What is a “support group” ministry/BLOG?

People ask me from time to time, ” How is your singles group?”

That is a great question! How is our group? Can I even define the “group”? What does the group do? Where does it go? Why is it (there)? Who is (in) the group? What is the group for?

First of all, L.A.U.N.C.H. (Let’s All Unite iN Christ’s Honor) has never been a cut and dry, located, put your finger on it group. It is a (extremely) loose SUPPORT ORGANISM. Often “it” is a one way support group with a purpose of encouraging Christian Singles as they navigate through the challenges of life. Occasionally a few (maybe 12 or 22 or 200) single Christians and their friends and family will gather together for an event. An annual Singles Conference somewhere in Florida. Singles Classes at lectureships (Spiritual Growth Workshop in Orlando or Pepperdine in Malibu). A tubing trip, a Christian concert, dinner, Christmas lights or the Paula Dean trolley in Savannah. We have been to a Braves game and the Georgia Aquarium, Sightseeing in New Orleans and New York and the Tenth Annual Singles Retreat at Disney. More often, it is a case of friends chatting online about the hardships of life. Complicated times like being alone yet the mother of six. Being a believer and working to produce better entertainment in Hollywood, grieving the death of a wonderful spouse or the loss of a potential marriage. Celebrating the joys and accomplishment of life. You see, as Christians, we are the church. Individuals with the highs and lows of a roller coaster. A high five here, a brush off of dust there. And prayer. I am happy to lift each name in prayer when asked. Mission trips? Many go and serve in Central America, Africa, America’s Inner Cities and recently for us, Europe.

Where is the group? Well, some live in California and others in New Jersey. Many are scattered around Florida and Tennessee, Texas and North Dakota, Lithuania to Honduras. Ten percent are people that I have met face to face (does that surprise you?). Most are people who text, FB post or E-mail. Stories of abuse, neglect and disappointment. But also tales of success, new starts and triumph.

What can you “accomplish” with such an eclectic group? A good question! I don’t have a great answer….. I can point to the obvious.

  • Over 20 years an unfunded, non-budgeted ministry has been instrumental in over 100 baptisms and many more people returning to their church roots.
  • Numerous marriages have occurred and only one “failure” that I know of.
  • Kids who we met in youth groups have stayed loosely connected through college, dating and now share there marriages and baby pictures.
  • Numerous bumps in the road have been overcome and more will be encountered.

What does the future hold? Hmm. Again, the obvious.

  • LAUNCH 2018 Singles Conference will be in Tallahassee and old friends will gather and new friends will be made.
  • Small get togethers (like wave boards, fish tacos and a sunset) will be shared.
  • Opportunities to reach others through meetings with ministers locally and chats around the country will occur.
  • DivorceCare and personal notes and phone calls will help people heal.

     If you are looking for a “real” ministry that you can define led by a “real preacher”, this isn’t it. If you are looking for a place to connect, encourage, ventilate or just read to improve, L.A.U.N.C.H. Christians Singles could make a difference for you.

 

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Ideal or Idol: Avoiding the Family Cult in Church

Ideal or Idol: Avoiding the Family Cult in Church

ideal familyWhen I was a preacher, I got more requests to speak on family than any other subject. I always dreaded it. I’m no family expert and feel my weaknesses keenly. As a preacher’ son I grew up resenting the pressure to be the model family. It felt like living in the church’s private zoo. It is also painful for people in tough family situations to hear messages about what family should be like. Who wants to hurt people?

Primarily, I struggled because the Bible just doesn’t say that much about family–at least not the issues people seem to want most. This is especially true with regard to the family counseling questions most people ask today.

There is general model of family laid out in scripture (though not as clearly as we assume). Marriage is pictured as a man and woman committed to each other for life, bearing and raising children together. Sex is reserved for this special marital bond. Marriage is the primary relationship–not parent child. In marriage a couple is one flesh. Parents are encouraged to do two primary things for their children. 1) discipline them—though no technique is recommended beyond a symbolic “rod,” and 2) provide spiritual training–teach them to know the Lord. We are commanded to honor our father and mother. There are a few instructions about submitting to one another in love. Beyond this, there is no detailed manual for family life in scripture. Also, the Bible presents family from different cultures and it is difficult to untangle enduring principles from temporary cultural expressions (e.g. polygamy).

