My Church Doesn’t Get Singleness And I’m Mad Pt 2

Yesterday I said that a reader had posed the question, “what do we do about anger at the church when it comes to singleness?”  I offered some reasons why it’s important to deal with and some reasons why that anger can be legitimate.  I then said we could leave the church, ignore the problems, or actually engage the problem.  If we choose the third problem I offered that there are at least three things we need to do.
  1. Do our best to understand why it’s the way it is, and trust that most of it is not personal.
  2. Earn the right to have a voice.
  3. Exercise our voice in a way that can be heard.

Yesterday I offered some thoughts on part one.  Today I want to comment on part two and three.

The second part is vital and it starts with this.  We need to do a good job of loving people. We need to love an help shepherd younger single people.  We need to have married friends and learn to minister to them as well.  We can speak into married people’s lives and marriages.  We need to love our married friends well – and this includes loving our married church leaders well.

If we want to change the stereotypes then we have to be different.  There is no reason why we can’t lead a small group with married people in it. Attitude is important.  For example, what do we do when there is a marriage sermon series?  Do we check out, or double down?  How I love other singles, married people, and leaders in the church carries weight. What I’m kind of saying is get off of the defensive, “no one gets it” level and onto the “I’m an equal follower of Jesus and I’m going to live it” level. Church leaders may not pick us to lead naturally, but we have to actually try to serve and lead.  Maybe more than once.

This leads naturally into point three.  That is, once we’ve earned the right to have a voice, freaking exercise it.

I’m not saying it will be easy or that they will listen to that early on.  But that doesn’t mean they won’t listen at the end of the day.  What I know for sure is that if we don’t speak, and don’t act, then nothing will happen.  But if we earn the right and speak up, someone (not everyone) will hear us.

Someone once posted in the comment section , “I wish I was brave enough to share this post with my minister and elders”.  I’m not trying to be self promoting here, but if you like something I or someone else writes about this stuff, share it with people that count.   Have conversations (not just complaining sessions).  Point out that the bible talks about celibacy and that maybe your church should think about it.  Go missional on them (churches are all about “being missional”) and tell them that 50% of people are single and that those people are WAY less likely to go to church.  If they approached it differently maybe those people will come.  Speak up when it’s not right, not just under your breath to your friends on the way out the door, but with your elders and leaders that you’ve earned the right to talk to.

What we need is to lovingly challenge the church.  Not softly mind you.  Firmly and with conviction, but in love, for the good of the whole body of Christ and for the lost.

Offer solutions, and offer to help make those solutions happen.

This blog, and my whole writing and speaking ministry, started in one conversation about four years ago.  My church had a singles seminar that went bad.  I met with an elder and pastor at my church and after some niceties said essentially, “So, your singleness seminar sucked.”  They knew it.  Now understand, I was mid-30s, had helped our church plant a new campus, led several community groups and genuinely loved these guys.  I said, “Look, here are some of the things I would have maybe talked about.” and I shared some new ways of looking at it, from a single perspective.  Less than a year later they asked me to come to a weekend on Marriage and Family (of all places) and present on singles and marrieds together.  I just finished teaching (with another single person) a four week course on Singleness and the Gospel at my church.

Now does it look like it should?  No.  Do we as a Church get it?  Heaven’s no, not even close.  But is God moving in it? I’d say yes.

I don’t have a list of easy answers but here’s my point.  We can sit around, be mad and/or be the victim, or we can get off of defense, go love people, trust that they might have a good heart, forgive them for what they probably don’t even realize they are doing, without selfish ambition offer ideas – and then back it up.  It needs to be bigger than just me and it needs to come from a heart of conviction, not bitterness.  It will not be easy, but it could be good.

The question isn’t “does the church get singleness?”  It doesn’t.  Maybe a better question is if my church doesn’t get singleness – what am I going to do about it? If we don’t initiate the conversation, then who will?

My Church Doesn’t Get Singleness And I’m Mad Pt. 1

A few weeks ago, a reader asked me if I would write a post about anger at the Church and what to do with that so I thought I’d take a stab at it.

Let’s do two things by way of prologue.

Bitterness Is An Enemy and Not From God

I’ve written before about how as a single we can easily fall into the trap of bitterness. There are a lot of mad singles.  I’ve been there.  Believe me.  There is an anguish.  There can be a sense of entitlement.  There is a sense of loss and we react to it.  I’ve written before that we can be mad at God, mad at women, mad at other guys, and mad at ourselves.  All of these are important things to consider and deal with.  I believe that we are mostly mad at God.  Really all of us at one time or another feel this.  We can also be mad at The(a) Church which brings us to:

The Church in general and in particular within protestantism, has really messed this up.

I mean it’s not good.  Where to begin?  The don’t get it.  And maybe worse, they don’t like it.  We don’t honor or even teach about celibacy.  We often don’t let singles into leadership.  The church is in a defensive position on marriage, and is actually often unwittingly helping to hurt marriage in the process.  The Church as a whole has created an idol out of marriage and family.

