Why Married People Need A Singles Sermon Series

Recently, I was asked by a pastor friend of mine to help him consider how to handle singleness from the pulpit and frankly throughout his church.  I of course said, “Read my blog – duh.”  Just kidding.

First of all, this man should be commended for taking it on and asking questions (not just of me).  I’ve written before about how your pastor probably doesn’t get it.  This is how one gets out of that situation – because anyone can get it.

Now I have some thoughts on what a sermon series on “singleness” would look like.  I’ll share some of that soon.  But one of the things I think a pastor runs up against if he wants to talk about singleness from the pulpit is that most likely the majority of his audience will be married.

This is one of the good reasons that churches do marriage sermon series.  They are trying to help people who are married.  And they know if they do have single people there, that most of them want to be married and therefore might be able to gain something from it.  In fact as I’ve written before – as a single you really should pay attention to that sermon series.

But the problem comes when this same pastor wants to talk about singleness.  How does he “sell” that to a mostly married crowd?  Today I’m going to tell you exactly how I’d do that.  In other words, I’m going to tell you why all this stuff we talk about here should be important to married people in the church.  Very important actually.  There are many reasons, but here are a few – in no particular order.

For starters, most married people, have single friends.  They work with single people, live down the street from them, sit next to them at church.  Married people need to know how to best minister to these people – and not from a place of superiority.  I think there are a lot of married folks who want to care about their single friends but don’t know much about it.  Learning more would help.  In the same way that I tried to learn to minister to my married friends (and even challenge them) even though I wasn’t married, married people need to do that as well.

This leads to a secondary point.  50% of American adults are unmarried.  Most of those people (as in literally most) don’t go to church.  So if we are going to invite a friend to church, there is a good chance they will be single.  If we are serious about reaching out into the community, learning how to think about singleness and the Gospel is pretty key.

Another reason married people need this information is that many of them entered marriage under wrong premises.  Yes the marriage sermon helps here.  But so does the sermon about not being married.  When you knock down all of the spiritual platitudes that we tell single people (God has someone for you, hasn’t brought you the one yet, is waiting for you to be ready, save yourself for marriage, etc.) we also help married people who are struggling in their marriage because they believed in those exact platitudes and now they are being let down by them.

Let me promise you this.  If a church did a gutsy sermon series on the unmarried and the Gospel, they would rock a lot of married people’s worlds.  In what would eventually be a good way, some crap would hit the fan.  Not only that, but there would be some marriages that are struggling in which by the end of this series, they would become committed to figuring it out.  They would be thankful.

Talking about singleness in all it’s forms, also reminds married people, that yes, you are in a covenant relationship for life, but your identity is not in that.  You were created unmarried and will be resurrected unmarried.  Not to mention, that talking about the holiness of celibacy also raises the holiness of marriage.  When we look at both together we get a better picture of the Kingdom.

Further, most married people will also become (or already are) parents.  If I had a church with a lot of parents of adolescents, I for sure would want them to know the stuff we talk about here.  Because how else are they supposed to help their kid walk through it?

Parents need an accurate view of what is going on out there.  If all they know how to offer their kids are the spiritual platitudes that the church throws out to the unmarried, they are setting their kids up to fail – and possibly fail hard.  It is vital that parents understand as best they can the scene today and all that goes with it.  The more they understand the better they will be able to advise, comfort and hopefully guide their children.  I don’t think this can be overstated.

Finally, and maybe most important, many of the things that we need to talk about with singles, have just as many (if maybe different) implications for those who are married.  The Gospel is the Gospel.  Switching contexts won’t change that.  Just like I’ve heard pastors say in a marriage sermon, “Single folks this applies to you” they would be saying, “Hey married folks, this applies to you.”

 

 

 

When In Doubt, Blame The Men

One of the problems in our evangelical culture today when it comes to singleness and marriage is the message that is sent over and over again that men are less spiritual, more sinful, and less mature than women.  It is said from pulpits, in interviews on tv, and of course in books.  It’s all part of the Christian “Man Up” industry.  It assumes women are innocent and men are not.

