Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Marital Status: Micro and Macro Practice

In the field of social work, there are levels of practice to describe work of equal but different proportions. "Micro" practice refers to social work with individuals. It generally takes the form of individual counseling, but the goal is positive change within the individual. "Macro" practice refers to social work with organizations and communities. It generally takes the form of policy-making, and the goal is positive change within the community. (There is also a mid-level social work practice that exists but is rarely acknowledged, and this is "Mezzo" practice, which refers to social work with groups.) If you were to choose, which form of social work would you say is better, micro or macro? For example, is it better to help an individual overcome a drug habit, or should we instead create a program to teach school-age children not to take drugs in the first place?

Naturally, neither is better than the other, but rather, both have equal importance in addressing social problems. The same concept exists in Christian ministry. We need both micro and macro ministry. What would the church look like if everyone ministered to individuals, but nobody planted churches? What if all we ever did was plant churches, but never ministered to anyone on a personal level? It just wouldn't work. Both are needed, and therefore both are vitally important to the advancement of God's kingdom. Makes sense, doesn't it? Sadly, there is one area of ministry where we do not see this as making any sense at all, and that is the area of singleness vs. marriage.

Marriage is a lot like micro social work practice. Your focus is primarily on one individual, and you will also have some micro/mezzo responsibilities if you raise children. But singleness affords a person the opportunity to carry out macro-level ministry. One is not "better" or more important than the other. However sometimes we unintentionally communicate to singles this very thing.

For the greater part of my sixteen years as a single Christian woman, I have had to endure the faulty advice that "it is far better to be single than married". Most of the people who insist on perpetuating this advice, God bless them, are married, and just about all of them are misunderstanding Paul's intent in 1 Corinthians 7. Paul was not advocating one status over the other, but rather, he was demonstrating how both situations have kingdom value. Imagine if all the adult Christians in the world were married. Who would go minister to that remote village in a foreign country? Similarly, if every Christian on earth was single, who would raise our children? To assume that one marital status is "better" than another is nothing short of pure foolishness. For this reason, (and I realize I may be slightly biased because I am writing from a single perspective), we need to be very careful that we do not interfere with the marital status of Christian singles.

Imagine how inappropriate it would be for a single person to say, "I can't wait for Charles to kick the bucket! I just want to see you single again!" When I'm not being told how lucky I am to be single, I have married couples urging me to get married. They tell me, "When are you going to meet someone nice? I just want to see you married!" Imagine how inappropriate it would be for a single person to say, "I can't wait for Charles to kick the bucket! I just want to see you single again!" Constantly urging your single friends to get married can communicate disrespect for the single ministry. Again, a more accurate understanding of how important both marriage and singleness are enables us to see why this is not helpful.

The illustration of micro and macro social work comes in handy in this situation as well. When I was in graduate school, many of my classmates were micro social workers, but I considered myself to be a macro social worker. Not one person ever tried to convince me to change my role. Not one person said, "You should get into counseling instead." These people understood that their role in social work was different from mine, yet they had a respect for what I do, because they understood that both micro and macro social work are equally important. We need to apply this same principle to our perceptions of single and married ministry. When God calls someone to a marriage, we tend to understand and accept it. But when God calls someone to singleness (perhaps permanently, perhaps temporarily), we often have a difficult time with this. God calls each of us to these roles as He sees fit. It is not our place to pass judgment on our single friends this way, even if we feel we are being helpful or trying to encourage them.

In an earlier post, I had written:
Both callings to singleness and marriage require service to others, only the focus is different. It is a lot like being male or female. Neither is more precious to God, and one is not better than the other. The roles are just different.
Make no mistake, marital status is an assignment from God Himself. If you are a married person, think of yourself as a micro-level social worker. Every day, you are doing an important work for the Kingdom of God by encouraging your spouse and children on a direct individual level. If you are a single person, think of yourself as a social worker who is free to carry out the responsibilities of macro-level practice (with opportunities of course to engage in micro and mezzo as well) within the Kingdom of God. Whichever role He has placed you in, do not seek to be released from it, and do not pass judgment on those who are currently filling the opposite role. When the time comes, singles may be called to marriage. Married people may become widowed. When we leave the assignments up to God, He will see to it that all positions are filled to carry out His work on earth until it is finished.

2 comments:

Daughter, Arise! said...

As a social worker, I identify with this post quite a bit. I am envisioning an ecomap with all of its bidirectional interactions: Christ to individual, Christ to community...it's interesting....I also see the mirco level as the place where we minister to the Lord. It's where we receive our strength and understand our position in Him. It is the place where we worship Him...the secret place of the Most High. It is such an intimate level and I think to be successful in our individual and communal interactions with others, a foundational intimate relationship with Christ is required. Our ministry to others..to the community is a natural outpouring of the individual relationship we have with Christ.

Kurt Michaelson said...

Hi Jen, as you know, I'm beginning the transition from single life to married life soon. But the transition really began when the engagement started.

I haven't heard many people try to rush me down the aisle, or say that I should remain single, to avoid the headaches of marriage.

I've been so excited for others when they get married and now my turn is coming. And I've said to people who have recommended not getting married that I really do want to. Those who are adivsing not to are the ones in an unhappy marriage and only want to bring someone else down with them. NEGATIVE GHOST-RIDER! I'm headed down the runway to take flight in marriage, God's way. :-)

Your post is great and I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks. :-)