The Perils of Singles Ministry Part Two

 

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This is my second and final post on my experience with church singles ministry.

I should make it clear that I have never felt rejected or discriminated against by other Christians  for being single and divorced in my church. The problem is not so much that single Christians are discriminated against. The rest of the church forgets they are there. They are not important enough to discriminate against.

This can be bad for a church because single people are not “burdened” by families and can be an asset for a church. They have more free time and they can contribute more to church ministries. Instead, a lot of churches do not seem to know what to do with single Christians because they assume there is something not right with  them.

In the secular world there is a movement known as the Marriage Strike or Sexodus where some young men are giving up on marriage and choosing to stay single. Unfortunately, instead of using their singleness and more freedom to do something significant with their lives, they tend to withdraw into a fantasy world of internet porn and video games. Single people tend to have bigger DVD collections than married people.

I doubt if I had been able to do my Master’s degree if I had been married with children.

Christian singles should look upon their time of singleness, however long it may be, as an opportunity to advance God’s kingdom in ways they could not do if they were married, rather than a time to make as short as possible.

Evangelical churches place a lot of emphasis on families and children, as though they are the only ones there. Single people contribute financially to churches through their offerings, but often, little or none of the churches’ resources are devoted to singles. I agree raising and discipling the next generation should be our priority. I would not like to face their challenges. But there does not mean there has to be any competition or conflict of interest between ministering to families and children and ministering to singles. What is good for singles is also good for families.

Just as singles need to really believe that their value and wholeness is found in Christ alone, rather than a human relationship, so Christian families and children can only spiritually survive the onslaught of internet porn, social media, gender issues, consumerism, etc.,  if they have faith that their value and wholeness come from Christ alone, not these idols.

I am concerned that some churches may inadvertently be working against this. They place so much emphasis on families and ignore singles, that they can send the message that if you are not part of a nuclear family, you don’t count. They are sending the message that it’s not Jesus who is the source of our value and significance, but our families. If we unintentionally teach younger people that their value and significance comes from something other than Jesus, we should not be surprised if they give up on Jesus altogether and look for their worth and wholeness in whatever else the world has to offer.

My church puts more effort into its Mothers’ Day service than its Easter Sunday service. That’s not an exaggeration. The service is used as an outreach to attract mothers but at the same time it alienates some single people who stay way from Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day services.

There are also those from dysfunctional families who must feel alienated at services focusing on how wonderful parents are.

Christians need to come up with a theology of divorce. When I was a young Christian, I was basically told God had picked my perfect match out for me and I should trust God and wait. If you think this through – if God has chosen someone for you to marry and God also wants marriage to be for life, then Christian divorces just should not happen. When my marriage broke up, it was shattering, like truth was broken. I felt betrayed by God and it took me years to recover. I do not think I am the only Christian who has ever felt like this.

Christian marriages do not typically end through mutual consent. There is usually one side who has no say in the matter. But this one tends to disappear from church. They do not know how to process the feelings of shame and abandonment by God. Churches do not appreciate how much effort it takes for some divorced and single people to stay in the church.

Contrary to those who quote Jeremiah 29:11 out of context, God is not here to give us a prosperous and successful life. God’s purpose is to be holy and to have a deeper relationship with Him. This is more likely to be achieved through suffering rather than success (Romans 5:1-5, James 1:2-4. 1 Peter 4:12-13).

This can include divorce. In one sense being divorced has been a good thing because it has enabled me to see some of the problems with the evangelical churches and not to be contented, which I probably would not have been if I were just another middle class family man.

As I said earlier, a singles group can be a refuge for single people  where they do not have to fell like they are the odd one out  and they have been left behind while all their friends are getting married. But then I became part of the problem by getting married.

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The Perils of Singles Ministry Part One

 

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I recently stopped being single. For several years I was involved in the adult singles ministry in my local church and I thought I would share of the problems I have experienced.

I am not having a go at my church in particular. I am not aware of any evangelical churches in my city with thriving adult singles ministries. Some of our problems seem to be almost universal in evangelical churches.

I believe the underlying problem is idolatry. Too many Christians’ sense of value and wholeness is not based on their relationship with Jesus who loves and died for them in spite of all their sin and who dwells in them making them fulfilled and complete. It is based on being married, having a successful family and other middle class values. These things are not necessarily wrong, but they become idols when we try to find in them when what we should be finding in Jesus.

When I joined my current church after a complicated divorce, struggling with shame and rejection, I didn’t want to join a small group full of happy married couples. There were sign up sheets for small groups so I picked the one with the least number of married couples. The couples in this group felt out of place and soon left, making it an adults singles group.

I came to develop the idea of singles group as a refuge. Married people may genuinely accept and not judge single people, but in spite of their good intentions, it can be hard not to feel like the odd one out. A singles group could be a place where single people can be with other people like them and not feel the peer pressure of having to be married.

On the other hand in A Call to Resurgence Mark Driscoll suggests that some single people do not mind being part of groups with couples and families because they see them as substitutes  for the stable families they did not have.

I have noticed a gender imbalance among singles. I attend a relatively large church, yet there are hardly any single men between 30 and 50, but several single women in this age group.

This means that the single women in the church are going to stay single or they are going to find non-Christian boyfriends and husbands. I have seen some do this, stop coming to church and they say they are so happy. They have turned their backs on Jesus and eternal life but they are happy because they have got a man and they can be normal again. It looks like deep down they never truly believed their value and wholeness came from Jesus. Of course, the churches are full of married people who also don’t believe this. It is just not so obvious.

There is a  book by Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Marrow explaining why women outnumber men in many churches. Being both a man and single is doubly difficult. They do not feel welcome in our churches –  you know, guys like Jesus, Paul and John the Baptist.

A friend of mine in his 40s came along to church once. He sat in a row. No one else sat in the same row or in front. When it came to the time in the service when they say hello to the new people, he turned around and everyone behind him had also turned around, ignoring the new person. For some reason, he didn’t come back.

On the other hand, if he had come along with a wife and a couple of kids, people would have been falling over themselves to meet the new family (James 2:1-5). But who would have the greater need – a nuclear family sitting together or a middle aged man sitting on his own?

Still, we cannot blame the church for the problems of single people. Many single people are single for a reason. At one church when the singles group went to the cinema, the men would go off and sit together and the women would sit somewhere else. They were not a strict fundamentalist church where the sexes were segregated, just some evangelicals  wondering why they were still single.

The reason some single people are still single is because they do not associate with other single people. I would have thought it was obvious that if we get a group of single people together, some of them will stop being single. Instead, many single people would rather sit at home by themselves, rather than get out and make friends with people they have something in common with.

(There is another overlooked category of single people with health issues. They are too sick to get out and meet people.)

Others are still single because they have an instant gratification approach. They come along to a singles group with the purpose of finding a husband/wife. They look around and if they don’t see someone they like, they don’t come back. It never occurs to them that their potential partner might come along in a few weeks, but they will not be there. They are not interested in making new friends or building community and supporting other single people. They are looking for a way to stop being single.

If you do not want to make friends with other people, you probably should not be married. Another role of singles ministry should be for single people to work on their social skills so they will one day make better husbands and wives.

Some single Christians seem to feel they do not have a legitimate place in the church and society, so they want to stop being single but they do not want the stigma of regularly associating with other single people. Good luck fixing that. As I said before, the underlying problem is idolatry. Their self-worth is based on being married, not Jesus.

In contrast, Paul wrote that being single is the preferred state and marriage is for people who lack self-control (2 Corinthians 7). This should make us wonder how far our nice middle class family values are from true Biblical values.

To be continued.