George Mekhail on sexuality, inclusivity & the future of the church



Today I’m excited to have my friend George Mekhail from EastLake Church again. He’s talked with us before on opening multiple campuses, and today he’s back to talk with another topic his church has recently faced.

About EastLake

George is always thinking about what’s next in life, society, and church. He’s been with the team at EastLake for four years now and has helped the church face one of the biggest issues in today’s society—accepting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. EastLake was recently featured in an article in Time Magazine about this topic. Through this process, the church has strived to make themselves known as “church for the rest of us.” Everyone is welcome and you can come as you are. EastLake currently has five locations in the Seattle area.

But this has not been an easy issue to face and George admits that the church has made a lot of mistakes. Here are some of the things they’ve learned along this path:

  • Follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. // The biggest question was how to get people connected to the message of Jesus? The wake up call for George came when a friend of his and member of EastLake told him that she was dating a woman. He could see the fear in her eyes as she told him this and he realized she was afraid to be herself at the church. The church was creating hurt and pain, and he felt the Holy Spirit telling him that they had to change this exclusive mindset. The Holy Spirit led them to move forward in letting people know they could come to EastLake and be who they were without hiding behind a mask.
  • Church has to be a safe place. // Whether it’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” or exclusion, church has created a lot of baggage in people’s lives. At EastLake, they felt that wasn’t part of Jesus’s message of love.
  • It is a very polarizing topic. // During his experiences with EastLake, George has seen how divisive the topic on sexuality is within the church. Once they came out with their stance on being open and loving to everyone regardless of sexuality, there was a lot of feedback both positive and negative. The major point that EastLake has tried to spread is that people aren’t allowed to be hateful, even if they disagree with homosexuality.
  • There is no formula. // George admits that EastLake made some mistakes in how they moved forward in this topic. He’s also talked with other church leaders whose churches have also gone through this and heard about their mistakes. They’ve learned that there is no perfect formula to follow. The church can make their own expectations about how they want everyone to react, but nothing is going to go as you think it should. Through it all, just keep moving forward and follow where the Holy Spirit is leading you.
  • It will be painful. // This isn’t an easy subject to face. As George tells us, you don’t know how deep rooted this issue is until you start facing it head on. People will walk away, friendships will be broken, and churches will lose membership and money at first. But George believes that in the end, churches that are exclusive will be the ones that get hurt the most. And Jesus taught love, not hate, so that’s the message we need to follow within the church as well.

For pastors or other church leaders wondering how to move forward in spreading Jesus’s message and opening the hearts of their church, visit EastLake’s website on this subject at TogetherInThis.net, which contains helpful videos and resources. You can also reach George by email at [email protected] or visit EastLake Church’s website.

Episode Highlights

00:33 // Rich introduces George and welcomes him to the show.

01:08 // George introduces himself and talks about EastLake Church.

02:38 // George tells us the average attendance at the church’s locations.

04:36 // George talks about the church’s journey in relation to the Time Magazine’s article.

11:18 // George talks about the resources available – Together In This.

12:38 // George talks about the process they went through to change as a community.

16:15 // George talks about the challenges experienced during the changes.

18:21 // George talks about expectations, learnings and the impact of the changes.

21:07 // George encourages churches to act on their convictions.

24:03 // George talks about the impact these changes had on their staff.

26:06 // George advises church leaders to “Be in a relationship with people.”

28:05 // Rich makes reference to Jonathan Merritt and his book A Faith of Our Own.

29:16 // George offers his contact details.

Episode Transcript

Rich – Well hey everybody, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. My name’s Rich, the host around these parts, I’m so glad that you’ve decided to spend some time with us today. We are in for a fascinating conversation, one that I’ve been looking forward to for a few months, super excited to have George, a friend of mine from EastLake Church on the left coast with us. George welcome to the show today.

George – Hey thanks so much for having me again Rich, it’s good to see you.

Rich – Yeah. George has been on the show in the past and recently, well I guess it’s not recently anymore, I saw their church popup in Time Magazine, in an interesting article and so I wanted to get George’s thought on that and here we are in the summertime talking about this. But George, before we jump in, I thought you could give us kind of, for people who haven’t listened before, a bit of a history of EastLake, kind of your story, what’s your piece in the puzzle and then give us a sense of who EastLake is.

