Singleness

My Married Pastor Asked Me for Input Before Preaching on Singleness. Here’s What I Said. (Part 3)

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If you missed it, refer to part 1 and part 2 of my three part series on what I wanted my own married pastor to consider before preaching on singleness. Below are my final six thoughts:

12. Singles do not necessarily have more free time than marrieds.
Singles are often encouraged from the pulpit to look after the children of married couples in the church during their “season” of singleness (let’s also be careful of calling this a season), often with the assumption that they have more free time to offer. While serving families in the church is good, the idea that singles have more time than marrieds is not necessarily true. Singles often fill their time with important commitments within their communities. When churches too quickly look to singles to fill all of their service gaps, it can leave us feeling more exploited than cared for. 

Not only should we avoid the assumption of excess free time, but we should also encourage marrieds to come alongside singles where they can, not just vice versa. Marrieds have a degree of social privilege in forging new relationships with singles, as they have automatic partners in conversation and hosting. For the socially anxious, introverted, or shy singles, it can be difficult to reach out to a married couple by yourself. The built-in social partnerships provided in marriage are a blessing and privilege to be stewarded.

13. Singles should not just be used for children’s ministry.
It’s common for single women in the church to feel like they’re only being used for children’s ministry and not invested in relationally.

When I made the difficult move to a new city, what I wanted more than anything was to be absorbed quickly and deeply into the local church community. To my pleasant surprise, one of the married elders approached my friend and I during one of our first weeks to talk about his community group. However, I came to find out that he was not reaching out for us to join his community group, but rather he was targeting us as new singles to ask if we’d serve in childcare during their meeting time. Needless to say, I was disappointed.

My current church is the first one I’ve ever attended where I’ve said “no” to serving in children’s ministry, as it takes place during the service time. It’s not due to an unwillingness to serve, but due to the spiritual isolation I sometimes face during the week that I’ve said, “no.” As a single, I’m responsible for my own spiritual well-being six days a week. I don’t have an everyday partner praying with me and discussing Scripture with me. I’m on my own, with the power of the Holy Spirit. And that’s okay. That’s the life, for now at least, that God has sovereignly ordained for me. But, Sunday is the one day where I have the opportunity to live my faith together, as we were designed to do. Sunday is my day to function spiritually in community: to meet with God and the church at once.

14. “Singleness is not Junior Varsity” – Ryan Griffith
Singleness does not define our standing before God, and it shouldn’t define our standing in our churches. Singles are whole and complete Christians, just as marrieds are. Singles often find that they are not asked to hold leadership roles in the church, and marrieds are given preference in all areas but childcare. Singles can be discluded from being considered from roles as simple as giving announcements to complex as creating Sunday School curricula and leading community groups, all of which they are as equally capable as marrieds of doing well. Their disclusion portrays a “less than” or “incomplete” status in the church. As I’ve often said, in many churches, I feel like I’m permanently relegated to the kids’ table, both literally and metaphorically due to my womanhood and my singleness. Remember, marriage is not the chief end of humanity. Singles are not half persons, but full and equal participants in the covenant community of God.

15. Dating is a modern concept and the societal function of marriage has changed.
Part of what makes navigating Scripture on marriage, singleness, and womanhood so difficult is the massive cultural shift we’ve undergone since the writing of the Bible. Marriage is no longer a fiscal necessity, but a choice. Women no longer need to be associated with a man to provide for themselves financially. Freedom of choice in dating and marriage is new for many, especially women. Not only are men given theological/other education, but likewise are women. Living independently as a woman is possible in a way that it never was in the history of the world. With that change comes a new set of challenges and questions. Thus, it’s important not to make black and white statements about dating, when the text was written during a time in which dating did not yet exist.

16. Earthly marriage is a finite institution.
In any conversation on this issue, it’s important to affirm that Earthly marriage is only temporary. When we reside in our eternal resting place with God, worldly barriers will fall away and we will all equally and fully commune with God himself.

17. Under the sun, the grass will always be greener on the other side.
Singles may feel like marriage would fill the inner void that plagues them. Infertile marrieds may think that children would fix their emptiness. Marrieds with children may feel that a better husband or a better wife would fix their missing piece. No matter who we are, no matter our life stage, we feel a yearning for more. It’s important not to fall prey to the lie that any Earthly thing will fill our emptiness. The true void we feel is a natural result of the fall and our broken relationship with God. Though he has redeemed us, He no longer walks with us in the garden. And so we wait. And so we feel the pain of broken intimacy. But one day, when all is made new once and for all, our hearts will finally experience the real fulfillment of all that we’ve been longing for. In this life, we feel like the grass is greener somewhere else because the grass will be greener somewhere else. Until then, we yearn, whether single, married, divorced, or widowed. The best is yet to come. As we yearn, let’s commit to yearn rightly.

