Ministry To Singles Vs. Singles Groups

One of the debates that I’ve seen in churches and even among singles in churches is should we or should we not have singles groups. I’ve seen a lot of different approaches in my over 20 years as an adult single. I’d like today to offer a few practical thoughts on this.

Before we dive in, I want to acknowledge that this can be a really tricky conversation for churches because there are a lot of different voices.  It is however extremely important that churches think about unmarried folks.  As I’ve written there is an extreme lack of this in most of our church culture.  We have created a nuclear family idol which I’ve written about at length.

It is vital that churches stop doing this.  Not only does it alienate singles that are following Jesus, it also keeps non church attenders away.  66% of the people who don’t go to church in the United States are unmarried.  This means that if you want to reach out to the “unchurched” there’s a better chance than not that you are reaching out to unmarried folks.  If there are more unmarried folks than ever before . . . well you see the problem.

In general, grouping people at church into separate groups is a bad idea. An example is the youth group that is completely separated from the rest of the community.  This leads to youth only knowing how to integrate with their own age and therefore less likely to integrate in a church in the early twenties when they are out on their own.

This is why I’ve never been a fan of the singles group per se for several reasons.

First, what does single mean?  Singleness is not actually a biblical term.  There are not yet married, those called to celibacy, divorced and widowed.  Those are all completely different from a biblical and pastoral care perspective.  Completely different.  I guess you could try to have a group for each, but that seems a bit crazy.  Treating all of these as the same is one of the huge mistakes of the modern church.

Secondly, what happens to the single that gets married.  Do they then “graduate” into the married group?  Let’s say you are in the singles group or singles small group, building relationships and community in the church. Then you get married.  Now you leave those relationships and move “up” to new married friends?  Just typing that seems ridiculous and yet many times this is exactly what happens.

For me personally what I wanted as a single in the church was to be seen as an equal, not a special case. In fact one of the reasons I chose the church I did at age 30 and single was that they didn’t separate singles out.  Small groups were mixed.  Leadership was available to singles.  I even led small groups with marrieds in them – as a single.  Crazy I know.

However this doesn’t mean that we can’t minister to singles specifically.

While I’ve railed against the church’s nuclear family idol, I’ve also said and believe that a lot of the ministry to marrieds in the church are pretty valuable.  I don’t understand why we can’t do the same for the unmarried.

This to me is how we can bridge the gap between two contrasting ideas that most singles seem to want.  They want to be equal and part of the bigger picture.  But they’d also like to meet other people in their context as well as learn how to live as a single following Jesus and even how to get unsingle in a Godly way.

What I would propose is this:  Don’t segregate singles out from the other things that you are doing.  Don’t do this on purpose or by accident.  Some examples of making singles feel unwelcome:

  • Constantly making church about the nuclear family in message or method
  • Women’s bible studies and small groups that only meet during the day (which is really a stay at home moms’ bible study, not a woman’s bible study)
  • Having no place for those that are called to celibacy to be celebrated or supported
  • Creating all of your small groups (or Sunday school or what have you) based on marital status
  • Not including singles in leadership opportunities

Does you messaging and group dynamics feel inviting to the unmarried person that walks in your door?  If not that’s problem number one.  Start there.

Do provide singles with opportunities relevant to their context.  We do hundreds of marriage seminars, retreats, mom’s nights out, parenting helps etc.  We need to do the same thing for the unmarried.  This would include things for the more specific groups such as those called to celibacy, the divorced as well as the not yet married.  This does several things:

  • It says that we have something to give and/or teach them.  Which we do.
  • It creates space for some singles to meet each other.
  • Sends the message that we value those living in those contexts
  • Creates the space for actual pastoral care for those people

In other words, we can have ministry to “singles” without having “singles groups”.  If I had a large enough church I’d have a staff person committed to this.  We have a pastor for everything else under the sun, why not this?

The Church Should Focus On It’s Own Family

Many years ago when I was driving through Colorado Springs I saw a bumper sticker directed at Focus on the Family that said, “Focus On Your Own Family”.  I thought it was sort of funny but I didn’t really give it a lot of thought.  But the phrase sort of stayed with me.  Whenever I’d see something from Focus I’d think about that sticker and smile.