George – Yeah sure. So, let’s see, I’m married, I have two amazing children, one’s actually turned seven today and one’s five. So yes, most of my passion is spending time with them obviously but I’m a futurist at heart. I love to think about what’s next, what’s next for the church, what’s next for society, working, where is all of this going, what are we doing here? That’s where I spend a lot of my brain space, but I’m the Executive Pastor at EastLake, I’ve been on the team for about four years. My wife and I have been a part of the community for about nine years and it’s been an incredible place for us, it’s an unbelievable community. A lot of our friends we’ve met through EastLake and it’s just been a fun ride.

So ten years now it’s existed. EastLake is a place where we like to say that it’s a church for the rest of us and it’s a place where everyone’s welcome. What we try to replicate is just an authentic place where you can be yourself in the truer sense and not have to put on your smiley church face on Sunday, but really just come as raw as you are and as broken and vulnerable and with all the mess of life. So that’s, I think, the best descriptor of what’s the essence of EastLake I guess.

Rich – Nice. So you’re a multisite church, I know some people are always nickels and noses, they want to count all of that stuff, so give us a sense of the scope of your ministry, that kind of thing as well.

George – Well, if you’re asking about current reality?

Rich – Yes.

George – We’re five locations all in the Seattle area. Combined, today we’re averaging 23, 24 hundred people combined at all locations. At our peak in 2013ish and even before we were multisite we were touching 5 thousand people on a Sunday itself.

Rich – Nice.

George – Things have changed quite a bit.

Rich – Cool. Well this is going to be great. One of the things I love about EastLake and I said this last time you were on the show, I think Churches from across the country need to be learning from churches like yourself that are in communities like Seattle, around that part of the world, that are decidedly post-Christian in communities. Nobody wakes up… my impression, I feels a certain amount of kindred spirit because I feel the same thing here in Jersey, people don’t wake up on a Sunday morning feeling guilty that they’re not going to church, it’s just outside of their radar. It’s not even a category that they consider and so EastLake is one of those churches that for years I’ve been a fan from afar and said, “Hey you should really follow them, I think they’re doing a great job.” You’ve really been a welcoming community to folks and I’ve seen that and it’s been encouraging to see and so I’m excited to jump in today.

Really recently I would say, in the last year or so, you’ve taken a stand as a church, a more overt stand, of welcoming people regardless of their sexual orientation and today I want to jump in and talk about that, because I think you’re one of the few kind of churches I would label evangelical, not in the like gun-toting, rightwing, evangelical sense but in the sense of people who want to tell others about Christ, who are passionate about, how do we get people connected to the message of Jesus. It’s been interesting to watch from afar, kind of that process as you’ve reached out, specifically to try to articulate being open to people regardless of where they’re at from a sexual orientation point of view. So tell us about that, give us a bit of the story of what’s happened at your church.

George – Yeah I mean it has been a journey for sure and it’s a journey that continues I would say, as far as what we’re continuing to learn and what this topic means right now and then the church specifically. But ever since I’ve come on staff four years ago, this has been an unresolved, I would say, conversation among our team and our Senior Pastor Ryan, he’s been processing for like five plus years now.

So it’s one of those things that has liked emerged out of who we are. I wouldn’t even describe it so much as like a decision point necessarily, as much as it was a revelation. We really do believe that we’ve been following and continue to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit in this, not just in some like mythical weird way, but in an actual like, what’s unfolding right before us, the humanity that we’re seeing, the people who were called to pastor, the pain that we see that the church has caused that we’re not and haven’t been exempt from, just sort of came to a head in the last six months or so.

So that’s been like the big picture journey, as far as what’s happened. Recently, so you mentioned the Time article came out in January and even before that, a couple of months before that, a gal at our team, who had become a very good friend, she let us know that she was dating a girl and I think that was the thing again. We’d had conversations years and years before but I think that was the moment of like, “Okay, this is over, this is done,” because really what it came down to was her having been a part of those conversations and having close friendships with myself and with Ryan and with a lot of our senior leaders, but when she came out to me specifically and her life, she was terrified, she was afraid that I was going to fire her.

