Honoring Vows: Conversation With A Priest

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?

I’ve written a lot here about celibacy and how that calling and commitment is different from what we call singleness in our culture.  I’ve talked about different ways we can come into that calling.  I’ve also discussed how we have a major problem in protestantism as it relates to this because frankly we have no theology of celibacy.

But I must honestly say that while I can perhaps give some great theological pictures of it and biblical support for it, I sometimes feel that I’m not much help to the people who are actually called to it, other than being on their side and fighting for them where I can.

I’m hoping that parts of my conversation with this gentleman might be of help at some level as well as give more understanding to those of us who aren’t called or gifted with celibacy.

Let’s first back up for just a second and refresh our thoughts on what exactly I’m talking about here.  I’m not talking about the not yet married, the divorced or the widowed, although I think some of this applies to them at some level.  What I’m talking about here is people who are called and/or gifted with celibacy.  Those who have made a commitment or even vow to celibacy for the Kingdom.

As one priest put it – we all make a first vow – that is to Jesus.  But then we make a second vow – some of us to God and another person (marriage vow – serving God from that context) and some of us to God and no one else (celibacy vow – serving God from that context).

This man, long ago, made that second vow to celibacy.  Here’s what I learned.

This man had great freedom and he lives joyously in it.  I want that to be an encouragement.  In no way did this man feel he had “missed out” on marriage.  He uses this to serve God in ways that others can’t.  As an example of this he left our gathering at midnight because he had a meeting – with a college man he is mentoring – at 2 AM**.  He couldn’t wait to get there.

My point in sharing this is that a lot of times there is sense of feeling sorry for those called to celibacy.  Or at the least a feeling of, “I could never do that”.  But the truth is, if you are called to it, not only can you do it, but you’ll probably love a lot of it.  If you are called to celibacy there are great advantages and opportunities to live in that.  It’s not a second class place in the Kingdom.  Not in any way.

A second thing that I took away is that the vow, while real, is just that.  What I mean is that just as you make a vow to a spouse and then have to choose over and over again to honor that, the same is true to vow of celibacy.

We tend to have this belief that if we are called to celibacy and make the vow that there are not struggles or questions about that.  In other words there is no temptation to break that vow.  But he assured me that this if false.

I asked him about what that looked like.  His answer was refreshing.  He said, “It is a vow.  And yes I sometimes have to fight to honor that vow.  There are temptations.  I have sexual desire from time to time.” He joked, “Heck every time I have a hard on I have to remember my vow.”

That may seem crude but he didn’t mean it to be.  His point was that a vow is something that will be tested and that is no different just because his vow was different than mine to my wife.  Just like not every man who makes a vow to a woman honors it, not every person who makes a vow of celibacy honors that.  It’s not just a one time ceremonial moment.  It’s an over and over again living out of and choosing that vow.

If you are called to celibacy and have made that vow or are thinking about it, I think this would be both sobering and encouraging.  On the one hand, just like the marriage vow, you could break it.  There will be temptation.  On the other hand, just like the marriage vow, you can choose not to break it, even when everything in you wants to.

It’s also important for us as the church to realize that just as we try to help people live out and honor their vows of marriage, we can do the same for those who have made a vow to celibacy.  If we have a better understanding of what celibacy actually is, we can do that.  Supporting a person called to celibacy is completely different than supporting those not yet married, the divorced and widowed.

 

** I understand that this freedom comes from not only celibacy but also his particular job.  However it is still an example of living joyously within his calling – which is the point.

It’s Time To “People Up”

I have a confession.  For a long time, I thought the way to fix things was simply fix the men.  In fact I remember a meeting where another guy and I were planning a men’s retreat.  We said basically that if we could just fix the men, then the rest would fall in line.

This is the general consensus of a lot of evangelical leaders today.  I’ve talked about this ad nauseam here.  I’ve talked about blaming men, the man problem, the idea that if only men would ask women out, and on and on.

While I think that there are a few people waking up to this complete over simplification of the problems in our culture, it’s still rampant.

The good husband is almost always the butt of the joke in secular culture media and perhaps worse in a lot of Christian media.  Divorce is almost always seen as the guys fault – in the courts and in the church.  Men are the sexual sinners, not women.  40% of births in our country are out of wedlock – that’s just the men’s fault – which makes absolutely no logical sense really.  Delayed marriage in our culture – men won’t commit.  Lack of guys at church or as volunteers – can’t be anything that we are doing wrong – must be the men are worse now.  It’s everywhere.

