Post-Election Perspective from Proverbs

wf_logoThere is no doubt that our elections have become more contentious in recent years. We have seen and heard extreme reactions to both victories and losses. I just finished listening to Hillary Clinton’s recent book, What Happened, which gives her perspective on the current state of American politics and why she lost her presidential bid in 2016. She highlights a number of trends that we can all agree upon regarding politics: the parties are less likely to work together, many candidates appear to be more extreme in their positions, and the electorate is reacting more strongly to those candidates.

At the same time, we have to remember that the current state of politics is really nothing new. We may have enjoyed a relatively calm period of political engagement and goodwill in the years following World War II, but the current state of affairs is very similar to the partisan politics immediately after George Washington’s presidency.

How should Christians respond in these politically divisive days? I think we can gain some perspective from the book of Proverbs to help us walk through these times.

  1. Remember that God is sovereign over our elected officials. Sometimes we are tempted to lose perspective when an election doesn’t go our way. If you vote in enough elections, your chosen candidate is going to lose. I had some friends and acquaintances who won their elections last night and some who lost. I sent a congratulatory text to a friend who won his election, and his response demonstrated a godly perspective. He said, “These nights always challenge whether my belief in a sovereign God is absolute. But no doubt He is, and I am grateful He has allowed us to serve….” We often focus on the human side of the election, but we need to remember that God is sovereign. In Proverbs 21:1 we read, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” We may vote for our preferred candidates, but God still controls the hearts of our leaders. They are like streams in his hand. Whenever he wants to redirect them, he simply moves his hand.
  2. Do not gloat over the loss of your opponents. As I drove through my neighborhood this morning, I passed by a property that has dozens of signs in the yard. I don’t always agree with the approach of this property owner, but I often vote for some of the candidates that are promoted by his signs. This morning there was a new sign with a picture of Beto O’Rourke, who lost a close election to Senator Ted Cruz. Printed on the sign was a message mocking O’Rourke and those who voted for him. This sign is an example of gloating over the defeat of a political opponent. I don’t believe Senator Cruz authorized such a sign, but the attitude of the property owner appeared to be on full display. This sign communicates the intent to revel in someone else’s loss. That is not a biblical perspective. Proverbs 24:17 tells us, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” Whether the enemy is a political opponent or a military threat, we are not to rejoice in his defeat. From a political perspective, we still need to work together with those on the other side of the aisle to accomplish good for our communities, states, and nation.
  3. Pray for wisdom for our government officials. Whether our candidates won or lost, we need to pray that our governing officials have godly wisdom to rule righteously. We never know how God might choose to use a particular elected official, but we know he is honored when that official governs with wisdom. Proverbs 8:12-16 state, “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate. Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine. By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly.” These verses describe several characteristics we desire in our government officials—prudence, knowledge, discretion, counsel, and justice. And they all flow from wisdom. Let us pray for those who were elected yesterday to have godly wisdom so that they can judge rightly.

No matter where you fall along the political spectrum, I hope you can see that these proverbs give us some perspective for thinking through the results of the election.

Preaching and Social Ministry

This post first appeared on Preaching Source at http://preachingsource.com/blog/preaching-and-social-ministry/.

Social ministry is often forgotten in evangelical preaching circles. In our desire to clearly communicate the life changing truth of the gospel leading to salvation, we sometimes overlook the real-life needs of individuals who need both spiritual and physical nourishment. Social ministries include provision of food, shelter, clothing, safety, and skills for life. These are ministries that help people day-to-day and can meet a physical need while opening the door to spiritual needs.

The reasons I hear for neglecting social ministry in preaching is a fear of replacing the gospel of salvation with a social gospel. We have seen this before in the Social Gospel movement of the early 20th century, but we have probably swung the pendulum too far in the other direction. There needs to be a healthy balance between preaching for salvation and meeting people’s physical needs.

How can we preach the gospel and affirm social ministry without running the risk of falling into the errors of the Social Gospel?

1. Have a biblical perspective on social ministry.

The prophet Micah gives us a clear admonition regarding social ministry as he proclaims, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic 6:8). In the immediate context of this verse, Micah compares justice and kindness with the rituals of worship. Micah asks, “With what shall I come to the Lord and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Mic 6:6–7). The prophet clearly states that God desires more than just the ritual process of worship. This was true for ancient Israel, and it is true for us today. We should do more than just lead our people in worship on Sunday morning. We also need to lead them in acts of justice, to love kindness, and to walk in humility. This includes serving others, particularly the less fortunate in our communities.

