Tired of putting up with fewer single men in the church than women? Diane Louise Jordan and Liz Speed joined up with other women to form a group to pray for men. They talk to John Buckeridge about their pro-active ‘Debs' group, and where they found their men.
JB: In most churches there are many more single Christian women than men. Does that make you angry? If so - who are you angry at? Men, the church, God?
LS: I'm angry and passionate about the situation. Inevitably this means some will miss out on marriage and all it brings. We talk about setting the captives free - well we could start right here. I strongly believe God has designed marriage and has put it at the core of our society. Right at the beginning He meant for us to be in marriage, family and relationship and we have really moved away from that; Humanism is taking centre stage, marriage is no longer at the core holding everything together. It's become a romantic notion from a bygone era. As a woman, I see most of the issue from a woman's point of view - but I am very aware that this issue is not a woman's issue, its not just about a few single women wanting to get married. This is a kingdom issue, a generational issue, a national issue, and a critical issue.
Diane, you are well known for presenting Songs of Praise, and must visit lots of churches every year. Some say the lack of men is the churches' fault that the spirituality of churches doesn't appeal to most men.
DLJ: I love the church and I want the best for it. Saying that, even though it clearly appeals to women, it doesn't seem to be that attractive to men. So I'm concerned. I'm concerned that we're not giving enough attention to this imbalance. I'm concerned about our complacency.
I was brought up in a Christian family but recommitted myself about 10 years ago. Becoming more serious about my faith was the catalyst (although not the only reason) for the break-up of a long-term relationship. Since then, apart from a lovely but brief relationship I have been single. In the beginning it wasn't an issue for me. I believed at some point God would bring the right person to me.
To be honest I was quite shocked when I first walked into my church to see it virtually wall to wall with stunning single women. My initial thought was to tell all my non-Christian male friends - what a great way to attract them to church! Surely they'd think they'd died and gone to heaven! However it soon became evident that a lot of these lovely ladies harboured a sadness. They had essentially put their lives on hold whilst waiting for the Christian husband they believed God would bring them. But it was clear the numbers didn't add up and for some it might mean never having a husband...
It was an odd thing to see people who really wanted to be married, not married. Outside the church the urgency to marry seems less apparent as people tend to drift in and out of living together, and so have the long-term desire medicated with a temporary fix. What I've realised over the years is that singleness in the church is becoming a bigger issue. A lot of the women who were waiting 10 years ago are still waiting, with no apparent hope on the horizon. So, I have become increasingly concerned.
So we're in this bleak situation, and as you have been saying it leaves many women very unhappy.
LS: The negative impact both on men and women is multifaceted. But it is against this bleak backdrop, that we believe God has given us a vision. A few years ago a respected Christian leader was given a vision when praying about this issue. The vision revealed that God Himself wants to release a harvest of marriages into the church for his kingdom purpose. This in itself has started a revolution in our hearts - God wants it! Since then, as a group, we have tried to pray into this and to prophetically walk this out, letting go of hurt and disappointment on the way, and as a result we have seen enough to know that this is exactly what he is doing. Five of us are now in great marriages and there have been a couple of new engagements. We have called our group ‘debs' after the prophetess Deborah the Old Testament judge who saw Israel oppressed and did something about it.
She was a very proactive woman.
LS: Yes, she got up and helped restore community to Israel and that's exactly what we need now. So we've named ourselves ‘Debs' and we have been on a journey of discovery over the last three years; praying and seeking God and then taking action as well - coming out of passivity and ‘waiting'.
The bottom line is where are the men and how are we going to help bring them back? I believe God wants them to come back to himself. How we do that has been an exciting part of the journey. The church is currently not attracting many men to Christ, and its been my observation that the majority of men in the local church are from Christian homes - which means the secular humanists, the agnostics, the atheists and those from other faiths are not interested in the way we are doing things. We need to find ways of engaging with men who are outside the ‘church' and help facilitate their relationship with God. We need to stop relying on the old method of bringing them to church - God is bigger than our church.
