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012 Interview with Sam Allberry {Transcript}

About This Transcript

This interview was recorded live on-site at the 2016 IBCD Summer Institute entitled Disordered Desires: Bringing Grace to Modern Sexuality. Our guest, Sam Allberry, is a pastor and author based in the UK. He is a speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, an editor for The Gospel Coalition, and is the author of Is God Anti-Gay?James For You, and Why Bother with Church? In this episode our host, David Wojnicki, talks with Sam about how he became a pastor. Sam also explains how he can be described as a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction but not be defined by that description. He articulates the need to converse about homosexuality in the context of a gospel framework of repentance and faith. He also explains how the church must provide true family and community for those who are struggling with same-sex attraction and turning from a homosexual lifestyle.

Watch Clip 1 | Clip 2 | Clip 3 | Clip 4

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David Wojnicki:
Welcome to the IBCD Care & Discipleship Podcast. My name is David Wojnicki. I serve as one of the members of the advisory board for IBCD as well as lead pastor at Valley Center Community Church. It’s my privilege here today as part of the Summer Institute that we’re doing to get to interview Sam Allberry and so Sam, glad to have you here.

Sam Allberry:
Thanks for having me.

David Wojnicki:
I think you win the prize for coming the furthest of everybody, to speak. Thanks for being able to come and just to help get us informed about some of the opportunities for ministry and the unique needs of an aspect of our community. Here’s what I thought I would do, just to begin. Would love to hear a little bit about your journey. You’re from the UK, you’re now here speaking. Tell us about the journey that the LORD had you on to bring you to Himself as just a starting place for some further discussion.

Sam Allberry:
Yeah, I didn’t grow up going to church, or really thinking much at all about Christian things. I didn’t have that as a key part of my background. I got to know some Christians in my later teenage years, I was deeply impressed by them. They seemed to have real integrity to them. They eventually invited me to their church youth group, I agreed to go along. I just heard to gospel for the very first time. The first time I heard it, I thought this is true. This is ringing true. It was very, very soon after that that I consciously thought for the first time that I needed to give my life to Christ.

David Wojnicki:
How old were you when that happened, about?

Sam Allberry:
Just 18. I turned 18 the week I gave myself to Christ.

David Wojnicki:
From that time, eventually the LORD brought you into full time ministry. What was the catalyst for that? What led you to that place?

What was the catalyst that the LORD used to bring you into full time ministry?

Sam Allberry:
Actually, it was something I felt very burdened to be doing pretty much from the moment of my conversion, which was to help other Christians grow in their faith. I think as I came into it from the outside, it was all brand new and exciting. That feeling hasn’t changed and it’s trying to help other believers see, isn’t it amazing what we have in Christ? As I began to grow in my faith, I found opportunities to encourage others. That’s all I wanted to do was to help encourage other believers. Gradually, that led into helping with the youth ministry at church and then in time to entering full time vocational ministry.

David Wojnicki:
In your time ministering and pastoring, what have you found as something that surprised you about moving from a lay person wanting to help people grow in the Grace and now the LORD Jesus Christ to then being that position of a shepherd of a congregation?

Sam Allberry:
I think a couple of things really surprised me. One is just the sheer amount of work that has to go one behind the scenes for one Sunday to function normally. A lot of work from a lot of different people. They help the whole, what does anyone do during the week in Christian Ministry, there’s so much that needs to happen to make Sundays work. It’s a whole church affair. There’s the sheer number of different people who give their time and service to make Sundays work. All the behind the scenes stuff and how many people serve so quietly and in such an invisible way.

I think the other thing that surprised me was, “Oh, if I work for a church and I’m doing Christian Ministry, having a devotion life will be so much easier. I’ll have way more time to pray. It’ll be just one long, spiritual, sabbatical.” That wasn’t the case for me. It does not follow that you become … It’s no easier to become Godly, in one sense. The thing that’s been, a couple of times people have said to me, “What’s the hardest thing about Pastoral Ministry?” The answer is always my heart is first and foremost. That’s always the biggest trial and struggle. It’s a battle, being in Christian Ministry. If people are thinking or if I had been into Christian Ministry, that would make my walk with Jesus easier. It won’t. All the battles are there.

