At church, you numbskull!
“Thick-headed, dumb, oblivious to the obvious”
Many of you know, but some of you don’t. I spent the early years of my ministry (wait . . . these are still the early years!) doing many things. As a pastor at Stonebriar Community Church, I spent time in various departments: small groups, missions, evangelism, and singles. In fact, the primary role I settled into for many years was in the singles dept. While I don’t necessarily miss being a singles pastor, I miss all my singles tremendously (many of which are now married). I performed over thirty weddings in the a five year period. I saw a lot of “hook-ups.” I oversaw a lot of hook-ups!
While my philosophy of singles ministry was limited, it was very focused. I did not want our ministry to be a “meat-market.”
“A gathering with the primary purpose of hooking-up”
Therefore, when I taught, I taught too singles, but I intensionally did not speak about singles issues. (FYI: Single’s ministries can quickly become a self-help group—then it belongs in the counseling dept). This created an environment where there would be a timidity necessitated for those who only came for one thing—looking for a spouse. If people were to meet and “hook-up”, it would be “along the way” of their discipleship. We focused on their relationship with God, which is the most important aspect of preparation for “hooking-up”.
I am incredibly encouraged by the outcome the relationships that had their genesis in that ministry. All the marriages that I was a part of are still strong and moving in a very positive direction. In fact, if I did not have this as an anecdote for my thoughts, I might be very discouraged about the prospects for any marriage now days. Why? Because, outside of this environment, I have seen so many marriages that did not last.
Most of the time it seems that people are just not prepared to get married. They don’t take it seriously. They simply don’t want to be alone and they will search for solutions in the most unhealthy of places. Specifically, they look in where I would consider the worst of all places: the bars.
You may or may not be familiar with this phenomenon, but it effects more people than you think. It effects more Christians than you think. The bar, nightlife, drinking situations, and the like represent the default place to find that someone special. It is either churches that tailor to the meat-market ministries (usually because it brings in the beloved numbers) or the bars. Those of the defaults. I don’t really know which of the two are worse, because they are not that much different.
The pastor in me says this: Singles: Don’t look at either place. Neither are good. Both are filled with desperation. Both are filled with those who are misrepresenting themselves in order to accomplish their goal. For the most part, both are filled with selfish people who are wearing a mask. Both are filled with immaturity. Neither represent the “best-of” when searching for true character and someone who is truly following the Lord.
Wait…put on the brakes. Put it in reverse and go back to the fork in the road and come again Michael.
It was Sunday night at my favorite sports bar, the “Dug-Out.” It was five dollars all you could drink. I was 21. Perfect age for spouse hunting. That is where I met Kristie, my wife. Was I following the Lord? I was trying. I was praying. I was reading my Bible. But…I was at the bar. I wanted a Christian girl, but the local church meat market Tuesday nights was not providing the necessary environment nor the prospects. Let’s see how the meat was at the Dug-out. It was good that night. Kristie was there!
Kristie has so much shame about the way we met. She does not like to talk about it without a thousand qualifications in her defense. Why? Because it is embarrassing to her. She would love to say that we met in church or even at work. She would love to say that a friend introduced us. Anything but in a bar! Alas, this is our story. We met in a bar. In fact, the first words I said to her as she walked by my table and as I grabbed her shirt were, “Hey, before I get drunk, I want to tell you that I love you.” Oh yeah. What a line.
The problem with the way we met was that it evidences much immaturity. It represents all of that which, as a pastor, I don’t recommend. It is trouble waiting to happen. Lack of character, lack of godliness, lack of commitment to goodness, and a million other (bad) things.
Kristie and I can often be insecure in the way we met and where we me and this can translate into insecurity in our marriage.
But here is the issue: How much character does one have to have to make a decision to marry? I don’t know. Do they have to be perfect? Surely not. Do they have to be above being able to deceive or be deceived? Can’t be. How sanctified does one have to be before they can make the most important decision that they can make outside of trusting Christ? Where does grace come in?
Kristie and I are married. We are going to stay married. We fight for this marriage. But the battle does not come as a result of the way we met or where we met. Nor does it have to do with our maturity level when we got married. It does not have to do with any compatibility test we took or failed to take before we tied the knot. It has to do with the institution of marriage and the nature of such a relationship. It has to do with the fact that we are both selfish sinners. Marriage is hard. Very hard. And, yes, harder for some than for others.
While I would always encourage people to be as wise as they can when choosing a spouse, I don’t think anyone will ever be perfect. From a human perspective we can second-guess so many decisions, basing it and making a strong case (from our point of view) that the decisions were “wrong.” But when it comes the marriage, I think we need to be very careful. The whole idea of finding a “soul-mate” needs to be in the Christian garbage can.
The problem is when we set our hopes on this “soul-mate” perfect marriage “made in heaven” we automatically place the burden of the possibility of wrong choices on the shoulders of our marriage. “Maybe I was not supposed to marry Bill.” “Maybe it was not God’s will for me to marry Sarah.” “Maybe Michael and I made a mistake.” “Maybe Kristie and I were too immature to get married.” “Maybe we met at the wrong place and God is punishing us.” These are all the thoughts that, once seriously entertained, introduce a destructive virus that can itself be the charge for the end of your marriage. These thoughts are worse and more immature than anything you could have done wrong in the past.
God’s grace is very big. He does not say, “I will give grace to you so long as you make wise decisions.” Neither does he say, “My grace is available only to those who love me and do what I say.” God does not require perfection from sinners before he will bless a decision we make. Grace does not say “so long as . . .” about anything! If grace requires something from us, then it is not really grace. Grace is a free gift that has nothing whatsoever to do with the character of the receiver and everything to do with the character of the giver.
From a human perspective, I was at the worst place looking for a spouse, but this does not in any way suggest that this was not God’s will or that God could not bless it. God is sovereign. Did you know he is in control? Did you know that he only has sinners to work with as his plan comes into being? If God wanted us to wait until we were spiritually prepared to make all of life’s “big” decisions, no one would ever do anything because no one is ever truly spiritually prepared. Enter grace.
I write this for two reasons:
1. To continue to encourage singles to be wise. Hypocritically I say to you: don’t look in the bars or the meat-markets. I know how hard it is. I know how lonely it is. But those places are not the places to look.
Also, don’t set your expectations up too high. Meeting at the right place, taking compatibility tests, and doing everything the “right way” does not guarantee a relatively troubleless marriage. No matter how careful you are, both you and the one you marry are sinful and selfish. Get ready for it.
2. To encourage those who entertain the possibility that they did it wrong to give themselves and their marriage some grace. God is in control. I don’t believe you can marry the “wrong person.” While I understand it when people get divorces for many reasons, please understand that there is no way to make a perfect decision. We just trust the Lord and find him in the decisions that we have made. He is really a pretty big God and is not pulling his hair out over what we perceive to be wrong decisions. We are sinners. His grace works through and within our sinful decisions. If not, then he does not work at all.