What Are We Teaching Our Young Women?
The church needs to Lean In to the conversation concerning marriage and singleness
The Internet is ablaze with discussions surrounding Sheryl Sandberg’s national bestseller, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Early in the book she addresses age-old conversations surrounding women and their choices concerning work and their relationships. She writes, “I was twenty-four and convinced that marriage was the first—and necessary—step to a happy and productive life.” Like so many women, she “was encouraged to prioritize marriage over having a career.”
As I read those words and considered my observations in the American church, I wondered, “Are we really having a marriage versus career conversation with our young women?” And if so, is that the conversation we should be having with young women right now?
According to Sandberg, “Women are surrounded by headlines and stories warning them that they cannot be committed to both their families and careers. They are told over and over again that they have to choose, because if they try to do too much, they’ll be harried and unhappy. Framing the issue as “work-life balance”—as if the two were diametrically opposed—practically ensures work will lose out. Who would ever choose work over life?”
Yet the fact still remains that many Christian women—married and unmarried, young and mature, mothers and women who do not have children—are working. Many of them are working out of necessary and can’t afford the luxury of the work-life debate, which makes me think, “When Christians talk about women who work, are we simply having a conversation about marriage versus career, or are we also having a conversation about marriage versus singleness?” Considering our context effectively changes the whole dynamic of the conversation.
In some Christian circles, the first consideration of marriage versus career views a woman’s choice of having a career as selfish, particularly if she has small children. She has chosen her work over a “real” (some may say “godly”) life. On the other hand, the second consideration—marriage versus singleness, is really a conversation about God, Christian values, and how we view our relationships (beginning with the family).
Think about it…What counsel and direction is the American church providing for young single women in today’s culture? Are we expecting them to graduate high school or college and then make finding a partner and having children their number one priority? And what if a young woman’s prince doesn’t arrive right away? What if he never shows up? What should she do during her “season of waiting”? What if she can’t have children? What advice do we give her then? I hope she works, and accepts that responsibility joyfully and graciously as a beautiful gift from God.
The Apostle Paul affirms singleness as a gift from God (1 Corinthians 7:7) and concludes that singleness gives a person freedom for godly pursuits without the distraction and concern for having to please a spouse (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). I believe we should be honest with ourselves and each other and confess that in far too many American churches today, we still value marriage over singleness, and that has a large effect on how we minister to or ignore the single or “career” women in our churches.
We focus and minister out of what we value. But as women leaders in the church, we need to ask these questions: Are we meeting the needs of all women in our churches? What messages are we communicating (verbally and nonverbally) to the single women in our churches? How are we equipping and preparing women to live out the gospel and shine God’s light beyond their homes and local congregations? How are we helping women develop a Christian worldview that stands up to the tests and challenges of our current culture?
I understand that the debate concerning marriage and singleness is not a new issue in the church. Throughout church history, Christians have wavered from extreme asceticism to holding marriage persons in higher esteem than single persons. The difference between now and the generations of old is that we are losing a generation of Millennials from the church. Therefore, as leaders in the church we need to intentionally Lean In to the conversation about marriage and singleness and create healthy environments for single and/or career women to minister and be ministered to in the church.
Start here by evaluating the lay of your land and asking some hard questions:
1. By all means, don’t isolate single or career women like exotic animals we view at the zoo. There is no need to create a new ministry for this “special” group of women.
2. On the other hand, do give them opportunities to fellowship and connect with other like-minded women. Women should be able to connect in our churches in safe communities where they are not feeling pressure, shame, or guilt to get married or have a baby.
3. Take a look at your ministry setup and consider whether your current ministry options are inclusive of women in all walks of life. See what tweaks can be made to your current ministry offering. Carefully consider the messages in the ministry resources you currently use. Ask the question, How would a single or infertile woman read or receive this material? One of the blessings of our Women’s Mentoring Ministry is each of the small groups is diversified across generations and across personal and professional pursuits. Our individual uniqueness is what allows us to contribute to the church and bless others.
4. Get back to the basics and get creative. One of the many things the young generation needs right now is the ability to think, develop a Christian worldview, and make right decisions so they can effectively respond in word and action to the pressures they face once they leave the church building. Consider: How effectively are we preparing these young people to face the world? Would it be wrong for a church to host a Lean In small-group discussion? Or challenge our young people to learn and lead and use their passions and giftedness to serve the church? How intentional and effective are you in discipling single or career women?
I believe now is the time for the church to Lean In to the conversation concerning marriage and singleness, discuss the nature of our work and relationships, and equip women for their various choices in living out their creative calling. What do you think?
Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is a full-time student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC campus (Christian Leadership). She also serves as co-director of the women’s mentoring ministry at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is a blogger, a writer, and the founder and President for His Glory on Earth Ministries. You can connect with Natasha through her blog, Twitter, or Facebook.