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.
You should write a book.
Ha – funny you should mention that!
I agree with you and even recently sent an email to Govus on he Family’s singles component Boundless in the hopes that maybe I could get some acknowledgement of the problem. I wrote to them: “I read articles and books that warn against singles making marriage an idol in their life, but as I look at most churches these days, it seems its not singles who idolize marriage and family so much as it is those who are married with kids who seem to elevate their status as parent or spouse or family above all else. For example, I’ve been to several churches here in the bible belt where I live which will cancel services so people can spend time with their families for holidays such as Thanksgiving and the fourth of July. And just a glance at any church bulletin filled with activities for kids, parents, and couples but void of classes on understanding the tenets of the faith will give evidence to what is really driving the church. I realize marriage and children are good gifts from God, but is it possible that we have cultivated a culture in our churches where we extol these gifts to the detriment of our individual spiritual walk with Christ? Could the enemy use our focus on good gifts to distract us from working on other areas of weakness we might have? Our am I just experiencing bitter and exaggerated perceptions due to the fact that I’m not part of this “in” crowd in the church?”
Their response was essentially, just keeping going to church. Not helpful.
What do you think –is it that the church just doesn’t “get” singleness, or has the church fallen victim to one of the enemy’s favorite trick: using something God intended for good and distort it to distraction? Does the church commit idolatry with marriage?
Sorry, that should have been Focus on the Family, not Govus. Darn ipad.
First, I love that you wrote them – and their response is classic and just backs up what I said. One of the things we as singles can bring to the church is a different perspective on family. I think the Church truly doesn’t get singleness – but one of the reasons is exactly what you’ve pointed out here. It’s all a reaction to the broken family in our culture. To your point – they aren’t called “Focus on Jesus”. 🙂 (side note – they have many good things to say)
Sounds like a call to me. Let’s lead the charge – I’m ready!
Oh it’s on!
Can I add that I love the irony displayed? BTW, congratulations on the SingleRoots Favorite Read List http://www.singleroots.com/2012-in-review-our-favorite-reads/
Wow…finally someone is talking about this! I blogged about how the world views singles and the stigma that it comes with it, but I love that you have gotten very specific with how the Church views and treats singles. Marriage as an idol? It needs to be explored. Looking forward to reading more about it.
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I can agree to a lot that you’ve stated. However, I think it’s sad that a lot of the same singles who complain about all of the above also can’t or won’t stand to hear or heed advice from married people about being single and how to date effectively (effectively, meaning, getting on the path to marriage) if that’s all they are focused on at this point in their lives. As if we marrieds were BORN married, never dated, never had to trust and “wait on God,” never had to struggle with abstaining from sex, etc. I can see why singles would refuse to take advice from people decades older than them, who have been married forever and were single in much “simpler” times, but, some are so stuck in their, “no one understands what it’s like to be single; poor me!” attitudes – to the point of childishness – that they refuse to listen even to newly engaged or newly married people.
Jesus was single! And so were his disciples. Maybe singles should read more about them. And when I was single (I’ve only been married two years), my focus was not on dating, but on family and friendships – but more importantly, on my relationship with GOD. It just so happened that my contentment with being single in the world yet in a committed relationship with Christ led to my being pursued by my best male friend who I’d known for three years before we started dating, and three more years before we were married.
Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding;
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct[a] your paths.
Luke 12:29 “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, NOR HAVE AN ANXIOUS MIND. 30 For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. 31 But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things[c] shall be added to you.
Marriage isn’t EVERYTHING. OUR church barely talks about it, but I know some like to shove it down the congregation’s throat. ALL of our focus, whether or not we’re married, should be on how to be better Christians PERIOD. When you find your contentment in and with and THROUGH God alone, none of anything spoken about in the content of this article, nor any of the other nonsense we see and hear every day will cause such outrage or anxiety, because your peace and all that you need will come from your Guide within, and scriptures will have new revelation for you to help you in your SINGLE walk with God.
Philippians 4:11-12 11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
Thanks for the comment – but to be clear this is one blog post. I encourage you to read a lot more before tossing out five different subjects and complaining about singles’ attitudes. That is not what this was about. The point of this post was the church’s role. I’ve spent the majority of time on here challenging singles in many of the things you are talking about. But that doesn’t mean the church doesn’t have it’s role.
Marital status isn’t everything. Jesus is everything. Absolutely.
Thank you for the nice response to this first time reader.
To be clear, I expressed my OBSERVATIONS about SOME singles’ attitudes; I could not, and would not, complain about ALL singles’ attitudes.
Good luck with your ministry.
Please show me the verse(s) that affirm that Jesus was single.
He was a rabbi, in order to have that distinction, one must have had to be married. There is no verse that proves Jesus was a single man.
I believe Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and she had his child. After Jesus’ death, his brother James fled with her to France.
