Dear Body of Christ hither and yon:
It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m thinking about my life as a single person. I’m not bitter or disappointed–I know my God is both sovereign AND kind. I just wanted to let you know what life as a part of you looks like sometimes.
A few years ago I did a survey of our undergrad students and alumni exploring their perspectives on marriage. One respondent wrote that the church talks as if marriage is a Vitamix blender creating fabulous smoothies but views singleness as a Sunbeam mixer with the top off making a mess in the kitchen. I laughed when I read that. Then I cried. It’s not always easy to be single in an environment that maybe hasn’t considered 1 Corinthians 7 in a while.
How should the church respond to the single in their midst? I ask this question not as a criticism, but rather as an encouragement to all members of the Body. I offer these suggestions to promote empathy and leadership for the encouragement and building up of the whole Church–single and married. I say this as a part of you, to promote you, because I love you.
1. Be aware that singles are uniquely gifted by God for the sake of growing the Body of Christ and bringing Him glory. Singleness is not an illness that needs to be cured. Singles are a gift to the Body, and the church would do well to love and encourage singles in the pursuit of Christ, while not trying to “fix” their singleness. Singles are not necessarily immature because they are single. Some are, some aren’t. Please don’t think that single people are childish because they don’t have children. Please recognize that God is sovereign and has in His kindness ordained this specific status for a specific reason and a specific season for His glory. Affirm singles gifting and encourage them toward service in the church. What is the gifting of the single members among your body? How has God equipped the singles of the church uniquely to serve Him? Not all singles are in the same season of life.
2. Identify unique populations of singles. Some have never been married, some are divorced, some have been widowed or abandoned. We have the very clear example of the early church in Acts 6 and James 1 regarding the care of widows and those in need, and with these populations come unique needs and as well as unique gifting. With different ages come different opportunities for singles to minister to the church. A 25 year old man has a different set of gifts and needs than does a 65 year old woman.
3. Integrate singles into the life of the church. Please? Consider not segregating them by age or status. Are you going to have a church dinner? When you set the tables, set up an odd number of chairs so that singles can sit without feeling the awkwardness of forcing an empty chair. (Or the awkwardness of being asked to move to a different table!). Are single women of whatever age welcome at your ladies’ Bible Study? Are your study topics only related to mothering and marriage? Do you have studies in the evening so that working women could be a part?
4. Encourage families in the church to “adopt” a single person. Recognize that we must do life together. Marriage is not the only context in which sanctification takes place. Many single people have no family in the area. Can you step in and help with car maintenance, laundry facilities, or just a regular seat next to you on Sunday morning? As a single person, it might even be difficult to identify an emergency contact on forms. Who do I call in the middle of the night if I get sick or my car breaks down?
5. Pray for Singles, mentor them, and study and preach about what singleness means for them and the church. Pastors, can you address passages that relate to godliness for single people? Maybe even include a specific illustration related to singles in your teaching and applications. Why do I say this? In that survey I mentioned, 78% of the respondents of the my survey said that they had heard fewer than two sermons regarding what the Bible says about being single. Less than half of these Biblically-educated respondents could identify any reference in the Scriptures that dealt with being unmarried.
Can you disciple a single in how to manage his finances? Can you teach a young woman what it means to depend on the Lord in the midst of affliction? Are you discussing with them what holiness means for the man struggling with lust, or the woman who is reading pornographic novels, or the person who is processing Same Sex attraction?
6. Recognize that some topics and days in the church may be harder for singles some than others. Mother’s Day, for example. Every year, its a doozy. Please don’t pound your pulpit with enthusiasm to tell the congregation that being a mother is the highest calling for any woman—that is not what your Bible tells you. It is a high calling. But my status as a child of God is the highest call for any believer’s life! What about Valentines Day? Have you considered how you might care for the folks who might be struggling with this day? I am aware of one pastor and his wife who deliver flowers to all of the single women in their church on Valentine’s Day.
Dear Church, you need to know, this question pushes me, as a single person, to love God and love the church more: In what way does the holy, happy life of a single person within the church flaunt the immense love and grace of God to a disbelieving, dissatisfied, grumpy, grasping world? Can you help me, can you help my single brothers and sisters, love Jesus more?
With much love,