She leads music at one of our locations and this was a Saturday night that she came out to us and she literally thought in that conversation that she wasn’t going to be singing the next day and that broke my heart, that was a wakeup call for sure. If my friend doesn’t feel safe to be who she is here and knowing her and seeing the fruit of her life, it makes the issue pretty clear, I guess is the way to describe it. I know for people that come from a traditional background, like myself, I grew up Coptic Orthodox, which is about as traditional as you can get.

Rich – That’s traditional with a capital T.

George – Yeah exactly, it’s a hard thing, like you know, “What about the bible? What about these versus?” [Inaudible 00:07:20] and all those questions are important and they’re ones that we have worked through and come to a sufficient place of conviction and repentance really. I think that’s where the conversation really gets lost, there’s no one who really spends time talking about that piece. It’s not a matter of, “Okay I guess this is where culture’s going and this is what we needed to do as a church,” at all, we need to be really, really thinking about our biology between brothers and sisters, the harm that we’ve done, and be in a state of repentance right now and that’s where feel like we’re at.

Now this isn’t something like, yeah we’re over that now and we have all the answers and this is the future, as much as it is like, no this is a problem, like we’re creating hurt and pain. So that’s where we’re at.

Rich – Now before this would you describe… now I feel like there’s a position that a lot of churches are in where it’s almost like the old ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ kind of mentality, where there’s just a certain vagueness around what either our practice or our belief on this particular front. How would you describe before your took some steps, leading up to this day, obviously she knew, this is a perfect example of here’s a young woman or a woman in your leadership community who clearly saw up close the ministry of your church, knew that you were a grace filled community, a loving community, but there was something that was being articulated that got her to the spot of believing, “Now this could actually go really bad for me.” So how would you articulate kind of how you were before this shift?

George – That’s a good question. I wouldn’t say don’t ask, don’t tell was our operative, though as a bummer as it is right now for me to admit that was a part of what existed. The way that it ended up playing out was case by case for us and frankly there just weren’t a ton of examples. There were a couple that I feel like we handled them gracefully in the sense like, we brought on an intern who identified as having same sex attraction prior to this, but yeah, it was always in conversation, it was always in relationships. There was no policy statements, there was nothing that was like articulated on our website about like our stance or whatever, so this shift was sort of confirmation of what’s always been there.

I think that what’s important about it is that it’s not enough to not say anything, as far as we’re concerned. It has to be said that this is a safe place because people… there’s just so much baggage that the church carries, the unspokenness of like, “Hey you can lead, you can come here, we love you but here’s your lead and here’s how much you can do or you can’t work here, you can’t lead a group,” you know, all these sort of, whether it’s don’t ask, don’t tell or it’s, you know in some of the more conservative churches, more of just an exclusion. The opposite of that I guess is saying out loud the opposite, “You’re welcome here fully affirmed, you can lead just like anyone else can lead.” There’s no limitations on her leadership and so that was sort of the necessary next step that we saw, which is what lead to our first statement in January.

Rich – Okay so now I’m sure there’s people who are listening in who are like, “Rich but you’ve got to ask about all of the theological distinctives,” and would love us to dive into that conversation.

George – Sure.

Rich – Today what I want to focus on is how you processed this change as a community, so what you did. This is a significant shift and kind of the impact from that, but if people want to dig into that conversation, is there a resource on your website or a particular message that you could point people towards? We’ll link this in the show notes, but where would I point people if they want to dig into that particular issue?

George – Yeah, no it’s great. So after we made the announcement in January we hosted two different events called Together In This and we created a website that has all the resources, books, articles and even the video talks from both of those messages. It’s actually a phenomenal resource, it’s togetherinthis.net. So if viewers want to go there I think they would be very well resourced.

But specifically for church leaders, I guess if there’s a church leader who is sort of in the throes of this conversation, trying to figure out how to lead their community and there’s a lot of them is what we’re finding. One of the things that we’re learning is that there are a lot of pastors who are privately wrestling with this and trying to figure out sort of what’s next, but I would say to those guys or gals call me. I’d love to talk to you, it’s an important work that you’re embarking on and Iove to help however we can. Shoot me an email, give me a call and I’d love to have a chat.

