Singleness And The Church Of Don’t

Several years ago our lead pastor gave a sermon on singleness.  I laugh as I type that because we have a church that has a high percentage of singles and yet even we have had only one sermon in the last seven years directly aimed at this question.

He actually did a really good job but then he did something that hacked off a lot of people. He basically said that some of the reason people are single is that they are awkward and don’t know how to approach another person.  The thing is that he is absolutely right.  But the bad thing was – that was the extent of what he offered to do about it.

There is a major problem within the Church in this arena (and when I say Church, I mean as a whole – local churches, the body as a whole, christian books – all of it).  It can identify all the problems and can tell us what not to do, but they offer nothing to help you actually do it.

The Church is great at telling us what marriage is and how to have a good marriage, although they can oversell the toughness of it (future blog).  They have seen that marriage needs help and have responded.

They are also great at telling us what to do and not do once we are dating.  Our church actually has a position paper on dating.  But the problem is they don’t have one on singleness itself (being called to celibacy and how that relates to everything else) and they don’t offer anything about how to actually get a date to begin with.

Here’s what you can learn (right or wrong) about singleness from the Church.

  • Who to date and who not to
  • How long to date
  • What not to do – i.e. Don’t have sex
  • What marriage is and that it should be the goal
  • How to not marry people you shouldn’t

Do you notice a trend?  The Church seems mostly concerned with controlling how we date when/if we do.  I’m not saying this is the heart of the people, but to me it has often seemed like they are more worried about whether or not I have sex or date a non-believer than about whether or not I’m called to celibacy or marriage, let alone how to pursue either one.

Here’s what I’ve learned from the Church in the last twenty years about celibacy.  Ready? Nothing.  Here’s what I’ve learned about creating attraction and actually getting a date. Same thing – Nothing.

Mostly what they have offered is spiritual platitudes like, “God will bring you someone” or “In His time God will provide the “right” person”, “Wait for the right one” and on an on.  But they have offered basically no plan for how to engage that.

Now some people would say (and I would have said this in the past) that it’s not the Church’s job to play matchmaker or to help people get married.  But now I disagree.

If you are going to try to tell me who to date and how to “behave” then give me the plan to get there.  If it is your job and your business to keep me from having sex and to have me “marry right” then by all means tell me the plan.

Here’s a great example.  In the 90’s there were all these books about Biblical dating. Ignoring the fact that there is no Biblical dating plan, even if there was one, what was the plan to get the date.  If for example you as a church are going to say that your people should use “courting” instead of dating, then you’d better have a plan to help people do that.  Create a community of people that live that way, that can help others actually do it.

If the Church is so bent on everyone being married, then come up with some ways to help people achieve that. Don’t just give us a list of specific don’ts and then offer up random theological platitudes for the do’s.

It’s a double standard and the worst part about it is that it drives good single people away from the church.  We get tired of being told what we should have and can’t do without any sort of plan of what we can do.

What do we do with our need for physical intimacy? Why can’t I get a date?  How do I gain confidence with the opposite sex?  Why am I afraid of commitment?  Where can I lead?  How do I know if I’m just supposed to stay unmarried?  What’s the plan?

If it is the Church’s job to control what singles don’t do, give us some things to do.  And here’s the thing about it – that will actually preach and most of it will cross over for married audiences as well.

What is your church’s message to singles?

9 thoughts on “Singleness And The Church Of Don’t

  1. There is so much here… where to start!
    I’ll speak in part about what I see in my church, and see if this doesn’t start a conversation.
    I see several things in my church (I’ve seen it in others I’ve attended as well). I see young couples with children, older adults — either with teenage kids or of retirement age, and I see women with children who seem not to have a husband. I’ve come to realize that some of these women have husbands who work shifts. I also recognize that some simply have husbands who avoid church like they do the feminine products aisle at the store!
    I guess from my divorced perspective, there’s a subtle impression I get that my presence in church is a bit uncomfortable for some, particularly when it’s discovered that I am no longer married. I’m sure some wonder if I’m truly there to hear good preaching and enjoy some fellowship, or am I there for the nefarious purpose of finding a date?
    I’m glad to see my church promote a marriage conference. I find myself silently praying for couples in church when I see them sitting with the kids between rather than next to each other. After all, didn’t they get married to be together in the first place? But is that the only “class” of folks in the church.
    As for the singles in my church, let’s just say I don’t agree with the notion that churches are full of eligible, interesting and attractive single women. Ditto the entire region I live in!
    I’m almost thinking that we’re losing focus on the purpose of the local church (I recently heard a great series preached from the Book of Acts on this). Maybe we’re simply too caught up in ourselves and aren’t looking for opportunities to serve others. Maybe society and the local church have become too balkanized. I wish I knew the answer.
    Speaking for myself, I think that good mentors are in desperate need, and that we (singles) need to attach ourselves to those in the church who seem to have good marriages and relationships and find out what they’re doing to achieve such success.