DLJ: There are a lot of guys who desire to be spiritually connected but are allergic to church. And yet, in the main, we keep doing what we've always done, which keeps them out. God's heart must be breaking because His church doesn't seem to be taking this issue seriously enough.
I think the church looks at singleness as a little issue which it pays lip service to.
But this isn't a little issue is it? In most churches this directly affects lots of people.
DLJ: It's massive. I go to St Mary's, in central London, and last year there was a great event called the ‘One' course for Christian singles. As a single person I was invited to be part of a panel to share my experience of being Christian and single.
I said I agreed with scripture that says it's better to be single if that's our calling, but pointed out that enforced celibacy is a completely different thing. Well, it was as if the floodgates had opened! For months after women wanted to at least talk about the situation. We want, in accordance with the church, to do something new - to take action
Incidentally as a direct result of that event two of my friends married! You see when we take action things change....
So what is the answer? Liz, for you it was going out there and dating someone who wasn't a Christian. Is that what Christian women need to do?
LS: Well it could be. With me it was remarkable how I met my husband: To shake things up a bit I planned to go on a mission to Malawi and met him just before going. He was going to be part of the team and he wasn't a Christian at all. I determined that, I mustn't get side tracked on a mission, of all places, and end up having a relationship with one of the team members!
DLJ: Especially someone who wasn't a Christian at the time!
LS: Exactly. So I got my friends to pray, don't let this happen. But the attraction was strong enough for us to come together. I knew that God was working in him and I could see that He was on his case and had full confidence that I should step forward and see where it led. It was a real challenge because back then I would never have conceived of going out with somebody who was considerably younger than me, who was in a different situation to me, from a very different background and who had no money! I think the lesson I learned is we can take steps of faith in these areas and we don't have to have the ‘wish list' in front of us before going forward. Actually, we probably need to rip up the list of expectations that we have and embrace the real ideal, which is possibly different and more fulfilling than we had imagined.
DLJ: This going out with non-Christians is a bit of a dilemma for Christian women because I know that most leaders would say, ‘Don't do it.' And in isolation I would probably say the same. But I'm continually learning, understanding that God's ways aren't our ways and how He sees things isn't always what we expect.
It's far easier for us to follow the path of ‘churchianity' rather than stepping into the unknown with God. The latter requires much more commitment. And it involves being really accountable, in the detail. Firstly accountable to God, and in doing so to surround ourselves with others who pray for us and challenge us and ask us difficult questions.
To actually have people who [itals] know [itals end] us, who journey with us as we listen closely to what God is saying and where He is leading.
LS: The church is doing quite a lot to initiate relationships. We've got Christian Internet dating sites; we've lots of new initiatives to bring people together. But the fact is that there are many more women than men in church. It's putting an enormous pressure on the men that are in the church as well and this it a real issue for them too.
DLJ: Sometimes I think the church is scared to change. We prefer to stay with what we know. But I'd like to encourage leaders to expose their vulnerability, to have courage and not feel pressured to have the answers as we tackle this issue together.
What is clear is that the world is not happy; the world wants to be in relationship. I have so many beautiful, articulate, professional non-Christian girlfriends who are desperate for husbands. They too want to be loved and cherished but don't know how to remedy the situation. And this is where I believe the church can come into its own - we can be a beacon of hope to the world because marriage is what we do best. This is a great opportunity to bring the good news to the wider world that is desperate for it.
Some would say that men have got a great deal. They've got loads of choice and if their girlfriend wants them to propose, they can refuse to commit and just move onto the next girlfriend.
LS: What they are doing is not using their masculine muscle. They don't have to compete for a woman. If I don't use my muscle it won't develop, this state can erode their true masculinity. They're not using what God's given them in terms of their masculine drive-to go out and win a woman for themselves, to push through the fear and pain of what it means to be in a relationship. They are missing out on the depths a committed relationship offers. I'm not angry with the men whom you are describing, instead I feel compassion. You are right; men in the church sometimes have the opportunity to date women who, frankly, they wouldn't normally have the opportunity to date.