2. Start with biblical examples of social ministry.

If you don’t know where to begin with encouraging your people toward involvement in social ministries, start by pointing them to biblical examples of social ministry. One example comes from the early days of the church in the book of Acts. Luke records a conflict that arose among the believers in Jerusalem regarding social ministry to widows. In Acts 6:1–4 we read, “Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’” These verses record a situation of real need—widows were in need of daily provision of food. There was also a conflict because the Hellenistic widows were being overlooked in preference for the Hebrew widows. Rather than neglecting this need, the apostles led the congregation to appoint people who could faithfully serve the widows. This freed up the apostles to continue in prayer and the ministry of the Word, but I have no doubt that they addressed this in their teaching of the young congregation at Jerusalem.

Serving widows is a good place to start for a biblical example of social ministry, but we could also include orphan care (Jas 1:27; Exod 22:22), benevolence (Matt 6:1–4; Ps 82:3; Isa 58:7), medical needs (Luke 10:30–37; Jas 5:14–15), and many other forms of social ministry. Most of these needs are right in front of us; we just need to take the time to address them. In your preaching, encourage your congregation to look around them for needs that they can meet. Perhaps they can serve as a reading tutor in a local school or provide meals for the hungry. Such needs exist in almost every community.

3. Use social ministry as an open door for further ministry.

Social ministry can serve as an open door for further interaction with those whose needs we are meeting. A hot meal and a cup of water can serve as the means to starting a gospel conversation. However, we must not view social ministry simply as a means to the end of evangelism. Serving those in need is a worthy ministry even if it does not result in salvation. At the same time, we must not simply meet physical needs without addressing the spiritual need. We need balance in our approach.

In addition, meeting an immediate physical need may lead to further opportunities to help those in need provide for themselves. There are numerous examples of ministries that help people get back on their feet so they are no longer dependent on social ministries. Find these ministries in your local context and highlight them in your preaching as opportunities for people in your congregation to get involved.

We should not be scared away by social ministry. Instead, we need a biblical perspective on how to encourage our churches to meet physical needs while also addressing the spiritual needs of people in our communities.

To Save or Not to Save?

chicklet-currencyDue to my role as the Eklund Chair of Stewardship at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, students regularly ask me about financial stewardship. Some of the basic advice I always give relates to budgeting, paying off debt, and saving. I am happy to report that many students take my advice and begin the journey of taking control of their finances. This is not just an economic issue, but I believe it is a spiritual one as well.

Unfortunately, the culture often teaches the opposite of what I try to pass along to my students, particularly at a time when many people believe the economy is surging ahead with no end in sight.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the rate of savings among Americans has dropped to a 12-year low. The article states, “Soaring stock prices and improving job prospects have set Americans off on a spending splurge that is cutting into how much they sock away for retirement and rainy days.” As net worth has risen over the last decade, people are spending more of their lifetime savings. This could mean drawing money out of retirement accounts or tapping into their home equity to make purchases.

The net result is that savings has decreased. The WSJ article continues, “The saving rate was 2.4% of disposable household income in December [2017], the Commerce Department said Monday. That was the lowest rate since September 2005, not long after then-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan began warning about froth in housing markets. The saving rate had risen to 6.6% when the recession ended in June 2009.”

In my Family and Church Financial Stewardship class last week, we focused on a number of passages from Proverbs that speak about how a wise person should view money. Proverbs 6:6-11 gives us a lesson from the world of insects related to the topic of saving for the future. These verses read:

Go to the ant, O sluggard,
Observe her ways and be wise,
Which, having no chief,
Officer or ruler,
Prepares her food in the summer
And gathers her provision in the harvest.
How long will you lie down, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
“A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to rest”—
Your poverty will come in like a vagabond
And your need like an armed man.

The ant recognizes the need to save for the future when the present is bountiful. We are in a historic time of increase in the stock market, and for many the economic boom holds great promise for the future. However, we have seen booms before and they are typically followed by busts. The question for us is whether we are storing up like the ant or sleeping away these bountiful days like the sluggard. Notice that the sluggard does not see his poverty coming. It hits him like an armed man seeking to steal all he has.