But in thinking about it, this might actually be a good idea.  Now to be clear, before I start, I like a lot of what Focus the organization does.*  I’m not picking on them here.  However, the Church’s focus on the nuclear family is a huge problem with far, far reaching implications.

As I’ve stated many times, I’m not against the church teaching on family or how to be a good husband, wife, parent or even child.  I’m not against that all.  If I’m married and/or have kids, I need to learn how to do that in a Godly way.  In other words, if that is my context, I need to follow Jesus and grow in my ability to fulfill that role.  Absolutely.

However, if that is the focus of our church or if we lift up the nuclear family as the answer to how the kingdom advances, or as the thing that helps make us holy, or makes us eligible for leadership in the Church or as the model for the church instead of the other way around, we end up on seriously shaky ground.  Frankly that is exactly where many churches are today either by intent or by accident.

The kingdom does not advance by the nuclear family.  It advances through Jesus and His family.  The nuclear family does not make us holy, Jesus does.  Being married is not a requirement for leadership in the church – hello Paul and . . . uh . . . Jesus.

I’ve covered all of that before.  But what I want to say today is what brings us back to that bumper sticker.  What if the Church focused on it’s own family.  Because frankly most church families are a mess and that’s not even to speak of the body of Christ as a whole.

Now I get that church is messy. It’s made up of humans and we are all sinners.  People sin.  Against God, against each other, against non believers.  Whole nine yards. That’s not what I’m talking about.

What I’m talking about is are we teaching our churches how to be a family.  Is that our focus?  From a global level: How do we treat fellow believers that we don’t quite theologically agree with?  How do we talk about them behind their backs?  How does the “local church”** talk about missional “para church” parts of the body and vice versa?  How do church planters talk about the old church that is literally down the street?  Protestants and Catholics how we doing?  This list could go on and on.

From a particular church level:  How welcoming are we to new people that might join our family?  Have you gotten to know anyone in your church family?  Is our teaching inclusive to those who have a nuclear family and those who don’t?  Do we love each other?  Is there actual church discipline?  Who is accountable to who?  Who actually knows anything about the people leading the small group?  Could anyone walk in and feel welcome?  Not necessarily agreed with, but welcome.  Do we hold the Kingdom picture of advancement or the “lets live in the nuclear family bubble” picture?  Are the people Jesus welcomed welcome?  By each member?  Again the list could go on.

Bashing the church is not my point here.  The point is this – the church should focus on it’s own family.  We should be focused on getting our own stuff in order.  We should remember that marriage and the family point to God and His family, not the other way around.

You see God is the creator of the family unit.  He really is.  This means it’s a good thing.  But just like everything else that He created we tend to start to count on it instead of God.  We start to elevate it over God’s Kingdom, just like we do many of his other good creations.

Jesus said, Who are my mother and brothers?  In other words, who is my family?  He answered, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother”.  At the end of the day, and for sure at the end of days, the Kingdom family will be the one that lasts.  It will be the one that is most important and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the nuclear family.  The church should focus there.

When we don’t do it, we set up everyone to fail and alienate many.  When we do focus on the Kingdom family we set up everyone, including those with nuclear families, to thrive.

 

 

* Focus does a lot of great things – especially in regards to children and parenting.  For example, if you’re a parent and not looking at Plugged In for movie reviews you’re missing out.

**The idea of the local church is totally misunderstood and mis-taught. First, in the city and suburbs there is almost no such thing as a “local” church.  Parishes are long gone.  People drive by 50 churches on the way to the one they want to go to.  The local church in the bible was all the people in that location, regardless of the place they worshiped in.  When God looks at your town, He sees one church, not hundreds.  Your church is not the answer.  The Church is.

Honoring Vows: Conversation With A Priest

Several months ago I had the opportunity to hang out with a group of men that included a Catholic priest.  I could tell right away that this guy was just on fire for Jesus and we had a wide ranging conversation.  This man was significantly older than me, had a great spirit about him and was in a role that really fit his sweet spot – ministering to college students.

