The Church’s Family Idol And Singleness

Here’s the truth about our culture right now. Close to 50% of marriages will end in divorce. Stats show that nearly one third of first marriages will end in divorce within the first 10 years.  When you add in out of wedlock births, close to 60% of kids in high school don’t live in their “nuclear family”.

The Church has seen this and tried to respond. . . mostly by talking about marriage and family.  But as an unintended consequence we have sometimes made family an idol. And for all of this attention to family, we are not winning.

We have this idea that if we do enough teaching on marriage and family that everything will turn around.  We have hundreds of books.  We hold seminars and conferences.  We have Focus on the Family, we have churches named the Family Church.  We have outreach to families.  We say, “We are going to be doing a sermon series on marriage so invite your neighbor.”

We’ve created this idea of the Biblical family.  This is a little crazy when you consider that there probably isn’t one marriage in the Bible that you would want to emulate.

Now to be sure there are great principles in the Bible for marriage.  But really they are mostly the same principles for all of life.  How do you love another person?  If you’re married, that should be the number one example of that. It’s your number one covenant relationship.

But the Bible isn’t about family. It’s about God and us, mainly God actually.  Jesus says unless you hate your wife and children, you can’t follow me.  How do we reconcile that with how we teach all this stuff?  Jesus is obviously not saying to hate anyone.  He is however saying that He comes first – and that is true regardless of marital status.  So the real question is regardless of my context how do I follow Jesus?  Seems to me we ought to talk to the other half of the peoples’ context.

Now before you rip me, let me say that I’m not against any of this.  I think it is vital the Church talk about these things.  I know that I have been impacted, even as a single, by these teachings.  I’m for it and I’ve encouraged us as singles to learn from it for a variety of reasons.  I’ve seen marriages and families be saved by it.  But this focus on the family will not turn the tide because singles aren’t there to listen to it.

Married people already go to church.  Most of the people that don’t go to church are not married.  According to Barna 37% of them have never been married at all.

What used to happen is the Church would lose the young 20 somethings and then when they got married they would come back.  The problem is that now they are not getting married.  Only 20% of those 18-29 have ever been married.  That means that we are losing the late 20 somethings.  It means that the neighbor you are supposed to invite to the marriage sermon series – they are single.

We can’t just say let’s save marriages because if we’re not careful, there won’t be any marriages to save.  We need a theology of singleness to go with our theology of marriage.  We need to offer some practical help for single people.  We can’t just say get married and then we will help you.  We need to help people figure out if they are called to celibacy or marriage and then help them do it.

Let me give you an example from my own church (which I love).  At my church we have what we call position papers.  These are “brief” papers that say where we stand on certain things.  So for example we have papers on baptism, communion, the end times, etc.

So of course we have a paper on marriage.  We also have one on divorce and remarriage. We have one on Christian sexual ethics.  We even have one on “dating” (we’d be better off with a position paper on how to get a date).  But we do not have one on singleness or celibacy.  And our church at one point was 50% single!  If we don’t have it, who does?

I’m not mad, bitter or whining. That’s not my heart at all.  But, we are losing and this is part of the reason why.  We need to deal with it.

Catch this:  Most of the battle for sexual purity, Godly marriage and family, and even the hot button issues like homosexuality and abortion, cannot be won without a right theology of singleness. People are lost and confused.

You CANNOT change this without a right theology of singleness.  And that theology has to go WAY beyond what not to do on a date.  Until it does it’s going to get worse, not better.

What is your church’s theology of singleness?  What is yours?

28 thoughts on “The Church’s Family Idol And Singleness

  1. But what IS a “theology of singleness”? Do you mean churches should have a “position paper” on singleness? That churches should outline what exactly they believe about singleness and how it is to be lived Biblically? Jut looking for a breakdown of your phrase “theology of singleness”.

