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.

Some Help For The Ladies

Most of my usual readers know that this blog is written mainly for men.  Lots of ladies read this and probably 70% of what I write here is pretty applicable to both sexes.  This is especially true of all that I’ve said theologically about celibacy, family and the Church.  It’s mostly true of the things we discuss having to do with living in the context of being unmarried including things like dealing with sexual desire, community, touch, money, dealing with loss, etc.

However most of what I’ve offered here in terms of what to do with attraction, how to attract people, how to get a date and how to date, have been very guy centered.  I’ve had several requests from female readers at different times for thoughts on what they can do in those areas.  So I want to offer some thoughts today.

I’m not going to write several posts on this although I surely could.  But that is not the main format of the blog and not really my wheelhouse because after all, I’m a guy.

So instead I want to offer some things that the ladies can do with some tidbits on what not to do mixed in.

Here are some things to do:

Go ahead and initiate contact

There is a difference between initiating with someone and pursuing them.  We all know that women want to be pursued (not chased).  But as a guy it can be hard to know who to pursue and a little help on the front end can go a long way.  It can be as simple as being the first to make eye contact and smile.  There is nothing wrong with introducing yourself or starting a conversation with some guy you might be interested in.  I wouldn’t advise asking them out.  But you can talk with them, laugh with them, be friendly and even a little flirty.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  It creates a comfort level.  I think this is especially true in the church setting where sometimes guys are being too careful (which is sometimes merited).

Make yourself available

This could mean showing up at events that you know good men will be at.  It might mean letting a certain guy know where you’ll be.  I had a good friend share with me how she once had a guy she met at church who she wanted to know more.  She loved biking and found out that he did as well.  She shared with him that her and some friends biked at a certain place at a certain time and that he was welcome to come.  It wasn’t a date.  But it gave him a chance to show up.  Which he did.  And then he asked her out.

Being available might mean seeing that a guy goes out the same door every Sunday and choosing to go out that door – sort of setting up the opportunity to run into you.  It might mean online dating.  I know that there are pros and cons to that, but it for sure puts you in a place to of availability to meet men.

Put your most attractive self forward

Dress feminine.  I’m not saying dress sexual.  But it’s ok to put some effort into it.  And don’t downplay that.  Don’t talk about your “faults” when you are with a guy on a date.  I had women do this all the time.  They would tell me all that was wrong with them.  They’d tell me how much weight they gained or lost.  They’d tell me how they were difficult or couldn’t change this or that.  I guess there is a place for that but it’s not early on.  Maybe they wanted to lower the bar or make sure I wouldn’t run at the first negative thing.  But frankly here’s the deal.  If a man is on a date with you, he was at least fairly attracted to you.  You should just go with that.  Don’t sabotage it.  He likes you a little or he wouldn’t be there.

Learn to just say no and yes and be respectful either way

If someone asks you out, there are only two possible answers to that.  Yes or no. Anything else is disrespectful.  If you don’t want to go out you can be nice – but say no nicely.  You aren’t dating Jesus.  You don’t have other plans that day. You’re not working on you right now.  You just don’t want to.  That’s ok.  If he keeps asking you out, then say no a bit more firmly.  But don’t go nuclear with it.  If you do want to go out with him then for the love of all things holy say yes.  If you don’t know if you want to out with him and he meets your qualifiers, my advise is say yes – at least once maybe twice.  You don’t have to know you want to marry him.  It’s a date.  If you want to go out with him and he is not a good guy – then say no and stay the heck out of that situation.  Become unavailable.

Readers – maybe you could throw some other thoughts out.  Ladies – what has been helpful to you.  Guys, what have you appreciated.  We don’t need comments here just ripping each other – that’s pointless.

 

Condemned To Celibacy?

Recently I attended a conference on healthy sexuality.  It was very well done and the spirit of the event was super encouraging to say the least.  Within the many different topics and conversations was of course the discussion of how a person who is attracted to the same sex should live out their life.