At the same time, we must be careful not to put our trust in the financial resources we may amass during our lives. Jesus tells a parable about a rich fool who trusted his riches rather than the Lord (Luke 12:16-21). Jesus says:

The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

There is a balance to be struck between preparation and abundance. The sluggard of Proverbs 6 did not prepare for the future, but the rich fool of Luke 12 trusted in the abundance of his riches. We must pursue wisdom in discovering where the balance is between these two examples. Both refusing to save for the future storing up treasures on earth are foolish. I pray we pursue contentment between these two extremes.

_________________________

Harriet Torry, “With Stocks Surging, Americans Are Saving at 12-Year Low,” The Wall Street Journal, January 29, 2018.

Family and Church Financial Stewardship

Stewardship Class PromoEven though I have spent most of my academic career teaching courses on ethics, one of my favorite courses that I teach is actually in the realm of stewardship. STWLD 3603: Family and Church Financial Stewardship is a fun class to teach because I get to see my students implement the concepts they are learning on a weekly basis.

As you can tell by the title, the course covers two major areas of financial stewardship–the family and the church. In the first half of the class, we consider what the Bible says about financial stewardship and how to apply those truths to our lives. We also handle some of the unique components of financial management for ministers including housing allowance and ministerial taxes.

The most practical assignment for this section of the class is the family budget analysis. Students are required to track every expense for two months, categorize those expenses, and then analyze their expenses. This is the first step to building a workable budget. Many of my students have never tracked and analyzed their expenses, so this is the first time they get a clear picture of how they use their money. Students are regularly surprised by what they find and begin making changes immediately.

When we transition to the part of the class on church financial stewardship, the focus is on how to build a church budget and how to protect the church’s money. New seminary graduates often do not have the luxury of going to churches with multiple staff members where someone takes care of the finances. In most cases, the new pastor also has responsibility of managing the budget with the assistance of a volunteer committee. For that reason, it is imperative that they learn how to budget for the church.

In addition, protecting the church’s money is also a crucial element. I once heard a friend of mine who is a church administrator say, “If you serve at a church that collects money, someone is trying to steal it.” The longer I have been around churches, the more I realize he is correct. Whether it is someone taking coins out of the soda machine or a staff member embezzling millions of dollars, the reality is that our churches’ money is vulnerable. Therefore, we need policies in place to help protect money and promote integrity in the handling of money.

As you can see, this class covers a wide range of topics related to financial stewardship. My students are also thankful that they do not have to listen to just me for the semester. This semester’s guests include John Cortines, co-author of God and Money (one of our textbooks), Stephen Osborne, senior relationship manager at Guidestone Financial Resources, and David Hain, executive pastor at Birchman Baptist Church.

I encourage as many students as possible at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to take this class. The class is offered on Tuesday/Thursday at 1:00-2:15 this semester. I also just received approval to offer it in our flexible access format so that students can take it without being on campus. If you are interested in the class, please contact the Registrar’s Office.

The New Marriage Battleground: Polygamy, Polyamory, and Open Marriage

polygamyThis post originally appeared on Theological Matters at https://theologicalmatters.com/2017/10/10/the-new-marriage-battleground-polygamy-polyamory-and-open-marriage/.

Students who have taken my Christian Home class are familiar with a diagram I draw on the board each semester. In this diagram, I visually depict the difference between polygamy and polyamory—two marriage arrangements that contrast monogamy. I then tell my students that such arrangements will most likely be legal in the United States in just a matter of years and that the church will need to be prepared to address them.

The timeframe for normalization of these alternative marriages may have accelerated in recent months as a series of articles have been published touting the advantages of various forms of multiple marriage. It is important for us to understand what these are and to critique them from a biblical perspective.

The Marriage Alternatives

Until the last couple of years, laws in the United States only recognized marriage to be between one man and one woman. The 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges opened the door to same-sex marriage. Now we see a push for different types of marriage that infringe upon monogamy.

Polygamy is a marriage arrangement where one individual is married to multiple partners. Historically this is primarily a man married to multiple women. This form of marriage is the one most clearly set up for legalization through the Obergefell decision.

