My husband’s former roommate was preparing for a Skype interview with a church that was considering hiring him as its pastor. The question he was most nervous about answering? “As a single man, how will you preach about marriage to a congregation that is almost entirely made up of married people?”
He was worried that, because he didn’t have the personal experience of being a husband, the congregation would assume he was disqualified from preaching about the topic. And now that I’m married, I worry about being able to talk with and offer advice to my single friends about singlehood. Am I disqualified because I’m no longer in that stage of life?
Sometimes I see this dynamic at play in the comments on our blog or on our Facebook page. A married person writes about online dating and all the single folks start commenting, questioning the author’s legitimacy. He never did online dating and he’s married, so how could he possibly know the travails of the ChristianCafe.com crowd?
Sure, it helps to speak out of your experience. It makes sense to listen to people who have been where you’ve been. They bring a perspective of having walked a mile in your shoes.
But experience alone isn’t what qualifies you to write or blog post or offer advice on a certain topic. Tyler’s roommate can preach about marriage because he’s qualified to preach the Bible as an ordained pastor. And because he’s not married, he can bring a single person’s perspective. He can help married folks understand what it’s like to be single in the church.
Experience isn’t what makes someone qualified to speak into your life. It’s their relationship to you that gives them credibility. That relationship might be closer in some instances and more distant in others. So for example, Tyler’s roommate was eventually ordained at the church, and he now has the authority of being in that leadership position. Christian writers at websites like Boundless are a part of the community of faith you can consider as you make decisions. And there are friends and family members who know you intimately and have special insights about your needs. I appreciate the listening ear of my married and single friends because they each offer unique insights, not because of their marital status.
Isn’t life so much richer when we hear from a variety of folks and get to understand a wide variety of perspectives? Let’s consider whether people have a measure of authority because they are wise or trustworthy or are people of integrity. Let’s evaluate the substance of their words, rather than dismiss them because they aren’t personally experiencing our same situation.