This list concludes my three part series (following parts 1 and 2) on what I wanted my own pastor to know before he preached about singleness. What else would you add to the list? What would you want your own pastor to know?

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Singleness, Uncategorized

My Married Pastor Asked Me for Input Before Preaching on Singleness. Here’s What I Said. (Part 2)

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If you missed it, this is the second post of a three-part series on what I wanted my own pastor to consider before preaching on singleness. The previous post lists the first six of seventeen thoughts that I sent to my pastor. Here are five more principles that I think church leaders should consider before addressing singles in their congregations:

7. God is not a divine vending machine.
Too many times have I heard it said, “You must become content in your singleness first before God will grant you a spouse,” either this directly, or indirectly by way of personal anecdote. Not only does this sentiment assume that singles are inherently more discontent in Christ than marrieds, but it gives the false promise, “If I can accomplish my own holiness, God is obligated to give me what I want.” This line of thinking is a remnant of the acceptable prosperity gospel in broad base evangelicalism. Just believe enough, just surrender enough, just be holy enough, and you’ll get what you desire most. We must remember that God’s greatest gift to us is not money or a spouse, but it is Himself.

Growing up in church youth group, when I discussed my desire to eventually be married, mentors often said, “Well, God knows the desires of your heart,” implying that because I had this desire, I was inevitably going to get what I wanted, seemingly using Psalm 37:4 as a proof text. However, they left out the first half of the verse. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart,” namely, himself! If I delight myself in the dream of becoming a professional basketball player, the Lord does not promise to meet that desire. But if I delight myself in Him, He promises to give me himself, and that’s greater than any other gift I could conceive of.

This flawed transactional logic is a distortion of the true gospel, the highest gift of God’s son for our redemption.

8. Common gender-based dichotomies are often more culturally oriented than biblically normative.
In exhorting singles, church leaders equate issues like emotional instability and vanity with womanhood and issues like lust and desire for power with manhood. However, these generalizations are rarely exhaustive. As a woman who finds my male friends to be far more emotional than I am, I find these generalizing statements to be more hurtful than helpful. I’ve also seen pain among my female friends who struggle with lust and pornography when articles and pulpits portray lust as just a men’s issue. Individuals need to know that God sees their reality too, even if it’s not what seems to be the majority reality.

For more on this, refer here.

9. While it’s okay to encourage young men to “man up,” it’s also important to affirm the single women who are already stepping up to the plate.
Spiritually mature young women in the church often feel that their maturity is not legitimized until it is seen within the context of a man. In light of the gender discrepancy common to most churches, it can be hard to sit in the pews of a body that consistently nurtures and addresses the spiritual maturity of men (or lack thereof) without acknowledging and praising the fact that many young single women are living lives of devotion to the Lord in their midst.

Often, single women feel that they will not be recognized for their spiritual and theological competencies until they become married to a man, and are finally legitimized in the eyes of church leadership.

10. Being single is not equal to being asexual.
I’ve heard lifelong singleness described as synonymous with the “gift of celibacy.” People trying to explain Paul’s words have seemed to say that those who will be lifelong singles are those who do not have strong sexual desires. However, in the midst of the already/not yet, the ratios between eligible males and females are not equal. Some singles, with sexual desire, will remain single. This is a trial of its own, both for males and females. With lifelong singleness often comes lifelong sexual temptation. However, our savior, single himself, was tempted in every way as we are, yet was without sin. Through the Holy Spirit, we have the power not to give in to this temptation.

11. “It is not good for man to be alone,” reigns true whether or not we get married.
In the Biblical creation story, God pronounced that it was not good for man to be alone. In creating humanity, itself, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). To be human is be created in the image of the triune, communal God. To be human is to be communal. In the New Testament, the church is instituted as a body rather than bodies. Whether or not we get married, we intrinsically know that we’re created for communal and relational intimacy. Yet, we function now in midst of the already/not yet, tainted by the fall while we await our true spiritual wedding day.

In the individualistic American society, many singles feel painfully disconnected from the community that all people are created to thrive within. The reason that lifelong singleness seems daunting to many is because, in America, singleness often means aloneness and isolation. The church has often fallen prey this stark individualism, viewing its role as a weekend acquaintance rather than the backbone of everyday life. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Even Jesus himself chose to be surrounded by a close community during his days on Earth. The church, when functioning to its full capacity, has the capability of being even more intimate than the nuclear family.

What do you think of these principles? Are they ideas your own church respects? What else would you add to the list? For more of my thoughts, take a look at part 1 and part 3 of this series.

