I’ve always looked towards others to be the voice of the single person in the church – well one other cause I only know one author/speaker who is single. But I’ve realized lately what a tremendous pressure it is for her to speak on behalf of all of us. So I thought it was time for me to put myself out there as well.
Let me start by saying this – I love the Church. And not in a naïve way where I pretend we have no problems, but in a deep way where I just can’t quit it. I am deeply committed to being a part of a church body, not just in leadership as a pastor but in the overall community of followers of God.
When it comes to Church I’m sitting across the table saying, “This thing we’re doing here – I’m in – I’m all in” ala Luke Danes in Gilmore Girls.
All that to say, at times, it’s really hard to be in the Church. For a few different reasons but one big glaring one is because of the fact that I’m single. I am not one half of a couple, in fact I’m nowhere near that stage of life yet and while that’s a battle between God and me, at times it’s a battle between the church and me.
So I’d love to start a conversation about what it’s like to be single in the church. To really dig in deep and ask ourselves some hard questions about this divide between married/single people in the church. I want us all to come to this internet table and talk it out, but it’s gonna take a few weeks to really do this well.
Here’s where we’re going to (try) to go with this conversation:
Part One is for the Church and those in leadership in the Church
Part Two is a bit of a Married Friends Gut Check
Part Three is a bit of a Single Friends Gut Check
Part Four is full of some practical steps forward.
My hope is to do a part each one, this is obviously part one, and I’ll link up each week so no one misses a part.
Here we go – Part One – for the Church and those in leadership in the Church:
I’ve watched many of my single friends struggle in various church settings. I’ve seen them contemplate leaving the church all together – not walking away from their faith but walking away from the buildings where we meet together.
Even though I know there are many reasons, one big one reason I think that they leaving is because there is no room for them to be single. It’s almost like the church doesn’t know what to do with single people – so they create a singles’ ministry which trust me when I say, that’s not what we’re looking for.
We’re looking to be seen as who we are right now – not who we could be with a spouse. A lie that single people have to fight is that we are incomplete without someone in our lives. So much of the Christian message in America is that you’ll be complete when you’re married – as if marriage is the magic cure-all for this disease of being single. Everything will be better after you say your “I dos” and walk back up that aisle.
But we all know that’s not true. So why are we continuing to perpetuate that message in our churches?
It’s in the language used from up front, in the division of small groups, in the way we interact with one another on Sundays mornings and outside of our gatherings.
It’s subtle in most cases and if I’m really honest with myself, I know it’s not overt. But as one of my married colleagues shared with me recently, “I don’t know what I don’t know.”
The thing is, a lot of people that serve on church staffs or in church leadership are married. They have beautiful and fulfilling marriages – and that is amazing. This can also mean that it has been a long time since they have been a single person attending church alone. Or it’s entirely possible that they have never been a single person attending church alone.
They don’t know how to relate to us. And they definitely don’t know how to relate to us when dating looks so foreign to them, so different from how things “used to be.”
So fellow church staffers, let’s talk about what we can do to make it a little easier on our singles.
Let’s watch our language. When we’re illustrating a point or giving an application in our sermons, let’s think about all stages of life. Unless you are specifically sharing a message about marriage – anything you are preaching on can be related to a single person as well. Using inclusive language can go a long way to making someone who is single feel comfortable.
Let’s value who they are as individuals. Seek out a single person in your church and invite them out to lunch. Listen to their stories and ask about their lives, not why they are single but what excites them about their work, their friends or their family. Let’s include them in our small groups, on our worship teams and get to know who they are individually. And for that matter – let’s stop treating married couples as a whole, they are two individual people as well, let’s get to know them for who they are independent of their relationship status.
Let’s stop idolizing marriage as the end game. Marriage can be and is a beautiful thing. I am in no way trying to negate it, I am just saying let’s be cautious about how we glorify it. When we’re inviting people to participate in services, is it always a nuclear family? Do we use language about “waiting for marriage” rather than talking about practicing healthy habits? Do we assume that marriage is the end game for everyone?
Let’s stop asking them why they are single or what they are doing to not be single anymore. These are intensely personal questions that should only be asked when a pre-existing relationship is present. Just because we want to explain away someone’s singleness does not mean we get to. The amount of times that single people have heard a question like this is countless and each time it can bring pain. Even if we don’t mean to insinuate that something is wrong with the person across from us, that’s how this question is received. If the single person desires to not be single anymore and they knew why that was the case – don’t you think they would have changed something by now?
I realize that in this realm, I speak from a place of privilege. I am a pastor which means that the way that I interact with a congregation is much different than someone who is visiting or regularly attending. I get invited into homes and families because I’m the friendly neighborhood youth pastor. It’s an honor to serve churches in this capacity. Most Sundays I walk into the church I serve and am warmly welcomed by the community around me.
And even still, I get the messages the Church is subtly sending that I would be better off if I had a husband. That there is something missing within me because I am not married. That there must be something God is still working out in me if I’m not married.
And all of those things are lies.
Single people are not somehow less than married people. And I know we don’t believe that. But let’s think about how we are communicating value to our singles.
What else have you seen that’s been helpful or harmful?