Recently, I was asked by a pastor friend of mine to help him consider how to handle singleness from the pulpit and frankly throughout his church. I of course said, “Read my blog – duh.” Just kidding.
First of all, this man should be commended for taking it on and asking questions (not just of me). I’ve written before about how your pastor probably doesn’t get it. This is how one gets out of that situation – because anyone can get it.
Now I have some thoughts on what a sermon series on “singleness” would look like. I’ll share some of that soon. But one of the things I think a pastor runs up against if he wants to talk about singleness from the pulpit is that most likely the majority of his audience will be married.
This is one of the good reasons that churches do marriage sermon series. They are trying to help people who are married. And they know if they do have single people there, that most of them want to be married and therefore might be able to gain something from it. In fact as I’ve written before – as a single you really should pay attention to that sermon series.
But the problem comes when this same pastor wants to talk about singleness. How does he “sell” that to a mostly married crowd? Today I’m going to tell you exactly how I’d do that. In other words, I’m going to tell you why all this stuff we talk about here should be important to married people in the church. Very important actually. There are many reasons, but here are a few – in no particular order.
For starters, most married people, have single friends. They work with single people, live down the street from them, sit next to them at church. Married people need to know how to best minister to these people – and not from a place of superiority. I think there are a lot of married folks who want to care about their single friends but don’t know much about it. Learning more would help. In the same way that I tried to learn to minister to my married friends (and even challenge them) even though I wasn’t married, married people need to do that as well.
This leads to a secondary point. 50% of American adults are unmarried. Most of those people (as in literally most) don’t go to church. So if we are going to invite a friend to church, there is a good chance they will be single. If we are serious about reaching out into the community, learning how to think about singleness and the Gospel is pretty key.
Another reason married people need this information is that many of them entered marriage under wrong premises. Yes the marriage sermon helps here. But so does the sermon about not being married. When you knock down all of the spiritual platitudes that we tell single people (God has someone for you, hasn’t brought you the one yet, is waiting for you to be ready, save yourself for marriage, etc.) we also help married people who are struggling in their marriage because they believed in those exact platitudes and now they are being let down by them.
Let me promise you this. If a church did a gutsy sermon series on the unmarried and the Gospel, they would rock a lot of married people’s worlds. In what would eventually be a good way, some crap would hit the fan. Not only that, but there would be some marriages that are struggling in which by the end of this series, they would become committed to figuring it out. They would be thankful.
Talking about singleness in all it’s forms, also reminds married people, that yes, you are in a covenant relationship for life, but your identity is not in that. You were created unmarried and will be resurrected unmarried. Not to mention, that talking about the holiness of celibacy also raises the holiness of marriage. When we look at both together we get a better picture of the Kingdom.
Further, most married people will also become (or already are) parents. If I had a church with a lot of parents of adolescents, I for sure would want them to know the stuff we talk about here. Because how else are they supposed to help their kid walk through it?
Parents need an accurate view of what is going on out there. If all they know how to offer their kids are the spiritual platitudes that the church throws out to the unmarried, they are setting their kids up to fail – and possibly fail hard. It is vital that parents understand as best they can the scene today and all that goes with it. The more they understand the better they will be able to advise, comfort and hopefully guide their children. I don’t think this can be overstated.
Finally, and maybe most important, many of the things that we need to talk about with singles, have just as many (if maybe different) implications for those who are married. The Gospel is the Gospel. Switching contexts won’t change that. Just like I’ve heard pastors say in a marriage sermon, “Single folks this applies to you” they would be saying, “Hey married folks, this applies to you.”
Good points. Part of the problem with the kid issue is that when married people assume single people are somehow more broken, immature, etc., they can’t imagine that their own children will be in a similar situation and so they see no need to learn how to walk with singles for their own children if the children will presumably marry young. It’s always going to be someone else’s problem until it isn’t.
Another reason why it’s important to teach on singleness is that likely half of the population will one day be single – by widowhood, if nothing else. Maybe part of this problem is that if men are leading the church and are the half that are less likely to be widowed, pastors and other male leaders fail to see where this kind of sermon would benefit people who are currently married. If the church does a series on singleness, they need to include widowhood. People can be in denial that their kids will remain unmarried, or that any “good Christian” would get divorced, but death happens.
Yet another problem is that too many married people think that because they were single in high school or college, or even very young adulthood, they know what it means to be single when they have no clue. They don’t know what it means to do life alone and there needs to be an acknowledgement of that. Unfortunately, a great deal of arrogance is standing in the way of this acknowledgement.
Please tell your pastor friend to remind people that the first thing God said is NOT good is to be alone (Gen. 2:18). Being unmarried doesn’t have to mean being alone but too often in our culture and in our churches, it does.
All good points T.
God gave men and women all the value we would ever have in the beginning. Men cannot give women any value, and women cannot give men any value. Yet our society promotes the idea that we should seek our value in others more than (or instead of) God. Churches follow that same path. We have favorites who are loved unconditionally by everyone and less popular people who are shunned and belittled constantly by everyone.
