Where have all the young men gone?
"Where have all the young men gone?" This was the ready question and lament on the lips of fathers, mothers and young women in 1919 and 1946, post the two world wars.
The young men had bravely followed the call of duty. Many did not return, swallowed by trenches and enemy lands. This created a void of eligible young men to marry and raise families.
That scenario no longer exists in the 21st century. There is no shortage of eligible young men.
Yet many young Christian women are asking the same question – ‘Where have all the young men gone?’ (Metaphorically speaking). Where are the godly young men in Christian circles to marry and raise families?
The young men are definitely present, but they seem to be absent.
I have eavesdropped on conversations and I have listened to concerns.
They go something like this:
‘Why are there no decent, mature guys in the church?’
‘He is such a nice guy, but he’s not a Christian.’
‘That guy is such a gentleman and he respects me. I wish he was a Christian.’
‘We cannot talk to guys in the church, just get to know them and build Christian friendships. If we do, people start thinking we are in a relationship and planning for marriage. It is easier to be friends with guys at school or varsity.’
These conversations should concern us. It is the premise of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters:
‘It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.’
In a postmodern society, there should be nothing more attractive than a godly, Christian guy. He should stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Godly Christian guys should be the ‘knights in shining armour’ and the ‘heroes on white horses.’
They should be the ones caring, respecting, honouring, showing kindness to, listening to and being protective of young women. They should be spending lots of time with godly older men who model this in their marriages.
Where are they? They are hiding.
Many are hiding behind Puritan paperbacks, spiritual jargon and legalistic trends and expectations. (A first date should not include a test on the 5 points of Calvinism or, instead of flowers, giving the girl a book on Biblical submission, or asking her about her views on home-schooling and soteriology – as if there is a connection.) I am not making this up!
Some are hiding behind vocabulary such as ‘intentional and pursuit.’ (Such intentional pursuing makes a girl feel as if she is being hunted or stalked. She does not feel safe and she is going to run a mile.)
The odd one or two are hiding behind ‘extra biblical revelation.’ (‘God told me that I should marry you.’ The fact that the girl herself has not heard the same voice of God does not seem to deter them.)
A significant proportion are hiding behind video games, cartoons and childish pursuits; reluctant to grow up and embrace manhood. (‘When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.’ 1 Corinthians 13:11)
A few are hiding behind confused millennial identities and culturally indoctrinated chauvinistic attitudes and patriarchal jokes. (Guys bragging or joking about their role as ‘spiritual leader’ certainly undermines a servant heart of humility and pushes the girls away.)
A couple are hiding behind what seems like clueless reserve and dithering. (They seem disinterested, passive and lacking initiative. I would strongly suggest they read Kevin De Young’s helpful little book, ‘Just Do Something.’)
It is impossible for young guys to see the girls in front of them as long as they are hiding behind these smokescreens. Their view is obstructed.
The girls are frustrated. They feel overlooked. They feel they are not seen.
The devil sits back watching and smiles smugly at the irony.
The guys need to emerge from their hiding places of Puritan paperbacks, spiritual intellectualism, Spurgeon-style beards, video games, passivity and legalism.
They need to stop waiting for the winners of the ‘Miss Proverbs 31 Pageant' to show up.
They should stop hiding and start seeking.
These guys should be looking for a girl who loves Jesus and fears the Lord. That is the key.
That is the girl who will slowly and imperfectly become a unique and creative 'Proverbs 31 woman' when she gets married. She is the noble one you can trust who will result in you being known at the gate. (Proverbs 31:11, 23)
The girls who love Jesus and fear the Lord are right in front of you. They come in all shapes, colours and sizes and they are all beautiful. They are all precious in God’s sight.
Take off your blinders and open your eyes.
The problem, however, is not only with the guys.
Some young girls have contributed to this dilemma.
As much as the guys are putting the girls under the spotlight, the girls have put the guys under scrutiny.
Many girls are hiding behind long sacred lists of what a perfect guy should be before she will give him the time of day.
Some girls are hiding behind dads armed with ‘shotguns’ and books about what a guy should be before he can date his daughter.
This has left many guys feeling frustrated and set up for failure. No wonder they feel the need to run to the Puritan bookshelf! The practical outworking of this makes the girls feel intimidated, stifled and controlled.
It is a lose-lose situation.
A guy should be able to talk to a girl without having to prove he can exegete a Bible passage perfectly and without having to state his intention for marriage as the password for just a coffee and a chat.
We have to do a hard reset of expectations and reality.
We have to stop making everything so complicated. It shouldn’t be so pressured.
In the church community there are so many single guys wanting to find a wife and so many single young girls desiring to be found.
So what is the problem?
There seems to be a trend, (and it is not a new trend), where the guys are either too intentional or completely unintentional.
Whether the guys are too intentional or passively unintentional,
both modus operandi yield the same result: single guys and single girls.
At one end, the guys are treating a first coffee date as an unspoken marriage proposal where they become territorial, and the girl runs away.
