The Church Is Fighting Yesterdays Battle

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.

 

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.

You Can’t Serve Your Way To Attraction

In my last post I began talking about this idea of being a servant leader that we toss around in Christian circles.  I’m not going to rehash all of that here.  You might start by reading that post.  Today I want to talk about the servant part and in another post I’ll talk about the leadership side.

I want to clarify a couple of things quickly.  I’m not suggesting here that we shouldn’t serve people.  Not at all.  We often should.  Again, Jesus served.  He called us to serve others.  What I’m suggesting that serving and leadership are not the same and our motive for serving matters.

Jesus did not serve in order to gain followers.  He didn’t serve to earn relationships.  The reason Jesus is the greatest servant is because he didn’t have to serve at all and yet chose to.  Not only that, but He gave the ultimate service in dying for us.  Jesus served His followers.  But again He didn’t serve to get followers.

Not only that, but Jesus knew what people actually needed not just what they wanted.  He didn’t serve them based on what or how they wanted to be served.  Think of the washing of the disciples’ feet.  At no point did the disciples think, “we’ll like Jesus more and follow Him more if He would wash our feet.”  In fact Peter saw it as an affront at first.  He knew who Jesus was (or at least was coming to know) and he knew that Jesus was the one who should be served.  That’s what made it so incredible.

So what does this have to do with being a single man in the church?  Here are some thoughts.

First of all, we need to understand a very important fact.  Despite what we are sometimes lead to believe by evangelical leaders, you can not serve your way to attraction.  What I mean is that there can be this idea that if I serve a woman she will be attracted to me.

Let’s say you really like a girl.  You are attracted to her and you want her to be attracted to you.  One line of thought is that you need to get to know her and do things for her or even “minister” to her.  She is moving and needs help so you volunteer to help move her.  You’re in college and she needs help studying so you help her study.  You offer to carry things for her.  You open every door for her.  You look for every opportunity to serve her.  She is going through a hard time and you are “there for her”.

Those are all fine things.  But none of those things will make her attracted to you.  If she is already attracted to you, those sorts of things could help advance the relationship at some level.  But they are probably at best neutral in terms of attraction.  However, if she is not attracted to you and she knows you are attracted to her it could be a negative.  You could end up in the nice guy/friend zone.  You are meeting her needs which is great for her, but that won’t make her attracted to you.

On top of that, and this gets back to how Jesus served, if you are serving to get her to like you (be attracted) really you aren’t being a servant.  There are strings attached.  Women see right through this.  They might take the help.  But that’s as far as it is going.

This is one of the ways that nice guys get clobbered over and over.  “I did all of this for her and yet she chose this other guy.  He does’t do anything for her . . . ”  Well that might be true.  But too bad.  First of all, that’s not part of the deal.  Service means just that.  Pure servanthood operates without expecting anything back.  Also it doesn’t matter because if the other guy who doesn’t serve her is who she is attracted to, then . . . well . . . she is attracted to him.

What I’m saying here is that serving the girl is fine.  That’s your choice.  But if you do it so that she will date you, then that’s really on you.

Jesus served out of strength.  He did it out of love.  Not romantic love or “feelings” love. He doesn’t call us to do it out of those things either.  He wasn’t qualifying himself as worth being with by serving.  He was already worth being with and they knew it.

This by the way carries over into marriage.  We tend to sell guys on this idea that if they do certain things they will get certain results.  Serve your wife to “earn” points (I’ve actually seen Christian leaders say things like this).  But that’s not sacrificial service.  That’s selfish service.  It’s for sure not leadership.  I don’t do the dishes so that my wife will like me better.  I do it because why should I not do it.  I do it because she made a great meal and the least I can do is help clean up.  But I don’t do it expecting her to have sex with me. And I’m not counting on it making her want to.  I’m for sure not doing it to bank “points”.

Let me be clear once again.  I’m not anti serving.  But I’m saying don’t serve with an expectation of a result for you.  Don’t serve to be more attractive because it won’t make you more attractive.  Don’t serve to get something in return.  Serving is not a tactic.  And it won’t work.

