Confession of a Single Guy…

Standard

In the American evangelical church, a lot of our efforts are focused on families. We offer parenting seminars, we hold marriage banquets, we honor fathers and mothers on their appropriate made-up and non-liturgical holidays, we have youth groups and children’s activities. Much of our language regarding events is pointed toward families (each family bring a dish…or the price is $10 a family…etc.). We gauge the growth of a church by how many babies are in a nursery (which seems borderline cultish when you want to grow from within like that).

As someone who grew up in the church, I loved most of these things. But when I graduated from college and realized that I was going to be working in a church as a single person, these things began to stand out more and more. Let me make one thing clear: I love families and I love seeing families grow toward Christ together. This is by no means a post saying that we should forget about families.

This is a post saying that we need to remember a group we have forgotten: the singles.

When I say singles, you probably immediately think of people somewhere in the age range of 18-35 who are putting off getting married until they establish themselves. But I am not just talking about these people. I am also talking about the widows and widowers who became single due to tragic events. Or to the newly divorced person who is navigating what it means to be single again. This is also about those who took a vow of celibacy because it was something they wanted to do.

Look around, church. There are singles everywhere. And they desperately want to be a part of a family but they don’t know how or where they fit in.

Do they fit in to the numerous sermon series dedicated to marriages? Because the only time we hear singles being mentioned in those series is usually in reference to remaining sexually pure and to stop looking at pornography (because all singles are sexual deviants who continuously look at porn and/or have sex).

Do they fit into the countless married small groups? It’s not that we want to be in a “singles” small group…we really do want to be around married people because they are just people…but many times we hear that we aren’t allowed because we aren’t married.

Do they fit into the illustrations about frustrations with a spouse or with children? As a youth pastor, every time I go to a conference, other youth pastors who speak talk about their kids or their spouses…and I realize that the key to a successful youth ministry is really a family.

Do they feel at home in your church or do they feel the pressure to get married or remarried? You might say that you have singles in your church but how often are they asked about who they’re dating, when they plan on getting married, etc.

Recently, I read a book from Deb Hirsch called Redeeming Sex. Very rarely do I read a book that speaks to the soul as much as this book did. I found it saying everything I have felt and wanted to say for so long. And it was refreshing to know that I was not alone in my feelings for how singles are treated in the church.

As a single, I feel alone quite a bit. This isn’t to evoke feelings of sympathy for me (if you know me, you know that I would just laugh at those feelings). Surprisingly enough, I feel more alone at church than I do when I’m at my apartment.10392377_634829361283_6032125750710341341_n

At church, sometimes I feel more on the outside as families plan outings together and dinners (hey, I get it, if you take a 5th wheel to a theme park, rides get confusing).

At church, I hear sermons about marriage and I hear pastors say, “now if you’re single, this might not apply to you now…but it will someday.” Really? You know that for sure? You know, without a doubt, that this will apply to me?

At church, people ask about my dating life. Luckily, I have not had to endure many of the people who say, “oh…well if you’re still single, I have the perfect girl for you!”

At church, I see marriages celebrated all the time in a variety of ways. I immediately think of those whose marriages ended poorly. Or those who lost a spouse. Or those who took vows of celibacy. What does it mean to them when they see this?

It makes me feel alone because it reminds me that I don’t quite fit the mold for who should be attending an American evangelical church. Because I’m perfectly content with remaining single until I’m 35 or even older. I don’t have an end in sight. That’s okay with me. But it’s not okay for a lot of people. They think I won’t be happy until I find the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. But I am perfectly happy, as is.

As a single guy, I do not…

order takeout or pizza every night

have a crazy messy bachelor pad

get super depressed because I come home to an empty apartment

abandon my responsibilities (just because I don’t have a family doesn’t mean I can get up and do whatever I want whenever I want…I have other responsibilities)

pile on extra work because I don’t have a family to worry about

go to clubs or bars picking up women

or have a computer that’s filled with images of porn.

My typical day includes: cooking, cleaning, reading, watching some tv, hanging out with friends, talking with friends, and maybe going out to do something fun. It’s not that bizarre. And it’s not unfulfilling.

So please, church, let us stop making singles feel like outcasts. It’s not that we get upset when: you include a sermon about us in your series over marriage, or when you include us when you celebrate moms and dads, or when you graciously open up events for us by saying something like “it’s not just for families…but for everyone (thanks for that),” or when you remind us that one day we will have a family, or even when you tell us we can come to your small group but we should really try to find a small group that we can really identify with.

