Focused On Which Family?

When I think about family, one of the first things that comes to mind is dinner around the table. Kids grow up there. Couples grow old there. It’s where the day is reviewed and the world’s problems are solved.  What’s amazing is even if there isn’t much to eat, you still do it together.  There is something about it.

A mentor of mine (father figure is more accurate) lives in a beautiful large home.  In that home he has a dining room table.  Interestingly the table is round, not long, so there is no head of the table so to speak.

Let me describe what happens when you go to dinner there.  When you pull up in the driveway you set off the driveway bell.  They have that bell so that by the time you get the door they are already there to greet you – usually with a hug, not a handshake.  Then you go inside.  Typically there are some drinks and often even some sort of good snack.  This is followed by the choicest of meals.  You eat this while seated around the round table.  My mentor will then have some sort of question that he wants each person to answer. (By the way, this is the furthest thing from fast food possible – you could be there for three hours – but it won’t seem like it).  He genuinely wants to know about the people around his table.

All sorts of people have sat around that table.  Politicians, dignitaries, business partners, business competitors, refugees from third world countries, people from a bunch of different walks of life, and even me.  And every one of them is welcomed and listened to.  “Now wait, we haven’t heard your story yet. Tell me about. . . . ”

It’s a picture of family – God’s family.  It’s a picture of The Kingdom.

We live in a time where it seems like the nuclear family as we’ve known it is being blown apart.  There’s the divorce rate.  There’s the fact that more women in America have their first kid out of wedlock than in it.  More and more people are choosing to not actually get married or if they do it’s much later than ever before.

This actually hurts our society in several ways (shrinking middle class anyone?). And the Church has seen it and often has become focused on changing it.  But the problem is, focusing on the nuclear family won’t turn the tide.

First, it leaves out and alienates too many people.  Families go to church.  Single people don’t.  50% of Americans are unmarried.  And guess what, most of them aren’t going to church.  Part of the reason? Focus on the nuclear family.

Secondly, Jesus wasn’t focussed on it.  Jesus said things like, “unless you hate your mother and father, or brother and sister, you are not worthy of me.”  He said, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, . . . a man’s enemies will be members of his own household”. Once when he was teaching, his mother and brothers came and he says, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” He points to his disciples and says, “Here are my mother and brothers.  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  Try preaching that one on Mother’s day.

None of this is to say that family is bad or that the church shouldn’t speak to what marriage and family should look like.  It should.  People who are married need to know it and people who aren’t need to know what it would mean if they did get married.  Not only that, but marriage and family are set up by God.  Marriage happened pre-sin in the garden.  It’s not a concession, it’s a gift.  But the problem with focusing there or calling the family “the foundational institution of human society” is that God never said that.  God’s Family is the foundational institution of humanity – not my family – thank goodness!

The point of marriage, family, or for that matter celibacy, is to point to God, how he loves us, and the Kingdom, not the other way around.  When we lift one up over the other, we limit the picture of the Kingdom and we leave people out – the exact opposite of God’s picture.

You know what the safest, most welcoming place in the world for the single person should be?  The Church.  It should be the place that calls them family, not the place that makes them feel like they dont’ have one.  You see the Church should be a place where you can find fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters.  Maybe if we could figure out how to do that, we’d have less to worry about on the back end.  What we need is for the Church to focus on the Kingdom Family.

Which family is your church focused on?  Who are your brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters?

I believe this:  There is a family dinner table – and you are invited.  When you show up the Master meets you at the door – with a hug, not a handshake.  He serves the choicest of meals.  It doesn’t matter what your story is, how “important” your earthly role is/was. Married, never married – whatever.  It won’t matter except as part of your story.  Everyone has a seat.  He wants to hear everyone’s story – your story – even though He’s knows it. There’s no hurry.  You’ve got an eternity – and after all, this is family.

 

 

Focus On God’s Family

When I think back over my 20 years of singleness, one of the hardest things to deal with is loneliness and living life without a “nuclear family.”  It means you keep switching who you live with, hang out with and often go to church or small group with.  There is very little built in permanence to our relationships as an unmarried person.

This is exasperated by the transience of our society.  We move a lot.  Sometimes this is because we refuse to just settle in and settle down, but sometimes it is harder to stay put. Why can’t you move for that job promotion or calling?  You have fewer ties.