Perhaps this is why most marriage and family material promoted in churches today comes from the social sciences rather than scripture. Proponents seek to align their teaching with scripture, but most of it does not originate there. Much of it is helpful and we can use it to strengthen our families. That’s great. But the purpose of this material is not advancing the Kingdom of God and often has little to do with being disciples. In our understandable anxiety about family, we can easily over-emphasizing family in church and get our families out of place. If that happens, it will not be good for our families or for the church.

church20family1A good friend of mine, who has a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy, commented a few years ago that we have a near family cult in church. There is a  vast supply of family material through Christian bookstores, radio, and TV. There are countless family seminars. We’ve seen an explosion of counseling programs and ministers who are trained as therapists. Some churches build their whole visions around strengthening family. “Traditional family values” is now synonymous with the gospel for many. It is almost as if the primary purpose of the church is to serve family.

In light of the obsession with family, the Bible has some startling things to say.

“’Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.’” (Mark 10:29-31)

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’” (Luke 14:25-27)

“’Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.’” (Matt. 10:34-47)

What kind of traditional family values is this? Have we forgotten that the gospel is about the reign of God and this surpasses the goal of family harmony–as important as that is? I sometimes wonder if we shifted focus because we lost confidence in our mission of making disciples or the power of the gospel to restore humanity. Perhaps we just noticed the need for help with family in our individualistic culture and adjusted our message to fit our market. That is not wrong per se, but it’s dangerous.

As a child, I heard preachers warn about putting family above church. The family should served God together, but God came before secular family events. Now we see the reverse. In the name of strong family, we skip church events for family. Perhaps this is a good change. Perhaps not. But we better think through it carefully and not just do it in a knee jerk fashion. The old sermons were right. Family can become an idol we serve more than Jesus

In addition, when we focus too much on family, we can leave the impression that only people from ideal families can be faithful Christians. This makes divorced people, singles, and people with family problems feel like outsiders. It can leave the impression that good Christian families have no real problems. That is not true now and never has been true.

We forget that even the heroic Bible characters had family problems:

  • Adam and Eve threw each other under the bus in the garden.
  • Cain killed Able.
  • Noah got drunk.
  • Ham saw Noah drunk, disgraced him and then Ham’s family was cursed to be slaves to his brothers.
  • Abraham and Sarah conspired to gain God’s blessing through bigamy, which created no end of conflict between Sarah and Hagar and later Ishmael and Isaac.
  • Abraham’s love for Isaac was so great it rivaled his love of God to the degree that God called him to sacrifice Isaac to force Abraham to decide whom he loved most.
  • Isaac and Rebecca showed favoritism to opposing sons which destroyed their family.
  • Jacob deceived Isaac and stole Esau’s blessing.
  • Esau threatened to kill Jacob, who had to run and was alienated from his family for two decades.
  • After running from his brother, Jacob had endless conflict with his uncle Laban who tricked him into marrying his two daughters who competed all through their lives.
  • Jacob’s oldest son, Reuben, raped his step-mother.
  • Simeon and Levi deceived and massacred a village after the rape of their sister Dinah.
  • Judah had incest with his daughter-in-law Tamar and fathered his own grandchild.
  • Joseph was kidnaped and sold into slavery by his brothers because Jacob perpetuated the favoritism of his parents.
  • Moses and Zipporah had such an ugly conflict over the circumcision of Gershom that it nearly got Moses killed.
  • Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were so corrupted they were killed by God while leading worship.
  • Gideon’s son Abimelech killed his seventy brothers in an ill-fated attempt to become king himself.
  • Samson married the pagan Delilah, who betrayed him and left him blinded, imprisoned, and dying in a murder-suicide designed to redeem himself.
  • Eli’s sons were so evil God took the priesthood away from his family and had his sons killed.
  • Samuel watched Eli’s family closely and yet his sons turned out just as corrupt.
  • David, the “man after God’s own heart,”had endless family problems highlighted by his adultery with Bathsheba and conspiracy to execute her first husband, who happened to be in his secret service detail.
  • Prince Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar. In revenge Prince Absalom killed Amnon and was banished by David.
  • Absalom mounted a coup to depose David which lead to a civil war and Absolum’s death.
  • Prince Adonijah tried to take the thrown from Solomon and ended up being killed by his regent brother.
  • Solomon had 1000 wives who lead his heart away from God.