But of course, as I write a blog about singleness, at one point I had to corner him at the end of the table and talk about celibacy and ask a lot of questions about how he viewed that.  How could I not right?

I’ve written a lot here about celibacy and how that calling and commitment is different from what we call singleness in our culture.  I’ve talked about different ways we can come into that calling.  I’ve also discussed how we have a major problem in protestantism as it relates to this because frankly we have no theology of celibacy.

But I must honestly say that while I can perhaps give some great theological pictures of it and biblical support for it, I sometimes feel that I’m not much help to the people who are actually called to it, other than being on their side and fighting for them where I can.

I’m hoping that parts of my conversation with this gentleman might be of help at some level as well as give more understanding to those of us who aren’t called or gifted with celibacy.

Let’s first back up for just a second and refresh our thoughts on what exactly I’m talking about here.  I’m not talking about the not yet married, the divorced or the widowed, although I think some of this applies to them at some level.  What I’m talking about here is people who are called and/or gifted with celibacy.  Those who have made a commitment or even vow to celibacy for the Kingdom.

As one priest put it – we all make a first vow – that is to Jesus.  But then we make a second vow – some of us to God and another person (marriage vow – serving God from that context) and some of us to God and no one else (celibacy vow – serving God from that context).

This man, long ago, made that second vow to celibacy.  Here’s what I learned.

This man had great freedom and he lives joyously in it.  I want that to be an encouragement.  In no way did this man feel he had “missed out” on marriage.  He uses this to serve God in ways that others can’t.  As an example of this he left our gathering at midnight because he had a meeting – with a college man he is mentoring – at 2 AM**.  He couldn’t wait to get there.

My point in sharing this is that a lot of times there is sense of feeling sorry for those called to celibacy.  Or at the least a feeling of, “I could never do that”.  But the truth is, if you are called to it, not only can you do it, but you’ll probably love a lot of it.  If you are called to celibacy there are great advantages and opportunities to live in that.  It’s not a second class place in the Kingdom.  Not in any way.

A second thing that I took away is that the vow, while real, is just that.  What I mean is that just as you make a vow to a spouse and then have to choose over and over again to honor that, the same is true to vow of celibacy.

We tend to have this belief that if we are called to celibacy and make the vow that there are not struggles or questions about that.  In other words there is no temptation to break that vow.  But he assured me that this if false.

I asked him about what that looked like.  His answer was refreshing.  He said, “It is a vow.  And yes I sometimes have to fight to honor that vow.  There are temptations.  I have sexual desire from time to time.” He joked, “Heck every time I have a hard on I have to remember my vow.”

That may seem crude but he didn’t mean it to be.  His point was that a vow is something that will be tested and that is no different just because his vow was different than mine to my wife.  Just like not every man who makes a vow to a woman honors it, not every person who makes a vow of celibacy honors that.  It’s not just a one time ceremonial moment.  It’s an over and over again living out of and choosing that vow.

If you are called to celibacy and have made that vow or are thinking about it, I think this would be both sobering and encouraging.  On the one hand, just like the marriage vow, you could break it.  There will be temptation.  On the other hand, just like the marriage vow, you can choose not to break it, even when everything in you wants to.

It’s also important for us as the church to realize that just as we try to help people live out and honor their vows of marriage, we can do the same for those who have made a vow to celibacy.  If we have a better understanding of what celibacy actually is, we can do that.  Supporting a person called to celibacy is completely different than supporting those not yet married, the divorced and widowed.

 

** I understand that this freedom comes from not only celibacy but also his particular job.  However it is still an example of living joyously within his calling – which is the point.

It’s Time To “People Up”

I have a confession.  For a long time, I thought the way to fix things was simply fix the men.  In fact I remember a meeting where another guy and I were planning a men’s retreat.  We said basically that if we could just fix the men, then the rest would fall in line.

This is the general consensus of a lot of evangelical leaders today.  I’ve talked about this ad nauseam here.  I’ve talked about blaming men, the man problem, the idea that if only men would ask women out, and on and on.

While I think that there are a few people waking up to this complete over simplification of the problems in our culture, it’s still rampant.

