Bashing the Church is all the rage these days, especially from folks within (or who, in some instances, claim to be within) the Church itself. I’m not a big fan of this trend, partly because it’s a trend. It’s hip. It’s cool. And let’s face it, it’s kind of easy. It’s incredibly easy to sit back, point the finger at whatever you think you see is wrong in the church, and just be bitter about it. Grumbling takes little horsepower. Much more difficult to actually positively spur the Church on to greater love and good deeds (kinda like the fellas who wrote Why we Love the Church did in that book). I admit I’m a partaker…I just think so much of the critique is no critique at all, but bitter grumbling, and it’s not helpful.
So there’s the caveat to this post.
The other night I was having a conversation with a close friend of mine who is going through a rough time in his life. Without getting into many of the specifics, he is feeling burned by some of his past experience in the church, and is reacting in rather self destructive ways. He’ll be the first to admit that the buck stops with him, however I can’t deny that he’s been sold a false bill of goods by some well meaning people in the church. I’ve actually had quite a few friends go through the same thing recently, and all of them have this one thing in common: their struggle deals with marriage, dating, and singleness.
He made a really good point in the middle of our conversation, one that could pass as grumbling, but at the same time it’s an accurate critique.
“The ‘singles groups’ in churches teach people to be perpetually single,” he said.
I think he’s on to something.
In far too many singles groups, there is no one from the outside, say an older man for the guys or older woman for the gals, exhorting them to be proactively seeking a spouse (which is ok, you know..even good!). The same could be said about finding a career, though not nearly to the same extent. Virtually no one is even teaching them how to move towards marriage. The result is a bunch of people in the same age group reinforcing the same single lifestyle and habits.
You might not think that’s a big deal. Go ask my friend (as previously mentioned, there are actually more than one in this exact position), though, and he’ll tell you about his struggles after banking for so long on advice from his fellow single peers. He sorely wishes he had an older man in his life saying, “hey, get off your duff. Get a job. Get married. Church service and ministry are good, but you need to get up and get going…now.”
Now, I’m down with the whole “content in your singleness” mantra. I’ve seen some go to the opposite extreme and make marriage, sex, and relationships an idol, and I’ve seen them get burned as a result. After you’ve pursued your idol fo so many years withou success at attaining it, the bitterness that results from that is often worse than all the downsides of singleness put together. Better to look to Christ for your self worth than a relationship. Still, though, I think that slogan is over-used as a knee jerk reaction. Encouraging a single person to actively seek a spouse is entirely appropriate and good. You can be “content in your singleness” and actively seek at the same time.
I hasten to add that celibacy is a high calling deserving of honor for those that choose it. These people devote their all to the Lord in a lifetime of service as a single person. If someone can do that and not be lonely and bitter from it, they deserve praise and honor of the highest degree. For the rest of us, though, marriage is our calling, and it’s unwise to passively prolong the singleness period. It’s one thing to be proactive but not meet success; it’s another thing entirely to be passive about it and just wait around, letting the best years for getting married roll by.
Singles groups are doing no one a favor by leaving their attendees uncounseled when it comes to actually moving towards marriage.