 

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Singleness

My Married Pastor Asked Me for Input Before Preaching on Singleness. Here’s What I Said. (Part 1)

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Singleness isn’t something you often hear talked about from the pulpit. Before now, I don’t think I ever heard a sermon devoted specifically to the topic. Sure, I heard all of those fortune cookie phrases growing up:

“Wait for the one God has for you.”

“You want to get married? Don’t worry. The Lord knows the desires of your heart.”

“Start writing love letters to your future husband now, and one day you can give them to him.”

If you were raised in the evangelical youth culture of the early 2000’s and haven’t gotten married yet, you probably remember when you started to feel gypped by all of those false promises you grew up hearing. As I got older, I began to realize that the “one God has for me” may solely be Himself. I didn’t deny that He knows the desires of my heart, but I began to doubt the premise that He’d give me whatever the ends of those desires were, especially when so many of them were sinful. I wondered why it seemed like everyone everywhere had always assumed that this “future husband” concept was a universal guarantee.

Naturally, when my pastor recently told me he was going to preach on singleness, I felt a combination of fear, relief, hesitance, and precaution. So, when he asked for my input, I sat down and feverishly typed out seventeen thoughts that I thought were important for every married pastor to know about the single life before addressing singles in their bodies. Here are the first 6:

1. Lifelong singleness is a reality for many in the church. Often, it is an undesired reality.
This is especially true among women. According to Christianity Today, there are 2 single Christian men for every 3 single Christian women in America. She who lies in that last third will either remain single for life, marry an unbeliever, or marry a widower/divorcee. Ask any single Christian woman and she knows that this discrepancy is real, especially among missionaries. We’re highly aware of this reality. Yet, we’re also highly aware that God’s sovereign plan is good.

For more statistics on the gender gap, refer here.

2. Though we may face this undesired reality, we are not diseased.
Many feel especially stigmatized as singles in the church. Though singleness may be a trial for us, it does not and should not define us. Trials and seasons of sadness are not a singles’ problem, but a human problem as we live in the tension of the already but not yet. We may have an unfulfilled longing, but we are not deficient. We don’t desire pity, but understanding and acknowledgment.

3. Though the trials of singleness are real, so are the blessings of singleness
We experience closeness in friendships that many married friends do not. We learn to rely on the church in ways we would not have known had we been married. Though not necessarily in the ways that we would’ve chosen, we learn that Christ is truly our greatest reward and sustainer. We have a strong urgency for the redemption of our broken world, knowing that Earthly marriage is not the deepest marriage we are awaiting. We’re excited and ready for the ultimate intimacy, our final unification with Christ in person and in the flesh. Our singleness is not merely a trial but it brings us a greater awareness of who we are in Christ and in the church.

For more on the strengths of singleness, refer here.

4. BOTH marriage and singleness are sanctifying.
In conversations about feeling undervalued as singles in the church, I’ve often heard the rebuttal, “but marriage is sanctifying.” Most singles I know do not devalue marriage. In fact, most long for it. But, marriage may not be a reality for them now or ever. When this statement is said, it feels like spiritual leaders think our singleness is a choice, and even more so a choice against holiness. This thought pattern further leads to the stigmatization of singles.

Yes, marriage is sanctifying in ways that singleness is not. But, so also is singleness sanctifying in ways that marriage is not. I have to learn to intentionally redirect my unfulfilled longings toward Christ himself. I have to learn firsthand what the immanence of God means in my daily life when I come home (as an extrovert) to an empty house. I have to learn what the fullness of Christ means in the midst of earthly emptiness. Singleness, like marriage, is uniquely sanctifying.

6. BOTH marriage AND singleness are hard.
As singles, we don’t have anyone to divide and conquer our daily life responsibilities with. We do the laundry. We cook. We clean. We budget.  When the car needs a new battery, we take it to the shop. When the washing machine breaks, we get on ehow and figure out how to fix it. When we need a ride home from the hospital and don’t live near family, we call our own Uber. Believe it or not, your Uber driver isn’t really the knight in shining armor you want to comfort you after a difficult medical procedure. Neither singles nor marrieds have a monopoly on hardship. As any married friend will tell you, marriage comes with its own pains, challenges, and lessons. But singleness, likewise, brings with it unique wisdom through difficulty. As marrieds or singles, we should never discount each other’s life struggles.

7. Sanctification is not a means to the ends of marriage.
I’ve heard pastors attempt to include singles in their marriage sermons by encouraging them to cultivate Godly virtues for their future spouses. But the truth is, we don’t seek holiness for the ends of any Earthly partner, but for the holy God himself. Marriage isn’t the necessitated reward for holy living. Our sanctification is not the means to anything but the glory of God himself. 

Do you think your own leadership is conscious of these principles? What would you add to this list? For more on what I thought was important address, take a look at part 2 and part 3 of this series.

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