Rarely does a church address the singles in it’s midst (let alone the outside of it) and when it does, mostly what it does is tell us is what not to do, wait for the one, and then your questions of sexual prowess will magically be answered.  Of course as a guy the church has told us it’s all our fault, and therefore we are all (men and women) set up to fail.

So basically most of the church’s answer to singleness is to offer spiritual platitudes, worry more that we might marry wrong that if we would marry at all, and never address any of the things that we go through – including have to walk into their doors all by ourselves. And that is just a brief warm up.  So yeah, there is a lot to be mad about.

What Do We Do With It?

The real question isn’t are single people generally frustrated with the church.  It’s not even should they be, because frankly they probably should be. The real question (and the one that the reader was wanting to know) is what do we do with it.

I think there are three choices really.

  1. Say screw the church and leave – if I get married think about coming back
  2. Go to church at least at some level, but not engage the battle.  Maybe find a church that at least isn’t anti-single.
  3. Engage the church, forgive our leaders, earn the right to be heard, and then fight for what we know is right.

We all know option one is wrong, but it is an option.  The problem here is that it hurts the church, and that really shouldn’t be our goal. Taking ourselves out of the equation won’t change the equation in our favor (or anyone else’s).

Option two is where a lot of people I know (and myself for a long time) seem to be at.  It’s kind of a surrender really – this is just the way it is.  That is easier in a lot of ways and I guess at least you are there.

But option three is where I think we need to be.  So how do we do that?  We need to do three things.

  1. Do our best to understand why it’s the way it is, and trust that most of it is not personal.
  2. Earn the right to have a voice.
  3. Exercise our voice in a way that can be heard.

Today, I want to tackle the first one and tomorrow I’ll write about the other two.

I’ve written a lot about this part before, but let’s sum up some thoughts that can help.  We need to understand that the leaders of the church (most of the time) have the right heart, even if the wrong solutions.  There are so many factors in play.  Many in the church are looking around and watching the family fall apart.  They see it and want to help. This is where all the family focus and effort comes into play.  It’s why there are hundreds of Christian books on marriage and family.  They are trying to rescue the family, which isn’t all bad.  To their credit, I think these resources have helped a lot of families make it. That’s a good thing.

They also don’t want to see us hurt ourselves or others, which is why they constantly are worried about sex outside of marriage and all that goes with that.  As I told an audience of singles at our church, the surest ways to get the pastor to stop talking about not having sex, would be if all of our singles would . . . stop having sex.

And finally as I’ve written about before, on a practical level most pastors and church leaders have never been single.  They really don’t get it.  It doesn’t mean they don’t care. They just literally don’t understand.

What knowing these things can do, if we can get past the bitterness, is allow us to forgive people for getting this wrong.  I think we have to start there, because otherwise it’s just about us and that’s not enough.  This whole thing is way bigger than just our own personal situation.  It’s a real problem in the Church and we have a chance to help.  More on that tomorrow.

Shame Crushes Confidence

I know of a wise older gentleman who asks men that visit him three questions: “Are you good looking or not?” “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” and “Do you have a big or small penis?”

It’s kind of funny. It’s sort of offensive.  It’s for sure brilliant.

How a guy answers those questions is everything.  Does he answer honestly – even with himself?  Where does the answer to each question come from? They are all relative questions – what is it that guy comparing his answer to?  When was the first time he answered each of those questions?  What answer has the world, his dad, his God given him?  Every guy has answered those questions in his head – just not out loud.

Most men spend their life affected by their deep seeded answers.  They either run from it, avoid it, cover it up, or rail against it with anger.  The kicker is most of us have the wrong answer, or at least the wrong idea of what the answer means.  Very few of us own our answers.

They are the type of questions that haunt our confidence in who we are as men.  We often look for the answers from women.  It’s why single men don’t act  and why married men are afraid of their wives.

The kicker is this, most women don’t really care that much about any of those questions. But how you answer them will affect everything you do with women – whether you are married or single.

These three questions (or similar ones) get at the heart of three areas of our life that we are insecure about.  Our self image, our shame, and our sexual prowess.

I’ve written a lot about our self image, including when it comes to how we view our looks. Later this week I’ll write about the sexual prowess question.  But today, I want to focus on the second question.  What is the worst thing you’ve ever done?

This question has to do with shame which flies in the face of the gospel.  For some there is fear of being found out, for others the fear of being disqualified.  Many have been carrying it as a secret for a long time.

The funny thing about the worst thing you’ve done question is there’s a good chance it’s not actually the worst thing you’ve done.  It is however, what you are most of ashamed of.  But most of us have never actually said this out loud, to anyone.  Many have not even said it to God. Shame is a powerful tool of the enemy.  Shame means we are unreconciled with God. Think about that.

Shame causes us to look away when we shouldn’t.  It causes us to withdraw, back down or act out when we think it might be exposed.  What we hide in the dark, makes us afraid of the light – and freedom (as well as confidence) is in the light.  Worst of all, it holds us back with Jesus because He brings light to everything.  As a secondary problem it holds us back with people – including the opposite sex.