The good husband is almost always the butt of the joke in secular culture media and perhaps worse in a lot of Christian media.  Divorce is almost always seen as the guys fault – in the courts and in the church.  Men are the sexual sinners, not women.  40% of births in our country are out of wedlock – that’s just the men’s fault – which makes absolutely no logical sense really.  Delayed marriage in our culture – men won’t commit.  Lack of guys at church or as volunteers – can’t be anything that we are doing wrong – must be the men are worse now.  It’s everywhere.

We have a man problem we say.  A father problem.  An immaturity of men problem.  A video game problem.

The solution to this of course it to get men to “man up“.  So we create all sorts of web pages and sermons.  Some attempt to be encouraging. In other words “come on men – we can help you fulfill all of your societal responsibilities and save everyone else.”  Others are more “challenging”.  Just beat on the men, yell at them and about them until they “get it”.  Of course there is now even a MAN UP APP.  No lie.  It’s true.

It’s not that some of the thoughts and advice on these sites aren’t good.  Some of it is good.  But the problem is the premise.

The truth is that we don’t have a man problem.  We have a people problem.  We have a sin problem.  And men are both people and sinners.  You know what though?  Wait for it.  So. Are. Women.

This is true even when it comes to singleness, dating and marriage.  Want proof?  40% of births are out of wedlock – up from 10% in 1969.  It takes men and women for that to happen.  Women can be controlling and aggressive in relationships too.  Women are more likely to initiate divorce.  Women cheat as well as men and celebrity women think thats ok.  I could go on and on.  The point here isn’t to bash women.  By no means!  The point is twofold.

First and foremost we are all sinners.  Second, you won’t hear many sermons or websites pointing to that last paragraph and saying we have a woman problem.  In fact I would be willing to bet you can’t find one.

There are a bunch of reasons we as the church have fallen into this.  Male pastors like being the best man in the room.  We want the culture to like us and right now the culture says we have a man problem.  We want to be feminist friendly.  Many sincerely believe that if men were better that the women would just automatically fall in line (which is actually sort of demeaning to women if you think about it – do they not have moral agency?).  Men in the church will either take it or leave.  These are just a few of the reasons.

All of this is extremely counter productive.

We have to stop doing this if we want any of the trends we don’t like to change.  The singleness and delayed marriage – or total lack of marriage – trend is a prime example.  It is not a man problem either.  It is a people problem.  We have to start addressing it as such.

When it comes to men specifically, maybe, just maybe we should ask ourselves why we are where we are.  What I mean is, lack of guy volunteers, lack of guys coming to church, lack of guys asking out our favorite single women etc.  Maybe we should resit the urge to look at them, call them names, tell them how bad they are and challenge them to get on board with us.  Instead how about we start with this question: What are we doing/have we done to create this?

Here’s what I know.  There was no secret men’s meeting where we all got together and said, “Let’s quit volunteering.  Let’s quit going to church.  Let’s play video games instead. Let’s delay marriage.”

If less men, and for that matter less singles period, go to church, perhaps we should look inward first for why, before calling them out and blaming them.  Maybe instead of asking singles to suck it up and men to man up we ought to ask everyone to people up.  And maybe, just maybe, we ought to take a good hard look in the mirror and “church up”.

Will She Go With You?

Over the last three posts we’ve been talking about Servant Leading, what serving has to do with attraction, and the fact that in marriage the man is the head which has many responsibilities including loving (serving and leading would be a part of doing that well). You may want to read those before you dive in here.

Today I want to talk about as a single man, knowing the previous thoughts, how should that affect how you go about things in terms of dating and looking for a wife.  There are at least two parts here: How we prepare ourselves and who we seek to marry.

The number one thing has to be that you have to be going somewhere, and that needs to start with following Jesus.  Now I’m not saying following Jesus perfectly.  That’s a ridiculous standard.  But are you overall submitted to Him?  If not, you need to try to move there.  If you move there, typically He’ll give you some direction.  If someone were to ask where are you going – do you have an answer?  Does the first part of that answer sound something like, “With Jesus.”?

