The Church’s Family Idol And Singleness

Here’s the truth about our culture right now. Close to 50% of marriages will end in divorce. Stats show that nearly one third of first marriages will end in divorce within the first 10 years.  When you add in out of wedlock births, close to 60% of kids in high school don’t live in their “nuclear family”.

The Church has seen this and tried to respond. . . mostly by talking about marriage and family.  But as an unintended consequence we have sometimes made family an idol. And for all of this attention to family, we are not winning.

We have this idea that if we do enough teaching on marriage and family that everything will turn around.  We have hundreds of books.  We hold seminars and conferences.  We have Focus on the Family, we have churches named the Family Church.  We have outreach to families.  We say, “We are going to be doing a sermon series on marriage so invite your neighbor.”

We’ve created this idea of the Biblical family.  This is a little crazy when you consider that there probably isn’t one marriage in the Bible that you would want to emulate.

Now to be sure there are great principles in the Bible for marriage.  But really they are mostly the same principles for all of life.  How do you love another person?  If you’re married, that should be the number one example of that. It’s your number one covenant relationship.

But the Bible isn’t about family. It’s about God and us, mainly God actually.  Jesus says unless you hate your wife and children, you can’t follow me.  How do we reconcile that with how we teach all this stuff?  Jesus is obviously not saying to hate anyone.  He is however saying that He comes first – and that is true regardless of marital status.  So the real question is regardless of my context how do I follow Jesus?  Seems to me we ought to talk to the other half of the peoples’ context.

Now before you rip me, let me say that I’m not against any of this.  I think it is vital the Church talk about these things.  I know that I have been impacted, even as a single, by these teachings.  I’m for it and I’ve encouraged us as singles to learn from it for a variety of reasons.  I’ve seen marriages and families be saved by it.  But this focus on the family will not turn the tide because singles aren’t there to listen to it.

Married people already go to church.  Most of the people that don’t go to church are not married.  According to Barna 37% of them have never been married at all.

What used to happen is the Church would lose the young 20 somethings and then when they got married they would come back.  The problem is that now they are not getting married.  Only 20% of those 18-29 have ever been married.  That means that we are losing the late 20 somethings.  It means that the neighbor you are supposed to invite to the marriage sermon series – they are single.

We can’t just say let’s save marriages because if we’re not careful, there won’t be any marriages to save.  We need a theology of singleness to go with our theology of marriage.  We need to offer some practical help for single people.  We can’t just say get married and then we will help you.  We need to help people figure out if they are called to celibacy or marriage and then help them do it.

Let me give you an example from my own church (which I love).  At my church we have what we call position papers.  These are “brief” papers that say where we stand on certain things.  So for example we have papers on baptism, communion, the end times, etc.

So of course we have a paper on marriage.  We also have one on divorce and remarriage. We have one on Christian sexual ethics.  We even have one on “dating” (we’d be better off with a position paper on how to get a date).  But we do not have one on singleness or celibacy.  And our church at one point was 50% single!  If we don’t have it, who does?

I’m not mad, bitter or whining. That’s not my heart at all.  But, we are losing and this is part of the reason why.  We need to deal with it.

Catch this:  Most of the battle for sexual purity, Godly marriage and family, and even the hot button issues like homosexuality and abortion, cannot be won without a right theology of singleness. People are lost and confused.

You CANNOT change this without a right theology of singleness.  And that theology has to go WAY beyond what not to do on a date.  Until it does it’s going to get worse, not better.

What is your church’s theology of singleness?  What is yours?

We Are Scared Crapless Of Marriage

Just over 10 years ago I was meeting with a group of about 30 juniors and seniors.  A female volunteer and I were leading a session on sex and dating (because if you are a good youth person you must do this right?).  But anyway, I asked a simple question that brought me a somewhat shocking answer.  I said, “How many of you think that you will get married one time and stay married to that person forever?”  Only about half the kids in that room raised their hands.  This was in the middle of Missouri . . . in 1999.

We so often refuse to deal with the reality of culture. The divorce rate is 50%.  49% of adults are not married.  80% of adults aged 18-29 are not married.  That is the real world. Why?

There are many reasons.  Last week I said one of the reasons is that we have become more self centered.  Today I’d like to talk about another huge reason.  People are scared crapless of marriage.

There’s this idea in the “Christian” world that marriage is less respected today.  I get that thought and I don’t totally disagree.  But I think it is a huge oversimplification of the problem.  I actually think that most young people actually do respect the idea of marriage, which is one reason they are so scared to commit to it.  They’ll do anything but get married.  They will date the same person forever, keep trying to find the perfect person, try out sex, live together and heck even have kids together.  Anything but get married.  Some of that is selfishness but some of it is just pure unadulterated fear.

What is everyone afraid of?  Several things actually.

First, in a general sense people are afraid of screwing up marriage.  They are scared they won’t be able to do it or that they aren’t ready to do it (which of course no one is).  You see they’ve seen it done mostly wrong.  It’s now more normal in our country to grow up in a “broken home” than a complete one.  Kids have grown up seeing their parents in one of two situations.  Many have seen divorce and all the cost that comes with that.  And if that is the choice then let’s not get married at all.  They don’t think divorce is ok.  They have sworn not to let it happen to them and the best way to ensure that is to avoid marriage. Believe me, I’ve talked to these people.  They’d rather have a kid out of wedlock than be divorced.  Less drama.

