DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby!

Written by: on March 7, 2019

As I peered into the pages of Jonathan Grant’s, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age, I could feel my heart rate increase and my stomach turn. “Not again!” I thought. “Not another book that generalizes singleness and formulates another antidote.” However, as my frustration waned and the pages turned, I saw a glimmer of hope; however, it was short-lived.

According to the author, sexuality is not simply subjected to the marriage context, but evident within the habits and status of the single person. However, although Grant casually affirms singleness as a status within its own right, he fails to present the idea of marriage from a diversified lens and perpetuates that the majority of singles are frustrated with their interim status.

For instance, he presumes that Christian marriage must succumb to the expectation of Christian parenthood. He asserts:

Having children is a Godlike act, so that sex carries the intrinsic possibility and responsibility of being fruitful. Even if we use contraception or are unable to have children for other reasons, we are symbolically open to the possibility of children and the responsibility of providing a stable context for them.[1]

Therefore, according to Grant, marriage is purposed for the practice of procreation. He writes, “Intimacy with heterosexual marriage is purposeful or teleological (it can bear new life), normative (it expresses God’s intended design for sexual relationships), and comprehensive (the complementary natures and bodies of men and women in marriage are a reflection of God.”[2] Hence, according to the author, Christian marriage must be complementary and filled with children, otherwise, it’s not deemed as ‘normative’. However, what about the fact that multiple Christian men and women are choosing to remain childless. According to a recent study by Pew Research:

Nearly one-in-five American women ends her childbearing years without having borne a child, compared with one-in-ten in the 1970s. While childlessness has risen for all racial and ethnic groups, and most education levels, it has fallen over the past decade for women with advanced degrees.[3]

A recent article in Today’s Christian Women also revealed, “Among women ages 40–44, the number of voluntarily childless now equals the number who wanted children but couldn’t have them.”[4] I’m not suggesting that children are not a gift from the Lord. However, most churches see them as a mandatory staple. Think about it. When was the last time you witnessed a pastor in your denomination who was either single or married without children? Even churches that are egalitarian still see marriage as the pinnacle of perfection and Christian maturity.

Grant asserts, “Christian singleness must be affirmed as a positive vision of life because it constructively engages our sexuality rather than ascetically rejecting it.”[5] However, Grant perpetuates the topic of sex, marriage, and singleness from a stance of traditionalism in the midst of ‘secularized’ society. The author presumes, “It is, I believe, a critical challenge for the church, as this generation of young adults becomes ground zero in the sea change brought about by the modern world and its approach to intimate relationships.”[6] Many churches take this perceived issue too far. I’ve seen friends undergo ‘healing’ for their singleness or be invited to shadow a married couple in order to fix their ‘relational issues’.  How does the church not see this as abusive? Would we treat Paul or Jesus in the same way? Would we try to fix them simply because we’re uncomfortable with their lack of marriage? Pastor Mark Almlie contributed an article to Christianity Today titled, Are we Afraid of Single Pastors?  He revealed:

These churches explicitly were not looking to hire someone single–like Jesus or Paul. I then was surprised to discover that even though the majority of adult Americans are single (52 percent), that only 2 percent of senior pastors in my denomination are single! Something was clearly amiss.[7]

If we truly want to minister to all people, then we need to stop leading from the stance of assumption and generalization. For starters, we need to realize that delayed marriage is not an illness that needs an antidote, but a choice made by millions each year that fits within the constructs of Christianity. Also, we need to stop perpetuating the belief that marriage and children equal spiritual maturity. Singleness and marriage reveal choice.

Grant ends his discussion and reveals:

Although the majority of people in our church in London were single, very few felt any sense of calling to remain single. On the contrary, many experienced their status as a burden, a wasteful holding pattern before finding someone and getting on with ‘real life’.[8]

As I read this last sentiment, my first reaction was, “Why?” As pastors and leaders, we set the tone and the standard for those within our sphere of influence. Not all are called to singleness; however, all are called to contentment. The apostle Paul said it best, “I have learned to be content regardless of my circumstances…I am accustomed to any and every situation…” (Philippians 4:11-12, BSB). When we see delayed marriage or satisfied singleness as a choice, we no longer see people as objects to fix, but people to love.