Finally let me add this.  If you are serving someone in an effort to chase or get them to like you, I’d stop.  Stop being the nice guy.  Stop putting yourself in the friend zone.  Stop trying to earn it.  Don’t be used in that way.  I spent significant time there in my life.  It’s not effective and it won’t help you.  Don’t let anyone tell you different.

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?

Why It Doesn’t Matter If You Would “Treat Her Better”

So recently I heard a song by Sean Mendes aptly titled “Treat You Better”.  This song frankly encapsulates how guys (especially young guys) often see the dating scene completely wrong.  Especially “nice” guys.  Especially Christian “nice” guys.  I know this, because for a long time, longer than I care to admit, I was this guy.  In my teen years (Mendes is 18) I could have written this song.  Heck, I wrote some songs like this.

When I was a teenager, I always liked the girl that dated the guy that was “bad” for her. Pretty much literally all of my high school crushes could be summed up in that.  I was the good guy friend.  Sometimes I actually was a real friend, but other times that was just the line they told me to be nice instead of telling me to get lost.

I was seen as the nice guy.  The guy who would make some girl happy one day, just not that girl.  She instead dated the guy who was crazy, dangerous (read exciting) and who they were typically sleeping with (read sexually attracted to).  I was none of those things.

Now when things went bad, I was confided in often.  I was their ride home, their “brother”, or the type of guy who they wanted to end up with, but not date.

In my mind I wanted to rescue them.  I was better than that guy who treated them wrong. I was holier than the guy they were sleeping with.  I loved them after all.  And if they would just see that I was right for them everything could be better.  But that’s not how it works.

As I got older this became less true.  Although I still had no understanding of how to be attractive to the girl that I wanted to date/marry, by my late 20s I wasn’t trying to get the girl dating the “bad” guy so much.

But today I want to share some thoughts for all of the young men out there who are faced with these similar scenarios, many of whom I’m sure are feeling the Mendes song deeply.  I know I would have felt this song.

Here is my first thought.  If you listen to that song and think it’s you – you are in trouble and you need to seek something different – now.  It’s time to grow up a little.

Here’s where you are at.

You’re attracted to a girl.  You see her beauty and you see that she needs saved from dating someone other than you – the “bad for her” guy.  You are there for her, listen to her, give her advice.  If you are a young Christian you might call it “ministering” to her. You of course tell her how great she is and that she deserves better.  She’s not into you, but you want her to be and if you can just convince her she would be. You may or may not have told her how you feel.

Worse, in Christian circles we actually often set you up for this.  We’ve taught you that women’s sin is tied to men’s.  So anything she is doing bad is actually the “bad” guy’s fault. We’ve taught you that it is your job to man up and chase her.  Even more devastating, we’ve taught you that if you are a good Christian nice guy, she should like you.

But, that’s not the truth.  Pretty much none of that is the truth.  I’m not saying that out of any sort of anger or bitterness from my story.  I’m saying it because deep down you know it too and part of being a man is seeing the truth, owning it, and doing something about it. Don’t beat yourself up, just be willing to learn.

She isn’t attracted to that guy because he’s bad.  She just is attracted.  Attraction is not a choice.  Maybe she shouldn’t be with him.  But it doesn’t really matter.  She is with him and not with you.  Maybe she wishes she was attracted to you.  But she’s not.  And despite what a lot of really cheesy movies, songs, and Christian speakers say, she probably won’t be.  And if she were to end up with you, it won’t be because you are going to “treat her better” as it were.

So here is what you need to do if this is where you are at:

  • Stop chasing this girl.  Right now.  She isn’t the one.  There will be someone else.
  • If you are legitimately friends with her and you are a teenager – that’s ok.  You can be her friend.  But don’t be her special friend or her confidant.  You are done being the one who does all sorts of things for her as if you are a boyfriend without being her actual boyfriend.  If you are over 25, stop hanging out with her.  Now.
  • Quit being the nice guy.  Don’t be the “He’s nice but” guy.  Avoid that.  Grow out of that.
  • Become a student of attraction.  Not romance, not sex, and not marriage.  The Church can teach you all about being a husband. But that has nothing to do with attraction.  Learn what attracts women.
  • Think about how you act with girls you hang out with every day, vs. how you act when you are chasing a particular girl.  How do you view each, and how do they view you.
  • Do not become a “bad” guy.  That’s not actually what is holding you back. Good and bad have nothing to do with it.   It’s about confidence both in who you are, and in how you interact.
  • Learn to avoid the friend zone – even if it means walking away.  Again, you can be friends, you can’t be “that friend”.  Don’t allow it.
  • Work on how you view your self.  Your insecurities.  Your sin.  What you think of your looks.  What you think of your sexual ability.
  • Work on being respectable instead of likable.
  • Figure out where you are going, and go there.  Find someone who wants to go with you.  Not someone you have to chase or drag with you.

