Allow me to get right to the point.
The Body of Messiah in this country has a unique and vitally important part to play in the plans of God for the future of this world and at the moment, we’re not fulfilling our unique calling.
A lot of things need to change in order for that to start happening, and the platform of KehilaNews.com is a great way for these issues to be aired out and possible solutions discussed.
What I want to talk about in this essay is something that I haven’t seen anyone else talking about here (or, for that matter, anywhere else) and that is the difficulty young Israeli believers have in getting married to each other and starting families. Because of this, our communities are experiencing stagnant levels of natural growth and very few congregations in this country have a majority of people who are Israeli citizens.
There have been congregations including Jewish Believers here for over a century. Our numbers should NOT still be so low.
There are many factors at play and many scenarios that play out. I could be wrong but I think a major component of the difficulty comes, perversely, from the small size of our community and the fact that many Israeli Believers know each other from the time they’re small children. Sometimes people “feel weird” looking at someone they’ve known since they were both children as a potential spouse/sexual partner. That’s part of the problem, and I have no idea what can be done about it but I know it has to be addressed.
For this and other reasons, many Israelis who are brought up in believing families end up marrying someone who is not a Believer and/or from another country, with many among this second group leaving Israel to live with their spouse. Many more leave Israel HOPING to meet someone in another country (they leave for a lot of other reasons, but this is almost always among their reasons for leaving) and even among those who stay, many simply never get married, although they want to. Needless to say they also never have the children who would theoretically form the next generation.
This last group is the one that breaks my heart the most. I was a card-carrying member of it for a long time and I got to experience and share the gut-wrenching anguish and unhappiness it causes (present tense continuous) in so many people.
They come to their congregation faithfully every week. Many of them serve in their congregations in some capacity. They tithe. They pray. They fast. They do EVERYTHING they’re supposed to do.
But they’re still single.
This is more than a sad state of affairs, it’s a failure of epic proportions and if it isn’t given the attention it deserves by our congregations and by the wider community than we will have failed in a major component of our calling.
Let me tell you what I mean.
I was 34 years old on the day I got married. My wife was a few years older.
During those long years of being single I often sought advice from pastors and elders on what I could do to meet someone and get married. The advice I got, from pastors and elders of all different types, was from Matthew 6:33 “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”
That was and is good advice.
However, that’s not only where the discussion always started it’s also usually where it ended. There was no practical advice about how to go about doing that, except to keep attending the fellowship, keep tithing, keep praying, etc. The idea seemed to be that if one just carries on doing all that, one will inevitably meet the person God has for one to marry, sooner or later.
But “later” is a broad, open-ended term that for many of us went on and on and on.
In my discussions with other Believer singles, I found this to be a common experience.
These people need practical advice and ideas, not Biblical exegesis on the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to “be content in whatever state I find myself in.”
People know what they’re NOT supposed to do. They’re not supposed to speed-date and sleep around etc. the way the non-Believer world does.
But they don’t know what they ARE supposed to do.
They don’t know how to “date” someone without falling into sin.
Some pastors (they know who they are and they know I love them) explicitly discourage young people in their congregation from dating each other because they don’t think it’s possible to do so without making a mistake.
I beg the pardon of anyone who thinks so, but the only people who never make a mistake or never have a bad experience are people who never do anything, never take any risk, never try anything new.
Those people also never have anything good happen to them, and people who never date are almost certainly never going to get married.
Let me tell you a short story to illustrate what I’m talking about.
A year or so before I started dating the woman I would eventually marry, the Caspari Center in Jerusalem made one of those all-too-rare attempts to do something about the situation by hosting an evening for singles at the Alliance Church on Prophets Street. They sent invitations far and wide in congregations all over Israel and practically begged young singles to come.
I went with hope in my heart, but when I arrived, several things were immediately and glaringly obvious.
One, there were at least 2.5 females for every male in the room.
Two, the average age of both men and women there was somewhere north of 28.
Three, the women were all huddled together on one side of the room chatting nervously with each other while the men were all milling around chatting nervously together over by the table with the soft drinks and snacks, consuming both as fast and in as great a quantity as they could.
No one from either group was even looking at anyone from the other group, at least not directly. Occasionally someone would cast a furtive, for-too-casual glance over there, but no one had the courage to go over and break the ice.
It felt like I was back in junior high, only with middle-agers instead of teenagers.
It’s kind of funny to think about this, but on the other hand, it’s not funny at all.
I’m talking about people who were at or approaching middle age, many of whom DESPERATELY wanted to ACT their age, especially the part about being married and having children, KNOWING that there was a clock ticking regarding that last part and some of them were getting uncomfortably close to midnight.
And yet, they just couldn’t. They couldn’t even start the process. They didn’t know how.
I could tell you many more stories about the catastrophically dysfunctional dating scene among young Israeli Believers. Some of those stories contain an element of comedy, but most of them are just pure tragedy and hundreds of our brethren are living with that tragedy even as you’re sitting here reading this.
It’s emotionally crippling them, paralyzing them in so many ways, including when it comes to fulfilling their calling from the Lord, because it’s REALLY hard to be a witness to the joy of the Lord when you’re miserable because you want to be married but you’re not and you don’t know what to do about it.
By God’s grace I eventually met the woman I would marry when she came to work at my office a few weeks after I did. But it didn’t happen quickly and we had help.
For two years we saw each other every day but never spoke much to each other until one day another woman who worked there, old enough to be our mother, decided to take the bull by the horns and started encouraging us to spend time together and creating situations where we could do so comfortably.
In other words, this woman (bless her!!!) played the role “Yente the Matchmaker” played in Fiddler on the Roof.
Despite both of us having a lot of the issues I’ve talked about here which kept us both single well into our 30’s, we eventually overcame the fear and awkwardness, regularly seeing each other outside of work and settling into a trajectory which ended up with us getting married.
Ours is a success story, but as I’ve said here, it didn’t just happen because we were both being “faithful” and “content” and so on.
Someone realized what was going on and took action!
I have no idea how often what our Matchmaker did for us would work for other people. But it’s an EXAMPLE of how young Believers need practical help, guidance and direction from their elders.
Just telling them to pray and believe that their future spouse will show up one day might be technically correct but it usually isn’t helpful. In many cases, it just makes their anguish worse because they begin to feel like God is punishing them for not being faithful enough, or whatever. In addition to the unnecessary grief this causes, it has also caused more than one person to give up on the faith because it simply was not working for them.
Like I said before, this is a crisis in our community that’s been ignored for too long. We need to make addressing this issue a priority.
Consider holding events in your congregation specifically designed for young singles to meet each other and encourage them to THINK about each other as potential spouses.
Pay attention to the young people who seem to need some extra counseling. Don’t hesitate to set young people up with each other. I know that’s a controversial issue for some, but I had a good experience with it and I think it could work for others. Maybe not everyone, but some people might benefit from the assistance of an old-fashioned Matchmaker.
Others, including your own offspring, might just need to have you talk to them and give them some practical advice and/or encouragement. That can be difficult and awkward, but it’s simply got to be done.
Will all this cause some people to crash and burn? Yes, sadly it probably will. But a lot of people are already crashing and burning and/or dying inside of loneliness and despair. And once again, the only people who never have a bad experience or make a bad decision are the people who never take any risk at all.
Whatever you do after reading this essay, don’t just forget about it. Many clocks are ticking, and you might hold the key to happiness or misery for someone in your immediate orbit.
Open your eyes! These people are right in front of you.