Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Do Churches Value Married People Over Singles?

Some of you know that for the last 3 years or so, Sheryl and I have had a lot of dealings with the singles at Otter Creek. It started with our England mission trip back in 2005, but thankfully, hasn't been limited to that. Since that time, our relationship with the singles has grown to such an extent that we're now in a small group with several and count them among our closest friends. As a result, Sheryl and I have begun to see things through their eyes and think about how they perceive things.

One of the ways that that has really hit me is how churches focus on marriages and families. Now... let me say from the outset that I obviously think this is a positive thing. The marriage bond is one that is strongly attacked and when it is broken, it's one of the most devastating things that can happen, not just to a couple but also to their friends and community. So I understand and appreciate how much churches focus on that.

However, sometimes I wonder if it becomes very easy to focus on that and marginalize the groups outside of that. For instance, one Sunday morning, two of my very good friends led a "ministry moment" on the Men's Ministry at Otter Creek (You can read more about it at OC Brotherhood). The guys had four points that they brought out about the goals of the ministry. Things like forming a community, encouraging involvement, things like that. One of the points was also to help and encourage men in their relationships with their wives and children, which again are noble and right things to have as goals. But what that immediately made me think was, "How would a single guy feel about that?" I talked to a friend that day about the point and he said that what that did was make him feel like it wasn't something for him. If one of the goals was about that as a focus and he didn't have a wife or kids, where would he fit in?

My thought as I read that would be that it would have been very easy to add a statement that said something like, "and encourage our single men, both in their relationship with God, and in pursuing honorable relationships with women" and even as I write that I think, "What about the guys that DON'T want to be in relationships, whether now or in the future?" It's a slippery slope, but one that at least should be considered.

What I don't want to happen is that a church, in this case Otter Creek, to become so focused on marriage and families and the like that the single people, our friends, feel marginalized or somehow separate from the church at large. I want singles to feel as much a part of the congregation and its life as marrieds. And part of that has to come from how we do ministry. We have to show that singles are not valued less than marrieds, and I really think that has to be shown explicitly and implicitly, in how we speak and in how we form our relationships and friendships.

I know from experience that it can only benefit both groups.


Jennifer Thompson said...

You already know I agree with you. I especially agree that marriage is absolutely something to be valued and strengthened. I think the Brotherhood ministry sounds awesome, and I would never want to take the marriage part out (even if it were my place to). But that third bullet point did make me wonder - would my single guy friends ever want to be a part of this? If they did, would they feel welcome? What about the youth group guys? Wouldn't it be awesome if there was at least some part of that ministry that tried to get them in relationships with older godly men? Again, I don't at all begrudge the fact that they mentioned marriage. But I do think that if the ministry is trying to reach ALL the men in the congregation, it might be a good idea to acknowledge that you don't have to be married to participate (if they're trying to include non-married guys).

One thing I will add - even for guys (or girls) who don't want to be in romantic relationships, we all have some sort of relationships with the opposite sex. And just because they're not romantic doesn't mean they're healthy. I think it wouldn't hurt to occasionally talk about what a healthy "brother-sister" relationship looks like.

DB Carden said...

It appears to me that it is one of the basic biases of the church that people are to be married when they reach adulthood and if you don't get married, there must be something wrong with you. Put another way, marriage is viewed as the default and inevitable life choice in the church.

I wonder if the seeds of divorce are sown by this meme among those that shouldn't be married (for whatever reason) but do it anyway because it is the "culturally acceptable" thing to do.

Jim said...

And that seems such an odd attitude for a Church founded by someone who had no wife.

Jeff said...

First, let me say that I'm honored that something I did made Phil's blog...

As the one that initially drafted those four focuses/foundations of the men's ministry, let me say that there is no intention of marginalization, exclusion, etc. The four items were not a checklist that every man had to say they desired before they were let in the "brotherhood." When I introduced them, I said that we wanted to be purposeful and intentional on anything we did or initiated (as opposed to just putting things on a guys calendar), and to keep it simple we would use those four basic thoughts. Everything we do won't meet all four, but they will meet at least one.

And yes, one of them was very intentionally structured towards protecting and strengthening marriage and family. As Phil said, marriages are attacked and I will say are at the core of many of the moral issues we face. To give an example, there will be times that I purposefully do something geared toward married men. Examples of things I've thought of are having a "mom's night out" that is hosted and run by the dads (ask Sheryl if she'd appreciate that), or father/daughter/son events, or helping out with the next marriage seminar that the elders have. I've also thought of having simple reminders for men to do something nice for their wife (even just a card) that we could all be doing together, or sharing things that I've learned through the marriage counseling Christy and I have gone through. With things that specific and focused, I felt that there needed to be one of our four points devoted to it. I'm not opposed to a single guy wanting to participate in any of these marriage-focused events if they want to be encouraged as to what marriage could look like, but I tend to doubt that the large majority would want to. I don't want to be inclusive of existing marriages. I am all for men to participate in a "marriage-strengthening" activity if they think that is something they will pursue in life.