I could go on and on, but you get it. Even Jesus himself had his family troubles. See Mark 3:20-21, 31-35. His family thought he lost his marbles, showed up with the thorazine and a straight jacket to get him some help, but couldn’t get to him. Then he denied knowing who they were.

You almost get the impression that faith is hard on families.

family-conflictHere is the neglected reality: there is not one ideal family in the Bible. All had major problems and conflicts. The same is true today. There are no perfect husbands, wives, parents, or families. If the heroic people of the Bible had family trouble, yet God used them, maybe our families don’t have to be perfect for God to use us.

This is no excuse for not working hard to have best families possible. But it is also no reason to despair because our families struggle. It is no reason to bail out on a difficult marriage or be bitter toward our parents because they didn’t get everything right.

Faith in Jesus doesn’t produce cookie-cutter perfect families, but it does give us strength to endure the most difficult family situations with honor and love. God’s grace touches our family failures like all others and he can work even in the most difficult family situations.

When we focus too much attention on some illusive ideal family and make family the focus of church, we may create as many problems as we solve. Romanticizing family creates unrealistic expectations. Talking about ideal marriages may increase marital dissatisfaction. It can set people up for disappointment as it presents some air-brushed Disneyesque happily-ever-after expectation that is destined to crash. We expect marriage to be a lifelong honeymoon filled with total intimacy, unabated romance, and sexual fireworks. We expect our spouse to be everything to us: best friend, passionate lover, co-parent, financial provider, etc. We expect an intimate relationships with every child. We expect our family to make us happy and meet all our needs. We buy the myth that 50-100 years ago families didn’t have the problems of today.

Family sociologist William Goode has written,

“Like most stereotypes, that of the classical family of Western nostalgia lead us astray. When we penetrate the confusing mists of recent history, we find few examples of this “classical” family….True enough, divorce was rare, but we have no evidence that families were generally happy. Indeed, we find, as in so many other pictures of the glowing past, that each past generation of people writes of a period still more remote, their grandparents’ generation, when things were really much better.”

I fear we’ve overly romanticized families of the past. The good old days weren’t so good, we just kept family problems quiet. Today’s family problems were caused by yesterday’s family problems. While Hollywood unjustly bashes traditional family, we do no one a favor if we deny past weaknesses and uncritically defend “traditional” family.

For most of human history, (e.g., in Bible times) people did not expect as much from marriage and family as we do today. The quest for intimacy in family began in 19th century. Before then, there was little privacy for sex and little time for leisure family time. Marriages were arranged by parents to promote faith, social standing, and financial security, not romance. Children were seen as financial assets. They helped with the family work on the farm or family trade.

anorexia1206lindsay-lohan (1)Just as fashion models contribute to anorexia, the idealization of family can lead to dissatisfaction based on exaggerated expectations. Some parents drive children away by expecting unreasonable closeness. Other people keep getting remarried looking for their “soul mate” who will be everything they “need” to be happy.  Some studies indicate born again Christians divorce slightly more than non-believers. Why? Partly because in church we create unrealistic expectations. We are so committed to some ideal view of family we’ll rip up existing families and create enormous pain in order to have some ideal, only to find problems repeat in the next manifestation.

The problem not that we don’t believe in marriage. Rather, the problem is that we believe in fantasy marriage. It is time we stopped swapping partners and keeping problems and keep partners and swap problems.