    • Well that’s a big question. I’m going to try answer it more in the coming weeks. But it starts with an understanding of celibacy, marriage, vows, what a single should do to figure out calling, how do they pursue celibacy if they feel called to that, how to pursue marriage if they aren’t called to celibacy, what do we believe about all of those things, what position can a non married person hold in our church – (can they be a deacon? an elder? lead only singles?) and why. That’s just for starters. I think that actually it all goes together with marriage. The theology of one goes completely with the other – it’s one big topic – I think. And missing out on one hurts both.

  2. Preaching by marital status, specifically to young marrieds with children, is just so wrong. It is something I have never understood. How was it decided that they are the only people that are worthy of the Gospel message? God does not see our marital status, the color of our skin, our jobs, or any other “tag” the world puts on us. Why, oh why, does the church?

  3. So fascinating! Perhaps you have identified the need for a complete paradigm shift from us focusing on Jesus meeting us where we are (married, single, divorced, old, young) and how his message fits our lives, to us focusing on meeting Jesus where he is and fitting our lives to him. Crazy thought!

  4. I’ve always loved the idea of the “covenant” relationship. But in all honesty, I make a covenant relationship all the time, with God, with my Best friends, I had a loyalty with my BFF, Amber, that I will never be able to explain here, but it’s loyalty, it’s love, it literally was something that took my breath away to realize that emotional love AND decisions to love her that way Christ did, the decision to be faithful in friendship and to patient, kind, not envious, to want the BEST for and with her, to be love to her, that was my covenant to her, and to Christ, and to my close guy friend right now, in these moments, not just in marriage, but for forever. That, when coupled with my heart for Christ/my faith in Him, that’s what I Know Heaven is going to be like. It’s a covenant fellowship, not out of emotion, but decision. Though affection can and should be there too.

  5. As far as Southern Baptist churches, singles are not included in their Faith and Message Statement. They believe that “the family is the foundational institution of human society” instead of the church. This church-sanctioned false theology has greatly contributed to the idol status of the nuclear family today. John Morgan, St. Paul’s Call International

      • Thing is, aren’t there single women in the bible? Lydia, Rahab, Mary Magdalene, and Naomi I think were all single. The church should NOT be excluding singles from “family” activities, and my current church family, (The Gathering) actually held a brilliant parenting class that I was even invited to be part of along with our single pastor, for people to learn how to biblically parent kids in their lives, I myself have neices and nephews. I’d like to be able to lead them in the Lord’s ways.

      • Reality is, that most sin, starts as a single person. Reaching sinners means reaching more single people. Why? The single mom/dad scenario is more common than you’d realize. More singles do watch porn, and worse, a lot of single people end up feeling so alone that they attempt suicide.

        God’s covenant extends to all people, married or single or dating. The church MUST BE A FAMILY TO SINGLES. The Pastor/elders should act as a father to those without family in the church, many singles who attend without their immediate family either come from broken homes, or from families that haven’t accepted Christ as savior. Both types of singles need to be ministered to by the church body, and not just to try to get them saved or married. Someone who sits alone in church needs someone to help them not feel isolated. That’s what a family does. Too many “families” in the church focus just on their own kids and their spouses, and that’s it, but what about the person sitting in the same pew that comes and sits and walks out the next minute because no one said hi to them? They don’t need another lecture or sermon, they need love and care/someone to show them that there is someone who cares for them more than just one day a week. Invite them to coffee or lunch or something.

        All I’m saying is there’s a major issue in the church today, where families have become so “self-focused” on their own, that they don’t reach out and invite anyone else in.

        It’s not that “family” is the idol of the church, it’s that the church has become “self-centered” and families are becoming self-centered along with it. when’s the last time you invited someone over for dinner that wasn’t already a friend?

  6. thing about it is, if they want to bring more singles in, how about developing a segment on singles/ or remaining single…

    Of course relationship or connection/social skills training might be good for churches.
    Learning to connect in places other than a local bar is another thing to encourage people. Go for disc golf, long walks, beach volleyball, bowling, or even just home groups, that’s how half my singles group turned into young adults/marrieds and singles…
    Half the young adults in my church are married or single.

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