The second thing you need to think about is the role you have as a man and how to best exercise that role.  The idea of headship in a marriage should be exciting and humbling at the same time.  With it comes responsibilities.  But if I understand that as my role, then I’m better able to become the man I need to be to fulfill those responsibilities.* Or as I heard in a sermon recently – If you know who you are, you’ll know what to do.

Let me also state that while both of the above can be hard, they are not only essential but doable.  We have to embrace them.

Now, let’s talk about this from a dating perspective.

First of all, you are not – I repeat not – the head of your date.  You have zero authority. That doesn’t mean that you can’t lead while dating – see this post for more thoughts on that. But you don’t yet have that role in your date’s life which is important to remember both in terms of pressure on yourself and frankly for her as well.

Secondly, I would advise you that as you are dating someone to ask the question, “Would this person respect my role and come with me?”  I could list 100 qualifiers for that statement (this doesn’t mean you command something and she says yes etc) but none of those change the general question.

If the answer is no, then you need to not marry that person.  It will not go well.

Here are two “pictures” of that from my own life, one from dating and another from ministry.

After some dates with one woman we began to talk about what we wanted in life, in the near and far future.  We weren’t getting real deep here but just talking and getting to know more about each other. In the midst of that conversation she said, “I don’t ever want to leave this town.  Ever.  My family is here, my life is here. I couldn’t marry someone who didn’t think they would always live here.”

I knew right then that this wasn’t going anywhere.  It’s not that she was a bad person or even that she wasn’t a Christian.  But that is not my life.  I told her that.  I would go wherever I thought Jesus wanted me to go. I had to know that we would follow Him wherever, no prerequisites.  We stopped dating shortly after.

The other example was in ministry but I think it paints a picture of what it would be like if you married someone who didn’t come with you.  In the ministry that I lead it means going to where kids are.  We go to their turf.  It’s what we do.  I lead other people to also do it. Some people do it with me and some don’t end up doing it.  I remember a meeting with a volunteer who was struggling.  This person said, “I feel like you don’t care about me as much as this other person.  You talk to them more.  I can tell you are close to them and I don’t feel close to you at all.”

I thought for a moment because they were right.  But the reasoning was the problem.  I said, “Well it’s not that I like them better per se.  I like you.  I believe in you and love you. But here’s the difference.  They are in it with me.  They show up.  They go with me as I go. You don’t show up.  My job is to lead people in this mission. That’s where I’m going.  If you want to be with me – you have to actually come with me.”

Now again, I could list 100 caveats and talk about how this can look all sorts of different ways.  But the general truth stands.  You can’t make everyone follow you.  Jesus let people walk.  It’s complicated.  Jesus pursues us yes.  He left His throne to do it.  And yet He doesn’t make people go with Him in response.  And He doesn’t chase them either. The rich young ruler walked.  A man says, “Let me first go bury my father.”  Jesus said “Let the dead bury the dead – follow me.”  The gospels and parables are full of this.  Sometimes you have to let people you wish would come with you walk.  It’s true in life.  It’s true in ministry.  It’s also true in dating.

Remember that marriage is a picture of the Kingdom (as is Celibacy).  They both point towards the Kingdom in unique ways.  Part of the marriage picture is this idea of response to invitation.

I would strongly advise you as a man not to marry someone that wouldn’t go with you. You may be thinking, “Bro you have no idea.  There just aren’t that many women out there like that.”  Maybe.  But there are more than you think.

You need someone who will come with you.  When I do weddings I always tell the groom that the bride needs to know that he isn’t leaving no matter what, and I tell the bride that the groom needs to know that she is on his side no matter what.  I know that both of those will get tested.  But they are necessary.

This doesn’t mean that the only qualifier for a spouse is that she would come with you. However I would tell you that it is one of the essential qualifiers and one that often gets overlooked when the woman has a bunch of other qualities that you are looking for.

I wouldn’t advise marrying any woman who didn’t respect you and who wouldn’t have a posture of going with you as you follow Jesus.**

 

 

* I first read about this idea of roles then responsibilities on this post.  I think it is helpful in seeing that how we view the order of roles and responsibilities is extremely important.

