Friday, March 05, 2010

The Christian singles mess

What a great way for me to get back into the swing of things by replying to a post from my old friend Dan at Cerulean Sanctum, who is a modern day John the Baptist. By that I mean he has long hair, eats strange things, and doesn't shower often.

Dan responded to a Facebook post from fellow blogger Tim Challies about the "problem" with Christian singles today. Tim wrote:

One of the biggest problems in the church today is the failure of young adult men to value and pursue marriage.

First, I'm impressed that Tim can even spot single men in the church. They're the most ignored people in any given congregation. Dan aptly responded by pointing out that, hey, let's not leave the blame with the guys.

It was almost always the woman who broke things off in a relationship. I knew a lot of single Christian guys, and they were typically the dumpee, not the dumper. These were good guys, too. They WANTED to get married. It’s just that their girlfriends didn’t—at least not to them. So just who is putting off marriage here?

I've been a singles minister and spent possibly thousands of hours talking to single men and women online since 1996. By virtue of my own singleness, it has been the center of my personal ministry as an adult. Now, as a widow after seven years of blissful marriage, I'm getting a grasp on the complete awkward nature of being a single person at the beginning of middle age.

Are my credentials set? Good. Let me lay one on y'all:

I've never actually met a mature Christian single who didn't want to get married, didn't constantly dwell on feelings of inadequacy of being a single Christian, didn't abhor the isolation that comes with being a single Christian in virtually every congregation, didn't dread every moment when certain married Christians would come by and pass judgment -- usually passively and even unwittingly -- by NOT inviting the single people to their couples gatherings.

I don't know where Tim goes to church, but it seems to be in another universe than the one I live in. Even the immature Christians have a great burden to get married to another Christian because they are told over and over and over again by Christian culture (and often times by their own church, by way of agenda, if not outright from the pulpit) they are incomplete Christians until they are married.

No, Tim, I'm sorry. You have it wrong.

One of the biggest problems in the church today is the failure of the church to teach singles how to live a life of purposeful singleness

I agree with Dan, as well, about younger Christians -- often females -- who keep impossible checklists for the kind of mate they're looking for. And, yep, that list shrinks as life goes on.

What I feel I need to add to Dan's post is that we have ruined an entire generation of young Christians with programs designed to produce the type of behavior we prefer but fail to deliver grown-up hearts sealed with Christ. We have seemed much more concerned with tertiary issues like abstinence and not concerned enough with primary issues like teaching young people to become servants of the kingdom of God.

What's worse is we promise these kids things we can never deliver, like that perfect prince or perfect princess they're supposed to be saving their virginity for. We DEIFY marriage for them at an early age, turning it into something to be worshiped, and possibly something actually unattainable. It puts them on a mission for that person they can't live without, instead of looking for that person they can live with.

I have met good women who have gone through life terrified of men, not because they've had bad experiences with them, but because they've been so committed to the cause they took up as teenagers, they have almost no relational experience with them. I have met good men so discouraged by the constant rejection in pursuit of the thing they've been taught to pursue, they have all but lost hope and given up.

But none of them suffer from a low value of marriage. None of them have spent a day celebrating their singleness. Not in this culture. Not under the constant barrage of Focus on the Family and weekly Sunday sermons on family, marriage, raising children, etc.

And that, my friend, is a major problem.


Denise said...

Good insight...I'm sharing this with all my single friends:P

Bill Kinnon said...

I look forward to more posts from you, Matt. And I'm glad Jason pointed me to your blog. Welcome back.

Open The Gate said...

Enjoyed hearing the thoughts from a man who "has credentials" to speak on both sides of the marriage/single issues. I have none to speak of, other than a 37 year marriage which began when I was 21. That lands me squarely in the group that typically "doesn't get it" when it comes to adult singles conversations. I can not attest to the perception and/or reality of "church" being a couples activity, for the most part. I can say it is easy to generalize in a way that tends to support your place, whether single or married. I have no doubts that the church (organized church)slants toward being married in programs, messages, and overall culture. However, I would also remind us that we all are involved in family...single, married, or whatever. Issues like parenting are just as important, if not even more so, for singles as for married couples. The church has a responsibility, not to stop talking so much about famiy and raising children, but to be more intentional on how that relates to and can be effectively applied to singles as well as married folks. The concept of "family" is not a marital status issue, it is a human race issue.

Open The Gate said...

Just a quick follow-up. The church ALSO has a huge responsibility to speak directly to singles about being single. We have not done that very well in an effective, integrated way, in my opinion. We segregate much more effectively than we integrate in most of our church "programs."

Jason Coker said...

Nice post Matt. Challies is pretty keen to take up the masculine banner, as though male assertiveness is somehow endangered - an idea I just don't get to be honest.

I really liked Mark's statement above:

"However, I would also remind us that we all are involved in family...single, married, or whatever."

