The Visitor

By Bill Francavilla 

Every Sunday before our church service starts, we have an unofficial meeting at which a diverse group of people that includes elders, worship team members, greeters, and even kids take a moment to ask the Lord to bless what we are about to do. It is our desire for our service to glorify God, and we pray for every moving part that makes a service a success. And every week we rightfully pray for anyone who enters our building who does not know the great God we serve, that their hearts will be stirred toward Him. We pray that they will desire to be transformed into who God has created them to be. We became even more aware of the importance of this prayer time on a recent Sunday morning.

Earlier in the week while our youth group was meeting, a visitor showed up at our church wearing a dress although he was clearly male. Some parents greeted the visitor in the lobby. Although I, the pastor, was not available at that moment to meet with him, they went ahead and prayed with him and invited him to our Sunday service.  

The parents made us aware of the situation, and we all prayed about what to do if the man did come on Sunday. We prepared a safe place for him by asking one of our elders and his wife to sit with him during service. Our greeters were made aware of the possible visit and were ready to introduce him to our elder couple.   

Sunday morning came and the young man, wearing a dress and referring to himself by both a female and male name, showed up at our service. As I preached the sermon on Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, I couldn’t help but notice the man and my stomach tightened. We had known that at some point our church would be confronted with this type of scenario; we just didn’t know when. 

How does a church minister to someone so clearly deceived? Is there a way to affirm him but at the same time show conviction?  We honestly wondered if this was all just some kind of a setup. I decided to confront the situation. 

How does a church minister to someone so clearly deceived? Is there a way to affirm him but at the same time show conviction? We honestly wondered if this was all just some kind of a setup. I decided to confront the situation. 

The moment I finished preaching I marched straight to the young man, introduced myself, and asked him how we as a church could pray for him and serve him. I could tell from his blank stare that he was likely on some sort of medication. After introducing himself to me, once again using two names, one male and one female, he told me about his childhood, which seemed to be one sad story after the next. 

By this time four brothers and sisters in Christ were standing with me, all asking if we could pray for this young man created in the image of God. I had never been so proud to shepherd this flock. And pray we did! We asked God to come into the man’s life in a way he had never known before, speaking against fear, depression, and suicide. But the longer we prayed the less he wanted to hear. When we prayed against pride, he suddenly excused himself and left. I honestly did not think I would ever see him again.  

Nonetheless, later I heard from one of our members that the man intended to attend our women’s Bible study later that week. I knew that I had to deal with this possibility. I managed to get his number, called him, and invited him to lunch that week. 

I invited one of our elders who is also one of my best friends, Bobby, to come along. Bobby is one of the most loving men I have ever had the pleasure of serving with, but he also is not known to mince words when he sees someone heading down the wrong path. He has an evangelist’s heart and loves to share the love of God with others. 

Naturally when the three of us sat down, Bobby and I had a lot of questions for our new friend but the most important was, “What can we as a church do for you?” This was an easy question to ask, but the answer did not come so easily. 

The young man clearly did not know what he wanted from us. When I told him that I didn’t think it would be appropriate for him to attend a women’s Bible study, he asked why, and I explained to him that the study wasn’t what he needed; it was not tailored to his needs. He needed one-on-one discipleship, which we were more than happy to offer him.  

He needed our wonderful God to transform him into Christ’s image. He needed to know that God created him and that God didn’t make any mistakes – even with gender. He needed to know that he was made for a purpose, and every day that he lived this lifestyle he was dishonoring that calling. The man’s face was downcast as he explained that he didn’t want to change.  

Bobby and I lovingly explained that the God we pray to wants to mold us into His image. If the man was asking anything else of us that would dishonor God’s intentions, it would violate the first commandment that we very much believe in honoring: “I am the Lord your God. . . . You must not have any other god but me” (Deuteronomy 5:6-7, NLT). 

The young man said that he understood. We didn’t want to just let him off the hook so easily, so we asked if we could pray for him, that he could experience the love that our Heavenly Father has for him because there is no greater blessing that he could experience. That was the last time I saw my friend. Bobby and I still talk about him and still pray for him.   

Now more than ever I look forward to our prayer time before the service because we never know who is going to walk in. As members of the body of Christ we have a responsibility to love our fellow image bearers whether they know who He is or not. For some reason it comes as a surprise to many that a book several thousand years old is where we turn. I want to leave the following advice for other church members: 

  • Make sure these issues are discussed with church leadership while being careful not to dehumanize anyone genuinely seeking prayer. 
  • When this type of situation occurs, don’t make a secret of it. Address the situation. 
  • Never be ashamed for offering the Gospel. 
  • Never compromise the first commandment. Make it clear to anyone you may minister to that we are to have no false gods before us; you will not dishonor the image we are called to bear.  
  • Pray for the person to experience the love that our heavenly Father has for him or her. 

About the Author

Bill Francavilla is the lead pastor at Living Hope, an Open Bible church in Williamsburg, Virginia. Having lived in Virginia nearly his entire life, he attended Lynchburg College, where he studied history and theater. In 2017 Bill received his master’s degree in theological studies from Liberty University. He has been active in missions to Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Cuba. He and his wife, Jessica, have four children: Alex, Liam, Rita Grace, and Gino.  

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