“Are you married?” “When are you getting married?” “You are just not married for now, right?” These are questions that I have heard countless times as I have visited churches, either as a guest speaker, worship leader, or a visitor. Sometimes these are well-intentioned questions out of curiosity, but other times these questions have underlined tones that come from a broken religious system that has subtly penetrated either consciously or unconsciously the evangelical church.
Because of the stereotypical pressures that face evangelical single men and women from the religious system, the pressure to not be “alone” and get married is evident.
This pressure is felt towards both, those that are involved in some sort of ministry either part-time or full-time, as well as those that are ministering in the secular/professional world.
But today, I will speak about this issue as a single man who is involved in full-time ministry and the struggles that I have felt from the broken religious system of the evangelical church.
The Church: A Religious Broken System
There are many things that the church has done throughout history that has benefited humanity, and that we can be proud of as Christians. But as you know, the church is conformed by imperfect people who will eventually cause a specific issue, which eventually becomes part of the church’s culture. And one of these issues that have become part of the culture within the evangelical church is the “unconscious” (or even conscious at times) discrimination against those that are single.
We have seen both extremes in the Evangelical and the Catholic Church, where the singles and married couples respectably are preferably picked to be in leadership positions based on their marital status.
The Example of Jesus and Paul
Sometimes we forget the singleness of Jesus Christ and the impact that His ministry had to with both singles and married people. We forget that Jesus Christ Himself, led by the Spirit of God (freely choosing not to use His Divinity to favor His ministry on earth) impacted the lives of many (including single and married people). As a Christian, regardless if you are married or not, you wouldn’t argue against the fact that Jesus Christ Himself (a single man) was the One that changed your life, and now He is the One that you call Lord, Savior, and Healer.
We even use His teachings on couples’ retreats to help married couples to strengthen their relationships, forgetting that it was the same Spirit that led Jesus, that is leading all people today (both single and married people).
We also forget that the author of most of the New Testament was a single man, and also that a lot of the teachings that are directly addressed to marry couples and are used in couples’ retreats and conferences are written by a single man who was called by God and that had the same Spirit that you and I have!
Ironically the teachings that we as pastors exegete and preach to strengthen marriages are from Paul, a single man. Why is it then, that if we teach from the books written by a single man to encourage married couples, we believe that single men or women are unable to minister to married people the same way a married couple would?
I believe that your level of maturity is not related to your marital status, but to your relationship with God.
Marriage does not signify that you become more mature, it is true that there are certain challenges that married couples have to go through; but that does not mean you are more spiritually mature than singles because of what you have learned through the struggles of being married. Your spiritual maturity can only be leveled with the type of relationship you have with God in the secret place and in community (See my blog on Identimacy). This relationship can be expressed well within marriage, but it can also be well expressed in singleness. For at the end of the day both the single and the married are ultimately bind to Jesus Christ as Him being the bridegroom, and we being the bride. Therefore both single and married have the opportunity to know what it means to be in an intimate loving relationship.
Paul in 1 Cor. 7:32-35 talks about the divided interests that married man/woman could struggle with, and the advantages of undivided devotion to God as a single man/woman. I wonder why we as evangelicals don’t speak much about these passages to encourage the single community in the beautiful seasons they are in, but rather we pressure them to the “holier” status of being married? One can imply from this passage of the advantage of a single person in their personal relationship and devotion with God (less temptation on having divided devotion). Where he/she could minister in deeper ways because of the single undivided devotion and time that he/she could have with God, having Him as His only bridegroom. This is not to underestimate the practical advantages one can argue that married people have, but is to put into perspective how important and pivotal of a place single men and women have in the body of Christ and how important is to have them in senior leadership positions within the church.
It is also important to note that many will argue in favor of marrying quickly, in order to prevent sexual immorality. It is true that Paul argues and encourages those that are burning in desire to get marry, but I believe that all have the opportunity (it is not easy) to satisfy that loneliness and the necessity of intimacy by having a true an intimate relationship with God.
Single people cannot be put on the same “burning with desire to have intimacy with a woman/man” category; because it can well be true that for some of us, we have found true intimacy with Him, and do not need to satisfy that loneliness through sexual acts.
The Limited Endeavors’ Fulfillment of a Single Person
Have you ever heard of a single man or woman being a senior pastor, associate pastor, or senior missionary? In all honesty it is rare to find single men and women in senior leadership positions within evangelicalism. If is already hard for a single man to get into those positions, forget about single women! Single men could only go as far as becoming youth pastors, and single women as children pastors.
When it comes to ministering to young adults or getting senior leadership positions, the preference and prejudicial wall is raised against those that are single. Because of these religious broken systems it is hard for many single men and women to reach their full potential in the gifting and passions the Lord has given them, and therefore the kingdom of God cannot be expanded because of religious walls that were raised to “protect” the church, just as the religious leaders and pharisees raised the many walls and boundaries around the law and the temple and failed to listen and to be part of the New Thing God was doing through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Are we going to be part of the Old System of Religion, or going to listen to God’s Word on the New Thing that He is doing in this new generation? It is different to go into prayer about two candidates (one married and the other one single) without any pre-conceived notion about their marital status, and another to go into prayer with the already ingrained pre-conceived notion that married couples are more mature and better off than the single candidate. Sadly because of the ingrained religious culture in favor of married people within evangelicalism the former is true in the majority of cases.
As a single man I have come to the conclusion that the leadership in the broken system are not my enemy, but rather it is the evil system of religion that controls it. It is then that I have to partner with God and be moved by His Spirit to love and speak the truth in love and boldness to break through the religious system that is preventing many to experience salvation and healing from Christ.
Both Married people and single people have their place in the church, and both have also their place in leadership within the church; just as Paul did as a single man in the pioneer church.