Hidden Messages of American Christianity: “Family Cocooning Session: No Trespassing Allowed!”

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PadlockThis is the sixth in a series of posts covering the hidden messages that sneak into American churches’ proclamation of the Gospel. For more background, please refer to this post.

We had a single mom of young boys over to our home last Sunday. After enjoying her company and the company of her sons, she confessed that more than anything else she wishes there were a man around in her boys’ lives to give them the masculine influence they need.

This last week, I had an anonymous commenter who lamented that many people have no place to spend Christmas day because of broken families, family located distantly, or similar issues. While I was always fortunate in that regard, I know others who have not been. We should all feel their loneliness and do more than talk about it. (No one in the commenter’s church stepped forward, but unbelievers did. What message does that send?)

At a time when so many of our churches are obsessed with Focus on the Family-like “family” ministry, why are so many so lousy at being a family to the family-less?

It’s hard to escape the message. A quick sampling of church Web sites is enough to show that we’re infatuated with family. Somewhere on the homepage of your average church there’s a JPEG of a smiling family of Mom, Dad, big Bro and little Sis (plus that half child for statistical reasons—the ultrasound’s scheduled for next week.) Given the tenor of today’s church messages, there’s a fair chance you’ll see an ad for the upcoming sermon series on how to have a great sex life—with free earplugs provided for the singles, widowed, and divorced. Thousands of times in a given weekend, churches will be trumpeting the family message, all the while failing to understand what it’s doing to those whose families failed, fell prey to death, or never were.

There’s cocooning and then there’s sin. We may very well be teetering toward the latter. Jesus had this to say about family priorities:

Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
—Matthew 19:27-30 ESV

And…

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
—Matthew 10:37 ESV

What is also not worthy is promoting the family message in our churches while failing to meet true Kingdom family needs. Loving Christ more than anyone else means that our attitudes toward family must become like His. And His look radically different:

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
—Matthew 12:46-50 ESV

We’re always thinking about the needs of our own biological families, but Jesus turned that on its head. The single mom I referred to above wants nothing more than the time of a man or two to invest in her sons—not tomorrow, not a year from now should she have a proposal from a boyfriend, but right now. (How about taking them to some ballgames or to the movies?) The unmarried man who lives in Burbank while his folks are in Bangor shouldn’t have to sit alone on Christmas. A Christian family should be making certain he spends that day with them (and have a gift for him, too.) Wouldn’t that young single woman in your church who’s from out of town love to have a home-cooked meal at the table of a Christian family willing to make her a part of theirs?

Are we making any of that happen? Or are we cocooning so brilliantly that no one from the outside can penetrate our perfect little shell? (What message does that send our kids about “outsiders”?)

All families are a gift from God, be that physically formed or spiritually created. Despite our obsession with family, our inability to incorporate the less easily incorporated folks into our physical families means that we may not be doing a good job with those spiritual families. Those on the outside looking in hear the ubiquitous family message, but it sounds to them like, “You’re not invited.”

Yeah, I know that there are churches that huddle the guys up to do oil changes and car repairs for single moms. We need more than that, though. While a mechanic may be nice, a surrogate dad for that mom’s kids is even more needed. And if single people embarrass us so much that we have to shove them into their own little groups to do whatever single people do today (nice temptation, huh?), why can’t we do a better job of incorporating them into our families and looking out for prospective mates? In my bachelor days, I knew plenty of singles who would have loved a bit of help with both.

No, the messages we send are hopelessly hypocritical when it comes to family. Too often we treat single moms and dads with an attitude that they’d be better off if they were married. That may very well be, but what are we doing to make that possible? Are we willing to watch their kids while they engage in a real dating life? If we want them to make a good selection in a mate, it may take a year or two. Ask yourself: If I don’t do it, who will? From what I’ve personally witnessed, there’s no line forming, so you may be the only one.

And who’s to say the elderly widow or widower in our churches can’t become another grandma or grandpa to our kids? God knows that my own family would be delighted to have someone filled with sixty years or more of godly living to replace my deceased parents in my own son’s life. His other set of grandparents are 220 miles away. Can any of us have too many God-fearing family members nearby? If you love the Lord and want to be a part of my family, the house is open!

No one said any of this would be easy. It asks something of us, whether we’re blessed with a nuclear family of 4.5 or we’re single, divorced, widowed—whatever. But if we’re not willing to treat like real family those that fall outside the boundaries of what our rule books say is “real family,” then we have no right to talk about the Church being the family of God because we’re not modeling it.

The early Church made a family for the widows and the orphans. Are we doing the same?

14 thoughts on “Hidden Messages of American Christianity: “Family Cocooning Session: No Trespassing Allowed!”

