When I think back over my 20 years of singleness, one of the hardest things to deal with is loneliness and living life without a “nuclear family.” It means you keep switching who you live with, hang out with and often go to church or small group with. There is very little built in permanence to our relationships as an unmarried person.
This is exasperated by the transience of our society. We move a lot. Sometimes this is because we refuse to just settle in and settle down, but sometimes it is harder to stay put. Why can’t you move for that job promotion or calling? You have fewer ties.
I remember when God was calling me to a new place in my career at age 30. One of the biggest things that held me back was that I didn’t want to start all over relationally. When you are married and you move, you have to start over, but you get to do it with someone. You still wake up with the same person, even if it is a new place.
The Church has a huge opportunity here. But mostly we fumble it because we are focussed on the wrong family.
As I mentioned last week many churches have family as an idol. As pointed out by John in the comment section, some churches flat out say this, calling the family the foundational institution of society. Most churches won’t say that in writing, instead they just imply it by almost everything they do and talk about. But this is not right and not from the Bible.
Jesus almost never even mentions the nuclear family, and when he does He is usually talking about it mattering too much in the wrong ways. Now to be fair that was a different culture in which family was more central than in our current one. However the way to fix the lack of family in our culture is not to focus on it, but instead to focus on God and His family.
Jesus certainly does. In Matthew 12 Jesus is speaking to people, sharing truths with a crowd. His nuclear family shows up and they want to talk to him (or maybe reign him in a little). Jesus responds, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Not exactly the answer we’d often hear today.
This is so important. It’s part of what makes the Gospel scandalous. This idea that there is new order coming, a new Kingdom where things are different and where all are welcome. He promises that those who have left all (including family) for the sake of the Kingdom will not be left out.
Again, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t teach about how to have a Godly marriage and family. FAR FROM IT, or as Paul would say, BY NO MEANS. In fact marriage was ordained by God (pre-sin) and it and the family can be a picture of the Kingdom when done right – so we need to learn to do it right. But what it does mean is that we have got to start from the premise of the bigger picture. A right theology of marriage, singleness and family can only start from having a focus on Jesus and His family first.
The Church should be a place where everyone feels welcome. But right now that is often not the case. And the reason isn’t because single people care less about God. Here’s the truth – one of the hardest things to do as a single person is go to church alone. It’s scary. It’s easier to go almost anywhere else as an unmarried person. School, work, the bar, the concert, the movies – all easier. Especially for a non-believer (you know those people we are supposed to be reaching out to).
I’ve lived this. When you move to a new place, church hunting as a single is brutal. You have to be super motivated to make it happen. Friends, when a single person shows up at your church, they are either really trying or really seeking – you need to go get them because if you do, God will move.
This starts by focusing on the Church family. This is why it’s so important for married and singles to be friends. As I’ve mentioned before, all my mentors have been married. I have fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and even kids that are married as well as single. They are my family just as much as my blood family.
We singles need to do our part. The Church should be our permanence. That’s the promise of the Gospel and the way it’s going to be in the end anyway. But when the focus is on the nuclear family and not the Church family we don’t fit.
What is your church’s focus? Which family is first?