7 Things Singles Need from the Church (A Valentines Post)

Chris —  February 14, 2013 — 10 Comments

Not that long ago, a very accomplished single man in his 30s told me his story of how he has been shaped by the pressure to get married.  This pressure had been internalized, and helped spell doom for any potential relationships that came his way.  Churches are full of these seemingly happy couples.  Christian organizations seem to be marketed to helping college students find their “help mate” or propagating “family values”.  It seems that, unless you’re a Catholic monk, the church just doesn’t know what to with single people.

One secular psychologist, when trying to explain the churchy culture of America, postulated that the sole reason churches exist is to help married couples remain faithful to each other.  As a follower of Christ, I know that the church is more than that.  However, I can see why he would say such a thing.

(If Missio Alliance made Valentine's Day Cards. Please give to your friends on this Special Day)

If Missio Alliance made Valentine’s Day Cards. Please give to your friends on Valentines Day. (via missioalliance.org)

The fact is that yes, Genesis teaches that it is not good for people to be alone.  But we have to remember that Jesus was single, and Paul even thought it was preferable.  It’s hard to imagine that a St. Francis or Mother Theresa could have had the impact they did as a married person.  So, how can the church better serve it’s singles?

1.  Stop the incessant marriage talk.  When preparing for a sermon, a friend of mine asked me if it was difficult because I didn’t have any kids to tell illustrations about.  I told him emphatically “no!”  I love kids.  I love hearing stories about kids and marriage and courtship.  But these illustrations do not ring true with everyone.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t find them offensive, I just think we need to be sure that over time, we speak to the whole audience.

2.  Give singles a mission.  Rather than viewing singleness as a pre-marital state, I wish more churches viewed them as their best source of missionaries.  Married Christians rightly spend time and energy raising a family.  Single Christians have a unique flexibility that the church can use to the glory of God.  I knew one young lady who devoted two nights a week for SEVEN years to teaching the same group of teenage girls the Bible.  On her other nights she hosted a singles small group and led the interior design for a new building project.  It’s great that she took the initiative and did this on her own, but most of us don’t know how.  Singles, especially 20 and 30-somethings, have time and money to spare.  Undirected, these will be spent on Happy Hours, fancy clothes and concerts.  Churches need to create opportunities to serve that engage singles together in God’s mission.

3.  Be our families.  In today’s America, we move every 3-5 years.  The support system of an extended family is limited to phone calls and holidays.  Although they might not admit it, many singles are dreadfully lonely.  One of the biggest blessings of my life are the families I’ve met along my way. They have brought me into their homes and treat me as one of their own.  Jesus promised that those who sacrificed ”house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children” would get them all back.  Churches need to be the place where that happens.

4.  Teach us how to be chaste.  When I was a teenager in the 90s and everyone was freaking out about “babies having babies”, the church tried to bribe us to keep our pants on.  We were told that true love waits and given virginity rings.  With the percentage of singles having sex inside and outside the church, this carrot/stick philosophy can be deemed a failure.  It has often been remarked that the only new virtue Christianity brought into the world is chastity.  There is nothing more normal than human beings having lots of sex.  The Christian virtue of chastity, of devoting that energy to the kingdom of God is something unique and countercultural. Rather than making singles feel guilty about their sexuality, chastity, and the hard work that comes with it, should be treated with the same value as marriage.

5.  Help us build community.  Tim Keller once said that chastity is impossible outside of deep community.  God has built us with a deep need for connection, companionship and community.  If one does not get this through marriage, it is impossible to fault them for finding connection through sex.  The Catholic orders have always known this, bringing together men and women to live as a community under a rule of life.  Churches need to explore innovative ways for singles to live together, eat together, serve together and play together.

6.  Teach us how to commit.  Singles in their 20s and 30s are the generation raised by divorce.  Even for the lucky ones like me whose parents stayed together, it’s impossible to escape.  This has led to a cultural inability to commit at epidemic levels.  In past generations, where you were married to your high school sweetheart and worked at the same company for 40 years, commitment was the norm.  Today, we can’t commit to relationships or jobs or cities or churches.  The saddest evidence of this is the number of “starter marriages,” which seem to be over and done with before hitting 30.  We need lessons on what commitment is, what to commit to, and the advantages to commitment.  We need small things to practice committing to and big things to experience it.  Many of us want to be married, but we’re doomed if we go into with the tools our culture has given us.

7.  Help us get married.  Singles ministries get a bad rap for being “meat markets.”  The place where Christians who didn’t meet that special someone in college put on their high heels and study the book of Ruth.  There’s nothing quite like watching the dudes swoop in on the new girl at church like sharks on blood.  But the fact is, if you want to meet someone who loves Jesus and loves his church, you probably aren’t going to find them in a bar.  The key to avoiding this meat market scene is found in #1-6.  A little structure avoids a ton of problems.  Rather than letting Sunday morning Bible study replace Saturday night bar hopping, put us to work, side by side. We’ll learn to serve the Lord, and get to know each other at the same time.

What would you add? What to you wish churches did for single Christians?

