Saturday, May 2, 2009

Single men in the church -- what single women can do

Thirty years ago, during my senior year in high school, a newspaper reported a very touching story about two high school basketball teams that had developed somewhat of a bond while participating in the Pennsylvania state playoffs. The girls' team from Indiana Area ended up being paired with the boys from Valley, so the girls began writing notes of encouragement to the boys. As both teams went deeper in the tournament, the girls eventually became the boys' biggest cheerleaders outside of their district. The girls lost in the semifinals, but the boys ended up taking the championship. (I don't know if any relationships started from that, but I'm sure the boys appreciated the support.)

I was reminded of that story upon reading "Where have all the single Christian men gone?", yet another article, this one on's "Christian Singles Today" page, about the major gender gap in the church, especially among singles. Please excuse my cynicism, but I sometimes wonder why many of these women want men in the church -- so that the pool of marriageable men can increase? Which leads to my point: Rather than bellyache about the dearth of single men, it seems to me that they can and should reach out to the guys who are already there.

Anyway, I have some observations on the singles "gender gap" in the church. Others have stated more eloquently and with more hard evidence than I that the church often comes across as a "girls' club" and that the Gospel is often cloaked in feminine language, often turning away men. That may be true, but I think part of the gap also has to do with the unrealistic expectations Christian women have of men.

I began to notice this in the campus ministry I was a part of in the 1980s. Much of the leadership fell to a number of physical therapy students, almost all of them attractive, spirtually mature -- and female. Gradually I realized that they (possibly without realizing it) had become fairly unapproachable, especially when it came to men, because of their status. In that fellowship women chased the strong guys and ignored the "weaker" ones.

Another thing to consider: Most of the strong Christian men I knew especially in those days grew up with godly fathers in solid marriages, which probably most of us "converts" who comprise the majority of never-married Christian men simply cannot appreciate. My own trouble in relating to other men at that point had to do with their relative unavailability -- until I was in my mid-20s I honestly did not know any spiritually mature yet unattached men. At that point it doesn't really matter how well you know and can apply the Scriptures, because people still need relationships. This is where the women can lend a hand.

Of course men should have their primary formative and discipling relationships with other men, but any man will tell you that gets dull after a while. You see, a note, phone call or any unsolicited attention from a woman can really make a man's day.

For that reason I think we also ought to encourage dating among Christian singles, not primarily to find a spouse or because they may find each other attractive but simply to learn how to relate to the other gender in more appropriate ways. Remember, at some point a man may become a husband and need to take responsibility for the well-being of his spouse and any children, and that can be done effectively only with practice. Back in the 1990s a then-future, now-former girlfriend of mine got involved in a church -- that turned out to be a cult -- in which one of the unspoken "rules" was that singles were supposed to go out on dates every Saturday. With all the institutional dysfunction in that church, nevertheless it got that one right.

My advice to single women who don't want to be: Don't just hope and pray that God will bring the "right man" into your life. While you're waiting for him, employ Jesus's "do unto others" priniciple and find a way to build up that single brother sitting right next to you. You'll both be blessed in the process.

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