Polyamory literally means “many loves” and describes “consensually non-monogamous relationships [where] there is an open agreement that one, both, or all individuals involved in a romantic relationship may also have other sexual and/or romantic partners.”[1] Polyamory differs from polygamy because all partners can be in multiple marriage-like relationships. While a recent Christian blogger has stated that polyamory is not about sex,[2] the basic premise of this type of relationship is that the various partners are in multiple intimate, romantic, sexual relationships.

Open marriage is the third alternative in the marriage battleground. This arrangement involves couples in the marriage being open to romantic, sexual relationships outside the context of their own marriage. In some respects this is similar to polyamory, although the outside relationships may not be formalized as marriage. Proponents of open marriage argue that as long as both spouses are in agreement with the arrangement then it does not break the fidelity of the marriage bond.

The Battle Ahead

Are these marriage alternatives really going to become mainstream? Numerous articles have appeared over the last year promoting these different marriage arrangements. New York published an article promoting consensual nonmonogamy.[3] The Chronicle of Higher Education interviewed philosopher Carrie Jenkins about her new book What Love Is and What It Could Be in which she promotes polyamory.[4] NPR even ran a story about the cultural moment for polyamory stating, “Lately, I’m seeing ‘polyamory’ everywhere. It’s not a new word or concept of course, but it seems to be having a cultural moment.”[5] Polygamy is popularized on the television shows Sister Wives and Polygamy USA.

From a Christian perspective, progressive Christian blogger Chuck McKnight is currently publishing a series of blog posts promoting polyamory and open marriage based on a “love-based ethic” in which our ethical actions are judged by only the question of whether they are loving. McKnight believes that polyamory can be loving and therefore not biblically prohibited.

The Christian Response

In response to the cultural push for acceptance of these marriage alternatives, Scripture gives us a couple of clear ideas about marriage.

Scripture communicates a consistent message about the monogamous nature of marriage. Beginning in Genesis, we see that God’s design for marriage is a comprehensive, covenantal relationship between one man and one woman. Genesis 2:24 provides this divine commentary on the nature of marriage:

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

God designed that the man (singular) would be joined to his wife (singular) in marriage. All subsequent descriptions of marriage relate the ideal of monogamy. While there are examples of polygamists in the Old Testament (for example, Lamech, Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon), their polygamy is not depicted as ideal. In fact, their polygamy is the source of great strife and conflict in their homes. Despite the presence of such polygamy, the overwhelming testimony of Scripture points to monogamy as the standard. Both Jesus and Paul affirm the monogamous standard. In Matthew 19 and Mark 10, Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24 and then describes two becoming one flesh. He never inserts a third or fourth individual into the marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul states, “But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). Paul clearly communicates the idea of monogamous marriage here. The message is consistent throughout Scripture.

Any departure from monogamous marriage is a form of sexual immorality. Scripture consistently condemns adultery, but two specific passages come to mind in response to the current challenges to marriage. In Romans 7:3 we read, “So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress. . . .” Paul describes a standard monogamous marriage (a wife with one husband) and equates any union with another man as adultery. In addition the author of Hebrews tells us, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).

If Scripture depicts God’s design for marriage to be monogamous, and if any departure from monogamous marriage is equated with adultery, then the various alternative marriage arrangements—polygamy, polyamory, and open marriage—are all forms of adultery that are subject to the judgment of God. Therefore, Christians should not endorse these forms of “marriage,” nor should they tolerate them within their midst. Just as Paul rebuked the church at Corinth for tolerating the man who had married his father’s wife, we too should rebuke those who promote and tolerate such distortions of God’s design for marriage.

[1] Rhonda N. Balzarini, et al., “Perceptions of primary and secondary relationships in polyamory,” PLoS ONE 12 (2017).

[2] Churck McKnight, “What Polyamory Is Not,” Hippie Heretic (September 11, 2017).

[3] Drake Baer, “Maybe Monogamy Isn’t the Only Way to Love,” New York (March 6, 2017).

[4] Moira Weigel, “‘I Have Multiple Loves’: Carrie Jenkins makes the philosophical case for polyamory,” The Chronical of Higher Education (February 3, 2017). Carrie Jenkins, What Love Is: And What It Could Be (New York: Basic Books, 2017).

