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Background: The Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality Report includes a recommendation to “encourage the churches to make use of the curriculum prepared by Pastor Church Resources (PCR), in conjunction with members of the committee, to help small groups study and discuss aspects of the committee’s report which may be controversial.” 

Since November 2020, nearly 300 Christian Reformed pastors, deacons, elders and other leaders have received training to lead small groups oriented around listening deeply to the Human Sexuality Report and listening deeply to one another. These small groups or “listening groups” have provided a context for hundreds of CRC members to engage the report, talk about it’s implications, and consider what their congregations should do next. More than 200 groups expect to have met by the end of 2021. 

You can learn more about this Pastor Church Resources tool, the Challenging Conversations Toolkit, here. 

Bring on the Debate

With the Human Sexuality Report set to be addressed by councils, classis, and Synod in the months ahead, some of us are itching for the debate. Our arguments are prepared, our positions clear. Let’s debate these ideas and may the best arguments (mine!) win. 

Debate is a critical aspect of discerning complex topics like human sexuality where Christians are navigating Biblical interpretation, systematic theology, church history, church order, medical science and more. Arguments need to be tested; their weaknesses exposed and strengths highlighted. Debate can accomplish those purposes.

Fortunately, our church polity has a mechanism for that kind of debate. Since almost every church council, classis, and Synod follows rules of procedure similar to Robert’s Rules, no assembly can pass any motion without providing space to debate that motion.  

Hearing from the 90%

The trouble with councils, classis and Synod, at least in my experience, is that only a very small number of participants or delegates actually speak up during meetings, especially when the meeting gets tense. I would estimate that fewer than 10% of delegates do close to 90% of the debating during these meetings. 

I’m glad that we have these 10% of leaders confident enough to put their ideas out there in the midst of heated debate. But the vast majority of leaders remain unheard in such settings—despite the fact that they, too, have been called and ordained as spiritual leaders in Christ’s Church. They, too, have been prayerfully studying the issues. They, too, have been listening for the leading of the Spirit. They, too, may have something worth hearing. 

These 90% are essential parts of the Body of Christ. Yet too much of our decision-making process assumes that the 10% speak for all.  

That’s why we designed the Challenging Conversation Toolkit to revolve around a listening circle format. 

Unlike debate, where participation requires grabbing the right opportunity to speak, the toolkit’s listening circle format is highly invitational. Each participant is given one chance to speak to each structured question. 

By using a talking piece or speaker’s queue, no one fears being interrupted the moment they pause in their sharing. No one worries about how they’ll make their voice heard amid the din. And no one needs to expect that every comment will be dissected and challenged by an aggressive cross-examiner. 

Rather, everyone knows well ahead-of-time both what the question is and when they’ll be asked to speak. They know they’ll be invited to share as long as they need to and that their contribution will be heard just as much as anyone else’s. 

The debates of the next months and years will be essential. And the vocal 10% can do us a great service with their arguments and counter-arguments. But supplementing debate with a listening circle format is one practical way to say to the 90%, “you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." 

And that’s the premise behind the toolkit’s listening circles: that the wisdom we need from God is just as likely to come from someone in the quiet 90% as the vocal 10%. 

Next Steps for Your Church or Classis

To learn more about using the Challenging Conversations Toolkit in your church, check out our website, including a sample of the group guide, an introductory letter, a set of frequently asked questions and a link to register for the virtual training

Learn More

Why Your Church Needs to Talk about the Human Sexuality Report and How to Start

Human Sexuality Report: Better Process for Better Conversations

Human Sexuality Report: Challenging Conversations Toolkit

Human Sexuality Report: Getting Beyond the Headline




I think it's fair to ask questions about why certain issues get advanced in institutions while other significant issues are neglected.

But I'm not sure it's quite right to interpret the 90%'s relative silence as indifference or opposition to "pushing" the issue. I think the point of the article is that there are a great many godly and discerning leaders in our denomination who have been seeking the Lord's wisdom about matters of human sexuality and ethics. But they may be too shy or modest to speak up unless expressly invited to. Their voices, though perhaps less strident and self-assured, are ones I believe our assemblies will be blessed to hear. 

The horse is out of the barn, so to speak, on whether this conversation will happen. It is happening. It's on the agenda of virtually every classis meeting as well as Synod. Countless church councils have talked about it or will talk about it in the months ahead. The question now is not so much whether we should have the conversation about these issues, but how do we have this conversation in as God-honoring, Body-of-Christ-building way possible? 



Thanks Sean, for taking the time to reply to my comment. I think you can form you own interpretation re: the percentage notation. As to the " horse out of the barn", I think it's better to try to put the horse back into the barn, lest it come out to trample you.

I am not one to enjoy conflict or debate and I seldom offer criticism publicly.  But I found this Blog to be disturbing. It seemed to delight in us having a big debate and it seemed to suggest that debate will lead us to the right conclusions regarding the HSR.  I was put-off by the following phrases in the Blog:  "Ready to Rumble?"  "Bring on the debate."  "Some of us are itching for the debate."  "Let's debate... and may the best arguments (mine!) win."   "I'm glad that we have these 10% of leaders confident enough to put their ideas out there in the midst of heated debate."  "The debates of the next months and years will be essential."  These many references just do not feel right.  I would have valued much more a blog that said something to this effect:  "May all of us be fervent in prayer, humbly study and listen to God's Word and with the help of the Holy Spirit discern God's will/truth as we together consider the HSR coming to the Synod of 2022.  And may our denomination find 'Shalom' (and cease useless debate) after the Synod of 2022 discerns and declares God will/truth regarding human sexuality."  I would have been so delighted to read such a flavor in this Blog.  


The truth is, I don't much enjoy conflict or debate, either. But I know that our polity is such that there will be much debate in the months ahead. My hope with this somewhat tongue-in-cheek blog is to encourage folks to have a more edifying debate. 

But please keep an eye on the network. I think you'll see many versions of the blog you're hoping for (including from me). There are many who share your vision for a more prayerful, humble approach to the challenges facing our denomination (myself included). I'm grateful for the COD's leadership in elevating this need and opportunity.


Thank you Sean. 

I am very grateful to hear that you and the COD will be encouraging us to move away from "winning a heated debate" toward a "prayerful, Spirit-led listening to God's Word."

Ron De Young

Though Sean's last comment is duly noted, it would nonetheless appear that the article is advocating a shift away from the principles of "deliberation" and "discernment" imbedded in CRCNA reformed polity. [see Church Order 2020, pages 7-8; and Articles 34 & 39]

It is great to hear about those who have benefited from the Challenging Conversations toolkit. Thanks, Sean and PCR for providing these resources!

As churches "consider what their congregations should do next," especially in light of whatever happens at Synod,  The Foundry (a training ministry in GR) is running four Pastors Learning Cohorts entitled, "Clarity and Care." These learning communities will study, engage, work through, wrestle with, and deliberate on how to hold to a traditional/historic view on sexuality and marriage AND lovingly, thoughtfully, and charitably embrace our LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters in Christ. We guarantee no easy answers. But we want to serve the church and church leaders by making space for these massively important discussions and decisions.

You can check out the description at

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