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8 comments
ollwenjones
ollwenjones

Great post Chris. Very comprehensive, with a lot of good points. You hit some things that were incredibly valueable to me in my single years: families that treated me like family, community, etc. I totally agree about giving Singles a Mission, and about helping them towards marriage by "...[putting] us to work, side by side." The difficulty with achieving it all stems from the problems you describe in #6. How can churches disciple singles if singles can't be nailed down?

 

I think most singles are a lot more eager to spend time with individuals they respect than in attending (often lame) programs. That means a bigger commitment on the part of the many, rather than a few paid pros trying to wrangle something. The best community I got as a single was actually a peer led group of singles that a church just allowed to meet at their facilities. When their people did show up we always loved it though, and maybe further investment from them would have staid the group when the core married each-other, had kids, and disappeared.

timoteostewart
timoteostewart

One of my favorite "singles related" Proverbs that I live by myself is Proverbs 24:27: "Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready; after that, build your house." I have a 40 hour/week day job (which pays for my rent and groceries), and then in my evenings and weekends I'm writing a book and starting a publishing company. I've dated a few different times in the past few years, but I've discovered I literally don't have the time to conduct a relationship at the same time as I'm "getting my fields ready" right now. So I think it's a Biblical move for me to deliberately NOT pursue relationship while I'm so heavily engaged in this other work.

 

I think it's good to make a wish list of ways that the church can serve/teach/counsel unmarried people. You touch briefly on how single people are in a position to do special ministries such as mission work. I think that should be a bigger conversation. I'd like to see single people step up and exercise their freedom in ways outside the traditional pigeonholes of "foreign missions" and "leading small groups." I'm thinking about artists and entrepreneurs and other non-traditional ways of being actively and intensively engaged in doing something that has a Kingdom Effect.

 

Great article, Chris. You're doing a lot to get people thinking and talking!

ChrisMorton82
ChrisMorton82 moderator

 @ollwenjones Sam, you're getting at a point that I haven't earned the right to talk about yet.  There is this weird practice in which young couples of hide themselves away, I call it "us versus the world." When they have kids, they sometimes become even more insular, putting undue pressure on the marriage and leading to some weird family relationships.  The need for community is not a singles problem, but a cultural problem.  I hope you and your lady are figuring it out.  Maybe you can bring her to hang out in DC in April?

ollwenjones
ollwenjones

 @timoteostewart I think that's a fine line, and I wouldn't say that proverb is specifically "singles related."  My dad gave me that verse when my wife and I we were house-shopping, but a little uncertain of my job: Wait, iron out the source of income, then buy a house. The Hebrews married pretty young with arranged marriages, so be careful here.

 

If this really is a season God has placed you in to invest in your bread-winning powers, then good job for recognizing that in the face of the normal cultural marriage pressure! I wouldn't advise my sister to try and start a serious relationship in the midst of her medical residency. On the other hand lots of folks put off the pursuit of marriage (or committing to a church, for that matter) indefinitely for the sake of ambition or existential fulfillment, which are not necessarily better or Godly goals.

 

Pray it up, right?

 

ollwenjones
ollwenjones

 @ChrisMorton82 Those are some good and candid observations.

There's a principle in Mosaic Law where men would be turned away from joining the army in battles during their first year of marriage, and in mine I found myself saying 'no' a lot more often. It's important for couples to build that intimacy early on before the pressures of life hit. And when kids do come, it gets really challenging to be involved in things. Small children are just exhausting, make it harder to find time to connect to one's spouse, and with early bed-times (like 7:30-8:30pm), it's usually impossible to make it to those 7:30-11pm hangouts we used to frequent as singles.

 

Those are the challenges, but what you say about community for singles holds true for couples as well. There is sanctification that can only happen in community. There's sometimes a need to be insular (the kids are throwing up, yay!) but without the extended family/natural village community structure, who is going to help us with the kids, to lighten the load and make sure we have time to build into our relationship except our community? Where except community can we build into single's lives, help them learn to interact with children; let our kids have meaningful adult relationships, and maybe cash in some baby-sitting time? Real community is a lot messier, but it can fill the needs of singles and couples in ways that targeted institutional programming can't begin to do. 

 

Going from zero to deep community is a challenge though, especially in our kind of media-saturated individualistic culture. It'll take effort and time, but I think you've outlined some really good goals for it to pursue.

timoteostewart
timoteostewart

@ollwenjones Thanks for the general advice, bro.

ollwenjones
ollwenjones

 @timoteostewart  I don't know why I feel compelled to give strangers advice, sometimes. ;) Thanks for that gracious response.

ChrisMorton82
ChrisMorton82 moderator

 @timoteostewart  @ollwenjones If that Proverb was written today I'm pretty sure it'd be phrased "get you sh*t together before you drag someone else into it."  We all have two types of baggage.  The type we have to work out on our own, and the kind that only works out in community.  My advice to most single people is the same: find mentors, get some counseling, live with roommates.  It's not a cure, but I believe it will take you a long way in the right direction.