We don’t get upset by those things…we just feel like we don’t belong. And we desperately want to belong. We don’t hate marriages and we don’t hate families. We don’t want the church to stop celebrating these things at all. But we do wish that the church would start celebrating us.

I love how Hirsch reminds us that Jesus redefined family. He really did. Everyone was His mother, brother, father, sister, etc. We all want that. We all want to be a part of that family. But we don’t have to already have a family to be a part of that family.

Why I Believe the Only Kind of Marriage Worth Having is a Dysfunctional Marriage

Standard

xhouse-of-cards-season-2-scene.jpg.pagespeed.ic.CldABmRHm3For the past week, I have been obsessed with House of Cards. Don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers for you that haven’t indulged in this incredible drama. I feel bad for saying it, but I watched both seasons in less than a week’s time. Throughout the entire show, I was fascinated with the marriage between the main characters, Francis & Claire Underwood. They have a horribly dysfunctional marriage and it destroys anyone in its path.

But there was something to that marriage that made me, at one point in time, say, “That’s a marriage worth having.” Now, being a single male, I don’t have much knowledge when it comes to the marriage department. I did read a book on it once, and that action seems to make everyone a professional when it comes to other topics. However, I know it does not make me a professional. As with every post, I do not seek conversing with people to tell them “why they are wrong.” As much as I want to do that (as in, my personality is geared toward that kind of thinking), I know I should not and cannot. I am simply hoping to create a space for conversation with which something the Church is obviously struggling (look at divorce/marital issues within your own church and you will probably see what I’m talking about).

“Does your wife/husband know?”

This is one of my favorite questions in any film/television show. Whenever this question is asked, there is undoubtedly a secret that has just been revealed. A friend is usually a witness to it and in utter disbelief asks, “does your wife/husband know?” The answer can go one of two ways: yes, I’ve told him/her or no, please don’t tell him/her. Too often it seems like the answer is “no, please don’t tell him/her.” Sometimes this secret is brought to life; but other times, it is left hidden.

This is normal. This is functional.

In my mind, the question should never have to be asked because the answer should always be “yes.” I see this in the marriage of the Underwoods. They have a few secrets, but most of the time they know each other’s dirt. There is a sort of refreshing honesty in that. Some of their secrets are terrifying. If it had happened to other marriages, it would most likely destroy those marriages. But not for them (it probably helps that they are both rather…um…evil?).

Once again, I speak as someone not married, but it seems to me that this kind of brutal honesty is what is missing from many marriages. Honesty about thoughts. Honesty about motives. Honesty about secrets. Honesty about ambitions. Honesty about habits. Honesty about struggles. Honesty about dreams.

Of course, you cannot be brutally honest with someone else until you are first brutally honest with yourself. Many of us run away from ourselves every day. We do not want to face who we are.

For seeing it played out over and over again, I am still at a loss for why we choose dishonesty over honesty. We see these kinds of marriages over and over in television and film. There is a level of distrust in the marriage due to a lack of honesty and transparency. Of course, it is a systemic issue that goes all the way up to the pulpit. We do not do a great job at teaching transparency, so why would we, as pastors, believe couples in our church will be transparent with one another?

The most obvious answer is “fear.” We fear being honest with one another because we don’t want to ruin a beautiful relationship/marriage. We don’t want to ruin the functional/normal relationship/marriage.

If that is what is viewed as functional/normal, then give me something dysfunctional. Give me a marriage like the Underwoods. Give me a marriage where I spend a night plotting evil schemes with my wife. Obviously, I’m not being literal.

But for some reason, I see beauty in two screwed up people sharing their dirty laundry with one another. I see beauty in two sick people talking about their real motives for doing things (even if it is something like, “I bought you flowers so you would forgive me for…”). I see beauty in two broken people relying on the grace of God every day because they know their brokenness.

If functional/normal marriage is:

not telling your spouse something because you are afraid it will hurt him/her…
spraying on cologne because you don’t want your spouse to know you smoke…
hiding receipts because you don’t want your spouse to see you have a money problem…
clearing your internet browser each day so your spouse won’t see where you have gone…
not sharing a dream/aspiration because you are afraid how he/she will respond…

then give me the dysfunctional marriage. Because I want nothing to do with this “stepford,” functional/normal marriage. I want the exact opposite of that.