** I would also advise women not to marry anyone they didn’t respect or want to go with

Men’s Spiritual Leadership And The Bible

One of the most overused, misunderstood, and confusing things in the church is the idea of leadership.  This is especially true when it comes to men in relation to women. It’s my hope today to make that even more confusing.  Just kidding.  Maybe.

Before we get biblical so to speak, let me throw out three simple thoughts on leadership. Being a leader is not super complicated.  It requires really two main things.  First you have to be going somewhere.  Second, someone has to be following you.  Just because you strike out in a direction does not make you a leader.  That just makes you going somewhere, which is great.  But to be a leader means that you actually lead others.

Secondly, it’s also important to note that leadership is not contingent upon being a “good” person.  That would make you a “good” leader in a sense.  But as I’ve mentioned before you can be a bad person and an effective leader.  Hitler had a ton of followers.  As awful as that was it would be ridiculous to say that he was not a leader.

Jesus was of course the greatest leader in history by any definition of the term.  He changed the world order.  As a follower of Jesus our hope is that we can lead people towards Him and His kingdom.  Which brings us to point three – we have to first be a follower of Him in order to lead towards Him.  I want to clarify that before we start looking at leading others because even though we can learn a lot about leadership from looking at Jesus and how He led, if we aren’t actually following Him then really we aren’t going to the right direction to begin with.  And remember, direction matters.

Now all of that seems pretty straight forward.  So why is it that we are all so confused in the context of singleness and marriage?  There are a lot of reasons.

Some of it has to do with the fact that in order to sound more with the times in our culture we have sort of used the word leadership in some places that aren’t necessarily biblical. They sound biblical but they add to the confusion.

One of the places this happens is when we say that the man is the spiritual leader of the household when he is married.

What most people refer to is the scripture in Ephesians 5:22-33.  Paul is giving instruction to the people of Ephesus about life and in this particular part talks about husbands and wives.  He says that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ as the head of the church.  He commands the husbands to love and give themselves up for their wives and wives to submit to and respect their husbands.

Now whole books have been written about this and I have only a few hundred words here so we are going to keep it in the context of our conversation here.

The first thing to note is that this is not conditional.  Just as the vows you take on your wedding day are not conditional.  When you make the vows you don’t say, “I promise to love and cherish and not forsake you if you do these certain things”.  No your promise is unconditional.  Until death.  That’s the vow.  It’s a covenant not a contract. This is similar. Paul doesn’t say, “Husbands love your wife if you feel in love” or “Love your wife if your romantically attracted at the time” or “love your wife if she is nice to you”.  Nor does he say, “Wives submit to your husband when you feel like its a good idea” or “submit to your husband if he’s earned it that day”.  It’s a command for each person regardless of the situation.*

The second thing to note here is that the word leadership isn’t used. The word head is used to name the role, and the instructions to the man (instructions for the head) describe what he is to do.  But nowhere is he called the leader.  It’s not that he doesn’t lead.  As the head, Christ leads the church – by loving it no matter what.  But he does have positional authority.  Leading is a part of the job description, but it’s not the job title.

Now here is where everyone freaks out.  We don’t like that.  So what happens is one of the following:

Some say, “It talks about mutually submitting before that . . . ”  That is just a terrible argument.  You can say, “What was true for Ephesus isn’t true now.” That’s an argument.  I disagree with it.  But that makes some sense and I can respect it.  But pretending Paul doesn’t mean what he says is weak and intellectually dishonest.

Some want to abuse it.  This happens when we give men the role (head) without the instructions (love, give your self up etc).  This is where men can abuse their position.  This has for sure happened throughout history and still happens today.

But most in evangelical culture today want to say essentially, “Men, this is your position, if you do everything right and earn it.  Your wife will let you know when that is.”  I know that’s a little sarcastic.  But this is really does seem to be the message.  Do it all right and then it will all go right.  That last sentence is dangerous on a lot of levels.

We like the term “spiritual leader” because it sounds better than head.  But what we end up telling guys is: If you lead well, you’ll be the head.  What we need to instead say is: you’re the head, so lead well.  When we get this wrong, we basically want men to take on the responsibilities that he has without giving him the role that he should have.  Why would anyone want that?

