Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Romans 13:7
“Hero” is an overused word. Though it’s technically defined as “a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities,” it’s often misapplied to someone who simply does something unusual, or to someone who said or did something we really like, so voila! He’s a hero.
But true heroes do more than that. They take a stand, resist the tide, set an example, break new ground, and benefit others. Our lives are inspired and enriched by them, and when they’re gone, we feel the loss.
I’m feeling it now, because this morning one of my heroes left us. Frank Worthen, author, speaker, founder of Love in Action, and the foremost pioneer of ministry to people who are same-sex attracted, is now absent from his body and present with the Lord.
His Decisions —
We are largely a result of the decisions we make over our lifespan. The impact we have springs from those decisions, shaping our influence and legacy. In Frank’s case, two decisions made well over forty years ago continue to impact us.
The first was his decision, in the very early 1970’s, to repent of homosexual behavior. That’s not a new decision, of course, having been made by thousands before Frank and thousands since. But what he experienced, when he decided to resist the tide of his own inclinations out of a disciple’s obedience, would later shape his teaching, his ministry approaches, and countless lives. He decided, he experienced, then he communicated his experiences and wisdom.
Which led to his second decision, which unlike his first was downright novel, the audacity of it being hard to appreciate in 2017.
He’d become a Christian as a teen, then began engaging in homosexuality as a young adult. Well into his 40’s, he encountered a young man who’d recently been born again, whose testimony impacted Frank and helped him reconsider his own spiritual state. Eventually, convinced God was calling him back, he recommitted himself to Christ with this young man’s help, re-establishing himself as a believer above all else.
Soon, at the urging of both his friend and his pastor, he began making cassette tapes of his testimony. (Remember, this was the mid-1970’s, a time when testimonies like this simply weren’t talked about!) Then, as if that weren’t innovative enough, he placed an ad in a liberal San Francisco newspaper which read “Do you want out of homosexuality?”
Yeah, I know. Crazy. That’s why I’m comfortable calling the guy a hero. I’m certain that by now he’s located Noah, and the two of them are comparing notes on what it’s like to build something no one believes in, endure mockery most people run from, then maintain the sort of consistency few people maintain.
— and His Legacy
Yet crazy or not, the response to his ad – over 60 men saying they wanted help – birthed his ministry and his approach, which combined teaching, group support, and discipleship principles, establishing Worthen as a pioneer in what would later be called “ex-gay ministry.” He would go on to co-author the first Christian book on record assisting people wanting to overcome homosexuality, establish a flagship ministry (including a live-in program), expand his services to the Philippines, and become one of the most reliable, steady voices in the ongoing conversation about homosexuality, theology, and ministry approaches.
By the time I met him, he’d already broken new ground which others like me would stroll onto without half the effort he’d expended. He’d recently married his dynamite wife Anita, who proved herself over the years a more-than-worthy partner to a great man, and no slouch in ministry and communication herself! Yet my first impression of him had less to do with his gifts, and more to do with
In 1989 I was a green 35-year old just cutting my teeth in this sort of work, when I taught, trembling, for the first time at an Exodus International Conference. To my dismay, The Mr. Worthen decided to sit in on my workshop, intimidating me hugely only because of my respect for his work. After my class he peppered me with encouragement, telling me over and over again he felt I had something to offer.
You can’t know, unless you’ve tried something new and been encouraged by someone who’s succeeded at what you’re trying, what that can mean. It confirms something I’ve always felt about truly great people: greatness and graciousness tend to go together. So I know to this day that Frank Worthen’s generosity of advice and support helped launch my own work.
But it’s his consistency over the decades that impresses me most. While many leaders make their marks with charisma and flash, he chose the steady, ongoing route of sincerity and reliability. Despite astonishing changes in the culture and church regarding sexuality, his voice, approach, and calm manner have been among the few “reliables” for me. He had much to say, but was never a media hog. He had tremendous clout, but was never arrogant. He had conviction, never failing to call a spade a spade, but always trying to show the spade grace, even when the spade didn’t want it.
Check it all out, and I think you’ll agree that the man’s heroism wasn’t the “larger than life” kind – he was way too authentic and plain spoken for that – but it was the heroism of the steady uncle who you know is always there, always available, still plugging away, proving that he not only lives what he preaches, but that what he preaches still works.
I should know, as should plenty of other women and men who have the honor of walking alongside people wanting to manage their sexuality in the most God-honoring way. We’ve got our own ideas and approaches, for sure, and hopefully, we’ve taken the baton he passed us and ran with it in ways that would do him proud. But all of us have been fortified by the teachings and example of this man of conscience and conviction, rare qualities these days when shallowness is business as usual.
For all of that, Frank, we’re grateful, although as usual, too many words get in the way when we try expressing our gratitude. After all, you’re not a man whose life is easy to sum up. But if we had to compose a one line epitaph about you, mine would go like this: We’re better equipped, both to lead godly lives and to lead others to do the same, because of Frank Worthen.
Thank you, Sir. See you soon.