One of the things that I’ve read on occasion and heard in conversations as well as from the pulpit, is the way to know if you have the gift of singleness is if you are single right now, then you’ve got it.
Now, in some evangelical circles, there is of course debate on whether singleness is a gift or even a calling at all. But I’m going to go ahead and side with 2000 years of Church history along with a straight reading of the scriptures and say that it is.
Here is the general idea of what these folks are selling. The basic idea is of course that God is sovereign and therefore whatever context you find yourself in is the one that God is “gifting” you with right now. If you are unmarried then right now you have the gift of singleness. Married? Then right now you have the gift of marriage. Both are gifts. All contexts we find ourselves in are gifts.
But in our current culture this idea is fraught with problems.
In the very beginning when God created the first people, Adam and Eve, He created them with purpose. I like to say that God created us to be in relationship with Him, reflect Him and to represent Him. Instead he said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule . . .” He created us male and female in His image. We therefore reflect who he is in our very being. But we were also to go, to multiply, to fill the earth. Now this was based on our communal relationship with Him. This of course takes exactly one page in the bible before we mess it all up.
However, once we are reconciled to Jesus, he essentially gives us the same command. “Go and share the gospel and make disciples” In other words, go represent me in the world and multiply.
Here’s the truth I want to get at today. We are created, each of us, with the desire to multiply. Yes there is a biological aspect to that. Understand that God even created that desire. But there is more to it than that. There is something deeper. Something that knows that we are to multiply.
Several months ago I had the opportunity to hang out with a group of men that included a Catholic priest. I could tell right away that this guy was just on fire for Jesus and we had a wide ranging conversation. This man was significantly older than me, had a great spirit about him and was in a role that really fit his sweet spot – ministering to college students.
But of course, as I write a blog about singleness, at one point I had to corner him at the end of the table and talk about celibacy and ask a lot of questions about how he viewed that. How could I not right?
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.
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.
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.
My last two posts I’ve been responding to a post from Relevant that Scott Sauls wrote dealing with the Church and its focus on the nuclear family and lack of focus on singles. I want to respond to one last part today.
I want to restate that I’m not trying to pick on Scott or attack him in any way. I appreciate that he is at least identifying that there is a problem in our evangelical culture when it comes to this issue. I also believe that he represents where a lot of people in our circle are at. That is, they see there is a problem, but they don’t realize how deep it is and that a lot of the assumptions they are making are actually deeply flawed.
In the last post we looked at the idea that God will either bring you someone or He won’t and if you aren’t married then He just hasn’t done so yet. I actually think the main reason that Scott brought this up is not so much to offer a terrible platitude to singles but to try to say that unmarried folks can have just as rich of walk with Jesus as married folks. Let me say a huge Amen to that.
I think more and more church leaders are waking up to that idea. However, the way in which they view that unmarried life is lacking and it is a huge reason we have all the confusion that we have. So let me respond to that here.
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.
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.
A couple of years ago I was asked by a campus pastor at a local Catholic University if I would be willing to sit on a panel about vocation and represent the unmarried people who don’t feel called to celibacy. I said yes and was excited by the opportunity.
Now this is sort of funny but I was the only protestant in the room and perhaps the least educated. Ha! I was for sure the least educated person on the panel which included: the president of the university and his wife (married vocation – and they had been married for decades), a nun, a Jesuit Priest and a priest whose job it was to help students who felt they might be called to celibate ministry (becoming a priest or nun) discern that.
We went around and shared about our vocation/place in life. A lot of questions from the audience were centered around how you can figure out what you are supposed to do. Everyone on the panel was great – I was in very solid company and would gladly share a stage with any of them, any time.
But the person who stood out the most (and not just because we kept agreeing with each other) was the priest. This guy was unbelievably smart. He also had ways of explaining the call to full time celibate ministry that I had never really heard articulated before.