We have a man problem we say.  A father problem.  An immaturity of men problem.  A video game problem.

The solution to this of course it to get men to “man up“.  So we create all sorts of web pages and sermons.  Some attempt to be encouraging. In other words “come on men – we can help you fulfill all of your societal responsibilities and save everyone else.”  Others are more “challenging”.  Just beat on the men, yell at them and about them until they “get it”.  Of course there is now even a MAN UP APP.  No lie.  It’s true.

It’s not that some of the thoughts and advice on these sites aren’t good.  Some of it is good.  But the problem is the premise.

The truth is that we don’t have a man problem.  We have a people problem.  We have a sin problem.  And men are both people and sinners.  You know what though?  Wait for it.  So. Are. Women.

This is true even when it comes to singleness, dating and marriage.  Want proof?  40% of births are out of wedlock – up from 10% in 1969.  It takes men and women for that to happen.  Women can be controlling and aggressive in relationships too.  Women are more likely to initiate divorce.  Women cheat as well as men and celebrity women think thats ok.  I could go on and on.  The point here isn’t to bash women.  By no means!  The point is twofold.

First and foremost we are all sinners.  Second, you won’t hear many sermons or websites pointing to that last paragraph and saying we have a woman problem.  In fact I would be willing to bet you can’t find one.

There are a bunch of reasons we as the church have fallen into this.  Male pastors like being the best man in the room.  We want the culture to like us and right now the culture says we have a man problem.  We want to be feminist friendly.  Many sincerely believe that if men were better that the women would just automatically fall in line (which is actually sort of demeaning to women if you think about it – do they not have moral agency?).  Men in the church will either take it or leave.  These are just a few of the reasons.

All of this is extremely counter productive.

We have to stop doing this if we want any of the trends we don’t like to change.  The singleness and delayed marriage – or total lack of marriage – trend is a prime example.  It is not a man problem either.  It is a people problem.  We have to start addressing it as such.

When it comes to men specifically, maybe, just maybe we should ask ourselves why we are where we are.  What I mean is, lack of guy volunteers, lack of guys coming to church, lack of guys asking out our favorite single women etc.  Maybe we should resit the urge to look at them, call them names, tell them how bad they are and challenge them to get on board with us.  Instead how about we start with this question: What are we doing/have we done to create this?

Here’s what I know.  There was no secret men’s meeting where we all got together and said, “Let’s quit volunteering.  Let’s quit going to church.  Let’s play video games instead. Let’s delay marriage.”

If less men, and for that matter less singles period, go to church, perhaps we should look inward first for why, before calling them out and blaming them.  Maybe instead of asking singles to suck it up and men to man up we ought to ask everyone to people up.  And maybe, just maybe, we ought to take a good hard look in the mirror and “church up”.

The Church Is Fighting Yesterdays Battle

Right now there is a lot of reporting out there about the American Evangelical culture and it’s impending doom.  While I think that reports of it’s death have been greatly exaggerated, it should lead to a lot of reflection in all sorts of contexts.

As I watch it unfold and watch the church interact with the culture in several ways and in many different contexts I see a couple of things that we have to get past.  These things play out in all sorts of different ways, but of particular interest here in the space, is in relation to singleness.

Here are two major problems (not that there aren’t more – as well as many good things) that I see over and over again in different cultural exchanges.

First, the church is in constant reaction mode and almost never in leadership mode.  There are numerous reasons for this including insulating ourselves and living in fear of everyone else’s opinion.  We want everyone to like us – and come to our events.

Secondly, we come late to every fight.  Now in fairness – we almost always get there – just not usually first, or when the problem starts.  So bottom line, we react to what is going on around us too late, and then fight the battle that we should have fought earlier.

There are sooooooooo many examples of this in the last 50-60 years.  Marriage is one – I don’t remember the protests when no fault divorce was being ratified state by state across the country.  I don’t remember bakers not doing third weddings?  But now we want to take a stand on marriage.  Here’s one happening right now.  We are now in the last decade or two really figuring out that we ought to do poor urban ministry – heck we should even all move there.  But the next wave – it’s already coming – is called the rural poor.** I’m not seeing a bunch of hip young believers heading out there to “live among” the people.  That’s probably a little harsh.  But the point is valid.

