congregation to also remain curious about why people think differently than we do. Because if we can begin to approach top, tough topics like this with curiosity and sensitivity and humility, I think it actually helps us more effectively engage people around key biblical principles. And just remember what Rich said, our our primary task isn’t creating content. It’s the formation of our character. And if we can do this as pastors, show curiosity, humility, and so on, that’s going to have a ripple effect in everyone else.

Amy (34:39):

That’s really good. Well, Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (34:44):

Yeah, I just wanna encourage you join us for the rest of this series on How to Talk About the Tough Stuff. And boy, if you benefit from some of these conversations we’re having, please pass these along to your friends and ministry as well. I mean, really anybody who’s trying to pastor and shepherd a congregation or teach to a congregation, I think these conversa, conversations that we’re having are really going to benefit whoever that is and whatever ministry they’re engaging. And if you’re interested in learning more about Rich’s ministry and his books, including the new book coming out, you can find him at richvillodas.com.

Sean (35:22):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. At The Unstuck Group, our goal is to help pastors grow healthy churches by guiding them to align vision, strategy, team and action. In everything we do, our priority is to help churches help people meet and follow Jesus. And if there’s a way that we can serve you and your church, reach out to us today at theunstuckgroup.com. Next week, we’re back with another brand-new episode. Until then, have a great week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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