Rich – Very good. I hope people take George up on that, he’s a very generous guy for sure and I will link to that resource in the show notes so people can, you know, just to dig in a little bit deeper if they’d like to process that side of the equation, but let’s get back to what actually happened.

So you have this, you know fairly dramatic kind of coming out experience with a key staff member, what happens next? How do you kind of… what steps did you walk through to process this change as a community?

George – Yeah so it came really before that. I think in 2014 we did several messages just about a general theological shift. I mean, a lot of this frankly is centered around the bible and how you approach the bible and so we did several talks around, a lot on just how to view scripture through the lens of Jesus and the crucified Christ, being the ultimate revelation of the holy and loving God. God’s not angry with us, that God is for us, that God wants to see things renewed here on earth as they are in heaven.

It seems subtle and it seems like Christian language, all that kind of stuff, but it’s a radical shift. When we start really, really thinking about the implications of that, what does that do about how we view war and violence and how we view the other and how we view even other religions.

So that was a journey that was started in 2014, and even a little bit before that, but really sort of more directly in messages that we just put out in 2014.

That was one thing, the other thing was we released a video, an ethos video that we started to play before every message on a Sunday in the Fall of last year, that had things like, you know, married, divorced or single here, it’s one family that [Inaudible 00:13:56] a beautiful ethos statement that we borrowed from a church in Denver called Highlands. But one of the lines in it is, “Gay or straight here, there’s no hate here.” So that was kind of the best subtle like indication of like, “Our leadership is sort of here and so on.” Then private conversations with key leaders that are in our community.

So there’s a multifaceted approach to this, but I say all that and I guess I would cap it off with, we did not do it perfectly in every way, far from that. I mean the Time article, the way that ended up working, it’s like we put out a press release and then surrendered to do an article.

Rich – Right.

George – They called us and we gave the interview. After the interview it was like, “Hey this is going to go out on X date,” or whatever and it actually ended up getting ahead of us. So by the time our article ended up coming out, a week before we were able to do a message for our church.

Rich – Oh well.

George – So I probably wouldn’t do it that way again if I had to do it over but there’s a lot of second guessing and like, “Oh we should have done this,” and all that kind of stuff. But at the end of the day I think what we’re learning is that there’s people who care a lot about this topic specifically and it’s very polarizing and it’s actually one of the sad things that I’m seeing in all of this is just how intense it is and how dividing it is. I don’t think it has to be that way.

We didn’t say to our churches, “Hey you either need to agree with us or you need to leave,” that would sort of be disciple to the point of inclusion. It’s like we need to include people that we disagree with and they’ll disagree with us too. So we’ve tried to make it a point that you’re welcome here regardless of how you view the bible, how you view scripture, what your opinion is on this specific topic. The only thing that you’re not going to do is be hateful, you know, we need to journey together and we need to have space and dialog and respectful conversations. So that’s been the shift.

Rich – Now I would suspect that there was, and maybe I’m wrong, but I would suspect… So this Time article comes out and then Ryan ends up getting up, you know unfortunately sometimes it happens with the press right, you know, stuff can get away from you pretty quickly, but Ryan gets up and preaches, I’m assuming that there’s somewhat of a tsunami of feedback that comes into the church. Tell me about that process and how did you deal with it.

George – That’s a good way to describe it, I would say it was definitely a tsunami of positive and negative. I think the people who are most supportive are really loud and the people who are most against it are really loud, then there’s this big subset of people on both sides, in the middle that just sort of don’t say much, you know, they leave quietly or they stay quietly. But the extremes are intense, that’s for sure, the feedback both from within our community and outside our community was at times overwhelming, I mean on both ends of the emotional spectrum.

So it’s been a very challenging but fruitful and rewarding season, you know. One that I don’t regret, I wouldn’t trade for anything. I wouldn’t want to do it again, I would want to like start from the beginning and do it again but I think it’s been the most life giving season of my life and of my ministry and I think our leadership team would echo that.