David Wojnicki:
I really appreciate that perspective as a pastor. I think that that is the greatest struggle is our own heart. Our own hearts in response to the conflicts that we face, the circumstances and the people that we administer to. It reveals a lot about ourselves and how we view even those that we’re ministering to. As you would have opportunity to speak to pastors, even some that might be listening to this, as they’re looking at their own ministry, you talk about that struggle. Shepherding your own heart in the midst of those things. What have you found has been an encouragement or a key to getting you through those times, and the struggle of just where your heart would be at in the pastoral ministry?

Sam Allberry:
I think it’s so easy, and I’m saying this to myself, it’s so easy to believe in justification by faith, but to pastor as if we believe in justification by being a good pastor. We’ve got to live by grace. If, and I feel this temptation so prevalently in my own heart is to think I’m justified by doing Christian Ministry. That’s just a path to untold misery, if you think of it in that way. You can never do it well enough to feel like it remotely qualifies. Sometimes, being faithful is not the same as being fruitful. It’s very hard for us to gauge …

David Wojnicki:
That distinction.

Sam Allberry:
Yeah, how pleasing overall we’re being. It’s, I think we’ve really got to minister by grace and we will be better pastors for that. We will be kinder to our sheep, if we are actually living by grace ourselves.

David Wojnicki:
It’s a bit cliché to say, but the whole practice what you preach, I think people often think about that as far as the things that you should be doing. Practicing what you’re preach is if you’re preaching justification by faith alone.

Sam Allberry:
Absolutely and it’s every time you get on the plane, and they do a safety thing, they always say, “If the oxygen masks come down, put your own on first before the person next to you.” It’s the same in the Christian life, we’ve got to be tending to our own gospel nurture and growth before we can try and give someone else that oxygen.

David Wojnicki:
I like that, can I steal that? Is that free? Can I use that one?

Sam Allberry:
Oh, tell [inaudible 00:07:05]

David Wojnicki:
OK, I tell [inaudible 00:07:06]. God has given you a very, it would seem unique platform and a very unique time and place in just the Christian world. That’s speaking into the issues pertaining to same sex attraction and marriage and those kinds of things. You’ve been able to come into it with the pastor’s heart. Give those that maybe aren’t too familiar with you and why you’ve been able to speak into that. Why God’s given you a platform to be able to do that and what is the message that you’re trying to speak into? Lives of Christians and the lives of those who struggle with same sex attraction.

Sam Allberry:
It’s an issue I’ve had to wrestle with personally. It’s an issue I’ve battled with myself for many years. I guess that’s where my own personal investment in this issue comes from. I’ve never intended to make that a public issue. I did feel I had to let my church know a few years ago, and I put a few things online following that. I still, even at that point, never thought I was going to have a ministry in this area. It was never the goal or the expectation. It just seems to have happened. I imagine it’s because I can do a couple of things at the same time. One is I can speak to this issue from the inside of it. The other is because I’ve been involved in pastoral ministry for a good number of years. I could address the bible teaching side and the [pastralia 00:08:46] side of things too. I guess that helps. That combination that I think does seem to be appreciated and useful. Again, it sounds cliché doesn’t it, but it wasn’t what I was planning to do. It’s just the doors the LORD has opened on this particular matter.

David Wojnicki:
As He’s opened the doors in that, what is the message that you feel like, maybe one that God has given you the opportunity to communicate or the one that you feel like is most often necessary for you to communicate.

Actually, God’s word to all of us actually is a difficult word, but it’s always a good word.

Sam Allberry:
Yeah, both of those would be the same thing which is, this is the burden that got me being public about this issue in the first place. Just wanted you to say to people, the word God has for people in my situation to anyone who is experiencing and battling same sex attraction, the word God has for us is a good word. We mustn’t feel embarrassed as Christians about believing that word and sharing it with others. We need to do it in an appropriate way. God’s word is good on this issue. That’s really what I’m trying to say to people. Therefore, for the Christian who is struggling with this issue and thinking, “Is being faithful to the Bible worth it?” Absolutely and unquestionably.

To the wider church I want to say the same thing too. Actually, God’s word to all of us actually is a difficult word, but it’s always a good word.

