You Should Do More, You Just Can’t Be In Charge

One of the things that always bothers me is when we assume single people should do more ministry.  This sort of thought process happens all the time for several reasons.

It comes from the pulpit because pastors either misunderstand or misuse what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7.  Without going into too much depth here as I’ve written extensively about this, Paul is not saying if you are not yet married that you are therefore not distracted and able to be a better, more focused Christian.  He is instead saying if you are not distracted by a desire to get married, it could be that you have the gift/calling of celibacy and that would be a good thing.

But this is where this gets really ironic is that the same people telling you to “take advantage of your singleness” in ministry don’t want you to actually lead the ministry.  Perhaps what they really mean, is that while they can, they want to take advantage of your singleness.

You see it’s fine if you want to serve in the nursery or maybe the youth, on the worship team, set up and tear down, and in the rare church you might even be able to lead a small group.

But, if you want to be a pastor or elder, better think again.

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The Nuclear Family Or Kingdom Family

A few people in the church starting to wake up to the fact that the cultural context has changed.  Not only that but some are even beginning to see that they are part of the problem because of the ways they’ve handled that.  I myself have admitted many times here that I’ve taught many things wrong through the years – and I was teaching it as a single person.

Now the majority of the church has yet to even roll over, let alone wake up.  But it is encouraging to see some movement.  Over a couple of blog posts I want to sort of encourage (read challenge, push, bother, implore) them to not just offer band aids or think that a few simple thoughts are going to solve this.  If you are a pastor/elder/leader type person, you need to know that it’s going to be slower and more all encompassing than you think.

My fear for this discussion is that churches who are starting to see the problem of having family as an idol or not doing well with singles will only look to give simple answers that won’t actually unmask the deeper assumptions and mistakes that we have made and/or are making with this topic.  Changing what we say won’t be enough. We have to go back and rethink the whole thing to have a chance.

As an example of this I want to respond to parts of an article written by Scott Sauls for Relevant.  Let me be clear – I’m not coming at Scott.  I don’t know him personally but know folks who do and I’ve heard only great things about him.  I also want to give him a lot of credit for writing about this.  He is obviously way ahead of the curve which is apparent in much of what he writes.

I’m simply using his post as a launching pad to challenge some of the things that I believe the leaders in his, and similar circles, seem to assume.

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Celibacy Is Not A Season

This last week I was able to check out a couple of sermons on singleness.  Let me say this before I challenge some stuff.  I actually do feel like the church is starting to get a clue.  One of the sermons a listened to talked about the fact that 66% of unchurched folks are single.  The pastor basically said that we need to get a grip on this if we are going to go after them.  We need to treat them as equals in Christ.  Amen!  I’m glad that people are trying to talk about it more.

In a separate deal I saw, they were teaching kids about dating and at least mentioned celibacy.  So that’s something.

But here’s where we keep setting ourselves up for problems.  We need a better theology of celibacy because if we keep getting it wrong, we end up hurting everyone.

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Does The Bible Tell Me So?

Here’s a quick bible quiz.  Tell me where it asks someone to become a Christian.  How about this one – where does Jesus say that I should accept Him into my life/heart?  Find for me the “sinner’s prayer.”  Where does it say to go to church?  When did Peter become a Christian?

Should I go on?  You get the point.

As protestants we love to say that the Bible is ultimate authority.  Whether protestant or not, we all agree that it is authoritative.  The problem is that it is not authoritative in the way that we often want it to be to make our point.

What we want are simple clear rules, answers and one liners. No where is this more clear than in the realm of singleness, dating, and marriage.

I remember when I was in my twenties the big push in much of evangelical dating (just typing that phrase is sort of disturbing) was the idea of courting.  Now I don’t really have a problem with courting per se.  But what these folks tried to do is to say that their version of courting was the biblical way to find a spouse.  What I failed to realize at the time is that they had absolutely no biblical backing for this.  As I’ve written before there is not a biblical dating model.

But we want so bad for it to be simple.  We want a tweet sized answer to sexual ethics. #whatcanIgetawaywith #justifymyactions

What’s funny about this is that many on the evangelical right keep arguing bible verses that aren’t clear and others that don’t even exist while many of our more liberal churches are arguing contextual loopholes against those very same “verses”.

For example, one night I was having dinner with some friends and the topic of homosexuality came up.  One gentlemen said, “Jesus said that it was an abomination.”  Uh which verse was that again?  In a different conversation a friend said, “Jesus never addresses homosexual marriage.”  Sort of, except that He does address marriage.

The problem is that when we try to make verses mean something they don’t or insert our Christianese into the bible we set ourselves up to be discredited or worse set someone else up to fall when they later realize it.

But the problem with the other way of looking at the bible – using the context of a particular verse that we don’t like to say it doesn’t mean that or “the bible doesn’t really say. . . ” – is that we end up all over the map

Here’s what I mean.  Sticking with the “hot” homosexual issue, I’ve heard some pastors and leaders say that the bible really doesn’t say explicitly (as in an exact sentence) that a monogamous homosexual relationship is wrong.  They say that whole point is the one on one relationship for a lifetime.  They point to the couple of verses that deal with the homosexual act and say that it wasn’t talking about one of these types of relationships.