So has it been difficult and challenging? Absolutely, it’s been trialing, there’s been times when we’ve been like wanting to give up and throw in the towel or whatever, but it’s definitely worth it and where we’re headed and the church, the people that are still here and the people that want to continue to build this community with us are what motivates us to keep going.

What we didn’t do is put out a rainbow flag out front and become a gay church, right because our gay friends don’t want that either, they just want a church what they can go to and be normal and be with other people worshipping and trying to figure out what it looks like to join in the renewal of all things here and now. So we’re excited to build that community with these people and hopefully be able to partner with other pastors who are trying to do the same. So it’s a beautiful time, we’re excited.

Rich – So if there were a few things, you know two or three things that you would say, “Okay there’s maybe some stuff I would do different next time,” obviously thinking there’s probably people listening in today that are trying to think about what they would do in this scenario, what would you have done different?

George – Yeah, it’s hard to say because through this journey we’ve gotten a chance to meet a couple of other great leaders who have gone through this process and sort of exchanged notes with them and the things that we said, “Hey we would have done this differently,” we actually did but the result was the same.

Rich – Okay.

George – I think the biggest thing that comes out of the lesson there is that there is no formula really to this that’s clean.

Rich – Right.

George – I think that’s how you know that it comes from a place of conviction versus strategy right? The big accusation is, “Hey you’re just capitulating the culture,” or “You’re trying to be politically correct,” or whatever and it’s like that’s dumb, because first of all, in order to be politically correct there has to be a benefit to you right? Politicians don’t flip flop on issues because of any reason other than they’re going to get more votes or they’re able to raise more money.

So it’s not like by doing this we’ve made a ton more money and we’re growing, no the opposite in fact, the church is down about 35%-37% budget wise and around the same number attendance wise. So there’s no direct benefit to this other than it’s right, other than we believe like we’re following our convictions.

So I think by the very nature of that truth, there is a just a realization that there’s no formula. So I think I would have done that differently in that I think we tried to sort of control it, the outcomes and have certain expectations at the organizational level, the staff level and even at the congregational individual levels, like there’s certain people you know that, it’s like, “Hey I think this guy will do,” or whatever.

Rich – Oh right, right, right.

George – So I would say having those expectation of anyone or anything to fall into place or not fall into place was probably the biggest mistake, because you’re just going to be let down, because you just don’t know how deep seated this is for a lot of people and people will surprise you.

Rich – Yes so you kind of hinted on there a little bit, it sounds like you’ve had a bit of erosion of attendance and finances and you talked through that piece. I think we can live and I can be accused of this, you know I sometimes wonder, I think when I get before Jesus he’s going to sit me down and say, “Hey so you spent a lot of time worrying about getting more people to attend your church,” and you know, I think there’s going to be part of it, I can picture him saying in my imagination, “You know there’s a part of that that was really good, I appreciate you trying to reach people and then there’s some of them that maybe wasn’t so good.”

So I have the humility to realize that but I think there’s some church leaders that are listening in, they hear that, they hear you throw out that stat and for that alone they would say it’s just not worth the risk. So could you talk through that a little bit for us?

George – Yeah and this is something that I think about a lot because it is such a bummer because it is a reality and it is a hesitation for a lot of the folks that we talk to and the intension and the motivation behind it is pure right? Like these guys are thinking about their livelihood, their families, their staff and their families and the implications and the stakes, the stakes are high. So on one hand I get it, I understand that it’s a huge risk.

So on one hand it’s like how deep is the conviction, what is the motivation and how well are you pastored to sort of weather a storm that will come? Because a storm is going to come, you’re not going to grow, you’re budget’s not going to grow, certainly not immediately. What’s going to happen immediately is that it will be painful and people will lock away and people will accuse you of things that you didn’t do and people will speak poorly of you and you’ll friends and you’ll lose money and all that and that sounds terrible right? Like on the surface it’s not a very attractive… which is again why the whole notion of political correctness is hilarious.

Rich – Right.