I think that is why Francis & Claire’s marriage has been a bit refreshing. They are definitely corrupt people. They are not role models. But in their marriage, they are brutally honest about everything. And they are comfortable with it. Why? Because they are both equally screwed up and they know it.

I think that’s where the problem lies for many of us. We think our spouse is perfect. So we don’t want our honesty to taint his/her perfection. In reality, each of us is equally screwed up and we are all thinking, “I don’t want my honesty to ruin this.” Honesty, however, is the only thing that can save whatever we already have.

Now, go watch House of Cards and may your life forever be changed.

Jesus is Unemployable

Standard

A church of 500 wants a new music minister. Qualifications desired? 12 years of music experience and a Masters in Music.

A church of 150 wants an associate pastor. Qualifications desired? Masters in Bible, proven success in a previous church, and correct answers to several questions about the relationship with your wife.

A church of 150 wants a senior pastor. Qualifications desired? Experienced preacher.

A church of 50 wants a senior pastor. Qualifications desired? A wife with musical abilities.

A church of 500 wants a youth minister. Qualifications desired? 7 years of experience in a church of 500 or more and a Master of Divinity.

A church of 200 wants a preacher. Qualifications desired? 5 years experience.

A church of 150 wants a youth minister. Qualifications required? 5-7 years of experience. Musical abilities. Bachelor’s Degree.

I think you get the point. As I began looking for churches to serve in while pursuing my M.Div., this is what I ran into. It seemed like every church I looked at had high qualifications desired. Some were as ridiculous as 12 years of experience for a church of 100!

My favorite out of the examples given had to be the one that said: “Qualifications desired? A wife with musical abilities.” How is that a qualification?! I guess that’s an easy way to narrow down the playing field.

As I was looking through all of these churches and what they were looking for in a candidate, I began to laugh. I thought to myself, “Jesus couldn’t even get hired at this church!” Wait. Does that sound right? Jesus couldn’t get hired at a church?

Was he married? No…
Did he have musical abilities? According to “Jesus Christ, Superstar” he did…
How many years of experience? Well…3 years of ministry…
How about education? He had it…we can assume…
Did his wife have musical abilities? Refer to the top…

It is quite startling. Isn’t it? Somewhere in the history of the church, we began placing higher and higher qualifications on ministers. Part of me is not opposed to this. I value education. I believe that we should educate ourselves as much as possible.

But as for the ridiculous years of experience…that is a little out of hand. There used to be a time when churches gave chances. That is one thing I love about my home church. They desire to hire someone without experience. They want to be able to give those years of experience to someone.

Churches seem to no longer want to take chances. Perhaps that is because they have been burnt. Perhaps it is because they are concerned about numbers. Perhaps it is because they think they are at a level where they deserve the best.

I want to work at a church one day that takes chances. I want to work at a church that looks at experience on paper and says, “So you don’t have a lot. But tell me what you think you can do.” The church needs to begin taking chances again. Not just within hiring pastors; but chances in general (another topic for another time).

So, if you are a church and you are reading this, give someone a chance. Take a risk. Isn’t there some sense of ego in desiring someone with 7 years of experience? Have we, as a church, begun to think of ourselves as advanced as needing that? Do we think we “deserve” that? It is rightfully ours? Is it okay to desire that because we are so big? The answer to all of these questions: yes. Because one person can destroy the Church. Christ’s bride is doomed if you hire someone inexperienced. Because those ministers involved in the affairs, embezzlement scams, and porn searching were all inexperienced ministers….weren’t they? Or were they ministers who worked on gaining years of experience and neglected integrity.

I’m happy that God looks at the heart and not at anything else. It gives me comfort. Whenever I read Hebrews 11, I am reminded that God does not desire 7 years of experience, a M.Div., and a wife with musical abilities. He desires us to want to be used.

So how is this doable? This sounds pretty, but it is not realistic. This would take too much time. We would have to call all these candidates. We would actually have to carry on conversations with them. We would have to treat them like people rather than numbers. In reality, we would have to give more attention to who we are hiring. And who knows…if we stopped looking at the years of experience a typical workplace desires, maybe we would hire Jesus (figuratively, of course…I’m not being literal. You see how this all connects to the beginning. It makes sense, right? I hope so.).Image