The problem with that – and it’s a big one – is that the same could be said of a lot of other things. So I ask the people who believe this are you then ok with:

  • The bible doesn’t say explicitly say that two unmarried people can’t have sex
  • It doesn’t say that two unmarried people can’t live together, have sex together or even have children together – so why even worry about marriage
  • The bible says nothing about viewing pornography, masturbation or reading shady literature.
  • It says nothing about oral sex.
  • It doesn’t say anything about appropriate dating behavior.

So basically by this argument, until I’m married, short of sex with an animal, I’m good to go. You can say that’s a slippery slope argument, except for the fact that we are already there in our culture.

(Whats ironic of course is that neither side seems to follow the very explicit instructions on divorce and remarriage.  Did anyone picket state capitols as almost every state instituted no fault divorce? Do they stand outside divorce courts?  Do they avoid making wedding cakes for two divorced people getting remarried?)

The key to all of this is obvious of course.  No straight reading of the bible by anyone without an agenda could lead you to believe any of the above was acceptable.  And there in lies the key – the bible as a whole is authoritative and it shows us what is right and wrong.  It’s not rocket science most of the time.

The bible does indeed speak to sex and marriage.  From front to back actually.  It always speaks of them together as a good thing or apart as a bad thing.  There is zero exception to this.  Sex has a purpose higher than orgasm.  It’s apparent that it is from God for marriage and all other uses are out of bounds.

What does this have to do with singleness and the church?  Everything.

We are confronted with a culture that has been and is still in a sexual revolution.  Our answer to that can not be picking one liners from scripture and trying to make them say things they don’t.  When we do that, we end up arguing over stuff that we don’t have to. It also can’t be ignoring the whole of scripture so that we can do what we want.  When we do that we take away any authority whatsoever.

The bible does lay out the answers – it’s just not tweet-able.

Why Married People Need A Singles Sermon Series

Recently, I was asked by a pastor friend of mine to help him consider how to handle singleness from the pulpit and frankly throughout his church.  I of course said, “Read my blog – duh.”  Just kidding.

First of all, this man should be commended for taking it on and asking questions (not just of me).  I’ve written before about how your pastor probably doesn’t get it.  This is how one gets out of that situation – because anyone can get it.

Now I have some thoughts on what a sermon series on “singleness” would look like.  I’ll share some of that soon.  But one of the things I think a pastor runs up against if he wants to talk about singleness from the pulpit is that most likely the majority of his audience will be married.

This is one of the good reasons that churches do marriage sermon series.  They are trying to help people who are married.  And they know if they do have single people there, that most of them want to be married and therefore might be able to gain something from it.  In fact as I’ve written before – as a single you really should pay attention to that sermon series.

But the problem comes when this same pastor wants to talk about singleness.  How does he “sell” that to a mostly married crowd?  Today I’m going to tell you exactly how I’d do that.  In other words, I’m going to tell you why all this stuff we talk about here should be important to married people in the church.  Very important actually.  There are many reasons, but here are a few – in no particular order.

For starters, most married people, have single friends.  They work with single people, live down the street from them, sit next to them at church.  Married people need to know how to best minister to these people – and not from a place of superiority.  I think there are a lot of married folks who want to care about their single friends but don’t know much about it.  Learning more would help.  In the same way that I tried to learn to minister to my married friends (and even challenge them) even though I wasn’t married, married people need to do that as well.

This leads to a secondary point.  50% of American adults are unmarried.  Most of those people (as in literally most) don’t go to church.  So if we are going to invite a friend to church, there is a good chance they will be single.  If we are serious about reaching out into the community, learning how to think about singleness and the Gospel is pretty key.

Another reason married people need this information is that many of them entered marriage under wrong premises.  Yes the marriage sermon helps here.  But so does the sermon about not being married.  When you knock down all of the spiritual platitudes that we tell single people (God has someone for you, hasn’t brought you the one yet, is waiting for you to be ready, save yourself for marriage, etc.) we also help married people who are struggling in their marriage because they believed in those exact platitudes and now they are being let down by them.

Let me promise you this.  If a church did a gutsy sermon series on the unmarried and the Gospel, they would rock a lot of married people’s worlds.  In what would eventually be a good way, some crap would hit the fan.  Not only that, but there would be some marriages that are struggling in which by the end of this series, they would become committed to figuring it out.  They would be thankful.

Talking about singleness in all it’s forms, also reminds married people, that yes, you are in a covenant relationship for life, but your identity is not in that.  You were created unmarried and will be resurrected unmarried.  Not to mention, that talking about the holiness of celibacy also raises the holiness of marriage.  When we look at both together we get a better picture of the Kingdom.

