I have been thinking about this since I read the article in Christianity Today about the case for early marriage that I referenced in a prior blog post.
A big culprit of the marrying late syndrome in the church is the general lack of good prospective husbands for young women, good defined as mature young Christian men who understand marriage from a Biblical standpoint and seek marriage out. There just aren’t a lot of young men who understand and desire marriage at an early age and most seem to lack the maturity needed. Getting married young for the sake of getting married young is a recipe for disaster but delaying marriage for the sake of delaying is not much better. This is pretty pronounced in many churches, just a cursory look around will yield a lot more single women of marrying age than single men. Think about the churches you have gone to and try to think how many young, unmarried men were there. Mark Regnerus pointed this out in his article:
Unfortunately, American evangelicals have another demographic concern: The ratio of devoutly Christian young women to men is far from even. Among evangelical churchgoers, there are about three single women for every two single men. This is the elephant in the corner of almost every congregation—a shortage of young Christian men.
I have a hard time even picturing the ratio being that close. Maybe they are in different church circles than I am used to, because I can’t think of too many single men of marrying age in any church settings I am familiar with.
I am assuming that since God has predestined for eternal life His elect, there is not a gender gap there. There is no way to prove that but it certainly seems reasonable. So where are all the elect young men? I think the problem is not a lack of elect men, it is that they seem to come to a mature faith in Christ so much later. Getting married is a key formative event for young people, especially men, but they need to be prepared for marriage to some extent. This is not exclusive to young men, a lot of young Christian women have been conditioned by their parents to seek worldly achievement through education and career before even thinking about marriage.
Here are some of my possible culprits for the lack of mature, young men in the church…
Parents who don’t teach their sons to see marriage as a formative part of adulthood. This is the big one. What are parents teaching their sons about being married? Are they telling them that they should get married “someday”? Do they see their fathers grumble about marriage and their mothers complaining about their fathers? Kids already get fed a steady diet of anti-marriage imagery from popular culture. They certainly should not be hearing the same thing at home. Marriage should not be taught to our children as a someday eventuality after you have had your fun and adventure, but something to cherish. Marriage is not the gateway into middle age and the exit from a life of carefree adventure, it is the preferred state of adulthood.
Church has an image of being feminine. This is an old canard and comes often from men complaining about lace doilies in the church. I think that may be a bit overblown, but I do think that church attendance is seen as something for women to do. That leads to the next issue…
Young men are not expected to have responsibility in the church. The less people contribute to the ministry in a local body, the more disconnected they become. Doubly so for young men. Young men are joiners, they like to be a part of something. Church is something that is passive. Sitting around singing songs and listening to someone else talk for 40 minutes is one thing, being a part of the local gathering and participating is something else entirely. Where we meet, in our open participatory Lord’s Supper meeting, the young men including teens offer prayers and open the Word of God. I am guessing these young men are far more engaged than a young man dragged to church to sit still and be generally silent for an hour. That is not a capitulation to culture, it is a reality that the structured church service as we know it is not only foreign to the New Testament, but it is stifling young men.
Young men are by and large being raised by their peers in a “Lord of the Flies” atmosphere that cherishes everything but embracing mature Biblical manhood. The vast majority of young men from Christian homes are in public schools and thus are not receiving a message that is conducive to getting married at an early age, taking on responsibility for a wife and raising a family. I recall vividly the conversations that young men have in public high schools regarding girls and none of it had anything to do with respecting, cherishing and certainly not marrying women. How can we expect an hour of “church” a week to undo a whole week of coarse and degrading conversation about women? If your kids go to the world’s schools, they are often going to reflect the world’s attitude toward marriage and sexuality.
Buying into the “readiness” argument. Many people put off marriage (and children) until they feel “ready”. Guess what, you will never be ready to be married just like you will never be ready to be a parent. There is no amount of training that completely prepares you for it. I think a lot of parents buy into this and discourage early marriage as an understandable but ultimately misguided response to the catastrophic state of marriage we see in America even within the church.
That is just some thoughts off the top of my head. Maybe they are right and maybe not. It is something we need to figure out. What other reasons can you think of for this phenomena?