George – But if there is conviction there, I think first of all that has to trump, which isn’t to say, “Hey just shoot from the hip and be like, “Oh I’m convicted, I’m going to go,” it’s to say still figure out what strategically you can control at some level, you know, have money in the bank and make sure that you’re staffed appropriately as is, all that kind of stuff. They’re all practical things that you can do to prepare for this and I think and I think it’s optimistic view and a long vision, I said I’m a futurist. So looking ahead I think that eventually churches that are exclusive will be harming themselves more, it will cost more essentially to be exclusive than less versus. So there will be a tipping point right, and actually after that tipping point happens I think it will be a lot easier to accuse churches that have come out as affirming after the fact of cultural capitulation because it will actually be beneficial at that time.

Rich – Right.

George – So I guess I would say, don’t wait for that. If it’s conviction it’s conviction and at some level, if you have good leaders around you and you have people who are doing their best to follow Jesus, they’ll come. That’s been one of the most encouraging things about this, is our incredible team and how inspiring it’s been to sort of watch them lead in this season.

Rich – Yeah just on the practical side, one of the things that’s so… This comes a bit from an Executor Pastor point of view what I’m about to say, because I had heard that there was maybe a bit of contraction there. So I went on your website and looked at your staff listing and I’m like, it seems like they still employing a lot of people.

George – Yeah.

Rich – Did you end up having to contract a little bit or where you able to kind of weather the storm financially so far?

George – Yeah, so we’ve had to cut in a lot of different places. One of the big implications of this, just on a practical level for us is that we’ve had to close one of our campuses in Monroe and for a couple of different reason.

One, it was already sort of in our most rural remote communities, a beautiful community, amazing people were a part of it, but it represented an asset that we had equity in and so we are in the process of selling that, so that we have a little bit of cash to function with and our campus pastor at that location was transitioning.

So it was sort of in the midst of this season, where we were trying to hire someone and sort of reboot any sort or energy and that just seemed untenable. So as a result of that our… a couple of other things, two or three other staff, who were either offered other positions or I think one of the positions ended up being eliminated. So that was really the most negative staff implication that we’ve had to move through, through this transition.

Other than that though, things have a little bit self-corrected. We’ve had just like random things. A couple of members of our team got opportunities in other places, other states, just sort of disconnected from this issue. So things kind of worked out in that sense from a staff perspective where we’ve been able to [Inaudible 00:25:29] amazing people on our team came forward and took voluntary pay cuts to weather this, which is just unbelievable. It’s really, really inspiring to be around these people. So we really feel like we’re doing this together.

Rich – Right. Well just two last questions. What would you say to another church leader, we’ve kind of talked a bunch about this, who is maybe wanting to be more open but is feeling caught in that zone? You know, I’d say reach out to you, that’s a great thing to do, listen to your story. Anything else you’d say to a church leader that’s out there today who’s thinking that?

George – I think the more that you get this “issue” out of the clouds and out of hypothetical and out of like the talking about it or them, even worse and the more you can humanize and just be in relationship with people and ask them their stories, that’s really where the change happens, that’s more than any like book or video that you watch on that Together In This website or whatever, those are going to be helpful resources and tools and they’ll give you handles. But the relationships that you have with real humans, who are doing their best to follow Jesus and to look them in the eye and sort of, I guess, decide what as a human, what do you do with this person? The answer becomes pretty clear as a follower of Jesus, it’s you love them and what does that actually mean, how does that play itself out?

So for me, I guess the moment in which that reality came to a head was when, I think the perceived decision, like in hindsight, as my friend tells the story, is that she was feeling like she was going to be fired and that didn’t even cross my mind, like I was going to fire her, it’s ridiculous to think about, but the fact that she was thinking about it shows that there is an impasse there right?

So I guess most people don’t have to come to that place of decision, they can have a theological idea about something that doesn’t have any practical implications in their real life. So for those people it’s a lot easier to sort of have a traditional view on this, but it gets really messy once you’re in a real loving relationship with people.

Rich – Well George I really appreciate you coming on the show today and talking through all this. It’s been super helpful and hopeful insightful to people who have been listening in. A couple of years ago we have Jonathan Merritt, he’s an author, come and speak at Liquid, it was a great day and we got talking about this particular… he wrote a great book, A Faith of Our Own which is a fantastic book, if you haven’t read it you should read that.

