When Christians gather for worship, it’s around the things we have in common.
A common savior. A common grace. A common spirit. A common commission.
The differences fade away. The dividing walls of hostility are torn down. People separated by things like race, gender, and economic status gather around a common table.
So why, when we have so much in common, do we spend so much time in worship focused on roles we don’t all share? Not everyone attending a Sunday service is married. We’re not all parents. We’re not all employed at nine-to-five jobs. And yet, while a majority of the Scripture applies to every single one of us, we spend a lot of time focused on responsibilities that don’t.
Now don’t get me wrong. Our roles are important, and allowing Scripture and community to inform the way we carry out our individual duties is an integral part of our maturity. But isn’t the entire community better served by focusing our worship around discussions that are mutually beneficial?
When I pastored, I refused to preach on roles. Here are a few reasons why:
1. It’s not equitable
I have heard so many messages on marriage in church services. I have sat through multiple-week-long series on how to have a good marriage. But in twenty-one years I have maybe sat through two sermons on being single, and one of them was in a college ministry (and, incidentally, it was really about saving yourself for future spouses).
2. The lack of equity creates a false standard
Marriage is not the Christian standard for being. There are people who will never get married. When we spend an inordinate amount of our corporate time focused on this one area, we communicate that somehow those who have yet to find a spouse, have chosen to stay single, or have lost a spouse aren’t really living the Christian ideal.
I can’t tell you how many single people I have counseled over the years who have this constant sense of anxiety about the need to get married. And quite a bit of it is traced back to the marriage culture in so many evangelical churches.
Incidentally, this is one reason that I find worship in Catholic, Orthodox, and high-church settings so refreshing. When I attend a liturgical service, I feel so connected to people through worship focused on our oneness in him, rather than how we are different.
3. Role-oriented services can be quite painful
We’re not just talking about singles who have chosen not to get married. There are a lot of singles who’d love to find someone to marry, but for whatever reason haven’t. Continually emphasizing marriage just twists the knife and increases feelings of loneliness and isolation.
I know infertile couples who just stay home on Mother’s and Father’s day. I have a widower friend who’s been in church his whole life, but he’ll walk out of a service if it’s marriage-centric.
It’s my conviction that we need to be empathetic to the pain this emphasis causes.
4. We all benefit from common biblical instruction
There is so much rich theology and spiritually formative teaching that applies to us all. In fact, a huge majority of the Bible’s narrative and instruction are for all people, at all time, in every circumstance.
What’s fantastic is that when we internalize these teachings, they have a positive effect on the roles that we’re talking about. Learning to submit to the Spirit is applicable whether you’re a CPA, a spouse, a gardener, a student, or a parent (and will make you shine in each of those roles).
As I said, having time to focus on our distinct roles is important. And there are wonderful opportunities in the body of Christ for mentoring, studies, small groups, and classes around these responsibilities.
Let’s spend our worship focused together on the work of Christ, and how he’s transforming us into people who excel at whatever responsibilities we have.
Agree? Disagree? Let’s chat about it in the comments.