Being single in the church today - not pretty
December 20, 2006
I wasn't going to type at all today because my hands and tendons are acting up, but I feel compelled to share these articles with you in hopes you'll better understand me and where I'm coming from in my desire to start a singles ministry where there currently is none.
My heart grieves with the thought that my senior pastor is so blind to the needs of the single population of our church and doesn't want to "segment" the church, but is willing to continue to exclude singles by virtue of always promoting "Family" activities. That's segmenting right there! Only it's an acceptable segment because it's the norm, it's what they're used to, and what they know.
Please pray that I'll accept whatever is decided. I'm really upset that I feel so ignored, so misunderstood, so pushed aside, and so marginalized and bastardized along with all my other single friends who go there. WE ARE A VALID PART OF THE CHURCH BODY DAMMIT AND DESERVE TO BE RECOGNIZED! I would swear more, but that would defeat the purpose.
God, I just turn this over to you. I give up. Not my will, but thine be done.
Read on if you care to hear what an outside source says about this issue - hopefully if anyone from OCF is reading my blog, or any other church leader, then they'll understand a little better. For the rest of you, here's an inside peek into what we go through - not pretty, eh? HA!
A Statement of the Pennsylvania Conference on Interchurch Cooperation, 1990
Singles in the Church
The Single Life
"As a single person I need companionship and deep relationships that happily married persons have. I think the church could be really a Christian community for me, but as a single even that fellowship is sometimes limited."
"I call to the Lord for help; I plead with him. I bring him all my complaints; I tell him all my troubles. When I am ready to give up, he knows what I should do . . . When I look beside me, I see that there is no one to help me, no one to protect me. No one cares for me. Lord, I cry to you for help; you, Lord, are my protector; you are all I want in this life." (Psalm 142:1-5)
"The Single Life" comprises many different types of people with many different needs and experiences. "Singles" may include:
- Those who have never married;
- Those now separated or divorced;
- The widowed;
- Single parents with children to support;
- Young and old;
- Male and female;
- Those who choose freely to remain single (with or without a "vow"); and
- Those who, by circumstance rather than choice, are single.
Many singles have this in common; they face life decisions alone. This statement addresses especially those singles who live alone, without a spouse or children. We want to call the church's attention to the uniquenesses of their situation and we invite the churches to be concerned with this particular segment of their membership. However, all single persons, no matter what their situation, are in need of our Christian attention and concern.
The number of single persons in our society is on the rise. Over one-third of the adult population in the United States is single. Studies indicate that approximately 60% of singles are women and the percentage of divorced singles is rapidly growing. The largest segment of the population living below the poverty line is the single parent with children to support. Singles span all age groups.
These figures represent a decrease in the percentage of the total population who are married,
which corresponds to an increase in the percentage of the population who choose not to marry or
who have been married and are now single. Some analysts believe that this rise in the number of
single persons reflects a de-emphasis of our traditional large family unit; the changing role of
women in our society; an increased individualistic approach to life; and a rise in the median age
for those choosing marriage.
A Biblical View of the Single Life
"And his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, 'Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you.' And he replied, 'Who are my mother and my brothers?' And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister and mother." (Mark 3.31-35)
As Christians, we affirm God's love for all people. We believe that God loves us as we are and not as we might be. St. John writes that we are God's children now (cf. 1 John 3:2). Therefore, both the married and the single form part of God's family and share equally in God's love.
In the Old Testament, marriage was normally expected since the Hebrew people placed great importance on the family, on stability and on assuring the continuance of the Jewish people. Children were seen as a sign of God's bounty, grace and blessing. Virginity was not widely accepted as a positive value or virtue.
In the New Testament, however, this view begins to change. St. Paul, the first writer of the New Testament, notes that under the New Covenant there is no distinction of persons in Christ. Male or female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile are all one in Christ Jesus (cf. Gal. 3:28). All former societal positions of disadvantage are gone for those who are now "in Christ."
St. Paul also writes, in his first letter to the church at Corinth, that in light of the imminent return of the Lord, each person should remain in the state that they are at present, married or single, as they were when called by the Lord. St. Paul then states that the single life is, in fact, to be preferred over marriage for the Christian. He says:
"I would like you to be free from worry. An unmarried man concerns himself with the Lord's work, because he is trying to please the Lord. But a married man concerns himself with worldly matters, because he wants to please his wife, and so he is pulled in two directions. An unmarried woman or a virgin concerns herself with the Lord's work, because she wants to be dedicated both in body and spirit, but a married woman concerns herself with worldly matters, because she wants to please her husband. I am saying this because I want to help you. I am not trying to put restrictions on you. Instead, I want you to do what is right and proper, and to give yourselves completely to the Lord's service without any reservation." (Cor 7:32-35)
Many key figures in the New Testament lived a single life, including St. Paul and Jesus Himself. Many Gospel writers also speak of a positive value in choosing to live a single (or celibate) life "for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven" (cf. Matt. 19:12). It is also affirmed that there would be no marriage in the resurrection of the dead (cf. Mark 12:25).
Therefore, under the New Covenant, there is a wider acceptance of a single lifestyle within our
Biblical tradition. This is especially highlighted when those who choose the single state do so in
order to live more fully the demands of the Christian life.
Special Challenges Faced by Singles
"Turn to me, Lord, and be merciful to me, because I am lonely and weak. Relieve me of my worries and save me from all my troubles." (Psalm 25:16-17)
Single persons have a wide variety of experiences. For many, the single life is joy-filled and satisfying; for others, however, it can be a lonely and frightful prospect. Eating alone, approaching vacation and holiday times alone, coping with times of isolation and loneliness - all can be challenging experiences for the single.