David Wojnicki:
Now, maybe this wasn’t from you, but I thought i might have heard you say this in one context. If you didn’t, we’ll just pretend. That my desires don’t define me. Maybe I’m paraphrasing you, or something along those lines. You talk about the Bible having a good word for us. On a topic like this. Maybe, share what exactly do you mean by that? What is that good word for the believer?

Sam Allberry:
That good word is, and this is generalized for all of us, is that we are to follow Jesus to take up our cross [inaudible 00:11:11]. That is all bound up with following him. It’s a hard word, but it’s a good word, because Jesus exists by, it’s in losing our life to him that we receive our life; we gain it. Obviously, there are particular things bound up with that. If you’re a same sex attraction, there are certain aspects of the self that we have to say no to. Certain desires we have to say no to. We need to remember that to say no to certain desires is a good thing. In our culture, it’s unthinkable, and harmful and nonsensical. Actually, in the Biblical understanding of who are as human beings, it is the healthiest thing we can do, is to learn that actually there are some very, very deep desires in all of our hearts that it is a blessing for us to say no to. Even if it feels like it’s killing us to say no to them.

You refer to the defining thing. I think that is part of God’s word as well. Understanding who we are in light of who God says we are. There are certain things that describe us, but which do not define us. Same sex attraction does describe the sexual feelings I experience from time to time. They don’t define who I am. It’s part of how I am, it’s not who I am.

David Wojnicki:
There’s two questions, hopefully we can get to both. I’ll start with maybe this, we now live in a society where here we are as Biblical counselors, as Christians, as Pastors. We have the opportunity to minister and sometimes those who will be ministering to have same sex attraction. We live in a culture specifically here in America where now, just even by law, it’s identified, specifically marriage as acceptable, as right and as good. The culture, there’s been a shift that’s now taken place. This isn’t something that’s viewed as necessarily wrong, but it’s normal and acceptable.

There’s now a little bit more of a barrier in one sense of we come with God’s word and we know what God’s word says on the matter. We have a society that’s in conflict with what we believe. Let me start with this question, just setting those parameters. What is your encouragement to those who are counseling? How can we help to bridge that gap when we know what God’s word says on this topic? How do we speak to the lives of those who are struggling with the fact that their desires tells them it’s okay? Society tells them it’s okay? We want that open communication, but there’s a barrier there. Do you see what I’m saying? How would you counsel, encourage, advise those who might speak into that one day for somebody.

What is the good thing that the bible’s sexual ethics is reinventing and protecting and preserving for us? Let’s value that good thing and communicate that good thing…

Sam Allberry:
I think there are two things we need to bear in mind. The first is whatever the Bible gives us a Prohibition, “Thou shall not …” we need to think what is the positive truth that that prohibition is protecting? If the Bible gives us a no, what’s the bigger yes behind that no? What is the good thing that the bible’s sexual ethics is reinventing and protecting and preserving for us? Let’s value that good thing and communicate that good thing in such a way that it makes sense of wall the prohibitions that come down stream of it. That’s one thing. It’s not just to teach rules. Not just to teach truth in a way that applies God’s glories are arbitrary, but to share there’s a vision for marriage as a man and a woman. There’s a theological vision behind that that makes sense of what the Bible then goes on to say about sexual ethics. If we can get excited about that vision, actually that will help us to live within the parameters God gives us. It gives us a reason.

I think the other thing is just to get remember our battle is not against flesh and blood. It’s very easy particularly when culture is turning away from us and laws are being passed and all the rest of it that we feel, that reflects the common good as we understand it. It’s very easy to get into campaign crusading mode and to spend all of our efforts targeting in your cases are Congressman and people in government and all that kind of stuff. To make gay rights campaign is the enemy, which they’re not. Our enemy is never flesh and blood. Certain ideologies are, and we need to take those on. Other people, we got to fight the right battle and the right field.

