How To Survive A Marriage Sermon

As a single person it’s easy to feel a lot of different things at church.  You can feel marginalized, left out, treated as less mature and worst of all lonely.  People forget the amount of guts it takes to go to church all by yourself.  Now often single people are invited by friends but for example when you are single and you move to a new place it takes some courage.  You don’t have a partner to go with.  I know, I’ve done it.  Same thing with checking out a small group.

But there is nothing that can bring out the bitterness, loneliness, or venom like the Marriage Sermon or worse – the Marriage Sermon Series.

I will admit that there have been times in my 20+ years of singleness that I have skipped those weeks.  Usually for one of two reasons.  Either I was hurting at the time and didn’t want to think about it, or I just figured there wasn’t anything in it for me.  That was wrong.

So today I want to talk about how to survive a Marriage Sermon.

Let’s first acknowledge that a lot of churches screw this up when it comes to singles.  One way is to not acknowledge us at all.  It’s like they just kind of assume we aren’t in the room. Another way is they often throw in a spiritual platitude or two without actually addressing it. This to me is actually worse.  Things like mentioning the gift of singleness without actually talking about it, or saying that we need to know this stuff for the time when we will be married.  AHHHHHHHHH.  Drives me crazy!

But we need to show up and here’s why.

First there is a difference between a sermon (series) on marriage and one directed solely to marrieds.  Most in my church are the first.

This is important.  Regardless of where we are going to end up, married or not, we need to have a right theology of marriage.  We need this because if we don’t understand marriage, how the heck will we understand whether or not we want to get married.  The more I understand it the more I can determine if I’m called to do it.

Secondly, it’s not just about you.  A lot of our friends are married (please see my posts pleading with you to be friends with married people) so it might be a good idea to know what they are going through.  If we are going to live in community (and for that matter the world) we are going to be interacting with married people.  Whether in community or on mission if I’m going to love married people well – and we are called to love people be they married or single – then having a working knowledge of how that all works would be key.  We like to talk about how the church often doesn’t seem to let us lead married people.  Well, what wisdom will you offer them if you don’t seek to understand marriage?

Thirdly, a lot of marriage issues have to do with selfishness and relational issues.  Hmm, I’m pretty sure we have those.  We ought to be able to pull some stuff out of those messages that could help with our friendships and other relationships.

Another big point is that a lot of marital issues ultimately stem from the colliding of two stories.  In other words marriage has the potential to bring out a lot of wounds from peoples’ pasts, relationships, and upbringing.  I think as a single person it is easier to hide these wounds (which can often be in the way of getting married in the first place).  So maybe, just maybe we could think about how our upbringing and wounds affect us as single people.  This is huge.  Why not face that stuff now?

This is one of the great advantages that marrieds often have.  What most of the people I know who go to marriage counseling take out of it is stuff that is wrong with them, be it wounds that need to be healed or sin patterns that need to be stopped.

I don’t know what the ratio of married people to single people in counseling is but I’m willing to bet it’s pretty high on the married side.  I promise you they are not more screwed up than we are.

I think we need an attitude adjustment here.  Look, I get it.  It can hurt.  It makes us realize what we don’t have and in fairness the church needs to figure out how to do singleness sermons (series).  They are wrong to not address it specifically.  But that doesn’t mean we should skip out on what they are doing right. So go and listen – for your own heart and for the hearts of others.

Your Pastor Doesn’t Get It

So as I mentioned I go to a church that is around 50% single.  We have a great lead pastor and a mentality that we can talk about almost anything from the pulpit.  Unlike most churches we even talk about sex as it relates to marrieds and singles.  We actually have “PG 13” sermons.  It’s one of the things that after 7 years I still appreciate.  Many churches never even mention this stuff and certainly not from the pulpit.

That said, they are fairly clueless beyond sex.  In fact I’ve never heard singleness mentioned in a sermon in which sex wasn’t mentioned.  Almost every example of a single person in a sermon has something to do with sex.  (For free – if all the single people would quit having sex – they’d quit talking about it).

This is mainly bad for what it doesn’t do.  It doesn’t address many of the traps for single people (loneliness, intimacy issues, bitterness, et. al.).  It doesn’t help married people in the church love their single friends. It doesn’t offer much to singles who are already not having sex. It doesn’t help single people feel equal to married people in the church.

But this post is not to rail on pastors.  I want us single people to step back and just realize that they don’t get it.  Some pastors don’t think anything about it but I think most do.  The problem is that most pastors have never been single.  Seriously.  Think about it.  Name the single pastors you know. Single pastor is almost an oxymoron. In fact name the pastors you know that got married after 25.  There just are not very many.

This is not to say that someone can’t teach on something that they haven’t experienced.  That’s a terrible argument.  But it helps to do one of two things before teaching on something – you either need experience or you need study it.  Most pastors have done neither.

It is far easier for me to counsel married friends than for my pastor to counsel single people.  For starters every single person has read books about marriage.  There are thousands.  Heck, you can even get a marriage book to match your theology.  Who do you like?  Piper, Keller, Eldrege, Jakes, Bell?  Everybody has one.  Ok, now name the book your married friends have read about singleness. Whoops  Secondly there are very clear scriptures about marriage – what it is, what it is for, what the roles are etc.  There is very little about singleness and most of it is interpreted wrong (teaser – future post).  The point is that I know way more about marriage (while I haven’t experienced it and I’m not claiming to “get it”) than most pastors know about singleness.

So what do we do with this?  Should we just be mad when our pastors don’t talk about singleness in a way that helps – That’s a waste of time. We’ll talk more about some of this but for starters we can:

1. Don’t tune out the marriage sermons – a proper understanding about marriage can save our butt as we navigate dating and the decision to marry.  And we all have married friends who need us to love them.

2. If we are in a position of leadership (you are serving right?) we can make suggestions that are helpful.  Earn the right to be heard – don’t yell from the cheap seats.

3. Cut your pastor some slack and realize that they love you even if they don’t get your situation.  Seriously – especially if they try.  Pastor’s hearts break for their people.  Trust me I know this to be true.