Our definitions of love and grace are worldly, so we approach people (whether single or married) with this faulty concept of God’s love and grace. It is based on our own perceptions of who we want to love and show grace to, which is based on our own human desires for more love and grace ourselves. We look to each other for our answers instead of Christ! The result is that we love those who love us and hate those that hate us, and we are no different than anyone else outside the faith.
When married people approach single people, they compare us to themselves, likely thinking as the Pharisees did, “Thank God I’m not a single person like you!,” while never attempting to learn or understand what that experience might be like from our perspective. They have many poor assumptions and judgements about our lifestyle and personal character based on that one incorrect presumption and descriptor, yet they don’t really care to learn the truth about us, because they are comfortable in their prideful and self-righteous presumptions. They would rather believe the lies that culture and churches tell them about “single people” to feel better about themselves and their lives than humble themselves enough to approach us as teachable equals, listen, and learn. They assume they have nothing they could possibly learn from us.
The very idea of “singles ministry” is based on “fixing” us so that we are more like them (not God), and that “singleness” is a congenital disease we must free ourselves from via marriage before it consumes us. Again, a very short-sighted, worldly motive. Do they really want us to “reflect Christ and His Church” as the bible describes or just to become more like them, because I don’t see much “reflection of Christ and His Church” in them.
And if they aren’t doing marriage correctly, then all their marital struggles are just becoming like repellant to warn the singles away from becoming married.
When married people believe they have graduated from this lower form of existence to become “a picture of Christ and His Church,” they forget and disrespect the fact that we were all created and designed in God’s image to begin with. We were “fearfully and wonderfully made” in God’s image. How does one graduate from that to something “better,” “more mature,” and “closer to God?” Or are we just drawing closer to what we want to become instead?
I’ve mentioned before how married men have abandoned me to complete Church projects and tasks on my own, because they have “higher callings,” to go spend quality time with their wives, and “I have more time to devote to The Lord,” yet the tone of those words is one of self-righteous pity and belittlement, not one of value, respect, and appreciation.
The result is that I’m encouraged to use my time to serve The Lord by serving the church, and then consequently insulted and disrespected for doing so, simply because I don’t have a wife to use as an excuse to go do “better,” “more mature,” closer to God” things with my time and life.
The church needs to decide if it really wants to value “serving The Lord” in all walks of life or if they just want to talk about it as they promote more marriage to single people to make married people feel better about being married.
Personally, I’m surprised any Pastor was willing to ask about singleness outside of any context and motive to “fix” us to become more like them. Maybe, as a newlywed, your words might (finally) carry more credibility with married people in the Church.
“I’ve mentioned before how married men have abandoned me to complete Church projects and tasks on my own, because they have “higher callings,” to go spend quality time with their wives, and “I have more time to devote to The Lord,” yet the tone of those words is one of self-righteous pity and belittlement, not one of value, respect, and appreciation.”
I totally get this right here. Especially the last sentence.
For the record, my friend listened to me before I was married. But there is no doubt the being married gives me a different audience.
Kudos to the pastor friend of yours for wanting to understand the whole singles scene, but was’t the pastor single at one time? Do people lose all connection to that side of the brain when they marry? Is there some sort of poison in the wedding cake that kills off that side of the brain? (My weak attempt at humor!)
I think your statement: “For starters, most married people, have single friends.” is not entirely true.
I think many married people have acquaintances who are single. There’s a difference in semantics that is rather significant.
If I’m married (I’m not by the way) I have acquaintances through my place of employment, my gym, the grocery store, etc. I may get along with these people, but I likely don’t socialize with them beyond the Christmas social at work.
Church is the same, but worse. I may know “Tim” and “Lisa” from Sunday School because attend the same class (I’m that awkward guy who comes in and messes up the whole even-numbered chair routine); we may even make small talk, but that’s pretty much it. We don’t socialize on the weekends beyond church; I’m not part of their circle of friends who vacations in the desert or at the coast on quads hauled in the toy haulers (I live in an apartment and own a small car — I don’t have a house with a large pickup and an RV parked out back).
Unless it’s part of my court-authorized weekend with my daughter my weekends are my own. I can come and go as I please (yes, that’s a HUGE advantage to being single, and I recognize it). I can skip breakfast, get lunch by myself at a Mexican restaurant, then go nap on the couch if I feel like it. I answer to no one outside of my job.
How would I answer that question by your pastor? I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach, but there are some general ideas because some of us may actually enjoy (or claim it for the most part) our solitary confinement.
Speaking personally, I’d probably want to answer his question over lunch, not in his office. I’d want the pastor to get to know more about me and what makes me tick as a person. Try to understand (and not just from me, but from other single people) what they like about being single and what they hate about it, because let’s face it: whether we’re married or not, we envy the other set.