[5] Barbara J. King, “A Cultural Moment for Polyamory,” NPR (March 23, 2017).

Guest Post: Watching the News Without Losing Your Mind (Or Your Faith!)

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

A few years ago, I wrote an article about anxiety and the sovereignty of God. At that time, my children were preschool and young elementary age, and I struggled with worry over them. I found that article the other day and read through it, feeling like I was looking through an old family picture album.

The feelings of anxiety were fresh and I quickly remembered the worry I carried over keeping them safe, well-educated, and healthy. The idea that amazed me as I read back through that article was that – as much as things have changed in our lives – many things stay the same.

Yes, my children are older, but I still fight the temptation to become paralyzed in fear over them.  The situations might be different, but my heart at times can be the very same. Today, however, I find the anxiety not only coming from within, but also from around me.

The national news, the local papers, and social media are busting at the seams with shocking stories of pain, hurt, and trepidation for the future. There is a palpable feeling of worry, uneasiness, fear, and general anxiety among people today inside and outside of the Church.  The places that we used to turn to for help with anxiety (friends, church, even entertainment) are now over run themselves with the same anxious content.

What are we, as believers, to do in a world filled with uncertainty and fear?

First, we must remember that God has called us to be different. Christian women must stop falling into the same patterns as those around us. We have what the non-believer does not have. Because of our relationship with Christ and because He has given us His Word, we have the answers! The problem comes when we don’t access the power that we have been given. We turn into the gullible women of 2 Timothy 3 who might learn, but are never able to act on the knowledge of the Truth.

We must act on the wonderful, hopeful, freeing knowledge we have of who God is and how He is at work around us.  For if we do not, we will miss the opportunity to live out our faith, and no unbelieving person will ever want what our testimony of Christ proclaims.  Never forget, friend, that our Lord holds the future and He is still in control. Yet, if we worry just as much as our lost neighbor does, what peace do we have to offer her? It is only when we stand courageously on the truth of God that we can offer hope amid fearful times.

Secondly, we must train our mind and eyes on truth. The diet we feed our minds produces the fruit of our thoughts and emotions. Paul did not give the Philippians specific instructions on what to think on because it made for a pretty plaque on their living room wall. He wrote to them from a prison cell, during a time of disunity and heresy in the church. The Philippian Christians were surrounded by Gentiles in a town with a heightened military presence. I am sure the Christians might have been a bit nervous, so Paul charged them with exactly what to think on to prevent their mind from wandering into the back allies of fear and anxiety (Phil 4:6-8).

Lastly, we must rest in the sovereignty of God. A genre of writings that I find helpful in digesting the events going on in our world is biographies of heroes in the faith. What we are going through as Christian and as American women is not new. There are many who have gone before us and have gone through similar fears and challenges. God could have put us in any time of history, in any country.

But He chose to place us here; in our neighborhoods, in our cities, in our churches. Just like those who have lived through history, I want to be found faithful to fulfill God’s purposes right where He has called me. I can only do this if I release my grip on fear and anxiety and trust God’s plan for my life and the lives of those around me.

Trust His sovereignty in your life. Whatever happens, He has you right where He wants you for his purpose and for His glory. We must live our lives in a way that, no matter what, we can testify to His goodness and power in our lives!

To Marry or Not to Marry: The Question for the Next Generation

Thisft_17-09-14_marriage_halfof week is Unmarried and Single Americans Week (September 17-23), so it seems appropriate to contemplate the changing landscape of marriage in America and its potential impact on our churches.

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, half of all American adults today are married. This number is down from 59% twenty-five years ago and 72% in 1960. In addition, the median age for first marriage in 2016 was 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women. This age has risen 2 years over the past decade and nearly seven years over the last half century.

Pew Research also reports some interesting data regarding the desire to get married on the part of those who are unmarried:

Among adults who have never been married, 58% say they would like to get married someday and 27% are not sure if they want to get married. Still, 14% say they do not want to get married.