Now this wasn’t a conference where people were demanding that anyone live a certain way and it was all non-confrontational, but the general answer was that from a biblical perspective that person should not be engaged in a same sex sexual relationship. In other words they should live a celibate life.

In response to this, one person said, “So basically we are condemning them to a life of loneliness and isolation.” I’m quite sure that this person was far from the only one in the room thinking that way.

I’m not going to dive too far into the topic of homosexuality today (I have a couple of posts that I can share if I ever decide I want to go viral).  But instead, I want to respond to this person’s understanding in a very different way.

I can’t speak for him, but I can deduct that the reason this gentlemen said what he said about celibacy is at least two fold.

First, in evangelical culture, we have completely left out the call to celibacy, the gift of celibacy and those who for one reason or another end up unmarried and yet desiring holiness.  Literally we have spent about 500 years of protestantism screwing this up.  It’s a real problem.

Because we have no place for or theology of celibacy, we then only dust it off for special cases.  Because we have no place for a heterosexual to pursue the call or gift of celibacy, we look like idiots suggesting that the homosexual should be “condemned to that”.

This comes from the Church’s nuclear family idol.  Marriage and family are seen as THE path to holiness and wholeness.  You can’t go around preaching that message for decades and then dust off the other path for a few people.  But that is exactly what the evangelical leadership of our generation has attempted to do.  Obviously that’s not working out very well.  This comes partially from an adaptation of a secular belief into our evangelical culture.

That is the secular belief that sexual fulfillment is a right.  Not only do I have the right to sexual fulfillment, but in the secular culture, I have the right to fulfill that sexual desire in just about any way I want (assuming everyone is an adult and “consents”).

Now evangelical culture has not adopted that belief.  Instead they have adapted it to their own framework.  The evangelical culture says that each person, at least each man, can not possibly contain their sexual desire.  It must be fulfilled.  The message is that it is controlling you, bigger than you, bigger than your moral agency, bigger than your spiritual maturity.  Therefore the only answer available to holiness is marriage.  Marriage makes you an adult.  Marriage makes you mature.  Marriage makes you holy.

Now let me be clear in case you are new to the blog.  I’m extremely pro marriage.  I think that most people should pursue marriage.  But, we cannot assume that in our theological, and practical teaching.  In fact, by assuming that we hurt not only those not called to it, or unable to achieve it, but we hurt even those who do get married.

If the way to holiness is marriage then what we are saying is that the person called to celibacy, the person with the gift of celibacy, the person born without desire to get married, the person who can’t get married, or the person who doesn’t desire the opposite sex, cannot be holy on their own.  By doing this we are literally agreeing with secular culture that sexual desire must be fulfilled in order for a person to be whole and holy.

This is basically what Justice Kennedy said in the supreme court decision on Gay Marriage.  He writes of those wishing to marry, “Their hope is to not be condemned to live in loneliness, . . . ”  Sound familiar?

If celibacy is something that someone is “condemned to” then we are all in a lot of trouble.

Was Jesus “condemned” to celibacy?  Paul?  The early Church Fathers?  The Pope? Do we really want to see celibacy as a punishment?

This is what we have helped set up.  This is why we can’t afford to answer the culture by adapting it into a Christian Version. Its why our answer to an increased delay in marriage, and people fulfilling sexual desires in ways other than marriage can’t be simply – marriage will set it all right.

Instead we have to rescue the celibacy of the New Testament.  We have to rescue the idea of family from a focus on the nuclear family to a focus on the family of God.  We have to have a more complete theology (or picture if you will) of how celibacy and marriage are both pictures of the Kingdom and both paths to holiness and wholeness.  If we don’t, then we all lose.  It will get worse.

The Church, including and starting with each of us in it, is the only hope of something different.  We have to be counter cultural, not just sub-cultural.  Read that line again.  It might be from the Lord.

We have to lead, not follow, not just respond and react.  If the Church (read all of us) don’t step back and consider the whole picture of celibacy and marriage, no one else will.