Friday, November 03, 2006

I know i'm supposed to blog about myself...

...but Carmen states things so well. To all my single male friends... happy reading. (all... well, none of you that read this. Wait... I only have a few single male Christian friends--that's the problem.) To everyone that reads this then. Enjoy.

An Open Letter to Single Christian Men Who Don't Go to Church
(and a postscript to those who do)
by Camerin Courtney
November 1, 2006

Dear guys:

First of all, let me start by saying I get it. I know it's no picnic being you in a pew these days. Books such as Wild at Heart, Why Men Hate Going to Church, and No More Christian Nice Guy have raised our awareness to how feminized many American churches have become. Too much touchy-feely, felt-needs emotionalism and not enough iron sharpening iron. Too much meek and mild Jesus, not enough miracle worker and champion for the poor. Too much kum-ba-yah, not enough commitment.

I once said to a single female friend that sometimes attending church as a single woman feels not so unlike a person struggling with infertility going to a baby shower every Sunday morning. So much understandable family-focus, yet so much opportunity for the 44 percent of the U.S. adult population that's single to feel like outsiders. My friend nodded her head in quick agreement. If this is true of us, I can only imagine that the challenge for you is exponentially worse.

If the stereotype is true, you guys, by and large, like to feel needed. And I'm sure church is no exception. I've heard men complain that outlets for them to serve in their church are somewhat limited. One reader wrote to me saying that if he were to volunteer for his church's nursery, they'd look at him—a single man—as a potential pedophile. From my observation, the main outlets for service for single men in many churches is music or youth ministry. If you're not into either of those things, I'm sure you can feel stifled.

I wonder if leadership opportunities for you are limited as well. I could count on one hand (one finger, actually) the number of single men I've seen on the governing and elder boards at churches I've been part of over the past three decades or so. Are the leader-type men not present or are the doors not open for them? Either way, it's a problem.

If you venture into a church's singles class that's populated by more women than men, as many are, I'll bet you can feel like a juicy steak that's been tossed into a den of hungry lions. Or you're bored and wishing you were home watching the game instead of sitting there in what can feel like a girlified garden party. Or you're immediately approached to lead a Bible study or help plan a hayride.

Overall, I know it's possible for you, at turns, to feel isolated, invisible, pressured, misunderstood, or scrutinized when you darken the door of a church. These feelings in and of themselves are hard enough, but somehow experiencing them in a place that's supposed to be sanctuary—God's house—feels even worse.

Or perhaps you've been influenced by the independent, lone ranger American ideal and think you don't need church. You can pray and read your Bible on your own, thankyouverymuch. You might even be able to do so even more faithfully and fruitfully on your own.

Still …

The Body of Christ needs you. In fact, we're incomplete without you. Many of our churches have been limping along with you, a vital part of the body, missing. We're lacking your talents, insights, and helping hands.

I recently joined a new committee at my church. Our six-member team consists of three married men and three single women. I've served on at least a half dozen different service/leadership teams over my ten years at my current church, and I've never served alongside a single man. I'm not saying I'm bummed I didn't get to scam on any men at these meetings, I'm saying I would have loved your input. We would have been a stronger team if your skills and perspectives had been represented as well.

Over the past two months, three different friends of mine have confided in me about attractions they're struggling with for inappropriate men—guys who are married or who don't share their faith. All three of these friends told me that they know these guys aren't the type of man they should be holding out for, but all three have also told me—with palpable frustration in their voice—they don't see appropriate men for them to be interested in. In their churches and other Christian communities, they don't see single Christian men for them to consider for dating purposes. I'm not saying their struggles are your fault, and I'm not trying to make you a scapegoat for their temptations. I am saying they might be a tad less susceptible to these unhealthy attractions and pursuers if they looked around on Sunday morning and saw you.

From a completely personal perspective, when I look at you as marriage potential, I'm a bit cautious. If you leave church when it's uncomfortable and tough, what's to say you won't do the same in a marriage once it gets uncomfortable and tough (as it inevitably will). Where's the proof of obedience and commitment in your life? I'm not asking you to be a spiritual giant; I'm just asking you to show up. And hopefully to live like you mean it when you say you're a Christian—at least as well as any of us fallen human beings can.

I also worry for you. It's not easy being Christ-like in our materialistic, narcissistic, sex-saturated society. And we weren't designed to go it alone. We need community, accountability, mutual encouragement. I'd be happy to spur you on in love and good works, to together figure out how to live in this world but not of it. I know God told us not to give up the practice of meeting together (Hebrews 10:25) not as a legalistic ruler but as a loving Father. He knew it wouldn't be easy, that we'd need one another. I need you. You need me. That's the point of the church.

And maybe, just maybe, if enough of you show up, it will get a little easier for your demographic—and mine. To feel visible and valued. To do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God—even more effectively and joyfully for walking this road together.


P.S. to Men Who Do Attend Church:
No, I don't think you're chopped liver sitting there in the pew every Sunday morning. On behalf of the Body of Christ, thank you. Really. For showing up. For being a vital member of the family of faith. For giving your time and talents for the corporate good. For faithfully obeying God's command to meet together, even if it may be difficult at times.

Also, I'm sorry—for the times when we single women overlook you, take you for granted, see you only as a potential marriage partner (or not), don't handle your romantic interest with honesty and integrity, or fail to give you opportunities to serve and lead. I know there are many single men in the church who are hurting from the actions or inactions of their single sisters. And for that, I'm sorry.

If you're one of those people who sneaks into the service at the last minute and bolts at the final amen, would you consider finding a place to serve in your church? As I mentioned above, we need your skills and abilities. I know there might not be a lot of open doors for this, but perhaps if a few more of you express interest in serving and leading, a few more opportunities will open up. We're at a deficit without you.

And if you're in one of those churches where being single—and especially a single man—is easy or great, please please please invite your single brothers. You can get them into a congregation more authentically and healthily than we women can. The single men outside the church need you to be a positive influence in their life, to open doors for these missing family members. And we in the rest of the church would be eternally grateful to you for helping the Body of Christ to become more whole.

Copyright © 2006

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