I fear many Christians expect their family to provide for them what only God can provide: security, significance, wholeness, meaning, and joy. God can work through our families to bring much good to us. When family is good, it is an incredible joy. But that is not a steady state for any of us. All of our families are flawed tools, even in God’s hands. If we look to our family as our source of security or meaning, we won’t be able to bear the truth about how flawed we are. It will undercut our ability to really love our families. Instead we will be angry and resentful they aren’t better people or more useful for our happiness or fulfillment. Only when we can accept the brokenness of our family can we love them without being bitter they aren’t more perfect and turn our hopes into oppressive demands.

I think about my Bouchelle grandparents marriage and wonder if they had a good marriage. It all depends on how you evaluate marriage. If you asked them, they would say they did. They were together for over 58 years and took care of each other to death. They raised three godly children who all had Christian homes. They loved each other deeply the best they knew how. Yet, by any measure, their marriage had huge problems. They did not meet each other’s emotional needs. I’m not sure my granddad knew women had emotional needs. My grandmother had deep family of origin issues my granddad couldn’t understand. They didn’t always make each other happy. They argued a lot—mostly about the thermostat—but about everything else too. Many times my granddad confided in me toward the end, “She’s killing me.” She was, in fact.

But at my granddad’s grave my grandmother wept over him and said, “Oh Pat, oh Pat, how will I ever live without you?!” She talked to him constantly in the nursing home in her final years. He was always with her in her mind. They fought but they never considered divorce. Murder? Sure. Divorce? Never. They loved each other the best way they knew how to the end. I want a better marriage than they had, but I also want my marriage to do what theirs did.

In the end, Christian faith is more about our relationship to God than to family. It does greatly affect how we treat other people–especially our family. But focusing on marriage and parenting skills is cosmetic. Those skills won’t offer much help to people who don’t have the enduring sacrificial love of God instilled in their character.  Focusing on being like Jesus will make us better spouses and parents because it effects us at the core. You want a good family? Focus on Jesus. Live out the ways of Jesus and you will learn how to love everyone, family included.

Family is important and we need to minister to families, but our primary commitment, love and emotional support must come from God. So, as we focus on family, let’s be careful we don’t make our ideal an idol. Ironically the best thing you can do for your family is not to put your family first, but to put Jesus first and put your family in its proper place

“HE has made everything beautiful in it’s time”…Ecclesiastes 3:11

Whether we are willing to accept it or not, we see divorce as a bruise and a blemish on the church, even on those who are not at fault. But, being divorced isn’t the only “failure” that makes Christians uncomfortable. Do not (and I emphasize, DO NOT!!!) allow your spouse to die at a young age either. As a matter of fact, don’t wait too long to get married either! Singleness makes Christians uncomfortable.

There is a conception that single people are always unhappy, are irresponsible, unreliable and are missing out on the fullness of life. Some get the sense that they are invisible. Many are seen as lacking, less than or not whole. Many church members dismiss the single and many forget their singleness as soon as they are married. Others are not invited to activities because they are not married.

I have heard many elders and ministers “joke” about the “singles, singles again (and again) and the singles FOR A REASON”. Many singles have been told that they don’t “deserve” to be married or that marriage must not be “meant for you”. Yet, the same leaders would marry again quickly if the circumstances were theirs.

Remember that all marriages do eventually end, even if death occurs. Many a single dad or mom at church is widowed. Many are divorced due to the actions of an unfaithful spouse. Many good couples meet in Christian colleges and divorce struggling with the real world. Some make responsible choices and do NOT marry the wrong person and yet are penalized and stigmatized as being not married “for a reason”.

Singles, remember that you always belong to Jesus Christ and are always loved. Your life can be very rich and fulfilling as a single. You are forced to let go of the temporary but allowed to embrace the eternal.

Leaders, you are missing out on fellowship with many kind, passionate, dedicated and loving individuals. Single “for a reason”? Always! Jesus was “single for a reason”. How about Paul? Timothy? When did David do his greatest work? Joseph? Single “for a reason”? Yes, single to glorify Jesus.

 

LOVE HURTS! Gloom despair and agony!

We have all seen the movie! Have heard the song! We know the phrase! Happily ever after!

What if my experiences are not happily ever after?

