There’s no question that the times they are a changin’. A boy born in 1900 has more in common with Moses than with a boy born in the 21st century.
One change that many have sought to comment on is the number of singles. Somewhere around 40% of Americans are unmarried. The average age of those marrying has risen significantly in the last 20 years (read the book in the first link for details).
This has not gone unnoticed by many churches and pastors. As a current single man, I’m glad they are noticing. Their response, however, has left me disappointed. Many churches and pastors have responded by emphasizing marriage and family less (Most of Driscoll’s recommendations are solid…its just the implications of the first paragraph that I take issue with) and have focused more on coaching singles to “remain content” in their singleness.
Now, I’m all about remaining content in where you are at. That’s what Philippians 3:14 is all about, after all (NOT a prooftext for athletes searching for sporting victory!). However, what bothers me is what these folks think “being content” looks like.
If a single person voices his desire to get married today, more often than not he will get a rebuke from both the world and the church. Those in the church might say something like this: “Paul says its better to be single. You can serve God better. You just need to be content and focus on Christ. If God wants you to marry, He’ll bring you a mate. Don’t take matters into your own hands. If you do, that’s getting in the way of God’s plan for you.”
The problems with this are legion. First, we miss the fact that 1 Cor 7 was instruction given “because of the present crisis.” I don’t think today in the West falls under a “present crisis.” Paul wasn’t talking about the Dow crumbling. When Christians in the West start getting the slow boil in oil for their faith, then by all means, we should put marriage on the backburner, but until that time…
Secondly, celibacy, not singleness, is in mind here! Paul was talking about a permanent, no sex, no dating, no “cuddle buddy,” no “friends with benefits” state. How many of us singles who glibly tout the “singleness is better” line can embrace that FOR LIFE?
So “Jesus is the only man I need” hmmm? Really? (note to the ladies: if you say this, most men will take you at your word. Meaning: we will ask other women out. So don’t say something like this, then turn around and wonder why guys don’t ask you out.)
The biblical model is: if you can be celibate for life and not be bitter, go for it. That is a very high and worthy calling. Otherwise, young man, get movin’ and find a spouse.
Thirdly and more to the point, why is dating and marriage the ONLY place where we think its wise to say, “just be content. Don’t get in the way of God’s plan. If He wants to give you X, He’ll bring it to you?” Would we say that when it comes to finding a job? A house? A church? Evangelism? Sanctification and holiness? No.
It’s not either/or, as in “either I do it myself, or I let God do it.” In the economy of the Kingdom, it’s both/and: we do our part, and God does His. You can’t just expect a spouse to fall in your lap. Though God can and does that from time to time, we have a part to play in the process. Though one can have an idolatrous obsession with dating and marriage, it is very good to actually prepare yourself for marriage, and this includes seeking a spouse…at the very least, putting yourself in a position where you will bump into good candidates.
Fourth, pastors and churches who tail back marriage and family issues miss that what typically fills the void is not biblical and holy. Though a few, no doubt, will focus on serving God more, a whole swath of singles will instead use that message to indulge in adultolescence. There will be an increase in recreational dating, and an increase in delayed responsibility. People will not just marry later; they will needlessly delay marriage, and this has a cost to it.
We singles need help not in remaining single, but in marrying well. This goes past a few sermon series on God’s view of sex and how its good. This goes past pre-marital counseling.
Le me issue a plea: we need help in actually preparing for marriage! Encouraging us to delay brings hidden costs, costs that we don’t realize until its too late. We *will* date. Will you help us date well? Will you help us actually meet godly members of the opposite sex?
And really, Bible friends, having someone want to set you up isn’t that big a deal. I don’t know why people are so freaked out about it. Yeah, there needs to be some guidelines in place, but really, if someone wants to set me up, then I appreciate the help (not now, though…I’m taken. :)).
Please, please don’t respond by thinking we want a “meat market.” Don’t set fire to that straw man.
This attempt at *catering* (not ministering) to singles by scaling back focus on marriage and family is the cure that will kill the patient. It might make singles feel better, but in the end it is not single friendly.
As Candace Watters notes, “Helping Christian families form is still a fundamental role and responsibility of the body of Christ. God created the institution of family even before he created the church. Family is the institution that, for most of us, will be our primary area of spiritual shaping and development. It’s where we grow in our faith, learn how to serve others, and become more like Christ.”
“Pushing the family message to the margin is not the answer. Better to tolerate some of the quirks of a marriage-friendly church.”
“The good news for singles is that churches with a healthy perspective and emphasis on the biblical family are more likely to be a helpful place for finding a spouse and forming a family of their own.”
We need real solutions. We do not need more mimicking of the world.
In addition to the links above, be sure to check out the following related posts:
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