In case you don’t believe me read the following quote from one of the biggest names in evangelical culture today.  At the end of a blog post to single women he writes,

To my single sisters wanting to marry, I do not want to discourage you in any way. But, the truth is that it is harder to be a single woman than a single man as a Christian. Every poll I have ever seen says that single women are generally more mature and responsible than single men. Men are waiting until around 30 years old to marry for the first time, if they ever do. And, they are going for younger women, according to the statistics. Across Christianity, there are far more single women than single men, which means that the odds are not in the favor of godly single women. In addition, for theological reasons, many Christian women do not want to be the dating initiator, asking guys out and taking the lead in the relationship.

All of this together means that godly single women live in a complex world that is increasingly more difficult for those who want to marry and have children with a godly man. Love, prayer, friendship, support, counsel, and community are needed more than ever.

This is complete and total nonsense.

First of all, let me be honest in the interest of full disclosure.  There was a time where I would have agreed with this statement.  I would have said that if men did what they were supposed to do then women would be set.  I was a part of the “man up” group.  But I was wrong.

Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t think there are a lot of men that need to step up and become better men.  Are there men that need to learn to lead, initiate and get past their own selfishness, idols, and insecurities?  Uh. . . yeah. . . all of us, including me.  But to lay the problem of increased singleness in the church at the feet of men and say, “hey it’s all your fault” is extremely short sighted, only addresses half the equation and does both men and women a lot of harm.

There are three main ideas that I believe are completely false and/or overblown.

For starters the idea that there are more Christian women than men is complete garbage.  I’ve been working in full time ministry for the last 20 years mainly with people aged 15-35.  I’ve worked with literally thousands of people in that age range.  I’ve been in church that whole time, have helped lead small groups, and even helped plant a church. Here’s what I would say.  There are indeed more women who go to church.  There may be more women who say they want a godly marriage. But that means about jack squat when it comes to how people act and what they do with their lives.

Which leads into the second idea that women in their twenties are more “mature” than men.  What exactly constitutes this maturity?  I know that the statistics on college and church attendance lean female.  But I’m not so sure that equals maturity. Been on a college campus lately?

But most egregious to me is the idea that men are more sinful.  Especially when it comes to sex, dating and marriage.  This idea that men are just about sex and women are some sort of “victims” is wrong.  Women are obviously having sex.  How do I know? Because men are.  It takes two to tango so to speak.   Amazingly, women also sin.

This whole line of thinking has a profound effect on singles in our churches (and frankly marriages).  For starters (the list is much longer and deeper):

  • It fails to address why men are not going to church, getting married, or even finishing college (or other “mature” things).
  • It fails to address women’s sin in any way
  • Completely ignores attraction and choices involving it.
  • It makes women the helpless victims and absolves them of their choices
  • Embarrasses the men in church who women don’t date – of which there are many
  • Doesn’t help any of those men learn anything that will help them get married
  • And most of all, creates more disrespect of men within the body of Christ.

Think you aren’t affected by this?  When a man says he can’t meet a Christian woman what do you think vs. what you think if a woman says the same thing?  What’s the first thing you think when you meet a divorced woman vs man?  When you see an unwed mom – whose fault is it?  When a woman can’t get a date vs when a man can’t?

I’m not suggesting we switch gears and put all the blame on women. The truth is there are a lot of reasons for the rise in singleness and the decline of marriage. But it’s everybody’s fault – not just men’s.  Plenty of blame to go around.

I’m also not saying any of this from some sort of whiny, mad place.  It’s just a fact.  If you keep telling men it’s all their fault, you’re sending the wrong message to everybody.  Maybe some nice men who your women won’t date will jump on board.  Maybe women will cheer you and feel better that Sunday.  Maybe you will be the hero to women in your congregation.  But mostly it will just create more of the same and we can’t afford that.

 

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.