Further, most married people will also become (or already are) parents.  If I had a church with a lot of parents of adolescents, I for sure would want them to know the stuff we talk about here.  Because how else are they supposed to help their kid walk through it?

Parents need an accurate view of what is going on out there.  If all they know how to offer their kids are the spiritual platitudes that the church throws out to the unmarried, they are setting their kids up to fail – and possibly fail hard.  It is vital that parents understand as best they can the scene today and all that goes with it.  The more they understand the better they will be able to advise, comfort and hopefully guide their children.  I don’t think this can be overstated.

Finally, and maybe most important, many of the things that we need to talk about with singles, have just as many (if maybe different) implications for those who are married.  The Gospel is the Gospel.  Switching contexts won’t change that.  Just like I’ve heard pastors say in a marriage sermon, “Single folks this applies to you” they would be saying, “Hey married folks, this applies to you.”

 

 

 

You Will Spend Eternity Unmarried – But What About Now?

A few years ago I’d had sort of an interesting run where I’d been in a relationship that ended about a few months earlier.  I had been on some dates with various people and was sort of tired of it all.  But I was also doing a lot of random ministry and enjoying it.  I told a friend at that time that I was considering once again if maybe I should just stay single. I wasn’t mad about it (believe me I’d been there), I was just looking realistically at my situation and thinking it wasn’t all bad. The truth was that I had asked God about this several times.  What was cool about that time period is I was really ok hearing whatever from God.  If God wanted me to remain unmarried I was ok with that.

As an aside – one of the keys to hearing God is being willing to hear anything.  I need to be willing to hear yes and no.  That is what being surrendered to him means.  “God I will do what you want – whatever that is.”  When you are in that posture it makes it much easier to really see what He is calling you to.  I’m not suggesting that is easy, just saying it’s true.

But as I prayed it never felt like God was calling me to that.  It just never felt right to say I was called to celibacy and to remain unmarried – even when I wanted it to.

One of the great failures of the church is that we do basically no teaching on this calling.  In protestant culture we don’t really even offer it as an option.  I’m not sure why we are so afraid of it.  I’ve had pastors say from the pulpit essentially, “we don’t know anything about this, so we are going to skip it.”  I’ve mentioned before that at my church we have a position on every other angle – dating, marriage, divorce, remarriage, sexual ethics, homosexuality – but not celibacy or being unmarried.  And our church has at least 40% unmarried people.  Do you think it’s possible that someone in there might need that teaching?

Part of it is that we have made marriage/family an idol in the church.  But I think part of it is that now for generations no one has taught on it, so people are just lost.

Let’s be clear about a couple of things.

You are created and born unmarried.  Even Adam and Eve were created unmarried. There is no soulmate.  Your number one relationship regardless of marital status is with Jesus.  At the resurrection, regardless of what happened in your life here, you will be unmarried.  You will spend eternity unmarried.

The question is what are you called to here and now?  I know it’s really only one scripture but I think Jesus actually lays it out pretty well in Matthew 19.

The pharisees have tried to trap Jesus with a question about divorce.  Jesus answers that by raising the bar to the point where basically divorce is almost always wrong. A person can’t just get divorced.  The disciples freak out and say essentially, “that’s too hard”.

Jesus then says that the gift of marriage isn’t for everyone. It’s at this point that Jesus offers some thoughts on celibacy.  Most translations use the term eunuchs but I think it applies. (for a couple of interesting versions, check out The Message and the JB Phillips)

Jesus basically says that there are three groups of people that are called to celibacy (notice they are not called to dating forever, sleeping around etc.).

There are first of all those who are born that way.  They are born with the “gift” so to speak. Maybe it’s physical.  Maybe they for whatever reason have just never really felt the drive for marriage, maybe even for sex.  In other words there are those who have been created to live a life unmarried.

Secondly there are those who have been made that way by men.  These might be people who have never been asked to be married or have been rejected.  Maybe they’ve been physically injured or have a mental illness.

You see here’s the deal, we live in a fallen world.  I know that hurts.  But there will be some people who don’t have the gift or the calling to remain unmarried who nonetheless, because of sin, woundedness (their own, others’, the world’s) don’t get married.  There are earthly consequences to sin – both our own and others.  This is one reason we need to punt the family idol.  You could do a lot right and still not have one.  We Have To Get This.

Finally there are those who have chosen celibacy for the kingdom.  We have choice.  If we get married, we choose that.  Both marriage and celibacy are a gift and a choice.  Jesus is saying that some choose to dedicate themselves to a work that means not being married. They choose it.

One of the big problems is that we have lumped all unmarried people into one category – single.  But in the scripture there are the not married yet, the married, the divorced, the widowed and then these three – those who are unmarried because they were born with a different gift, those that are unmarried because of a fallen world, and those that are unmarried because they choose to forgo that gift and follow a different calling.

The question is of course where are you on this list.  Are you willing to hear that answer? Are we willing to walk with people to help them figure it out?

I’m not pretending to be exactly right about all of this.  But I do know we HAVE to have the conversation.