What made me think of this is a recent sermon series from a church about family.  I’ve talked a ton here about the the churches nuclear family idol.  To this particular church’s credit while they did talk about the nuclear family, they started and clarified that the church is a family and we have many different family make ups.

But regardless it was their series description that got my attention and that I want to discuss today.  The first part of that read something like this: Our families are in crisis, marriages are crumbling, kids are hurting . . . .Rediscover how the family (read nuclear) can be transformational.

I’m not picking on this church today.  But this is a great example of the problem.

For starters, the idea that families are crumbling is only sort of true.  Actually most marriages aren’t in crisis.  The divorce rate is actually going down slightly for first time marriages.  Even better news is that the idea that divorce is rampant among practicing believers is not true at all.  The funny thing about this is that the church probably should take some credit here.  But instead of pointing to the success of their marriages, they are reacting to the sky that was falling 25 years ago.

The reality is that the boomers caused the divorce rate to skyrocket. They’re still doing it actually – now they are leading an all time rise in “gray divorce“.  But the new problem, the one going on right now, is not divorce – it’s lack of marriage.  It’s the fact that people aren’t getting married.  The new “family” problem is not “My parents got divorced”.  It’s literally that “My parents were never married”.

You see while people aren’t getting married (or divorced – as much) they are still having sex, living together, and having kids (sometimes alone on purpose – future post).  40% of the kids born in the U.S. today are born out of wedlock.  Don’t look for that number to drop.

Basically what we are doing is telling all the people who probably won’t get divorced, how not to get divorced.  I guess that’s good.  It’s for sure easier.

The problem we are facing now is different.  Why aren’t people getting married?  We have to be willing to actually look at the real answers to that.  Why aren’t they at church?  66% of the people that don’t go to church are unmarried.  We have to be willing to deal with the real reasons for that.

If we want to go make a difference in culture we have to figure out how to talk to single people.  We have to stop being the church for the family and start being the church that is a family. We need to stop looking to save the family and start trying to save the people.  If we do that, the family part will take care of itself.

 

** For free – Read that link and ask – where’s the church in this story?  We should be going there now.

 

Will She Go With You?

Over the last three posts we’ve been talking about Servant Leading, what serving has to do with attraction, and the fact that in marriage the man is the head which has many responsibilities including loving (serving and leading would be a part of doing that well). You may want to read those before you dive in here.

Today I want to talk about as a single man, knowing the previous thoughts, how should that affect how you go about things in terms of dating and looking for a wife.  There are at least two parts here: How we prepare ourselves and who we seek to marry.

The number one thing has to be that you have to be going somewhere, and that needs to start with following Jesus.  Now I’m not saying following Jesus perfectly.  That’s a ridiculous standard.  But are you overall submitted to Him?  If not, you need to try to move there.  If you move there, typically He’ll give you some direction.  If someone were to ask where are you going – do you have an answer?  Does the first part of that answer sound something like, “With Jesus.”?

The second thing you need to think about is the role you have as a man and how to best exercise that role.  The idea of headship in a marriage should be exciting and humbling at the same time.  With it comes responsibilities.  But if I understand that as my role, then I’m better able to become the man I need to be to fulfill those responsibilities.* Or as I heard in a sermon recently – If you know who you are, you’ll know what to do.

Let me also state that while both of the above can be hard, they are not only essential but doable.  We have to embrace them.

Now, let’s talk about this from a dating perspective.

First of all, you are not – I repeat not – the head of your date.  You have zero authority. That doesn’t mean that you can’t lead while dating – see this post for more thoughts on that. But you don’t yet have that role in your date’s life which is important to remember both in terms of pressure on yourself and frankly for her as well.

Secondly, I would advise you that as you are dating someone to ask the question, “Would this person respect my role and come with me?”  I could list 100 qualifiers for that statement (this doesn’t mean you command something and she says yes etc) but none of those change the general question.

If the answer is no, then you need to not marry that person.  It will not go well.

Here are two “pictures” of that from my own life, one from dating and another from ministry.

After some dates with one woman we began to talk about what we wanted in life, in the near and far future.  We weren’t getting real deep here but just talking and getting to know more about each other. In the midst of that conversation she said, “I don’t ever want to leave this town.  Ever.  My family is here, my life is here. I couldn’t marry someone who didn’t think they would always live here.”

I knew right then that this wasn’t going anywhere.  It’s not that she was a bad person or even that she wasn’t a Christian.  But that is not my life.  I told her that.  I would go wherever I thought Jesus wanted me to go. I had to know that we would follow Him wherever, no prerequisites.  We stopped dating shortly after.