At the other end, a coffee date means nothing to the guy and he keeps having coffee and doing nothing. If a girl asks for clarity, the guy runs away.
[Just to clarify– I am not negating that there are a few good men out there – but they do seem to be taken.]
I do not believe that all the single ladies and all the single guys, many in their late twenties and thirties, have been given the’ gift of celibacy.’ If so, our Church Missions Departments would be overloaded with those uniquley devoting their lives of singleness to God’s work.
Somewhere in the middle is the solution.
Somewhere in this vast landscape of Christian single guys and girls, should be God’s perspective of marriage and family and a desire to glorify Him in this divine and beautiful institution.
The guys should be seeking this. This is a noble endeavour.
'A man who finds a wife, finds a good thing and obtains favour from the Lord.’ [Proverbs 18:22]
Guys, you don’t have to look far. But please remember this - you are not looking for an object – you are looking for a lady, who needs to be respected and treated with kindness, honour and understanding.
She is not like your mates and she is not like your maid. If that is what you are looking for, then perhaps you should pray urgently for the ‘gift of celibacy.’
Tim Challies has recently questioned the contemporary conservative church subculture which he believes was reactionary:
‘For years we were told that dating was unsafe and would lead inevitably to fornication, and further, we were told that dating was unbiblical, that it dishonoured God and his vision for Christian families.
Young men were instructed that they must approach a young woman’s father to seek his permission before they could do something as minor and innocent as asking his daughter out for coffee. They were told that any God-honouring relationship must see marriage as the goal. The courtship model was lauded and held up as the God-ordained means of bringing couples together.
Now imagine a young man and woman who are vaguely interested in one another. To know whether that vague interest can grow into romantic attraction, they need to get to know one another. But they cannot do that without securing the permission of her father, and to secure that permission, the young man needs to express his interest in her as a potential wife. Any desire to spend any time together is understood as interest in marriage. “I’d like to get to know you” carries the connotation of “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” This is a tremendous weight to lay on the earliest stages of a relationship.’ [Tim Challies: The space between courtship and hooking up.]
We need to work on uncomplicated ways and spaces in which guys and girls can get to know one another. This is simply having the freedom and permission to relate with one another and build relationships and friendships that may develop into something deeper and exclusive which may end in marriage or may not.
Marriage should not be the starting point. That is unnecessary pressure in the beginning. Operating from a marriage mind-set is putting the cart before the horse and complicates the simplicity and beauty of getting to know one other.
Marriage should be the background, unspoken goal, but it cannot be guaranteed. No relationship or friendship can survive the pressure of such weighty expectations at the outset.
We need to find ways in which being pure and purposeful replace pursuing and being intentional.
We need to ask different questions.
The wrong question is, ‘Will she be a godly wife or will he make a godly husband?’
The right question is, ‘Do they love Jesus? Are they seeking to serve and imitate Him in their speech, conduct, decisions and priorities?’
Then take a risk and start getting to know them.
The perfect guy and the perfect girl don’t exist – so stop over-analysing and over-thinking.
The guys need to stop trying to be spiritually perfect guys – it is exhausting and leads to prideful self-righteousness.
The girls need to stop putting expectations of perfection on the guys – it is unfair and unrealistic.
The guys need to stop waiting for the perfect girl to be dropped from heaven in the form of an angelic being – that is not going to happen.
Being fixated on an unrealistic spiritual ideal will rob you of a Christian reality.
This should be such a relief and it should motivate the guys to come out from hiding to make a move and take a chance.
There are ladies–in–waiting. No pressure!
Imagine what you may find? You may find a wife!
Girls who are striving to be godly women will one day make godly wives when they are married and guys who are striving to be godly men will make godly husbands when they are married.
That is where we should be putting our effort and our focus.
As brothers and sisters in Christ, we have much to learn from one another and much to build into each other’s lives. There are ways we can bless, enrich, exhort and encourage one another. It is really not that complicated.
Let us not sabotage that. May we not allow the world to step in and take that place.
And then, in any relationship, whatever the status, may holiness always be the practice and the goal. That is fertile ground for God to grow us, change us, mature us and expose our hearts and draw people together to display His glory.
The romance of Boaz and Ruth is striking in its beauty and simplicity. Their friendship first began to blossom when Boaz noticed a strange woman in his field and he enquired after her.
When he discovered it was Ruth, whom the villagers had been talking about, he was taken by her noble reputation of humble sacrifice, service and perseverance.
Her character shone brightly. That was so alluring to him.
He responded to her with grace, kindness, protection, respect and honour.
His character shone brightly. That was so alluring to her.
Young men - step out from your hiding places and step up. Ask a girl to dance. Take the lead, take her hand and gently guide her. Even though you don’t know all the dance steps and may step on her toes, she will be gracious, patient and willing to teach you and learn with you.
If that dance eventually leads you down the aisle, that is wonderful.
If not, nothing is wasted. You will at least have learnt some of the steps first-hand.
For further consideration, you may want to read the blog article, Waiting for 'the one', which highlights a different issue facing Christians and relationships, or the blog article titled, Interracial relationships.