I hate to start out writing with a cliche, but in this instance the “Merriam-Webster’s defines ‘idol’ as…” works so very well. So…Merriam-Webster’s defines “idol” as:
- a person or thing that is greatly admired, loved, revered
- an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship
- one that is adored often blindly or excessively.
The first definition isn’t bad, right? But the second we have a problem with. This is the what God was talking about when he laid out the first commandment. But what about the third definition? Is being adored and praised bad? No. Is being adored excessively and blindly bad? Especially to the exclusion of other things? I’d say so. Is this the state of the Church when it comes to family? Let’s discuss.
A few weeks ago my pastor stated in his message that the number one way our church draws new members is through the children’s program. Parents want their children to grow up with morals and values and I guess they think the best way to do that is to put them in Sunday school. And since our children’s program takes place during our late service it only makes sense that those parents attend church since we’re not really located near the city.
My pastor was speaking specifically about numbers – new members indicate why they are joining and how they heard about us, and they most often list their children as the reason. But what does this mean for church culture? This means that the energy of our church leadership is spent on getting new families to church because they know it works. They have city-wide marketing campaigns for vacation bible school every summer. At the start of the school year they do the same for their youth ministries.
But the “young adult” ministry (i.e. college age or older, single, no children)? I don’t even know if we have one.
Ministry for retirees? I don’t think we have one.
“Singles” ministry? They meet once every other week for a few hours, but as I understand it, it’s mostly Divorce Care 2.0. The group consists mainly of those who met in Divorce Care and have reentered the dating scene.
Never-marrieds like myself? Forever Alones like my aunt? Heck, even young engaged or married couples without children? I mean, I guess there’s marriage counseling, but once the wedding takes place I don’t know that there’s a dedicated place for you until you have children.
Family isn’t bad. In fact, it’s a very good thing. Children aren’t bad. In fact, they are adorable, lovable, and the bearers of our future.
It’s the narrow focus of our church programming that alarms me. It’s the time given to dealing with issues of family in every weekly message that troubles me. It’s the requirement that nearly all members of church leadership be at least married, if not also parents, that bothers me.
And the even bigger problem, in my estimation, is the blindness of the Church in lamenting that they cannot attract or retain young adult members while not paying heed to the culture they’ve cultivated. Is the point of Christian faith to get married and start a family? Or is the point of Christian faith to grow in our relationship with God? If the former, then the church is doing a great job in leading us on our journey.
Sort of, I mean, in making that statement I’m ignoring the fact that if you remain single or childless by choice you often leave every Sunday with very strong feelings of inadequacy.
But if the focus of church needs to be the latter – helping us…ALL of us grow in our relationship with God – then I think we need to reevaluate our culture and the systemic foundations that drive that culture.
40% of adults are single in this country, yet 98% of pastors in our churches are married. In fact, knowing several men who graduated from seminary, it’s safe to say that it’s nearly impossible to be called to a church leadership position without being married or at least in a committed, marriage-bound relationship.
So when the majority of our pastors get married right out of college, what relevancy can they have in their care and understanding of my faith journey as a 30-year-old single woman? There’s a lot that translates, yes, but there’s a lot that seemingly just pays lip service to the idea that my main goal in life must be to get married.
That dichotomy, I think, is the idolization of family in our church by the third definition. Adoring it blindly and excessively to the detriment of other life stages.
The part of the message that translates across all walks of life is when the church helps us grow in our relationship with God. But the part that assumes we all pursue marriage, or, at the very least, that marriage is what it means to be a successful Christian, is the church sliding out of focus and revering “having a family” to the detriment of all other life stages.
And this culture may just be what keeps young single adults from your membership.