The other example was in ministry but I think it paints a picture of what it would be like if you married someone who didn’t come with you.  In the ministry that I lead it means going to where kids are.  We go to their turf.  It’s what we do.  I lead other people to also do it. Some people do it with me and some don’t end up doing it.  I remember a meeting with a volunteer who was struggling.  This person said, “I feel like you don’t care about me as much as this other person.  You talk to them more.  I can tell you are close to them and I don’t feel close to you at all.”

I thought for a moment because they were right.  But the reasoning was the problem.  I said, “Well it’s not that I like them better per se.  I like you.  I believe in you and love you. But here’s the difference.  They are in it with me.  They show up.  They go with me as I go. You don’t show up.  My job is to lead people in this mission. That’s where I’m going.  If you want to be with me – you have to actually come with me.”

Now again, I could list 100 caveats and talk about how this can look all sorts of different ways.  But the general truth stands.  You can’t make everyone follow you.  Jesus let people walk.  It’s complicated.  Jesus pursues us yes.  He left His throne to do it.  And yet He doesn’t make people go with Him in response.  And He doesn’t chase them either. The rich young ruler walked.  A man says, “Let me first go bury my father.”  Jesus said “Let the dead bury the dead – follow me.”  The gospels and parables are full of this.  Sometimes you have to let people you wish would come with you walk.  It’s true in life.  It’s true in ministry.  It’s also true in dating.

Remember that marriage is a picture of the Kingdom (as is Celibacy).  They both point towards the Kingdom in unique ways.  Part of the marriage picture is this idea of response to invitation.

I would strongly advise you as a man not to marry someone that wouldn’t go with you. You may be thinking, “Bro you have no idea.  There just aren’t that many women out there like that.”  Maybe.  But there are more than you think.

You need someone who will come with you.  When I do weddings I always tell the groom that the bride needs to know that he isn’t leaving no matter what, and I tell the bride that the groom needs to know that she is on his side no matter what.  I know that both of those will get tested.  But they are necessary.

This doesn’t mean that the only qualifier for a spouse is that she would come with you. However I would tell you that it is one of the essential qualifiers and one that often gets overlooked when the woman has a bunch of other qualities that you are looking for.

I wouldn’t advise marrying any woman who didn’t respect you and who wouldn’t have a posture of going with you as you follow Jesus.**

 

 

* I first read about this idea of roles then responsibilities on this post.  I think it is helpful in seeing that how we view the order of roles and responsibilities is extremely important.

** I would also advise women not to marry anyone they didn’t respect or want to go with

You Can’t Serve Your Way To Attraction

In my last post I began talking about this idea of being a servant leader that we toss around in Christian circles.  I’m not going to rehash all of that here.  You might start by reading that post.  Today I want to talk about the servant part and in another post I’ll talk about the leadership side.

I want to clarify a couple of things quickly.  I’m not suggesting here that we shouldn’t serve people.  Not at all.  We often should.  Again, Jesus served.  He called us to serve others.  What I’m suggesting that serving and leadership are not the same and our motive for serving matters.

Jesus did not serve in order to gain followers.  He didn’t serve to earn relationships.  The reason Jesus is the greatest servant is because he didn’t have to serve at all and yet chose to.  Not only that, but He gave the ultimate service in dying for us.  Jesus served His followers.  But again He didn’t serve to get followers.

Not only that, but Jesus knew what people actually needed not just what they wanted.  He didn’t serve them based on what or how they wanted to be served.  Think of the washing of the disciples’ feet.  At no point did the disciples think, “we’ll like Jesus more and follow Him more if He would wash our feet.”  In fact Peter saw it as an affront at first.  He knew who Jesus was (or at least was coming to know) and he knew that Jesus was the one who should be served.  That’s what made it so incredible.

So what does this have to do with being a single man in the church?  Here are some thoughts.

First of all, we need to understand a very important fact.  Despite what we are sometimes lead to believe by evangelical leaders, you can not serve your way to attraction.  What I mean is that there can be this idea that if I serve a woman she will be attracted to me.

Let’s say you really like a girl.  You are attracted to her and you want her to be attracted to you.  One line of thought is that you need to get to know her and do things for her or even “minister” to her.  She is moving and needs help so you volunteer to help move her.  You’re in college and she needs help studying so you help her study.  You offer to carry things for her.  You open every door for her.  You look for every opportunity to serve her.  She is going through a hard time and you are “there for her”.