I remember when God was calling me to a new place in my career at age 30.  One of the biggest things that held me back was that I didn’t want to start all over relationally.  When you are married and you move, you have to start over, but you get to do it with someone. You still wake up with the same person, even if it is a new place.

The Church has a huge opportunity here.  But mostly we fumble it because we are focussed on the wrong family. 

As I mentioned last week many churches have family as an idol.  As pointed out by John in the comment section, some churches flat out say this, calling the family the foundational institution of society.  Most churches won’t say that in writing, instead they just imply it by almost everything they do and talk about.  But this is not right and not from the Bible.

Jesus almost never even mentions the nuclear family, and when he does He is usually talking about it mattering too much in the wrong ways.  Now to be fair that was a different culture in which family was more central than in our current one.  However the way to fix the lack of family in our culture is not to focus on it, but instead to focus on God and His family.

Jesus certainly does.  In Matthew 12 Jesus is speaking to people, sharing truths with a crowd.  His nuclear family shows up and they want to talk to him (or maybe reign him in a little).  Jesus responds, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  Not exactly the answer we’d often hear today.

This is so important.  It’s part of what makes the Gospel scandalous.  This idea that there is new order coming, a new Kingdom where things are different and where all are welcome. He promises that those who have left all (including family) for the sake of the Kingdom will not be left out.

Again, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t teach about how to have a Godly marriage and family.  FAR FROM IT, or as Paul would say, BY NO MEANS.  In fact marriage was ordained by God (pre-sin) and it and the family can be a picture of the Kingdom when done right – so we need to learn to do it right. But what it does mean is that we have got to start from the premise of the bigger picture. A right theology of marriage, singleness and family can only start from having a focus on Jesus and His family first.

The Church should be a place where everyone feels welcome.  But right now that is often not the case.   And the reason isn’t because single people care less about God.  Here’s the truth – one of the hardest things to do as a single person is go to church alone.  It’s scary.  It’s easier to go almost anywhere else as an unmarried person.  School, work, the bar, the concert, the movies – all easier.  Especially for a non-believer (you know those people we are supposed to be reaching out to).

I’ve lived this.  When you move to a new place, church hunting as a single is brutal.  You have to be super motivated to make it happen.  Friends, when a single person shows up at your church, they are either really trying or really seeking – you need to go get them because if you do, God will move.

This starts by focusing on the Church family.  This is why it’s so important for married and singles to be friends.  As I’ve mentioned before, all my mentors have been married.  I have fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and even kids that are married as well as single.  They are my family just as much as my blood family.

We singles need to do our part.  The Church should be our permanence. That’s the promise of the Gospel and the way it’s going to be in the end anyway.  But when the focus is on the nuclear family and not the Church family we don’t fit.

What is your church’s focus?  Which family is first?

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?

The Church Doesn’t Get Singleness

Here’s a fun experiment.  Go to amazon and search for Christian marriage books and then search Christian Single books.  It’s not pretty.  (Then for real fun go through the Christian single list and try to find books written by a guy.)

Here’s the point.  The Church loves to talk about marriage.  They are like the marriage experts.  As I’ve said no matter what your theological beliefs, you can find a marriage book for you.  I mean you name it – you like Keller? Eldredge? Piper? Jakes? Bell?  You can find their take on marriage. Books about how to navigate singleness – not as much, (apparently ladies you are supposed to do a lot of waiting and being satisfied, and us guys are supposed to figure it out without any help whatsoever).

But it’s not just books.  Marriage retreats, forums, conferences, sermon series.  Its even part of churches’ missional approach, “we are going to be doing a series on marriage – invite all your friends.”

Sure somewhere in there they like to throw in the obligatory thought on singleness, which is usually short sided, un-researched, full of platitudes and impractical.  And then the best part is we kind of get a pat on the head as if to say, someday you too can be a grown up married person.

Now someone will say that I’m bitter or just seeing the grass as greener on the other side.  I’m not mad – I’m just right.  In 20 years of walking with Jesus and going to church (including the last eight at a church that has 50% single people) I’ve never had a married friend say, “The church just doesn’t get marriage.”  Single people feel it all the time.  It’s a no brainer and it’s real.

Have you ever thought about why it’s this way?  One main reason that I’ve talked about before if that most pastors don’t get it.  But there are other basic reasons.

First it’s just flat easier to talk about.  There’s more clear scriptures on marriage.  There’s not much on singleness and exactly zero on dating.  Also, it’s more obvious if a marriage is in trouble than if a single is.  So the fact is it’s just easier.