 

 

 

 

[1]Jonathan Grant, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos OPress, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2015), 155.

[2]Ibid., 177.

[3]Gretchen Livingston and D’Vera Cohn, “Childlessness Up Among All Women; Down Among Women with Advanced Degrees,” /www.pewsocialtrends.org, June 25, 2010, http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2010/06/25/childlessness-up-among-all-women-down-among-women-with-advanced-degrees/.

[4]Jean E. Jones, “Don’t Judge Me Because I’m Childless,” www.todayschristianwoman.com, accessed March 7, 2019, https://www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2014/january-week-2/dont-judge-me-im-childless.html.

[5]Jonathan Grant, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2015), 157.

[6]Ibid.,18.

[7]Mark Almlie, “Are We Afraid of Single Pastors?,” www.christianitytoday.com, accessed March 7, 2019, https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2011/january-online-only/are-we-afraid-of-single-pastors.html.

[8]Jonathan Grant, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2015), 230.

About the Author

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Colleen Batchelder

I speak at conferences, churches, companies and colleges on intergenerational communication, marketing, branding your vision and living authentically in a ‘filtered’ world. My talks are customized to venue needs and audience interests. My passion is to speak with organizations and bridge the intergenerational gap. I consult with companies, individuals, churches and nonprofit organizations and help them create teams that function from a place of communication that bridges the generational gap. I’m also the Founder and President of LOUD Summit – a young adult organization that presents workshops, seminars and summits that encourage, empower and equip millennials to live out their destiny and walk in their purpose. When I’m not studying for my DMin in Leadership and Global Perspectives at Portland Seminary, you can find me enjoying a nice Chai Latte, exploring NYC or traveling to a new and exotic destination.

6 responses to “Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby!”

  1. Hey Colleen, I was looking forward to reading your response to this book, and I’m so glad that you decided to focus on the topic of singleness. I have the great privilege of mentoring many single adult women, and so I was eager to learn from you.

    I, too, believe that singles are descrimintated against in the church, and I want to be better at advocating for my single brothers and sisters. You say, “As pastors and leaders, we set the tone and the standard for those within our sphere of influence. ”

    What are some concrete things I can do so set the RIGHT tone?

    • Thanks for the great questions and encouragement!

      It hasn’t been easy to be in full-time ministry as a single woman. The problem is that the church has perpetuated marriage as the pinnacle of spiritual maturity and the assumed role of the majority of its congregants. They force many into marriage out of fear of sexual immorality, lack of understanding, jealousy or generalized presumption. This has caused marriage to serve as an idol within many churches and singles viewed as a threat to Christian ethics. Due to this perception, many singles grow tired of the assumptions, the setups and being considered outliers and abnormal within church culture.

      I will say that the treatment of singles differs based upon location and the influx of diversity within the sanctuary. For instance, NYC has a growing number of single people flooding the church. They’re seeing one of the greatest revivals of Christianity because they’re choosing to demonstrate the love of Christ and not demonize single men and women.

      For years, women were expected to marry early, procreate and stay within the confines of marriage expectations. This occurred because of the lack of choice for many women. 50 years ago, women were given three options for vocation: teacher, secretary or nurse. It was assumed and pushed by outside culture and Christian culture that women would quit their jobs after they married and raise their children at home. However, even though the culture provided more options for women, both married and single, the church did not move from the 1950s stance. They provided women with one choice: marriage and motherhood. Don’t get me wrong, women who choose marriage are purposed and they’re ministering in many ways. However, because of Christian culture’s leaning towards traditionalism, married women are given more opportunities and given more worth within the church than their single counterparts.

      Here are some practical ways to show that your church is inclusive to male and female singles:

      1. Choose study books that are not marriage-driven. Allow all people in your church to understand leadership within their own context. One of the greatest problems that I find, especially in women’s studies, is the sole concentration on marriage and children. The studies presume that ALL women are married, or if they’re not, then they shouldn’t be welcomed into certain cliques within the church.