Those are all fine things.  But none of those things will make her attracted to you.  If she is already attracted to you, those sorts of things could help advance the relationship at some level.  But they are probably at best neutral in terms of attraction.  However, if she is not attracted to you and she knows you are attracted to her it could be a negative.  You could end up in the nice guy/friend zone.  You are meeting her needs which is great for her, but that won’t make her attracted to you.

On top of that, and this gets back to how Jesus served, if you are serving to get her to like you (be attracted) really you aren’t being a servant.  There are strings attached.  Women see right through this.  They might take the help.  But that’s as far as it is going.

This is one of the ways that nice guys get clobbered over and over.  “I did all of this for her and yet she chose this other guy.  He does’t do anything for her . . . ”  Well that might be true.  But too bad.  First of all, that’s not part of the deal.  Service means just that.  Pure servanthood operates without expecting anything back.  Also it doesn’t matter because if the other guy who doesn’t serve her is who she is attracted to, then . . . well . . . she is attracted to him.

What I’m saying here is that serving the girl is fine.  That’s your choice.  But if you do it so that she will date you, then that’s really on you.

Jesus served out of strength.  He did it out of love.  Not romantic love or “feelings” love. He doesn’t call us to do it out of those things either.  He wasn’t qualifying himself as worth being with by serving.  He was already worth being with and they knew it.

This by the way carries over into marriage.  We tend to sell guys on this idea that if they do certain things they will get certain results.  Serve your wife to “earn” points (I’ve actually seen Christian leaders say things like this).  But that’s not sacrificial service.  That’s selfish service.  It’s for sure not leadership.  I don’t do the dishes so that my wife will like me better.  I do it because why should I not do it.  I do it because she made a great meal and the least I can do is help clean up.  But I don’t do it expecting her to have sex with me. And I’m not counting on it making her want to.  I’m for sure not doing it to bank “points”.

Let me be clear once again.  I’m not anti serving.  But I’m saying don’t serve with an expectation of a result for you.  Don’t serve to be more attractive because it won’t make you more attractive.  Don’t serve to get something in return.  Serving is not a tactic.  And it won’t work.

Finally let me add this.  If you are serving someone in an effort to chase or get them to like you, I’d stop.  Stop being the nice guy.  Stop putting yourself in the friend zone.  Stop trying to earn it.  Don’t be used in that way.  I spent significant time there in my life.  It’s not effective and it won’t help you.  Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Servant Leadership Confusion

I was recently at a conference where we spent some time talking about leadership.  The conversation was centered around what makes a good leader and how do we be good leaders to others.  One of the interesting things that was said was something to the effect of the only way to be a good leader was to be a servant.  This is of course a common theme in Christian culture.  And like a lot of themes in Christian culture it’s only sort of true.

I’ve been giving the idea of leadership a lot of thought lately – both in the context of my job and in the context of singleness and marriage.  You can see some of my thoughts about leading while dating here.

I think in our context as a Christian man, be it single or married, this idea is very confusing.  Partly because we use a lot of words like servant and leader interchangeably and I’m not so sure that’s helpful.

We tell men to lead.  We say in fact that you should lead.  That our leadership is needed.  We are told to serve.  We are told that Jesus’ model of leadership was servant leadership and that we should follow that example in life and of course in marriage and often even in dating.  So let’s unpack that all a little.

Here are some important conclusions that I’ve personally come to

You can be an effective leader without being a servant.  Now this will undoubtedly bother some people.  I guess it sort of depends on how you define servant.  Let me rephrase.  You can be an effective leader without being what Christian culture calls a “servant leader”.

I know this because I can quickly name several historically effective leaders that weren’t what we would call servant leaders.  Just for starters: Hitler.  Genghis Khan.  Alexander the Great. I don’t think you can argue that they weren’t leaders.  But you wouldn’t call them servant leaders.  Now you could say they served in a sense.  They gave people vision, or hope, or purpose bigger than them.  Maybe they even provided protection or riches for their people – which could be a sort of service.  But I don’t think we’ll be calling any of them servant leaders.

My point is that leadership and servanthood – at least as we typically define it – are not the same at all.

To be a leader you really only need two things.  You need to be going somewhere and you need to have someone following you.  If you don’t have anyone following you, you are not a leader.