Second, married people fit the church structure better.  They are more comfortable showing up to church to begin with. Much easier to go with someone than alone.  The church knows that if you love kids then you will get parents.  A lot of Christian parents are married – (side note – we are not very good with single parents either.  Holy smokes.  Let’s hold another moms group during the day – that helps – yikes).

The truth is almost everything we do is set up for the family – training the family, protecting the family, growing the family. In fact I would submit that family is an idol in our church today, but that is another post.  Now it is helpful as a single person, especially if we didn’t grow up with it, to see and be engaged with solid families and I’m all about that.  But where does the non married person fit into all of that.  What real practical help are we giving to them for where they are right now?

Third, the church assumes that you should get married.  We talk about being called to singleness but we do absolutely nothing to help anyone determine that.  Our theology of singleness is messed up at best and completely lacking at worst.  

Finally, because they don’t know what to do and what to say, they offer up spiritual platitudes about waiting on God, not settling, perfect definitions of who we should marry, and how to not have sex – which is their biggest concern.

Now some of this is our fault as singles.  Here’s what I mean.  We are way more likely to church hop (in fairness some of that is due to the stuff above).  We can leave any time – we don’t have to convince a spouse or pull kids away from their youth group.  Secondly, married people typically give more money and assume more Sunday leadership roles.  I can’t back that up with statistics but I’d stake any amount you want on that being true. We often have less invested.

But here’s the thing, and you, me, married people, the church and everyone else might want to grab a hold of this.  The day of reckoning is here.  50% of America is unmarried and the trend is upwards.  80% of people age 18-29 have never been married and that trend is upwards.  So unless the church wants to get smaller it might want to think about how to help, reach out to, walk with, encourage, engage, and challenge singles.  They might want to figure out how to empower them in leadership.  Perhaps they could help them figure out and pursue their calling to marriage or to celibate ministry.

The church could be a place where singles are welcome, treated equally and held accountable through real relationships.  Or it can keep ignoring reality and miss out on the opportunity.

Sibling Interaction

I find myself in all sorts of amazing random places.  About 10 years ago I was having a lunch meeting with a guy who I’ll just call an Old Testament Scholar, although that doesn’t even begin to describe the intensity and knowledge of this guy.  I was with him for about two hours and we had maybe 6 different very intense conversations.  I want to share just one.

We were in the car driving to lunch and talking about dating etc.  He asked me about my family and what siblings I had etc.  I told him I had two married parents and a younger sister and brother.  He said, “So you know that you are supposed to learn how to interact with the opposite sex in your family right?” Silence. He went on, “That’s where you first learn how to treat girls by how you see it in your family.  So how did that work in your family?”

Boom!  I was kind of in shock and we weren’t even to lunch yet.  But you know what, he was exactly right.  One of the reason’s many of us are single is that we don’t learn how to properly engage and interact with the opposite sex.  We need to think about this.

Now let me say that I came from a great family over all.  But this area was shaky.  I was the oldest and my sister was two years younger than me.  Now in many ways I was a pretty good brother, but when it came to honoring her as a girl, well, not so good.  I think this really started when we were little and we would play.  I of course always wanted something with competition (and since I was the oldest I set the rules ha). What would happen over and over was she would want to stop playing.  She just wanted to do something different.  But I would be mad – I would say she was quitting etc.  Here’s where the femininity thing came in.  My parents would always say she was younger, or tired, or something like that.  There was never really a sense of, “Hey she is a girl and girls might do something different.”  Not only that but most of the things that were applauded were guy centric stuff.  This put a lot of pressure on my sister and meant that I didn’t really learn to interact on her level.

This played out all sorts of ways later.  One big example I can think of is that for many years she had a horse.  She loved that horse.  She rode competitively and even had some events.  But, I never one time in all those years went with my sister to where her horse was kept, let alone went riding with her.  I had about zero investment in anything that my sister cared about.  In high school I distanced myself from her and certainly didn’t honor her.  I was not a good big brother, and it wasn’t expected.  I’m telling you that not learning how to interact well with her affected not being able to interact well with women.  And remember, I had a intact, solidly moral family.

How you interacted in your family as a kid affects how you interact with people now.  This includes your comfort level with the opposite sex.  It includes how you treat and understand the opposite sex.  It affects everything actually.

So how did your family interact?  How was femininity (and for that matter masculinity) treated in your household?  What was honored?