Once you’re married – from a biblical perspective, you’re the head.  You can either be a good one or a bad one and your wife is not necessarily the grade card on that.

Wow! We just covered a lot of ground not very deeply.  You still might be thinking, “what in the heck does this have to do with me the single man?”  In my next post I’ll give you some thoughts on why how you view this is so important.  For now I’d ask you to think about exactly that.  How do you view all of this?

*I understand that there may be extreme conditions that would be exceptions – such as abuse etc. but we have turned everything into an exception and it isn’t working out well.

Servant Leadership Confusion

I was recently at a conference where we spent some time talking about leadership.  The conversation was centered around what makes a good leader and how do we be good leaders to others.  One of the interesting things that was said was something to the effect of the only way to be a good leader was to be a servant.  This is of course a common theme in Christian culture.  And like a lot of themes in Christian culture it’s only sort of true.

I’ve been giving the idea of leadership a lot of thought lately – both in the context of my job and in the context of singleness and marriage.  You can see some of my thoughts about leading while dating here.

I think in our context as a Christian man, be it single or married, this idea is very confusing.  Partly because we use a lot of words like servant and leader interchangeably and I’m not so sure that’s helpful.

We tell men to lead.  We say in fact that you should lead.  That our leadership is needed.  We are told to serve.  We are told that Jesus’ model of leadership was servant leadership and that we should follow that example in life and of course in marriage and often even in dating.  So let’s unpack that all a little.

Here are some important conclusions that I’ve personally come to

You can be an effective leader without being a servant.  Now this will undoubtedly bother some people.  I guess it sort of depends on how you define servant.  Let me rephrase.  You can be an effective leader without being what Christian culture calls a “servant leader”.

I know this because I can quickly name several historically effective leaders that weren’t what we would call servant leaders.  Just for starters: Hitler.  Genghis Khan.  Alexander the Great. I don’t think you can argue that they weren’t leaders.  But you wouldn’t call them servant leaders.  Now you could say they served in a sense.  They gave people vision, or hope, or purpose bigger than them.  Maybe they even provided protection or riches for their people – which could be a sort of service.  But I don’t think we’ll be calling any of them servant leaders.

My point is that leadership and servanthood – at least as we typically define it – are not the same at all.

To be a leader you really only need two things.  You need to be going somewhere and you need to have someone following you.  If you don’t have anyone following you, you are not a leader.

Now Jesus was indeed the greatest leader in history.  Even from a common sense secular point of view.  This is a guy who had no army, no land, no money, no committee, no title, no political office etc.  He had a three year public life, lived in a small geographical area and really only talked to a few thousand people, most of whom also had none of the afore mentioned advantages, was executed and yet changed the world and we are still talking about it 2000 years later.

Jesus was also obviously the greatest servant of all time.  He left His throne, gave up his power, met people’s deepest needs and gave his very life for each of us.

But here is a thought I have – and I’m not saying this is exactly right as I’m still working it out:  It was not Jesus’ servanthood that made Him a great leader but instead it was who He was, partly as a leader, that made Him the greatest servant.  In other words, in order to wash your followers feet – you have to have followers.

Feel free to wrestle with that.

At this point you’re probably thinking, “Ok Justin.  Neat stuff.  But what does this have to do with singleness?”  As a man, looking for a spouse, I think it has a lot to do with it.

 

We spend a lot of time telling men that the need to be the leader.  Be it in dating or marriage.  We also tell men that they need to be a servant, like Jesus was a servant, to their wives and too often by extension to women in general.  In other words, “Be Like Jesus to get the girl” and then “Love your girl like Jesus would and everything will go right.”  Leadership of your girl/wife means serving your girl/wife.

But if we have the wrong view of what that means, which many in Christian leadership do, then we are setting ourselves up for at best a lot of frustration and at worst utter failure.

I’m going to get more practical in the next blog or two about this.  But for today I want to leave you with some questions to ponder.

Why did people follow Jesus?  Why would a woman follow a man?  What does serving another person really mean?  What does serving have to do with attraction?  Are women attracted to leaders?  To servants?