I listen to several sermons a week from various “big name” pastors or influential churches in order to keep in touch with the current state of Christianity — especially to hear what kinds of rhetoric our pastors are using and what issues we consider important enough to address from the pulpit. I notice a pattern in church sermons that I’ve heard my entire life: no message can sound more discouraging than one about marriage.
I’m a single young man, and I’ve never been married. But if I must base my expectations solely on the vibes I get from pastors who preach on the subject, I ought to expect marriage to be a point in my life, in which I can assure from that moment on, that I will be thoroughly and utterly miserable.
Given that I’ve never been married, the idea of having a spouse and starting a family sounds exhilaratingly beautiful, but it also fills me with much trepidation. Being lovely, painful, beautiful, and scary characterizes most things in life. I don’t expect marriage to be different. But just as life is still worth living despite heartache, one would figure marriage would be worth it too.
And yet, concerning the rhetoric, jokes, and stories usually presented by pastors during their sermons, I am left with the impression that marriage will be much worse. Apparently what lies ahead of me is a married life with nothing but fighting, arguing, ignoring one another, and relational walls so thick that my spouse and I will both die emotionally isolated from the other.
Pastors are also so quick to claim that marriage was designed by God, but they describe often sounds like hell.
Of course, not everything pastors say about marriage is entirely negative. I’ve heard many instances of pastors offering advice to the congregation about how to have a better married life. However, most of these lessons amount to little more than a “dad talk” — the type of lesson your father would give you the year you learned how to shave.
I’m an adult now. I don’t want more dad talks. There are probably a million videos and articles easily available on the internet (and yes, thousands even made by Christians) that can tell me exactly what pastors say in their sermons. I’m tired of my time being wasted by even more irrelevance from the church. I don’t want something I can find in 30 seconds on Google. I want a pastor to teach me what it means to be a Christlike man who can be a Christlike husband and father. And I’m sure women also desire to learn how to be a Christlike wife and mother.
And yet even when pastors attempt to do this, its as if their concepts of gender never evolved beyond the age of John Wayne movies. It’s like they believe that all men are cookie-cut models of John Eldredge books, where being masculine means killing things while running naked through the woods and eating dirt. And when I try to implement the advice given to me from pastors about the ways girls like to relate, I’m often met with: “Please don’t stereotype me. Not all girls are like that.” (This really happens to me!) Individuals are complex, and we can’t expect a five-minute comment in a sermon to equip us to relate to every other member of the opposite gender.
I know I will face some conflicts and difficulties in my future marriage. But I want to learn how to deal with those issues in a way that implements Christ’s self-sacrificing love and mercy. I don’t need to be told “man is head over the wife” for the thousandth time because it will mean nothing to me until you can teach me how to be a man who can love as Christ did when he “gave himself up for her in order to make her holy.” (see Ephesians 5:26-27)
Perhaps I am alone in my experience, or perhaps there is some insecurity etc. within me that is causing me to view marriage sermons negatively. But what is written above reflects my honest feelings at the moments.