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Hey Justin! Hope all is well with you. I agree with you on the church serving singles. I do think that they need to do BOTH. The reason that there are many Christian books, etc. on marriage is that Christian marriages are failing all around us everyday. The church has to step it up because of this. Paul and I have witnessed 10 marriages fall apart last year alone due to selfishness, adultery and long-lived secret sins that the afflicted felt they couldn’t share with members of their church body. Their sins in each case are not just affecting their own lives, which is tragic enough, but now the lives of another adult and at least 3-5 young children that didn’t ask for any of it. These are strong believers in small groups that serve in church and ministry, not just so-so church-goers. I’m sure you are aware of the marriage crisis in this country, but when the church sees a problem, they attempt to address it. Our old pastor, Craig Mcelvain used to say, don’t tell me what our church needs, you go out and meet the need. It sounds to me like God may be placing a calling on your life to meet a new need that you can see in the Christian society. I haven’t read more than a couple of your blogs, so maybe you’ve already established that. You should write a book or put together curriculum for a seminar that churches could use. One friend of mine says, “see a snake, kill a snake.” You can see a snake, so use what God’s given you and kill it! I’m sure there is a mass audience that is just waiting for your blessing! God bless!
Hey Amy. Thanks for the comment. And yes we do need to do both. I agree with that for sure. And on of the things about marriage is the need for other people to actually know what is going on in your marriage. If there are secrets its always bad. Always. Married or single actually. Also if we did singleness better we’d probably do marriage better. Maybe those secrets wouldn’t get carried into marriage, people would know that they don’t have to get married, etc. Part of the reason for bad marriage is bad singleness.
Don’t worry, I’m just getting warmed up. 🙂
Thanks Justin! And I suppose that every other Christan material that doesn’t focus on marriage actually focuses on all of us as single individuals anyway. The sad thing we are seeing in every case is how quickly these destroyed marriages, both parties are running into new relationships/marriages without working on individual sanctification. It’s just taking the sin into a new relationship. THAT us where a book in singleness could come in handy. For the “after the divorce, now you’re single” masses. If there was /is one like that, it would be flying off the shelves. I’ve since read more of your blogs. They are very insightful and inspired! God bless your mission/work! Oh yeah, and your day job! Take care!
AMEN!!! This is exactly why I left a church where I had attended for 16 years. The new pastor came in and all he preaches on is — “marriage” – and how wonderful his wife is and how awesome his kids are — blah blah blah — I could not take feeling worse about myself every Sunday. I was in a leadership role in the middle school ministry, on the churches school, school board, been on the drama team, gone on several mission trips – and still felt left out. This church is not small on a typical weekend, about 2000 attend. So, now I am faced with where to go. I did find another church that the semons and worhip are incredible, but it is 30 minutes away from my house and I am struggling to get connected. Churches better wise up on population of our culture and not keeping their head in a whole in the ground about singles. I have thought about not going to any church, but I know that is not the right answer. I am very frustrated that the one place where I am suppose to be encouraged, supported and feel safe- the church- is making me feel the direct opposite.
The church is out of order. No wonder we have a mess in church. If you read the scriptures right, Genesis 2:18 and 19, there was a lot that happened before Adam got married. God did say it was not good for man to be alone, but read the next verse. God formed the animals and brought them to Adam to name. He did not get married. Eve was not even formed yet. The church wants to skip that part. This is where Adam starts forming his foundation. Without out time alone with God you will not form a foundation. That is why so many marriages fail. A building with out a foundation is not going to stand. Neither will we. Being single with God forms our foundation. Don’t forget a single man dead for all our sins, Jesus, and I believe there was a reason why he didn’t get married.
I love this posting. I wish I was brave enough to share it with my minister and the elders.
GB – you can be brave enough. You can just blame me (some internet guy -ha).
I also am struggling to fit in a church as a single, when all the church does is focus on marrieds and Children. I burned out of doing volunteer ministry and had to go to a mega church, but still do not feel connected! It is frustrating. Struggle with loneliness. Why is the church not there??Then there is paranoid married women who think you will steal their husband. Sigh, I go there for fellowship! This has happened to a girlfriend of mine too. Someone spread rumor that she was interested in married man, so she ended up leaving to another church. As you can tell some need to grow up.
I had an elderly lady criticizing me for showing up late for prayer meeting. I told the pastor ahead of time I would be late. He was not judgemental. She was so judge mental.Now do you understand I sort of gave up on attending church?. Had a group leader and his wife criticizing me and judging me for paying a mortgage and buying new winter coat and purse. , implying that I am materialistic. He also said I should leave my career because my shift work is taking me away from spending time at church. God called me to be a pharmacist.unless God tells me, to leave, then I will do so. Kind of wonder who hired him to be a Sunday School leader. I hate to say this but I can understand why people do not attend church.
Somehow miraculously, though God sends people to me to have fellowship and prayer even though I am not connected to church at this time.
Hi Julie, thanks for sharing. I’m sorry about the bs you had to deal with. I had to stop going to church for a lot of those reasons, especially judgement. Hang in there and keep looking to God for approval and not idiots.
