My last blog about singles in the church seemed to spark some real interest, so my goal is to do a series of posts about myths in the church about young singles. The first myth, which we already addressed, is that those who are single in the church are somehow incomplete. But we are moving on!
Myth number 2: Young Christian singles would like nothing better than to work with the youth ministry program. In fact, they want to be at every lock-in, be forced to do crazy things like snarf jello, get pegged with dodge-balls, and give up their vacation days to go on summer mission trips. Yes, when they walked into the church that was exactly what they thought they were looking for.
Ummm…. Not exactly. Do we assume that all the married couples with kids who walk through the door want to work in the nursery? No! of course not. That would be crazy. In fact, many of them probably need a break from that scene. They want to be around other adults and have real conversations. Maybe the young singles want nothing more than to get out of the youth group scene where they might have spent their whole growing up experience. They might be interested in cultivating mature adult relationships and finding a mentor rather than being a mentor. Maybe they are really busy, and contrary to popular opinion, they are looking for more out of church than an unpaid babysitting position that feels a lot like work and less like spiritual nourishment.
I know this might blow your mind, but some young singles just might not like kids. “Well they’ll love our kids. We have great kids.” I can hear the parental rebuttal right now. I can see the arms being folded across the chest and the pursed lips. Sorry! I’m not giving in. It’s time to take the halos off of your children, especially your middle schoolers. We all know they can be more than a handful. Saying they don’t want to work with the youth is not a statement about your parenting or the current state of the youth group or even the youth pastor. Maybe they really just don’t want to work with kids. End of story. You can unfold your arms and stop pursing your lips. This is not personal. It’s just the way things are.
So why do we make the assumption that young single adults want to do youth ministry? I think part of the problem is that until they are married, and really until they have kids, we view them as immature. Of course the best place to put immature adults is with the highly energized overly hormonal youth. Seriously? Who thought that was a good idea? The notion that singleness is tied to immaturity is an incredibly unfair, unspoken bias that needs to stop being perpetuated in the church.
So what is lost when we automatically toss all the young singles into youth ministry? Well first of all, we lose our credibility as a church because we fail to listen to them. We fail to give them an opportunity to share about the things they are passionate about and help provide places to cultivate the gifts God has given them. Instead of church being a place where they can flourish and be celebrated, it becomes a place where they are expected to play a communally enforced role. When that sort of pressure exists, then the church stunts the growth and exploration of these young singles. Another by product of this assumption is that others in the church community who have a heart for youth ministry may feel unable to pursue that passion because they do not fit the mold of the other youth ministry workers. In the end, the youth suffer as well because they are not surrounded with role models from all seasons of life, which is something they need. So basically everybody loses.
What is gained if we refuse to relegate all the young singles to youth ministry? You provide an opportunity for these young singles to be an integrated part of the larger multi-generational community. You value them as adults and don’t just look at them as big kids. You empower and give them space to begin to focus on their own personal relationship with Jesus Christ rather than always be pouring out into the youth. You allow them to find their place in the community on their own terms. You allow and help them build connections and a network that will support and challenge them as they grow into mature Christian adults and figure out what exactly that means.
So please, don’t start salivating over the next set of young singles who walk into your church because you know the current youth ministry volunteers are burned out and need a break. Get to know them. Love them. Listen to them. Find out what makes them tick, and then look for spaces where their passions and talents can overlap to bless the life of the community, enhance their own spiritual growth, and glorify God.