The Church and Special Interests

talkingCircleHere is a question I’ve been pondering recently – how much should the church focus on special interests? And by special interests, I mean forming groups, Bible studies, etc to address questions, concerns and general life principles around specific life situations. This could ministry focused on singles, marrieds, men, women, teen, etc.

Now I don’t want to dismiss the reality of specific issues centered on specific groups. But my question is more related to how much the church should engage in addressing these concerns, both from the pulpit and from church life in general, especially in the shape of formal ministry programs. I don’t have any definitive answers but I am drawn to certain conclusions from what I’ve witnessed anecdotally but more importantly, in reflection of what church ought to be. So consider this post more of a thought exercise.

The other day I had the opportunity to catch up with a good friend who had been invited to speak at a singles forum to address issues of singleness. Based on the description of previous years events, it was really more of a “how can I be a good Christian single” kind of format. I thought he had some good ideas about creating more of an interactive exercise but yet something nagged at me. How much is the single oriented towards church addressing the concerns of how to live as a single person? What are the expectations for sermons, bible studies for resolving these issues?

I am also reminded of this article I came across several weeks ago, Why are Working Women Starting to Unplug from their Churches.  The article expresses how the older, professional single does not easily fit into the categories that are carved out for specific groups – young singles and married couples.

These women look around and see all of the buckets of people that are being served, such as “the young marrieds,” “the singles,” “the youth,” “the married with children,” “empty-nesters,” “divorced,” “retired,” etc., and do not find a label that fully encompasses all they are. She is a woman AND a business leader. Her daily challenges are unique. Yet, there is no unique group that addresses all of the life parts with which she is faced.

woman experiencing shameBut as I read and reflected on the article it occurred to me that perhaps the alienation occurs because there is an expectation that concerns of fitting into this category need to be addressed. Why is it essential to find a group with a label? Of course, there would be a direct correlation between how much focus is put on these specific categories in sermons, bible studies and such, and the feeling of alienation. The more a church accommodates special interests, the more this is bound to happen.

I don’t think any greater alienation occurs than on Mother and Fathers Days, especially in non-denominational circles where Christ is put aside so the virtues of mothers can be extolled and fathers can be, er chastised (you know that’s how it usually goes!). I’m very grateful that in my Reformed church, this is not an issue. On Mothers Day and Father’s Day, Christ is preached, not mothers and fathers.

And this leads to my concern. The more we focus on special interests and issues related to life situations the more we alienate those who don’t comfortably fit into these life situations. More importantly, we might lose focus on what it means to be a disparate group of people who form one body and why we come together as a body.

Let’s be clear. Coming together as a body must trump any kind of special needs we might have pertinent to our life situations. This is the point of us coming together as a body, to be a covenant family not a conglomeration of special interests. That means married, singles, young, old, professionals, stay at home moms, rich, poor learn what it means to “do life” together, worshipping the Lord and loving each other. It means singles learn what it means to pray for the married couples and marrieds exhort singles in the Lord. It means gathering together and being reminded of our identity in Christ, not in accordance with special interests, but as the elect who have been redeemed through the all sufficient work of Christ.

Now, I do think there is a place for men’s and women’s ministry. But even then, there should be care not to center the focus on stereotypical caricatures, as this poignant article points out regarding women’s ministry. I was reminded in a Facebook discussion on this article that not everyone fits into the gender typical roles. So making formal ministries centered on these things is bound to form an identity around those things and alienate some in the process.

I also believe that by focusing on being the body of Christ when gathering, that relationships will organically form to address specific concerns on life stages where wisdom can be gleaned from each other. This takes the pressure of the church forming special interests groups and focusing on what it means to be a body together.

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