Here’s a fun experiment. Go to amazon and search for Christian marriage books and then search Christian Single books. It’s not pretty. (Then for real fun go through the Christian single list and try to find books written by a guy.)
Here’s the point. The Church loves to talk about marriage. They are like the marriage experts. As I’ve said no matter what your theological beliefs, you can find a marriage book for you. I mean you name it – you like Keller? Eldredge? Piper? Jakes? Bell? You can find their take on marriage. Books about how to navigate singleness – not as much, (apparently ladies you are supposed to do a lot of waiting and being satisfied, and us guys are supposed to figure it out without any help whatsoever).
But it’s not just books. Marriage retreats, forums, conferences, sermon series. Its even part of churches’ missional approach, “we are going to be doing a series on marriage – invite all your friends.”
Sure somewhere in there they like to throw in the obligatory thought on singleness, which is usually short sided, un-researched, full of platitudes and impractical. And then the best part is we kind of get a pat on the head as if to say, someday you too can be a grown up married person.
Now someone will say that I’m bitter or just seeing the grass as greener on the other side. I’m not mad – I’m just right. In 20 years of walking with Jesus and going to church (including the last eight at a church that has 50% single people) I’ve never had a married friend say, “The church just doesn’t get marriage.” Single people feel it all the time. It’s a no brainer and it’s real.
Have you ever thought about why it’s this way? One main reason that I’ve talked about before if that most pastors don’t get it. But there are other basic reasons.
First it’s just flat easier to talk about. There’s more clear scriptures on marriage. There’s not much on singleness and exactly zero on dating. Also, it’s more obvious if a marriage is in trouble than if a single is. So the fact is it’s just easier.
Second, married people fit the church structure better. They are more comfortable showing up to church to begin with. Much easier to go with someone than alone. The church knows that if you love kids then you will get parents. A lot of Christian parents are married – (side note – we are not very good with single parents either. Holy smokes. Let’s hold another moms group during the day – that helps – yikes).
The truth is almost everything we do is set up for the family – training the family, protecting the family, growing the family. In fact I would submit that family is an idol in our church today, but that is another post. Now it is helpful as a single person, especially if we didn’t grow up with it, to see and be engaged with solid families and I’m all about that. But where does the non married person fit into all of that. What real practical help are we giving to them for where they are right now?
Third, the church assumes that you should get married. We talk about being called to singleness but we do absolutely nothing to help anyone determine that. Our theology of singleness is messed up at best and completely lacking at worst.
Finally, because they don’t know what to do and what to say, they offer up spiritual platitudes about waiting on God, not settling, perfect definitions of who we should marry, and how to not have sex – which is their biggest concern.
Now some of this is our fault as singles. Here’s what I mean. We are way more likely to church hop (in fairness some of that is due to the stuff above). We can leave any time – we don’t have to convince a spouse or pull kids away from their youth group. Secondly, married people typically give more money and assume more Sunday leadership roles. I can’t back that up with statistics but I’d stake any amount you want on that being true. We often have less invested.
But here’s the thing, and you, me, married people, the church and everyone else might want to grab a hold of this. The day of reckoning is here. 50% of America is unmarried and the trend is upwards. 80% of people age 18-29 have never been married and that trend is upwards. So unless the church wants to get smaller it might want to think about how to help, reach out to, walk with, encourage, engage, and challenge singles. They might want to figure out how to empower them in leadership. Perhaps they could help them figure out and pursue their calling to marriage or to celibate ministry.
The church could be a place where singles are welcome, treated equally and held accountable through real relationships. Or it can keep ignoring reality and miss out on the opportunity.