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Hi! 40ish single guy here. I’m late to the discussion but just discovered your blog. Thanks!
I agree with your point. Generally the church at large is very marriage-centric. A reliable source told me that young men in seminary are encouraged to get married in order to be taken seriously for ministry. Hmm. How many bad decisions has that encourged?!
But even with all that, I don’t want to be another bitter guy (it’s a constant battle) even after great disappointments. I think there is a lot of frustration and anger amongst singles because we may feel like our desires should be validated. You take the goodness of the thing desired, add the church’s affirmations, add our own idolatrous hearts and that can wreak havoc. All I can conclude is that no one has promised us anything. As a single man I want to be happy in Jesus regardless of what I may or may not have. Not quite there yet…
80% of people 18-29 have never been married!?! The church is completely doomed. No one is looking to get married. I have heard pastors say that they used to do 30-35 weddings a year…..now…..they only do 5!!! You need to stuff this article down every churches throat.
Hello Justin, and readers, I’m female, 51 years old, and it’s been only in the past 5 years or so that I’ve accepted my singleness (actually “received” it) and found contentment and interest in life that I hadn’t had since my 20’s, when all of life was still before me and marriage and family was still the fully expected and achievable Dream.
About seven years ago, I reached a point where I knew marriage was an idol in my life, and that I had to burn this idol if I was going to discover any meaning or purpose to my life. For me, I had to give up all expectation of ever marrying. This was a hard, bitter struggle. And in order for me to really do it I had to leave church.
To really clear my head and heart of all the cluttered thinking that tied my sense of purpose and fulfillment in life to becoming a wife, I had to get away from the main source of that message: American Church Culture.
Leaving church helped me to press the reset button with God by stripping everything down to just the Word and fellowship with God and trusted, wise, Christ-mature friends.
I’ve stayed away from church in order to maintain this lovely, free, redefined state of mind/soul/spirit I’ve entered into. And I’m kinda ceasing to feel guilty about it, too, which is nice.
There are things I miss about corporate worship, but church still feels pretty lonely when I do show up. And it’s tragically comical how people who’ve known me since I was a kid simply do not know how to talk to me since they haven’t seen me at church for so long. And when I see them in public -sheesh! They feel so awkward, and I can practically hear the tumult of their minds with words like “backslider” and such tumbling around. They simply don’t know how to just be honest and say “I haven’t seen you in a long time. Are you okay?” So, if they do manage to greet me, they keep everything superficial. And I hate how I will start falling into the trap of name-dropping “God” and “Jesus” so that they still know that I’m still “serving the Lord”! I’m learning to stop doing this by remembering that God and the people who know and love me, know my heart and my life and that’s what is important.
Years ago, my church introduced an element to Sunday morning, where the Pastor invited different congregation members up to the platform each week to introduce them and ask them to tell a little bit about who they are and their lives. “Nice idea”, I thought. “Our church is big enough that you don’t just know who everybody is, so this will be a nice way to open the door to get to know more people here.”
After a handful of Sundays of this, however, I noticed that the people invited up to introduce themselves were all “complete” families, i.e. a husband, wife, and children. This was a startling realization, as I suddenly knew I would never be invited up to introduce myself, because I’m single. And as I looked around at the congregation I realized that if there were a show of hands of all the single people present on any given Sunday, the number of singles -single for whatever reason: never married, divorced or widowed- would at least match if not outnumber, the marrieds.
That was a blow, and another little piece of the insidious message of the church that you are not a whole person, an equally valued person, unless you are married, and even better, a married parent with children who are serving the Lord (it sure is hard for anybody to have worth and value in the church, isn’t it?).
The church has not intended to send such a message. The church has not intended to separate and exclude a whole swath of its population from the status of “whole” and “valuable”, yet it has done this.
Because the marriage unit of family has so deteriorated in recent decades, I totally understand why so much focus and effort is put on building up marriage and the family. We trace so many of the problems of society to broken marriages and broken families.
And, aside from the focus on marriage and family to heal brokenness, there’s the focus on marriage and family as the ideal for fulfillment and wholeness, aka, “God’s Perfect and Intended Plan for Our Life as Outlined in the Word”.
I won’t even get into how the church has romanticized marriage and hence, sowed the seed of happily ever after into the hearts of little girls (and boys? Men, please comment), creating the expectation of marriage as THE beautiful, important and valuable way of life.
I think at some point, I need to become part of the answer to this problem. Throughout my life attending church, I have pretty much always been involved in some sort of leadership capacity, and I believe I will be again. Maybe it will be in the area of helping to redefine singlehood, but in a way that gets away from tying anyone’s worth or value to their marital status, whatever that status may be. Wouldn’t it be great if all of us were just one big Us?
But I’m not ready yet.
There are so many other elements of American Church culture besides “singlehood” that I don’t know how to make peace with, or begin to change, yet, that I don’t see myself returning to church anytime soon.
I think I’m becoming open, though.