While I diverge a bit, there’s a connection here: There’s a new television show (I don’t have TV, so I’ve only read about it) called “It Takes A Church.” It’s apparently kind of like a game show where people in church set up singles on a date. I’m torn by the idea, but leaning towards a positive impression of the show. In short, the church helps set up folks on a date — a good idea given our culture these days.
Maybe that’s something worth talking about with your pastor friend and others in the church. What if, for instance, the church became much more purposeful in the lives of people to the point that we walked with people through their pain and losses (divorce, loss of a loved one, etc.), helped folks through their marital struggles and celebrated with them when times are great rather than just answer with the typical response “fine” when asked “how are you?”
Sorry if I stole a lot of your space here, but these thoughts of yours made me think. I’m open to a dialogue if you have questions or comments.
Hey Todd. Good thoughts.
Ha – yeah I think people do sort of forget. But I also think that pastors in particular tend to get married really young. Which isn’t bad. It just doesn’t set them up to understand and relate to this are well. So really in a way, most of them were never really single.
I do get what you are saying about single-married friendships. It’s interesting because I’ve just always had friends that were married. Granted I was friends with some of them before they were married. But I think where it is especially hard is as a single person in a new place/church. – Haha – isn’t that the million dollar question.
I for sure think the church should be more purposeful in the lives of people. I think this is always a challenge – not just with singleness etc. Probably a better way is how does the church (institution) help set up the church (groups of peple that love Jesus) to be purposeful period.
Great points Todd! I agree with what you have put out there. When I was “starting” a singles ministry at my Corps, I went to at least ten different churches to sit in with their own “singles ministry meetings” to see what everybody else was doing (or NOT doing).
Most “singles ministry” that I witnessed are very, very youth orientated still. Guys and gals mostly in college, or just out. It’s a glorified and tarted up “teen ministry” and they are small. Most of the singles in this age who still even claim Christ are now getting involved with the “Man Up” groups in the church (still dislike that phrase btw) and the women are moving into the “Women’s Fellowship” type of thing (It is called Home League Auxiliary in The Salvation Army).
I noticed no fellowship for singles who were: single parent. Single by choice (Gift of Singleness), single by divorce, single by the loss of a spouse (widow / widower), single and not liking the fact they were single…no matter WHAT the age.
I finally called upon the local priest from Catholic Charities to see what the local Catholic church was up to with their singles. He was pleased to meet with me personally first…….
He was my age. We met in his office for coffee, and what a sight it was. He in his priestly vestments, and I in my Salvation Army uniform. Something that probably would not have happened a generation and a half ago 🙂
He told me that when he talks about “singleness” and “God’s plan for people” it sometimes is a plan we don’t want to hear from God. He freely admitted that there are indeed people called to be single, and it is not just “the priest” or just in “the Catholic tradition”
He focused on the pain people feel because of their singleness. He was the first person in a church leadership position that openly mentioned the elderly to me who are single. The broken, the physically disabled. The divorced. How they too feel lost to God’s love because of their single status. He spoke freely of how satan himself “rejoices” in the fact that we (referring to all in the church) have made marriage, dating, love and children “an idol” today (breaking a Commandment). He mentioned “sin is sin” and that is what he tries to convey to the singles he ministers to in his flock. He also said he got a lot of anger, and comments from his congregation about a year ago when he did a sermon on “the idol of marriage” and how God’s love is unconditional to us, even if we are not married. There are expectations of all in Christ, regardless of our marital status.
All must equally submit themselves to The Cross.
As for my singles ministry. I call it “Your Single Action” and we’re growing in numbers slowly, but everyone who has attended has said it was not what they had “expected” to find in a singles ministry. I am praying that this ministry can and will be able to serve all the singles in the area from all churches of all denominations……and all walks of singleness in Christ
Justin – You mentioned that 50% of the population is single, a statistic I’ve seen from the last census. What puzzles me is this: Why would a church even want to identify who is legally having sex and who is not legally having sex for any other reason than discrimination? How does segregating a group based on marital status identify any particular needs? If it’s being approached from a support group perspective, what personal needs would a 23 year old divorced mother of three have in common with a 90 year old man with the gift of celibacy? I can’t think of any. However, forming groups for the discernment of the gift of celibacy, groups to help older singles find mates, groups to meet the particular needs of widows, etc. groups to encourage younger singles to wait until marriage, etc. might make sense. Those are real needs. “Single” is nothing more than a legal term churches use to identify who to “protect” their children from. Actually, I know of a few churches who have designated pews for those so afflicted.
That’s one of the first keys to the so called “singleness sermon series” – destroying the word. But that comes in a later post. 🙂
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I’ve been called by Jesus to be single for 30 years and I have been active and committed in all kinds of ministry and what KILLS me the MOST is the married couple thatis head over the singles department every time. What the @#&$ do they have to tell me?
I had a singles minister kick me out of a singles class because of a slight disagreement about our handling of two people who lost someone in their immediate family. He also commented that I was too old. Churches are not always kind to singles and it needs to stop.
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