Woman that are out of their league?
LS: Yes. They don't understand what they have been given. They are being quite selfish about it. I have heard it a lot of times, ‘Oh its great for us because we don't have any competition.' Healthy competition is good - on the sports field and in business men love to be competitive. Why is that not happening in the church?
DLJ: Men have a rubbish deal. It looks like a great package where you can just go and choose whoever you fancy, but this way of living will never satisfy. A lot of us come to faith because we recognise that our souls are longing for relationship with God and that hole starts shrinking as we draw closer to God. And I believe part of filing that God centred hole relies on how we treat each other. Jesus said the two most important commandments were to love God with all our heart, mind, strength and soul and to love each other as ourselves. If the way the men love some of the women in the church is how they love themselves, then this is not God's best.
Diane, you talked a little bit about your journey into the church and your eyes being opened to this situation and also because you are on the telly-you're a famous person-has that made it even harder for you in terms of finding Mr Right?
DLJ: I really shudder when someone says: ‘Are you [itals] looking[itals end] for Mr Right?' I want Mr Right to come and capture me, sweep me off my feet. I don't want to go scrabbling about for Mr Right. I'm sure that's not how it should be. Not the way God planned it.
When I first came to the attention of the public I didn't know God in the way I do now and so didn't have as much confidence as I do now. So I was a little paranoid. I didn't know if people wanted me for me of because of the job I did.
But, as I've become closer to God, I think I've become better at discerning the people who are genuinely attracted to me. And I care less about getting it wrong because as I rely more on God I find myself needing less validation from others. And the ones that are attracted to the periphery stuff- will eventually drop off anyway. Proper relationships are a two way dynamic, both parties have to be intentional. When someone is intentional about you, it's easy to spot if they're genuine.
Can you bring us up to speed with your story now?
DLJ: I A week before I started coming to Debs I had a dream - I can count on one hand the number of times God has spoken to me in my dreams, because I sleep well! But essentially I felt God was saying that even though the reality looks bleak we mustn't accept second best. He still has plans to prosper even those of us who've nearly lost hope.
In the dream I saw a picture that looked adequate. I felt God asking, ‘Is this good enough?'
‘Yeah, I think so', I answered.
‘Is it the best?' He insisted.
‘Seems like it's the best'. I went back to sleep.
Then He woke me up again and showed me another picture and instantly I recognised it as the [itals] best[itals end]! When you know you have the best, it's undeniable. I really felt God was showing me in this dream that in terms of relationships, He doesn't want us to settle for seconds.
‘Trust me, I will bring you the best.' I believed Him to be saying.
He doesn't want us to sit passively in our rocking chairs with our grey hair and slippers saying ‘I'm still waiting' two minutes before we drop off the earth. Not that passive stuff. I believe that part of our ‘action' is to prepare ourselves for our husbands; is to look at ourselves and learn to love and understand the beautiful person God has created. We are beautiful and a lot of women in the church are being robbed of their beauty. We are meant to be princesses: adored and cared for. I felt God was saying ‘Prepare yourself to be the best and receive the best'.
About two weeks after I started attending Debs, this chap came from out of nowhere. In terms of my checklist he had only two things: ‘musician' and ‘nice voice'. On paper we are not suited. But, literally when he came it was almost like he was shrouded in this light and my heart just went ‘yes'!
LS: This sounds really euphoric and ‘up there' but to bring it down to earth... Diane decided to phone loads of people to get them to come to an event that we were doing for ‘rhythm of life' - my husband's charity. It was there that this relationship started! It wasn't on a cloud somewhere. It was because she was being active and doing something, prayerfully and in faith with us supporting her.
So in a sense a bit like you Liz, you went on that mission not to meet someone but by stepping out and doing something you did meet.
LS: Yes, that's part of our strategy, doing something different, not just passively waiting. God is doing something new...
If you want to contact the Debs group you can email them at: email@example.com
This article first appeared in Christianity magazine, July 2007 and is reproduced with permission. www.christianitymagazine.co.uk