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.