  1. ccinnova

    Thanks, Dan, for an excellent post. Though I love my church, I feel out of place as a never-married forty-something man in a family-centric church led by a senior pastor who, together with his wife, teaches at family and marriage workshops. Your post should be required reading for pastors and elders of family-centric churches, especially as Christmas and New Year’s approach.

  2. Mo

    Wow, thank you so much for this post. In all my years as a Christian, I don’t think I’ve ever heard this said, and so strongly. And it so needs to be! Whenever I even mention it, I’m taken as being a bitter single person or something.

  3. GREAT article! At this point, yes, everything is wrapped up in “family”. Consider the theological ramifications of the following:
    “What is the ultimate priority God has called us to? […] In heaven, is the crucible of our saint-making going to have been through our jobs? I don’t think so. The Scripture makes clear that it will be done largely through our marriages.”
    Wow. The “ultimate priority” (which would be tantamount to the Great Commission?) is to get married. Google that to find out what prominent ministry head (leader of millions) made that stunning statement. With millions of Christians sitting under that kind of teaching, how do we singles expect to be taken seriously as Christians if we’re not enrolled in God’s “saint-making” system? Marriage *is* the status symbol of First Class Christianity.

  4. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, seems to be the origin of the quotation given above by “Phil in CA”.

    Anyhow, as I recall from past church history past, long ago, there were alternative avenues for xtian singles, where they could find useful service and mutual support—one could take vows and join a convent or a monastery. But, alas, ever since the Great Bang Up of 1517, that sort of thing has generally been frowned upon by one side of the aisle.

    It’s a curious thing to note that at one time in my life, I actually lived in a “xtian commune”. It was not a bad experience, but rather boring and uneventful, which is why I don’t write about it.

    Anyhow, Dan, you’ve written something that actually managed to make some sense for me. I commend you.

  5. Nate

    I think it speaks in an awesome way to a family’s love for Christ when they roll out the red carpet for single or family-less people. I can’t say how much it has done for me, having recently moved 17 hours from my family, and having had a pastor’s family of 4 agree to let me live in their home with them. Just because I needed a place to stay and they had an extra room. No fancy language of well-doing, just real hospitality.

    Incidentally Dan, I have linked your blog to mine, cause I saw a couple of other things I really liked!…

  6. candyinsierras

    I used to be a single foster parent of adolescent boys. I decided to pursue this ministry because I liked working with kids and I saw it as a great opportunity for my church to become involved with the boys. My church was willing to give me money to help the boys out, but only one man in my church took the time to do things ever so often with the boys. I was really disappointed in the lack of investment in the lives of these troubled boys. so sad.

  7. This post kind of rang in my mind for a few days after you wrote it. I don’t have much in the way of specific feedback other than to say i have really begun to check my current thinking against the teachings of jesus.

  8. Nate,

    Thanks. Blessings on your blogging.

    Candyinsierras,

    Your story is sadly typical. I pray that some men will step up and heed the call.

    Carl,

    It really is a counterintuitive message, isn’t it?

  9. Anonymous

    Dan –
    I’m a single parent for the last 13 yrs as a Christian.
    It seems most of the time i don’t fit in, in the church.
    I think this is because, as you said, the church is so very interested in ‘family’ and they hold their families mostly to themselves. My girls and i have spent 80 percent of our Christmas, Thanksgiving & Resurrection Day’s alone. Everyone is usually busy with their own families. sigh. This is sad, but, God has called me and does uphold me and my girls. Recently has brought a Christian couple into our lives of the which do not attend our church. Met the wife at my work. The husband ministers to my daughters in a very godly manor. Of course by now there is not too much he can do for my 19 yr old, but there is a bit more hope for the 13 yr old. I also find it very difficult to fellowship without a husband or boyfriend, somehow i don’t seem to fit in the general conversations or interests. I do homeschool my 13yr old, because God has blessed me with a job that allows me to work from home. However, nobody really wants to help out by taking my daughter to any field trips, it’s supposed to be ‘family’. smile. Life is tough on this side of eternity, and i so look forward to the other side. Despite all this – God is good, the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord

  10. jan@theviewfromher

    I can only say Thank you! (although my first response, like a couple others’ was “wow!” You’ve addressed an important topic and brought some new light to the subject. The church obviously doesn’t know what to do with its singles, except tell them to volunteer (which we do) and to get married (which of course we would be happy to do). I agree with the first commenter, this post really should be required reading for evangelical church leadership.

  11. Pingback: Cerulean Sanctum » Resposts: Hidden Messages of American Christianity 5, 6 & 7

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