I meant to say this (I forgot to look at my notes), but we want married, single, college, even teens involved if they want. I'll also note that one of the other "ministry leaders" is single (and divorced, so he meets two demographics). I would say that rather than look at the one thing that doesn't really fit them, look at the other three that do. It's hard to be inclusive of everyone since we all come from different places. But when the majority of the men are married and as a 32 year old I already know too many dealing with divorce or unhealthy marriages, I think it merits being singled out.

If you will all help me communicate this, I want every man to know that we want their involvement and support. With all that being said, I think I do need to change this point to be reflective of marriage and other relationships, but I don't want to lose sight of the fact that marriage is a key focus. The men's ministry has been rather stagnant for a while now, and I think it will be hard enough to get involvement going without a part of the group feeling they are left out.

Cory said...

I'm not sure is Jim is talking about Jesus, Paul or some Otter Creek history that I don't know (I'm pretty sure Alexander Campbell had a wife), in any case, I'd say it's a valid point.
I also want to throw out an "Amen!" to db_carden.
I'm like Jeff: I think it's cool that I made Phil's blog - I'm the friend at the end of paragraph #3 (I think).
Obviously, no one wants to discourage strong marriages. I guess my beef is not with the announcement this past Sunday - it's more with the approach that OC seems to take in gearing itself mainly for young married people and not those of us who are un-married. It certainly makes sense from a "business" approach: that's how your church is going to grow - by crankin' out kids - not by investing in a bunch of (heretofore) genetic dead-ends. And I'm certainly not wanting this to turn into an Affirmative Action thing where for every married seminar, we need a singles' seminar or something - I would just like to be seen as a valued member of the Family. While there are many who do view me as such, the church as a whole doesn't seem to know what to do with us. Maybe we should have some wise single person have some input into the decision making processes...

Jim said...

I was talking about Christ but it got me thinking. It is interesting that, in a time when young men were normally married at a young age, our religion was led in its infancy by Jesus, Peter, and Paul, none of whom (as far as the scriptures indicate) had wives.

Jennifer Thompson said...

Jeff - just to clarify, I think this ministry has amazing potential, and I completely agree with you that marriage should be an important part of that. I didn't mean to sound as though I didn't - I just wasn't sure, based on those points, how comfortable a single guy of whatever age would feel participating in it. So I was really interested to read your comment.

john alan turner said...

I've spoken at OC's singles' retreat twice now, and, for some strange reason, my family just loves them. The first time I spoke our theme dealt with fear, and one of the messages I chose to deliver was on the fear of being single.

It was one of the hardest lessons I've ever prepared, b/c it forced me to look at how churches do exactly what you're saying here. In our well-intentioned attempts at strengthening marriages and families, we often communicate to single adults that something is wrong with them or that they're somehow junior adults.

I've also noticed that we often do this with married couples who don't have children.

It was not only a difficult lesson to deliver, but it was a very cathartic one for the group to hear (I think).

I believe the answer is simply to be thoughtful -- and I mean that word precisely. We must think before we speak, and we must think as we are listening. We must think about what we've said and heard, and we must think carefully about how we respond.

Thanks for bringing up this sensitive topic in such a thoughtful manner.

Clarissa said...

I hope I never hear you say "crankin' out kids" personally.

It just somehow sounds terrifying -- I'm imaging a crank on my side, the handle in desperate need of WD-40, slowly being turned and creaking.
I'm going to have bad dreams tonight just from reading that.

Ya wouldn't think I'd mind it after all the jokes I've made about the factory being closed, but even _I_ have my limits!

Love you all.

Tiffany said...

JAT- that retreat stands out as one of the best messages I've ever heard for single Christians. We all got really sick of the "If you're not married, you must not be spiritual enough" approach a long time ago.

I don't know what the answer is, but I've been an active member of OC for 4 years now, and I had to pretty much take it upon myself to become so. It seems like you can either be an active member of the singles group, or you can be self-motivated enough to find other people to interact with. We are not, as a demographic, sought out by the congregation generally.

And while we know that's not intentional, we also see that we're not being intentionally sought out. And that kind of sucks, after a while.

amanda said...

ok, i don't think any of us want to be referred to as 'genetic dead-ends'.

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