  2. Such a true article! much appreciated and needed. I would say i remained single because of listening to the leaders saying stuff like wait for God’s best it’ll come when you least expect it etc; although the truth is not enough men to go round I found many of my friends got married to non believers and are happily married some of he husbands even converted to Christianity. If I could do it all over again I would have married and hen attended church now im in my 30’s and on dating sites.

    • Not so fast Grace… I married a woman who agreed to attend church then stopped going after several years. Not long after that she filed for divorce and took our daughter with her.
      I’d be curious to know how many of these friends who married non-Christians are in similar circumstances, or gave up their own faith in order to “get along.”

      • Yeah – there is a balance here. I don’t think we should marry an unbeliever on purpose. On the other hand I get what you are saying Grace in terms of the idea of waiting for this mystical Soulmate that God has for me – because that’s insane to try to figure that out.

  3. I had to come back and read this again. What an incredible set of thoughts and comments here!
    Now that I’ve seen many of these issues from BOTH sides — I’m divorced — I can say that Justin has some very interesting observations that need to be strongly considered by the church. For example, you write:
    “There is a major problem within the Church in this arena (and when I say Church, I mean as a whole – local churches, the body as a whole, christian books – all of it). It can identify all the problems and can tell us what not to do, but they offer nothing to help you actually do it.”
    Let me just say a hearty “AMEN” to this!
    Here’s one of my biggest pet peeves of people in the church: (Again from Justin’s blog)
    “Mostly what they have offered is spiritual platitudes like, “God will bring you someone” or “In His time God will provide the “right” person”, “Wait for the right one” and on an on. But they have offered basically no plan for how to engage that.”
    Furthermore, I think you hit on something fairly large when you said: If the Church is so bent on everyone being married, then come up with some ways to help people achieve that. Don’t just give us a list of specific don’ts and then offer up random theological platitudes for the do’s.
    While I think there are some good ideas and outside-the-church resources to help, where are the examples to follow. As men, we want an example of what to do (hopefully the right thing), and maybe some encouragement along the way. That the divorce rate in the church mirrors that of secular society suggests to me that we certainly have a long way to go before we can point our fingers at a society that seems to have so many problems.

  4. Very good Justin. I think one of the root problems is that the church (Protestant) has never defined what marriage is and what singleness is. For the church, marriage starts with “I do” at the alter on a wedding day, not in the biblical coming together as one union. And as it is today, “single” is no more than a legal term used to define those who are not currently holding a valid marriage license. Marriage can never be any stronger than the respect and dignity churches show to those who do not have spouses. The marriage/celibacy equation has to be kept in balance. We are scheduled to have a “single adult day” at church this morning. I’m wondering if we’ll hear the same platitudes about how great marriage is or if we’ll have a married couple speak a few kind words.

    Why are churches so silent about sexual issues like dating, waiting, discerning if marriage is for you? I think a lot has to do with the fact that the entire process of human sexuality, from dating to mating, has never been considered an integral part of God’s creation. It has always been considered something dirty, shameful, secretive. If the pastor at my church this morning asked me to stand up and describe how I was able to discern God’s call to celibacy and explain how I’ve remained celibate 52 years, I would probably pass out.

    I see nothing wrong with churches helping those never married find the appropriate person if marriage is for them. If done in a godly manner, “match making” shouldn’t even enter the picture. Back in the 1970s and 80s, there were numerous singles retreats all over the country. Now you’re lucky to find one.

    And of course, one of the biggest problems is that most preachers are married and are not qualified to give any advice on this subject. The best they can do is “I remember when . . . ” By that point, I’m already asleep.

    I try to keep an open mind. Miracles still happen.

  5. Pingback: My Church Doesn’t Get Singleness And I’m Mad Pt. 1 | More Than Don't Have Sex

  6. Pingback: The Sermon On Singleness You Won’t Hear | More Than Don't Have Sex

  7. Pingback: The Protestant Celibacy Problem | More Than Don't Have Sex

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