Shame crushes confidence.

The only way to crush shame is to bring it out into the light and deal with it.  It’s the only way to know which parts of it are our fault (so we can repent) and which parts aren’t (so we can heal).

We have to start with the truth that Jesus is serious about both forgiveness and healing.  If we don’t believe that then we will spend our whole lives in the dark.

You see the follow up question to what is the worst thing you’ve ever done is this, “Do you know that you are forgiven for that?”

Either the cross took care of every sin or took care of none of it.  There really can’t be any in between.  So if I think that Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us, then I have to figure out how to believe that I’m forgiven for the worst thing I’ve ever done.  We know it intellectually and biblically. But most of us don’t live out of it at all.

Here’s the truth.  Because of the cross, you are forgiven for everything you’ve ever done, everything you’re doing, and everything you ever will do.  That’s either true or we are screwed.

There are also some of us who are carrying shame because of something that happened to us that we have falsely interpreted as our fault.  Again, the only way to get at this is to bring it into the light.  Once it’s in the light, we need to know that Jesus, through the power of the resurrection makes all things new.  There is nothing that can’t be made new – nothing.

What does it mean to bring something into the light and deal with it?  I think it means bringing it before God and someone else.  I think to own it means to share it with someone. This can obviously be dangerous.  But we have to take the risk. If we don’t have community, pay a few bucks and see a Christian counselor – hey married people do it.

If we don’t then we will continue to shrink back.  Shame will keep us dating no one (or the wrong people), fearing commitment, or if we do somehow get married, insidiously impact our marriage.

What is the worst thing you’ve ever done?  Who have you told?  Do you know you are forgiven? Really forgiven?

Are You Disqualified From Marriage?

One of my favorite movies is Good Will Hunting and my favorite scene comes toward the end.  Will (played by Matt Damon) is meeting with his counselor (played by Robin Williams).  Williams pulls out Damon’s file and talks about all the abuse he has faced in his life.  He then says, “Will, I don’t know a lot, but this, all of it, it’s not your fault.”  Will says, “I know” very nonchalantly.  Williams then says it again, and again, and again until finally Will, after getting very agitated, falls into his arms.  You see Will knew intellectually that it wasn’t his fault, but until that moment he didn’t KNOW that it wasn’t.

I think we do this with forgiveness.  Around a year ago I was having a cigar with a good friend.  This guy is one of the best guys I know – smart, fun, talented and a good friend to people.  Without going much into his story he has some issues with religion.  As we were sitting there discussing this I said, “You know that you’re forgiven right?”  He stopped in his tracks. He kind of tried to skirt the issue but I just kept hammering it.  A month later we met up and he said, “Thanks for screwing up my life – I mean that.”  He knew it intellectually but he just then began to KNOW it.

I bring this up because I think it relates to thoughts we can have as a single person.  We watch marriages around us and we think about all the reasons we are not married.  One of the things that can creep in is “It’s because I sinned.”  It’s as if we think somehow we have disqualified ourselves before God.  Now we probably wouldn’t ever say this but if we are honest many of us have had the thought.  God is not punishing your sin with singleness.

Now if you have unrepentant sin, that could certainly get in the way of getting married, among other things. Let’s say for example you are sleeping around, that might not be the best time to say to God, “Will you just bring me a spouse.”  It’s important to understand that how we are living affects our situation.  But that is not what I’m talking about here.

What I’m saying is that you are not disqualified from marriage because of sin.  God is not holding out on you or punishing you because of it.  It’s not a marriage qualifier.  If it was, no one, and I mean no one, would be married.  All the people you see married – they have sinned too.  You say, “Well Justin, you don’t get it, I’ve done really bad in this area of life.” You’ve slept with 100 people, dated the wrong people, had an abortion, looked at porn, or masturbated a river. . . I do get it.  God’s grace is bigger.  You are forgiven.  God is not holding it against you and keeping you from having a spouse because of it.

I think we kind of understand forgiveness as a means to salvation – which is mainly an intellectual exercise.  I don’t think we get it as a means to freedom in life – we don’t live out of it.

This is extremely dangerous as a single when we assign it to dating.  First of all as I mentioned earlier, you don’t earn a spouse.  Secondly, it can lead us to very bad choices because we have a bad view of ourselves. We can decide that we have to marry someone who has sinned the same way as us, which can lead us to bad situations and rule out people.  We can think, well I’ve had sex so I have to marry someone who has, I’m divorced so I have to marry someone else who is.  The list goes on.  That’s not a very good approach.  It also leads to the idea that singleness is a punishment from God.  But worst of all, it short changes God’s grace.  It basically says that God’s grace is good enough for salvation (a ticket to heaven) but it can’t free me from much here.  That is a lie straight from hell.

If you are in Christ, your sin is forgiven and you’re not disqualified from Heaven.  You are a new creation.  Jesus has paid for it.  Which do you think is easier, getting you into heaven or getting you married?

You know you are forgiven right?  How would you date different if you knew you were free?