I have no idea if Mendes is singing from the heart of his own story or not.  I don’t know if the video is personal.  What I do know is I’ve been there.  What I do know is that a lot of young men feel this. What I do know is that the guy in the video does not end up with that girl.

Singleness as Identity, Context or Vocation

In our culture we are constantly talking about how we identify.  Not only that, but we know that whatever our answer is to that question, we will be judged by it.  It has of course to do with who we are, what we do, or even what we believe.  We are republican, democrat, conservative, liberal, American, black, white, male, female, gay, straight, feminist and on and on.  In the Church identify ourselves and judge others as Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, fundamentalist, charismatic, Baptist, Calvinist, Lutheran and on and on.  Heck in my town we identify people by their zip code, whether we live north or south of a street and what high school that someone went to.  We can also identify ourselves and others by things that have happened to us, or that we’ve participated in or even what teams we root for.

Some of these are things that we are born into and others are things we choose or believe.  But if we are in Christ none of these things are supposed to be our core identity. Meaning that they are not to be the first thing that defines us.  This includes whether or not we are single or married.

Being single or married has become a core identity for us, maybe especially (though certainly not limited to) in the Church. This is a real problem because in the Church we are supposed to be one family.  We aren’t really supposed to divide ourselves up by category and then just hang out with the other folks in that category.  The Church should be the one place where your category doesn’t matter.  We are all of equal value under the cross.  We all are sinners. Jesus thought us each valuable enough to come and die for.  Sin and the cross are the ultimate equalizer.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t offer practical teaching, guidance and wisdom for people in these different contexts.  But we have to start with the fact that at the core we are created in God’s image, all have sin, and all are loved by Jesus.

Adding to this, singleness is not really even a biblical category.  You could be unmarried, divorced, widowed, celibate by gifting, by the sin of man, or by choice for the Kingdom. This is really important because it affects how we see ourselves and how we set people up within the church.

Being unmarried is a context that you may be in.  But that is not the same as your identity or for that matter even your vocation.

This matters for those called to Celibacy because Celibacy for the Kingdom is not simply a context they find themselves in.  It is a calling and a vocation within the Church, at least historically.

Vocation is an interesting word in our culture.  It’s not really what your job is necessarily.  It could be.  But really your job could be simply your means to your vocation.  In fact, as a lay Christian, this is always true.  Let me explain.

Our first vocation as a believer is to follow Jesus and represent the Kingdom wherever we go.  This was our original created vocation going back to Genesis.  We were created to know God and advance His cause.

But we also have a secondary vocation.  That is either to be in the married vocation or the celibate vocation.  As I heard a wise priest once say, “The first vow we all have to make is to Jesus – to be committed to Him. Then we can make a second vow – either to God to be in celibate ministry or to God and to another person.”

Now here is where we screw it up in Protestantism.  We equate the vocation of celibacy with the context of being unmarried.  This is unfair to both the person who has the vocation of singleness and the person who doesn’t.  We need to honor the person who is called to that vocation by recognizing the Kingdom picture it represents, honoring their pursuit of that, and giving them the support they need as well as utilizing their gift and choice.

At the same time we need to not saddle the people who are not called to that with the responsibilities, lifestyle or teachings that those called with that vocation have.  Instead we need to support them in their context, help them navigate it, and ultimately help them pursue marriage.

In short.  Being unmarried is not an identity group and shouldn’t be treated as one.  It is a context that people are in.  For some it is a vocation they are called to.  Recognizing all of that sets us up to serve, teach, empower and support each group.  Not recognizing that hurts everyone.

We should instead identify people first by who they are in Christ, created to by God to know him and advance the Kingdom.  Secondly we should help them pursue their secondary vocation from whatever context they are currently in.