What if I am divorced? A lot of divorce these days. A lot of opinions too! Maybe we got married too soon! Funny, I know a couple that got married the day after they met and they did ok…………. Maybe we waited too long to get married! Oh yeah, I know a couple that married after dating for seven years and they are ok too! Maybe you married the wrong person! Oh, right. Well I married a girl from _(fill in the blank)_Christian College. She was an elder’s daughter. Couldn’t pick much better could I? I am still divorced. Maybe you were the problem since you married the right person. Hmmm! No doubt that I made many mistakes in the relationship. I am not willing to take all the blame and responsibility. I feel for the children. They feel abandoned…hurt…angry because we, the grownups, couldn’t get along. Too much pain!

What if my spouse died? Honestly, nobody is prepared for a young widow or widower. Wife dies at 35. Husband grieves but is also lonely. Few peers. Treated different.

What if my CHURCH family is dysfunctional. Honestly, most “churches” are for families 25-45 with children OR full of old people. Churches don’t cater to the unmarried, especially the divorced, young widows or single parents.

*Statistics show that 90% of the divorced quit church attendance and most never return. Their children go with them.

*Statistics show that Churches of Christ are attended by approximately 85% married  people even though 51% of the population is single. Florida is one of the highest concentrations of single believers and one of the lowest attendance states. Florida has ZERO singles ministers in churches of Christ. It seems that we are willing to let our younger unmarried attend a denomination elsewhere or not attend. We will take them after they marry? Poor strategy!

Many issues to address, problems to solve, pain to soothe, compassion to share……………..most of our ministers are willing to tell us how we are going to hell but unwilling to make a difference. We want to love Jesus but need to see it from our church family, from our leaders……………

Love Hurts! But we shouldn’t be all alone with that hurt!

Don’t Show Favoritism!!!

James 2 addresses the problem where a well dressed person is treated better than a shabby dressed person. But does the church discriminate by spending most of the money on only a few ministries? Does the single parent get the same treatment as a married couple? Are we racially sensitive? Do we shy away from the unique? Are we guilty of fellowshipping only people who are our age or social status?

All are invited to our Singles Weekend at Disney. It is affordable and all ages are coveted!  (Married folks could come as volunteer staff).

Why Every Church Must Minister To Singles Equally

      Read James 1:27 -“Pure religion includes caring for widows and orphans…. and James 2:1-9 which forbids favoritism!

     Hypothetically, I saw a sign on a church building. “Gospel Meeting”. I envision a small number of the church members attending with a paid guest speaker to preach. A good news meeting without guests? Where are the single parents who need ministering to (and their children)? The young widows (we are losing young people, both in the war and in accidents)? Where are the divorced? Forgiveness is part of the Good News, isn’t it? What does the good news offer the never married?

     Here’s the basic facts for those of you who want to take the Gospel to the world (Matthew 28:19)

  • The world is not in the building. It’s in the community.
  • Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and prisoners is always scriptural (and frequently neglected)
  • 50.5% of the US population is unmarried and may singles love Jesus just as much as married people.
  • The average single mother earns less than $15,000 a year and the average child of single mothers has more depression, anxiety, guilt, substance abuse and teenage pregnancy. If you want to “preach” the good news, then “practice” the good news and help!
  • Studies show that 90% of regular churchgoers quit attending church after a divorce. Their kids go with them.
  • Over 50% of church kids quit attending church when they go away to college.

Like Jack Webb said, “just the facts”….here they are? Are we content to be a church for married couples and their children or will we choose to “go to the world (whoever they may be) and preach the gospel”.

    Stepping up to the plate as singles in the church

    As singles, I know that it is difficult to lead your church family in making good decisions. So, let’s talk about ways to make those around you more aware of the needs of singles. Please share your thoughts!!!

    1) let the church family know who you are and what you need. Attend often and get involved in a “share” or “care” small group. Alot of support is available but people have to know you. Involve yourself in a childcare “sharing” group,  make an extra serving and share with an elderly neighbor or another single parent

    2) Know your church elders and ministers well and offer to help meet the church needs. Also, let them know your needs before you are overwhelmed.

    3) Fellowship!!! Eat, play, share and work with your fellow Christian singles. You need friends! Good ones!!

    4) What say you?