      2. Encourage single people to mentor married people. Too many times, mentors reach out to singles because they want to pour into them, which is great. However, the mentorship needs to go both ways. Singles have the same maturity level of their married counterparts; the only difference is that they sleep alone at night.

      3. Create events that are inclusive based on interest, not on relationship status. For instance, there’s nothing worse than being forced to sit with the youth because the church sees you as less than because you’re not standing beside a spouse. You’re still standing with Jesus and you’re standing strong by yourself. When we create events based around leadership, marketing, business, theology or just doing life together, we invite all people to listen and contribute.

      4. Hire single people! This is imperative. I recently saw pictures from a church staff retreat at a local waterpark. They had a blast with their kids and other parents, but I couldn’t help but wonder why they created an event that catered to only married people with children when some of their staff were senior citizens or single individuals. Instead of having the retreat at a waterpark, chose a destination that’s interesting to all people.

      5. Don’t assume that singles are dying to volunteer in the nursery. I’ve seen this SO often. Many well-meaning married friends assume that I want to work in the nursery to fulfill a need for motherhood. I’m not a kid person. I would much rather sit and minister at a nursing home or clean bedpans than volunteer with the nursery. Lol Kids are great, but not all single people, especially single women, have the need to be around children.

      Sorry, it’s so long, but I wanted to provide some tangible options for you. This topic is near and dear to my heart.

  2. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Colleen,

    Like I wrote in response to Jenn’s post…..WOW! Because I no longer live in the world of singleness (and never did live in the world of femaleness) it is difficult for me to recognize the bias. Thank you for pointing it out to me. I know you are correct that we have a problem in the church genuinely affirming the option of being single. I have had multiple conversations with students feeling pressure to find ‘the one’ before graduating from college believing that this is their best hope at finding a life partner – as if that is necessary for them to be complete and remain within the will of God. I work hard to try and affirm them but it is difficult when I speak from a position of a strong marital relationship. I have 3 adult children, all single, and I work hard at not putting any pressure on them in this regard. I think the church has a lot of work to do regarding human sexuality in all of its forms and all of us need to provide leadership in this regard. Thanks for what your amazing voice adds to my understanding.

    • Thanks so much, Dan!

      It’s encouraging to hear how you’re instilling diversity of calling and purpose within your kids and those you oversee. Singleness is usually presented as an interim instead of an alternative. This is why most churches perpetuate marriage as a goal and singleness as a journey. This encourages a false understanding of one’s purpose and encourages singles to view marriage through a filtered lens.

      Grant reveals, “Whatever we set as our loftiest goal and make our highest priority – that is, our highest love – orders everything else that we want and do in our lives” (Grant, 142). For many, marriage has become that goal – that carrot that dangles in front of them and makes them salivate for perceived nirvana. However, because of this inequality, the church has created a hierarchy of the haves and the have nots, centered around one’s sex life than one’s spiritual devotion.

      God bless are you aid students in navigating this journey.

  3. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Colleen,
    Thank you for eloquently highlighting the church’s bias towards singleness. On behalf of the church, I’m sorry if you have ever been made to feel less than because you are not married. God is grieving our “Christian” perspective on targeting singleness or choosing to be childless by choice. Colleen, you have an important purpose, ministry, and existence JUST AS YOU ARE. Keep on keeping on!

    • Jean,
      Thank you so much for your wonderful encouragement and words of support.

      It’s interesting, I was just hired by a Christian financial company to give a talk at their benefit lunch in the fall. Not once did they ask me about my relationship status or if I had children. They simply saw me as a self-actualized leader who would fulfill the requirements of the job well. They agreed to my fees and were supportive when it came to all AV and production needs. However, I’ve spoken at many churches and not received the same respect. I spoke at a young adult conference and I was the only single women who led a session. My talk was packed with people; however, I was the ONLY one not paid for the two talks that I gave. They saw me as a single ‘girl’ who spoke as a hobby; not a grown ‘woman’ who did this as her vocation. I also have had similar situations where I’ve been the only one without payment at events. It’s almost as though the church does this to ‘punish’ singles.

      Thanks, again! It starts with people like you and others who are willing to stand in the gap and stand for morality as well as ethics within the church.

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