Secondly a lot of people have watched parents in marriages that are completely dysfunctional and they don’t want that either.  They believe in marriage but they haven’t really ever seen it work.

People are also afraid of community and commitment to others in general.  I mean think about your small group – who really is committed?  Have you ever really been completely committed to anyone or vice versa?  Marriage is the ultimate commitment. It’s the first human community – Adam and Eve with God in the middle.  That’s how it all started and it’s still the idea.  But if I’ve never had real community with anyone – how the heck do I do that with another person. . . every day. . . no matter what. . . with no exit.  Get what I’m saying? We are scared of what comes with community – fighting, getting hurt, accountability, someone knowing the worst things about me.  And there in lies perhaps the our biggest fears.

Men are afraid of failure.  We are afraid we won’t be able to do it.  Can I be a husband? Can I be a father?  I don’t know what I’m doing – can I take on that fight?  What if I fail? What if I choose wrong?  What if I’m constantly all day reminded of my failure over and over?

Women are typically more afraid of abandonment.  Not necessarily that the man will leave physically although that too.  But that he will leave emotionally or spiritually.  That somehow at some point something will happen and she will be alone.

Marriage is the ultimate test of these fears.  Making matters worse is the fact that every guy will fail and every woman will feel alone, even in the best marriage.  So why put yourself in that position.  That’s crazy scary.

I don’t have space here to go at how to face all these fears (I promise to come back to it). But here’s the point for today.  Many of us need to face the fact that we are scared.  We need to ask where that comes from because it’s not from God.  And the Church, if it is going to love singles well has to recognize and help us face those fears.  Morality is not enough in the face of fear.  More to come. 🙂

So are you scared?  What part of marriage scares you the most?  Where does that fear come from?

Singles Are Lost And The Church Is Silent

A few months ago I heard a sermon on 1st Corinthians 7 in the context of a great series on marriage and love.  Paul writes here that some people should stay single.  That part of the scripture was read, but the pastor literally skipped talking about it.  Hmmm.

Here’s the truth about the Church and singleness:  We don’t know what the heck to do with it.

There are almost no scriptures that talk about it.  There is the idea of a gift or calling to it but we are somehow unable or unwilling to actually preach on it.  Meanwhile the number of singles in our country continues to grow.  What is it we are going to tell them?

We only have one recorded conversation in which Jesus discusses it directly.  Jesus is asked about divorce as a kind of a trick question in Matthew 19 (Mark 10).  The pharisees ask Jesus if a man can divorce his wife for any reason.  Jesus answers that even though the law provided for it that it was not the original intent.  He points out that from the beginning (pre-sin) that marriage was the joining together of two people and should not be separated by man.  As we’ve discussed, this shows us about marriage and that sex belongs there.

The disciples are incredulous.  Basically they say that being married no matter what is too hard.  Jesus then takes this opportunity to say marriage is not for everyone.  Sometimes by choice and sometimes by circumstance and still other times by calling – people shouldn’t get married.

The over all point here is that singleness for the kingdom is an option.  Marriage is an option.  Both are hard and both can be worth it.  But one is not lifted over the other, or necessarily harder than the other.

That is literally as close as you’re going to get to Jesus talking about being single. However, Jesus was Himself single so we can learn things from that.

We don’t really know if Jesus was tempted by sex.  I fully believe that women were often attracted to Jesus.  To think that this man who was full of life and confidence did not attract women would be crazy.  I would bet all I own that women wanted to be with Jesus.

But, Jesus knew that He was called to be single.  He lived that out. His mission was to live the life that we should have lived and die the death that we should have died.  That necessitated a kingdom calling that didn’t include marriage.

This for sure shows us that marriage does not complete us.  A single person (by calling or by situation) is not less holy, mature, or spiritual than a married person.  Marriage is not a promise, right, or entitlement.  It isn’t necessary for a right spiritual life.  If it was then Jesus would have needed to marry to live the life we should have lived.

At the same time a person called to singleness is not more holy or special than a person who is not.  To me Jesus clearly states this.  Both marriage and singleness are hard and are a calling from God.

The huge mistake we keep making in the Church is we toss around this idea of being called to singleness but then we don’t help anyone actually figure out if they are called.  It’s like a footnote in a sermon once every two years.

This is not enough!  We can’t just say to a country that is 50% single, “Hey some are called to singleness which is great.  In fact Jesus was single so we know it can be good.  However we aren’t actually going to help you determine if that is your calling but somehow you will magically know so good luck with that.”

This lack of direction and teaching leads to all sorts of problems.  There are married people who initially were called to be single (They should not get divorced.  God’s grace can cover any mistake we make – including getting married when we shouldn’t have). There are people called to be married who are single because they don’t know how to get married.  And there are single people who just have no idea of what they are called to.  We aren’t helping any of them.

It’s time that churches step up in this situation.  We can’t just drop a line in about this now and then and hope it will work out.  If we are going to help our people as well as be missional in what will likely soon be a majority single society, then we have to actually engage this.

We have to help people figure out which way they are called and then we have to help them pursue that calling.  Anything else is insufficient at best and gutless at worst.