Right now there is a lot of reporting out there about the American Evangelical culture and it’s impending doom. While I think that reports of it’s death have been greatly exaggerated, it should lead to a lot of reflection in all sorts of contexts.
As I watch it unfold and watch the church interact with the culture in several ways and in many different contexts I see a couple of things that we have to get past. These things play out in all sorts of different ways, but of particular interest here in the space, is in relation to singleness.
Here are two major problems (not that there aren’t more – as well as many good things) that I see over and over again in different cultural exchanges.
First, the church is in constant reaction mode and almost never in leadership mode. There are numerous reasons for this including insulating ourselves and living in fear of everyone else’s opinion. We want everyone to like us – and come to our events.
Secondly, we come late to every fight. Now in fairness – we almost always get there – just not usually first, or when the problem starts. So bottom line, we react to what is going on around us too late, and then fight the battle that we should have fought earlier.
There are sooooooooo many examples of this in the last 50-60 years. Marriage is one – I don’t remember the protests when no fault divorce was being ratified state by state across the country. I don’t remember bakers not doing third weddings? But now we want to take a stand on marriage. Here’s one happening right now. We are now in the last decade or two really figuring out that we ought to do poor urban ministry – heck we should even all move there. But the next wave – it’s already coming – is called the rural poor.** I’m not seeing a bunch of hip young believers heading out there to “live among” the people. That’s probably a little harsh. But the point is valid.
What made me think of this is a recent sermon series from a church about family. I’ve talked a ton here about the the churches nuclear family idol. To this particular church’s credit while they did talk about the nuclear family, they started and clarified that the church is a family and we have many different family make ups.
But regardless it was their series description that got my attention and that I want to discuss today. The first part of that read something like this: Our families are in crisis, marriages are crumbling, kids are hurting . . . .Rediscover how the family (read nuclear) can be transformational.
I’m not picking on this church today. But this is a great example of the problem.
For starters, the idea that families are crumbling is only sort of true. Actually most marriages aren’t in crisis. The divorce rate is actually going down slightly for first time marriages. Even better news is that the idea that divorce is rampant among practicing believers is not true at all. The funny thing about this is that the church probably should take some credit here. But instead of pointing to the success of their marriages, they are reacting to the sky that was falling 25 years ago.
The reality is that the boomers caused the divorce rate to skyrocket. They’re still doing it actually – now they are leading an all time rise in “gray divorce“. But the new problem, the one going on right now, is not divorce – it’s lack of marriage. It’s the fact that people aren’t getting married. The new “family” problem is not “My parents got divorced”. It’s literally that “My parents were never married”.
You see while people aren’t getting married (or divorced – as much) they are still having sex, living together, and having kids (sometimes alone on purpose – future post). 40% of the kids born in the U.S. today are born out of wedlock. Don’t look for that number to drop.
Basically what we are doing is telling all the people who probably won’t get divorced, how not to get divorced. I guess that’s good. It’s for sure easier.
The problem we are facing now is different. Why aren’t people getting married? We have to be willing to actually look at the real answers to that. Why aren’t they at church? 66% of the people that don’t go to church are unmarried. We have to be willing to deal with the real reasons for that.
If we want to go make a difference in culture we have to figure out how to talk to single people. We have to stop being the church for the family and start being the church that is a family. We need to stop looking to save the family and start trying to save the people. If we do that, the family part will take care of itself.
** For free – Read that link and ask – where’s the church in this story? We should be going there now.