We have a few single people (most of who are divorced, actually) in our little church plant, and it's occurred to me that I see them as part of the bigger family, not necessarily as "single."

Now, I think that's good, so far as it goes, but I'm sure there's an element of blindness or overlooking to it as well. I really agree the church needs a more robust culture of affirmation regardless of one's marital status.

Matthew Self said...

Mark, I think nothing radical needs to change in most churches. Singles don't need to be coddled or pandered to. What needs to change is singles need to be acknowledged by the church body. I almost wish we could start an "adopt a single" drive where couples would include a single in their activities.

A church with a lot of singles has an advantage -- they have people with no marital obligations and no children. Both Jesus and Paul said this was great, because it meant they have more time to serve the kingdom. Why haven't churches taken advantage of this? They could build armies of singles who serve the church. In the meantime they'd be working together and, dare I say, meeting each other. ;)

Matthew Self said...

Jason, I see marriage as a special role in the same general role of kingdom servant. It means you are now serving one person's needs before you go out and serve the world. It's not a license to become an exclusive servant, only serving your spouse, or only serving other couples, which is sometimes I think the message that comes across intended or not.

John said...

Matt, an insightful post. I was a singles ministry leader in a medium-sized church for a season. One of the observations I'd made , and saw the stigma firsthand, was the fact that the world's concept of singleness was often imported into the church. There were times when Christian men AND women would show up with the sole intent to *cruise* the pickin's. My intent with those who came - either to cruise or to fellowship - was to encourage and equip them to serve, develop gifts of the Spirit - to, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 12, "show them a more excellent way", that being single did not mean they were an obscure half-of-a-whole, rather each was whole in both themselves - and in Christ. Much of this was accomplished through un-learning the world's ways.

I believe the key is as you've stated... a core duty of the church is to equip the saints for works of service. Yet fruitful service flows from being rightly connected to the head. With that in mind, equip singles for the Kingdom of God, teaching each to allow Jesus to be the lover of their soul... then trust Him to work out the distinctions and details with each. To reach for less would be to open one's self up to the world's cheap imitation of what being single is. There is also a great need to teach couples to identify the social stigmas which have been tossed at us from birth... the result being a greater degree of connectedness between couples and single brothers and sisters. I wish Paul would have written, "Neither jew nor greek, bond nor free, SINGLE or MARRIED - but a new creation... though it is implied.

On a final, VERY relevant note, having been married for over 30 years and now being in a place of seeking my first love, having joined the ranks of Christian singleness myself, I see the above as a model with solid biblically-based concepts and principles. NOW I get to try it on - to apply the same in my own life.... daunting... challenging... I just know that it cannot be through any other means than His... because now I ain't just talkin' 'bout it... now I get to go out and do it.....

Luke said...

Ow. So true it hurts.

Anonymous said...

...told over and over and over again by Christian culture (and often times by their own church, by way of agenda, if not outright from the pulpit) they are incomplete Christians until they are married.

Isn't that just the Christian version of "You're not REALLY an adult if you haven't Gotten Laid"?

Anonymous said...

Just popping in to say nice site.

Jen S. said...

Anonymous -- I think so.

Vicki S said...

I'm surprised!

I'm a single Christian woman in my 50s who came to terms with the possibility that I might remain single when I was in my late 20s. I'm surprised that you've never met a mature Christian single who didn't want to get married, because I've met a number over the years. I'm one of those that doesn't care one way or the other, if do I remain single or if I get married - my focus has tried to be on what God wants for me.

I'm surprised also that you've never met anyone who "didn't constantly dwell on feelings of inadequacy of being a single Christian." I've met many who don't. Yes, we may feel frustrated when we are treated as inferior or inadequate within the church, but there are many of us who place our lives in God's hands and seek to fulfil His purpose for our lives. We believe that God has a purpose for us in our singleness. We don't necessarily feel inadequate or inferior or incomplete or in need of a partner.

Are there singles who desperately desire for love and marriage? I'm sure there are, and the church certainly doesn't help that. Are there singles who don't care either way? Yes there are.

I was a Christian singles group co-ordinator for 15 years where our aim was to provide social outings and friendship - not matchmaking. Members shared their experiences as never-marrieds, divorcees and widows/widowers and many found that the church was failing them.

When I first began the group, I contacted many of the local churches and asked them to share information about the singles social group with their parishioners. The majority of the churches weren't interested in providing this information to their singles, and some even reacted in a hostile manner towards me! Unbelievable attitude from some!

The isolation for singles certainly can be a real thing within churches, particularly the attitudes towards singles, and we sometimes find that we must be wearing an invisibility cloak :)

At this stage in my life, God has called me to a new ministry - I put together a free quarterly electronic magazine for Christian adults, with a focus on singles. The majority of the articles are suitable for all, and hopefully the married Christians who read it will find some insight into real the challenges for singles. (