Even those who want to get married offer various reasons why they are not yet married. Pew Research notes:

Among adults who have never been married but say they are open to marrying in the future, about six-in-ten (59%) say that a major reason they are not married is that they haven’t found the right person. . . . About four-in-ten never-married adults (41%) who say they may want to marry in the future say that not being financially stable is a major reason they are not currently married, and 28% point to this as a minor reason. Fewer – but still a substantial share – say that a major (24%) or minor (30%) reason they are not married is that they aren’t ready to settle down.

ft_17-09-14_marriage_mostnevermarriedThe growing population of unmarried individuals in the United States has significant implications for the church, and it would behoove us to take note of both the positive and negative impact.

Positive Impact

There are several potential positive benefits that unmarried individuals bring to the life of the church. Here I will highlight two of them.

  1. Unmarried individuals have more time to devote to the work of the Lord. The Apostle Paul gave great encouragement to those who were unmarried in the church at Corinth. He said, “But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord;but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Paul knew that unmarried individuals could focus more time on serving the Kingdom of God because their attention was not (rightfully) drawn to serve a spouse. Churches should not lose sight of this. There is an entire population of unmarried people in the church who can provide a great work of ministry while undistracted by the concerns of marriage.
  2. Unmarried individuals can move more quickly in fast-paced ministry settings. Both Texas and Florida were recently hit by devastating hurricanes. Calls went out form disaster relief organizations all over the country to provide supplies and volunteers to meet immediate needs. In many cases, unmarried individuals (particularly in my church) were some of the first to volunteer because they are able to act more quickly in these circumstances. Without the obligations of caring for a spouse or children, they can respond and serve when immediate needs arise that demand quick attention. Thus, churches would be well-served to cultivate this ministry mindset among the unmarried believers in their fellowship.

Negative Impact

As with the positive impact, there are potentially several negative consequences of a growing unmarried population in the church, but these two demonstrate some of the issues the church must address.

  1. Cohabitation rates are growing. One reason for a decrease in marriage rates and an increase in the median age of first marriage is that cohabitation rates have increased steadily over the last thirty years. The National Center for Family & Marriage Research (NCFMR) notes, “The percentage of women who have ever cohabited nearly doubled between 1987 and 2013. In 1987, one-third of women (aged 19-44) had ever cohabited, and in 2013, nearly two-thirds (64%) of women had cohabitation experience.” As I noted in a post earlier this year, the church is not immune to the problem of cohabitation. As more people cohabit, churches will be forced to address issues of church membership and discipline in a culture that is more accepting of cohabitation. And it is not simply the young about whom we must be concerned. NCFMR reports that the number of cohabiting older adults tripled between 2000 and 2014. In many cases these cohabiters are widows and widowers who choose to cohabit rather than remarry in order to avoid losing Social Security or pension benefits.
  2. Out-of-wedlock birth rates are growing. Just because people are waiting longer to get married or not marrying at all does not mean that there are no children being born. The National Center for Health Statistics notes that “the percentage of all births to unmarried women was 40.2% in 2014.” This means that 4 out of every 10 children in the United States are born to unwed mothers. CNN states that a third of women who give birth in a given year are not married. These are the children who will be coming through the children and youth ministries of our churches. In many cases, they will not have a father in their lives. Thus, the church will be called upon to fill in the gap for these children who do not have both mother and father.

Conclusion

There is no reason to fear the growing population of unmarried adults in our midst. But we cannot ignore them either. The church needs to minister to them and allow them to minister as a valuable part of the body of believers.

_________________________

U.S. Census Bureau, “Facts for Features: Unmarried and Single Americans Week: Sept. 17-23, 2017,” 14 August 2017.

Kim Parker and Renee Stepler, “As U.S. marriage rate hovers at 50%, education gap in marital status widens,” Pew Research Center, 14 September 2017.

U.S. Census Bureau, “Estimated Median Age at First Marriage, by Sex: 1890 to the Present,” November 2016.

P. Hemez and W. D. Manning, “Over twenty-five years of change in cohabitation experience in the U.S., 1987-2013,” Family Profiles, FP-17-02, National Center for Family & Marriage Research (2017).

P. Hemez and S. L. Brown, “Cohabitation in middle and later life,” Family Profiles, FP-16-20, National Center for Family & Marriage Research (2016).

National Center for Health Statistics, “Births: Final Data for 2014,” National Vital Statistics Reports 64 (2015).

Stephanie Coontz, “How unmarried Americans are changing everything,” CNN.com, 21 September 2017.