David Wojnicki:
Yes, I really appreciate that. That’s a good word. Towards that end, just on this topic, one other question that comes to my mind is what have you seen? You’ve had the opportunity, god bless you to speak around this country, around the world to these things. Is there anything that you see that’s missing from the conversation or that people aren’t always necessarily, [inaudible 00:16:24] You know David, as I see this conversation unfolding, I think people miss it on this point. When I say people, I’m talking about us as Christians, pastors, counselors. Do you see that at all? Any corrective that you might…

Sam Allberry:
Yeah, I think the most general one would be the thing we do, which gets us into trouble is we abstract the issue of homosexuality outside the gospel. Really, what I’m trying to do is put it back in the gospel framework and to say actually, the gospel framework of repentance and faith is true for everyone. I think one of the reasons we get stuck on the issue of homosexuality is that we’ve stopped the cost of discipleship generally. When we see the cost of it for this particular group we think, oh that sounds a bit unfair. We start to doubt whether it’s right and good. Actually, we just need to remember what the gospel is.

Jesus, he says you must lose your life to save it. Which means at the very least, at some time, at some point in your Christian discipleship it’s going to feel like Jesus is trying to kill you. It is going to feel like losing your life to follow him. If we all recover that understanding, actually it will reduce the shock value of when we see how it applies to one particular context.

David Wojnicki:
That’s really powerful. It is something that I think is missing from the conversation. Thank you for bringing that up.

I kind of feel like saying to churches, you can’t call people to celibacy unless you are providing the kind of family and community that the Bible says churches should be.

Sam Allberry:
One other quick thing, if I may. The other part of the conversation that has to happen is not just what is the correct sexuality to come in to people, but what do we need to do as a church to make that sexual ethic or viable lifestyle, and to easily, we’re saying to people in a lot of churches that I see, if you’re same sex attracted, you need to be celibate. Actually, in our church, that means you’re going to be really, really lonely. I kind of feel like saying to churches, you can’t call people to celibacy unless you are providing the kind of family and community that the Bible says churches should be.

David Wojnicki:
I’m glad that you mention that because I know that you’ve written on a wide variety of topics. You’ve written on the book of James and then you’ve also, you wrote about the Trinity. I didn’t want this to go by without talking a little bit about that for a minute. Community and the trinity and what that means for life of the Christians. For those that are listening, tell them the name of the book that you wrote, what the theme of that book was and why you wrote it.

Sam Allberry:
The book is called Connected Living in the Light of the Trinity, I think. Yeah that sounds right. I wrote it because I was looking for a book to recommend to people at church on the Trinity that didn’t have any Latin words in and couldn’t find any at that point. I thought, “I’ll write one.” What I was trying to do was to show how understanding that God is Trinity, makes the world of difference to your daily Christian life. It is such a good thing to know and it shapes so much of who we are as His people. Anything we learn about God is going to help us understand ourselves a lot better, because he made us. To know that God is trying, actually that is going to have huge implications for the kind of universe we live in and what discipleship and church life and all these things are going to look like. I was just trying to show how actually this makes a practical, joyful difference day by day to understand these things. It’s not obscure and irrelevant.

David Wojnicki:
I’ll just push it deep. Could you give us one example of something when looking at the triune nature of our God that you said touches the Christian on a day to day level? Or should, at least.

Sam Allberry:
It reminds us why relationships matters so much to us, because God himself is eternally in a relationship within the God Head. No wonder we are so wired for relationship. These things matter so much. When we get relationships wrong it hurts us profoundly, when we get them right it blesses us hugely. The place and nature of friendship, which we’ve so forgotten in our own Western culture, all of these things, the Trinity sheds enormous light on. We can’t properly account for other than the fact that the God who made us is Himself, trying.

David Wojnicki:
When you had talked about, when it pertains to those, we’re struggling really with any kind of … If they’re going to fore sake that thing, they’re going to need community. That topic as it pertains to the trying nature of our God, modeling that within our Christian communities, within our churches. I’m glad you wrote that book, I think that it is a helpful resource. I want to just promote it for you. I know it’s just one of the things you’ve done, but I think for any person to read that, to have a better understanding will help them. Even, especially since it’s about Biblical counseling in that regard as well.

I just want to say thank you so much for being able to come and to bless us here at this conference and then to spend some time on the podcast to be able to share these insights and pray that god will continue to bless you in your ministry as you travel and bring the hope and the message of Jesus Christ. Thanks so much, Sam.

Sam Allberry:
Thanks, it’s been a pleasure.

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