Now Jesus was indeed the greatest leader in history.  Even from a common sense secular point of view.  This is a guy who had no army, no land, no money, no committee, no title, no political office etc.  He had a three year public life, lived in a small geographical area and really only talked to a few thousand people, most of whom also had none of the afore mentioned advantages, was executed and yet changed the world and we are still talking about it 2000 years later.

Jesus was also obviously the greatest servant of all time.  He left His throne, gave up his power, met people’s deepest needs and gave his very life for each of us.

But here is a thought I have – and I’m not saying this is exactly right as I’m still working it out:  It was not Jesus’ servanthood that made Him a great leader but instead it was who He was, partly as a leader, that made Him the greatest servant.  In other words, in order to wash your followers feet – you have to have followers.

Feel free to wrestle with that.

At this point you’re probably thinking, “Ok Justin.  Neat stuff.  But what does this have to do with singleness?”  As a man, looking for a spouse, I think it has a lot to do with it.

 

We spend a lot of time telling men that the need to be the leader.  Be it in dating or marriage.  We also tell men that they need to be a servant, like Jesus was a servant, to their wives and too often by extension to women in general.  In other words, “Be Like Jesus to get the girl” and then “Love your girl like Jesus would and everything will go right.”  Leadership of your girl/wife means serving your girl/wife.

But if we have the wrong view of what that means, which many in Christian leadership do, then we are setting ourselves up for at best a lot of frustration and at worst utter failure.

I’m going to get more practical in the next blog or two about this.  But for today I want to leave you with some questions to ponder.

Why did people follow Jesus?  Why would a woman follow a man?  What does serving another person really mean?  What does serving have to do with attraction?  Are women attracted to leaders?  To servants?

Singleness as Identity, Context or Vocation

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.

Being single or married has become a core identity for us, maybe especially (though certainly not limited to) in the Church. This is a real problem because in the Church we are supposed to be one family.  We aren’t really supposed to divide ourselves up by category and then just hang out with the other folks in that category.  The Church should be the one place where your category doesn’t matter.  We are all of equal value under the cross.  We all are sinners. Jesus thought us each valuable enough to come and die for.  Sin and the cross are the ultimate equalizer.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t offer practical teaching, guidance and wisdom for people in these different contexts.  But we have to start with the fact that at the core we are created in God’s image, all have sin, and all are loved by Jesus.

Adding to this, singleness is not really even a biblical category.  You could be unmarried, divorced, widowed, celibate by gifting, by the sin of man, or by choice for the Kingdom. This is really important because it affects how we see ourselves and how we set people up within the church.

Being unmarried is a context that you may be in.  But that is not the same as your identity or for that matter even your vocation.

This matters for those called to Celibacy because Celibacy for the Kingdom is not simply a context they find themselves in.  It is a calling and a vocation within the Church, at least historically.

Vocation is an interesting word in our culture.  It’s not really what your job is necessarily.  It could be.  But really your job could be simply your means to your vocation.  In fact, as a lay Christian, this is always true.  Let me explain.

Our first vocation as a believer is to follow Jesus and represent the Kingdom wherever we go.  This was our original created vocation going back to Genesis.  We were created to know God and advance His cause.

But we also have a secondary vocation.  That is either to be in the married vocation or the celibate vocation.  As I heard a wise priest once say, “The first vow we all have to make is to Jesus – to be committed to Him. Then we can make a second vow – either to God to be in celibate ministry or to God and to another person.”

Now here is where we screw it up in Protestantism.  We equate the vocation of celibacy with the context of being unmarried.  This is unfair to both the person who has the vocation of singleness and the person who doesn’t.  We need to honor the person who is called to that vocation by recognizing the Kingdom picture it represents, honoring their pursuit of that, and giving them the support they need as well as utilizing their gift and choice.

At the same time we need to not saddle the people who are not called to that with the responsibilities, lifestyle or teachings that those called with that vocation have.  Instead we need to support them in their context, help them navigate it, and ultimately help them pursue marriage.

In short.  Being unmarried is not an identity group and shouldn’t be treated as one.  It is a context that people are in.  For some it is a vocation they are called to.  Recognizing all of that sets us up to serve, teach, empower and support each group.  Not recognizing that hurts everyone.

We should instead identify people first by who they are in Christ, created to by God to know him and advance the Kingdom.  Secondly we should help them pursue their secondary vocation from whatever context they are currently in.