One of the things he said that stuck with me from that day, because he’s kind of a polestar, he is kind of a cultural, he’s trying to kind of take temperature of the culture and one of the things he had said when asked about this particular issue is he said, “You know, in 30 years from now people are going to look back at exclusionary churches in the same way that people look back at folks on the side of the civil rights argument that didn’t end up prevailing in the end and saying why were those people even there? Where there were Christians that actually didn’t want civil rights to pass through, who are those people and what were they thinking?”

That stuck with me where I’m like, that is something we need to wrestle with for sure. So my hope in today’s interview, as people have been listening in, that it’s been thought provoking and you know, even just what you said there at the end, that we would put a face on this issue even if it’s just, “Here’s another church leader who’s trying to wrestle with this.” So George I really appreciate you being on today.

If people want to get in touch with you or with EastLake, how can they do that?

George – Yeah, shoot me an email, [email protected] and I’ll do my best to get back to you and support you. So if you’re on that journey definitely don’t hesitate to reach out, I know it can feel lonely in that place, so we’d love to be a resource if we can.

Rich – Thanks so much, I appreciate that.

George – Thanks for having me Rich.


  1. Rich,
    I have always enjoyed your interviews, until now. I commend you for braving the topic. I exhort you for not playing hard ball, though I believe your guest was your friend. First off, my church is also loving and accepting of homosexuals. But, once membership and serving become an issue, I take a stand and mention that it is sin, something which I wish you addressed in your interview.
    You never even broached the issue!

    The interview sounded like, hey, everybody needs to be who they are. That’s it? Is that true for the bank robber and child molester too?

    What good does it do a person to not warn them about their sin and possible eternal alienation from God?

    That girl, (worship leader I believe) should have been asked to step down though still attend the church.
    One comment made me fume “The church needs to repent.” Are you kidding me? The sinner needs to repent!

    Rich, why didn’t you ask what the follow up was concerning gay people in the church? What is the outcome of their status? Is it never mentioned again or is it addressed and they are helped out of that lifestyle.
    You usually do an awesome job with your interviews, but boy, you cowered on this one.
    If I sound uptight it’s because I am. What message did you send to your listeners, especially young pastors; that homosexuality is not the business of the church but the individual? Wrong message.
    Jesus died to free us from the power of sin. I wish I heard that in the interview.

    Oh well, the days of apostasy are surely among us.
    I would love to hear your response.
    In Christ,
    Dave Therrien

  2. This interview sounded very similar to Rob Bell’s stuff a few years back, before he came out as a universalist. I can just about guarantee that leaders (and churches, by association) who are moving in this direction are going to end up down that road at some point or another. Mekhail even alluded to it with his comment about “other religions” here-

    “It seems subtle and it seems like Christian language, all that kind of stuff, but it’s a radical shift. When we start really, really thinking about the implications of that, what does that do about how we view war and violence and how we view the other and how we view even other religions.”

    This is certainly a hard issue, and Ive heard it said that it can be thought of as a Romans 14 issue, similar to how some believers still think we should abstain from alcohol. I don’t really see that as the case, though- I can look at the Bible and see clearly how drinking isn’t always a sin…not so much the case for sex outside of the marriage of a man and a woman.

    This is ultimately about people, churches, and a society looking at the Bible conflicting with personal experience and feelings. Churches like this are choosing, on this particular issue, to go with personal experience over Scripture- and once you start down that road, it’s hard to stop.

    If you think it is harsh and exclusive to tell people that a sexual attraction that they are predisposed to from birth is sinful, how much more the message that all people, no matter how much good they do, are destined to suffer in hell apart from God for eternity without salvation through Jesus?

    Of professed believers I personally know who are “affirming”, about two-thirds deny the reality of hell and the remaining third are on their way there (I say this having seen a few go down that road). Then the question must be asked… if you don’t believe in hell, what does Jesus save us from?

    On a side note, I thought this comment was interesting-

    “If my friend doesn’t feel safe to be who she is here and knowing her and seeing the fruit of her life, it makes the issue pretty clear”

    So if someone who is a genuine believer with a fruitful ministry struggles with sin, it can’t really be sin because that would negate everything about them? Huh…

    Anyway, just my two cents- and I happen to be a millennial who grew up in the Seattle area and isn’t even a republican!

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.