Walk into your average church and you might get the impression this is not a place you belong. Intellectually you may think going to church is the “right” thing to do, but you still feel somewhat on the outside as a single Christian. You feel like others see you as a second-class Christian if you’re not married. Never married, divorced, or widowed, being single in church seems so hard.
It’s unlikely anyone would verbalize that to you, but it comes out in the way things are done. Things seem stacked against you.
- The schedule of events and the roster of small groups seem to emphasize marriage and family
- Illustrations in sermons or recommended study materials center around marriage
- Any singles group or ministry feels like a Christianized singles bar, with people looking for a relationship or hanging out in a parking lot until a spouse comes along
- You feel left out of invitations to gatherings since you’re not a couple
- People try to “fix” you by hooking you up with a potential spouse even if you’re not interested
I’m single (widowed). I get it. I struggle with those feelings too. Knowing that at least in the United States the number of unmarried adults is greater than the number of currently married adults, the church can and should do better.
Here are a few things that would help.
A Robust Theology of Singleness
Contrary to the unstated message many pick up at church, marriage is not the goal of the Christian life. Jesus never promised anyone a happy married life. Married people are not holier than unmarried people. In fact, Paul makes the case that an unmarried person is more able to devote themselves to the things of God (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). For the first 1500 years of the Christian church single celibacy was considered the highest Christian life.
Jesus was never married. He lived on earth as the most Fully Alive human being ever to exist, but He never married, never had sex. We must not make something more important for us than it was for Jesus.
And for those who are not married but want to be, singleness is not a waiting room where you sit until Mr. or Mrs. Wonderful shows up. Singleness is a state of becoming. Regardless of whether marriage is in your future or not, it’s a time to let the Holy Spirit do His good work in you. God will not use you more or be happier with you if/when you marry. This is the time to live Fully Alive, to deal with your “stuff,” to learn how to let God fill your deepest needs.
As a corollary of this, a robust theology of singleness would help in some aspects of the LGBTQ conversation. As Jackie Hill Perry has stated, “God has not promised to make you straight; He’s promised to make you holy.” The goal is not to get you to marry an opposite-sex person! The goal is for you to become like Jesus, as it is for every Christian.
Celebration of Single Christians
This happens, but it doesn’t happen enough. We need to hear stories not just about how God brought someone the spouse they were praying for, but also about how a single person experienced God being their everything, how He sustained them and fulfilled them and used them. We need to see single people who are happy, growing, peaceful, and full of joy, wrestling through hard things, and serving the body of Christ with their unique gifts.
Where singles ministries are possible, they need to focus not primarily on preparing people for marriage, but on helping people grow, experience transformation, and become Fully Alive. This needs to be more than the obligatory “singles” sermon once a year. Single people are not a problem to be fixed, but, as Dr. Kurt Thompson says, “something beautiful on the way to being formed,” just as each of us is.
And for the good of the body of Christ the church needs to do better in fully embracing the ministry unmarried people can provide. Would more unmarried people become pastors or leaders if it wasn’t assumed that such roles almost always are for married people?
Facilitating Healthy Intimacy
And I’m not talking about sex.
God created every single human being with the need, desire, and capacity for intimacy. Where can you be seen, known, safe, and secure? The church has generally done an extremely poor job of helping unmarried people experience healthy intimacy in a godly way. It’s no wonder some get the message, “Get married, and then you can find intimacy. If you can’t or don’t want to get married, tough luck.”
Couldn’t the church become a place where unmarried people felt drawn to because that’s where they could find true connection, understanding, and emotional/spiritual intimacy?
This must be more than the standard 6-8 week book study many small groups provide. It needs to be long-term relationships where married and unmarried people truly become deep friends, share holidays and hard times and vacations and celebrations, talk about the “real” stuff going on in each other’s lives, and become indispensable parts of each other.
Is that too much to ask?
No, because I believe that’s what the family of God, as the New Testament describes it, would mean for today.
We’ve got a long way to go.
Your Turn: Do you feel somewhat on the outside as a single Christian? What would be helpful for you? Leave a comment below.
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Want Resources for Singles?
Living the single life as a Christian is challenging. We want to help! Periodically (about once a month) we release a new article or similar resource specifically for you as a single Christian. We’ll talk about relationships, heart issues, and sometimes the possibility of marriage.
If you’d like to join us each month with these resources, let us know.