Singles are often misjudged by others. They are frequently thought of as carefree or irresponsible and selfish (the "swinging singles"). Some may consider singles to be more financially stable than those who must support a spouse or family. At times, even their sexual orientation may be questioned.
All of these generalizations involve misconceptions that perpetuate the myths surrounding the single life. The fact is that most single persons shoulder responsibilities alone instead of sharing them with a spouse. Proportionately, singles pay more in taxes and for certain public services than do those who are married. Further, the desire for human intimacy (not to be equated with the genital expression of sexuality) often goes unfulfilled for the single.
Each person, married and single, needs love and affection. For those who marry there is a rightful expectation that love will be mutually given and received from one's spouse and family. The single person, however, must search for intimacy among friends. This experience of deep friendship becomes a source of great joy and consolation for singles, for it is in this friendship that one who is alone comes to know the love and care of God and of others.
Yet, for many who are single, life is difficult and often lonely. This loneliness is not limited to life in society; at times it spills over into the Christian community. The single person longs to find fulfillment with God and with others in the local church. Yet, at times, singles feel forgotten and neglected by their own faith community.
A Challenge to the Churches
"Singles want the church to recognize that they are as varied and unique in their gifts and needs as any other segment of society."
Churches benefit from the gifts and abilities of singles. Many who are single volunteer their time and talents when others (with family responsibilities) may find it inconvenient or impossible to do so. Singles often provide good insights and unique perspectives to discussion or study groups. They invite us to widen our views and to see and appreciate diversity. Those called by God to remain single remind us of the priority that must exist in all our lives to be truly centered on the Lord and the things of the Lord.
Singles exist within all of our congregations. Their needs are sometimes unique and sometimes shared by those who are not single. Yet, as a specific segment of our churches, singles have often been neglected or their presence unintentionally devalued.
Many churches and congregations, singularly or cooperatively (especially in recent years), have initiated new programs and services to meet the needs of singles. Such programs are to be encouraged and developed, especially where they prove helpful to specific groups of singles (such as the widowed, divorced and separated, or young adults). In their preaching, teaching and counseling ministries, the churches should encourage and celebrate the unique possibilities available to those who are single. Singles bring their own talents and gifts, opportunities and skills, and often utilize them in unique ways.
In many of our churches, however, the traditional ministerial emphasis has all too often been toward those who are married ("couples") or toward families. Often those who are single, those who worship alone, feel isolated and lonely even within their own faith communities. This need not be.
The church, if it is to be truly representative of Jesus and His way of life, must be an inclusive community where all may find welcome and fulfillment. No one was excluded from the life of Jesus. He accepted and loved equally all who came to Him. Following His example, the churches must accept those who live a single life as they are, in their singleness, without viewing them as somehow "incomplete," "abnormal" or "marginal." The churches must consciously extend their ministry, service, concern, and outreach to those who are single by fully integrating them into the life of the church. All of us - single or married - form one Body and are together the one family of God.
Churches, as faith communities, must:
- be attentive to the presence of singles within their congregations so that single persons will truly feel "at home" in their own churches;
- develop (or continue) programs for singles to meet specific needs or desires as each local situation demands;
- fully incorporate singles into the life of the church as leaders in ministry, education, parish programs and worship;
- choose language that reflects the presence of singles. Terminology that unintentionally excludes singles ("family nights," "family picnics,"etc.) should be changed ("parish nights," "church picnics") to be all-inclusive;
- pray for those who are single, remembering their needs and aloneness, especially during holiday and vacation times. We must raise the conscious awareness of others to their situation.
A Challenge to Singles
"And now I give you a new commandment. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples." (John 13:34-35)
One of the highest goals for the Christian is to be self-giving and not self-seeking or self-fulfilling. We are called to be "other"-centered. All of us - married and single - are asked to give of ourselves, our gifts, our talents and our resources to benefit others. None of us lives in total isolation.
For those who are single, one challenge is to reach out of their aloneness and become actively involved in the life of the church. Another challenge for singles is to use this time in their lives to deepen their own prayer life; to grow closer to the God who loves them unconditionally; and to be inwardly silent and reflective.
Living the single life presents unique opportunities, not only to come to know oneself better, or to come to know God in a more intimate way, but also to participate in a communal faith experience. Whether the single life is permanent or temporary, whether it is chosen freely or lived because of circumstance, it provides a unique context for inserting oneself into an extended family of faith.
The single life presents an opportunity to grow in relationships that are not exclusive. It presents an opportunity to be aware of and receptive to the presence and grace of God even in the midst of solitude. It presents an opportunity to cultivate not only an acceptance of singleness, but an appreciation and an affirmation of the gift that it can be.
God says, "It is not good for man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18). The value of the single life is expressed in the way one lives his or her singleness. Is it for self-gratification, or is it lived out of love for God and others? Is it for self-indulgence or for outreach and service? Is it an occasion to retreat into an even greater aloneness or does it afford more opportunity for discovering the true meaning of "community?" Is it a time to busy oneself with many externals or a time for deep prayer and reflection?
Singles must strive to incorporate themselves into the larger community of faith to which they belong. Gifts, joys, sorrows and challenges are meant to be shared. Together we form a single people, the one Body of Christ. Each member is different and performs a diverse function of that Body. Without one member or another, the entire Body suffers and its work is diminished (cf. 1 Cor. 12:14-27).
We, therefore, challenge singles to take initiative in their own churches. Make your needs known. Take an active role in church life. Reach out to others, both single and married, and offer your talents in ministry, education or hospitality. Let us all work together to make our churches warm and welcoming places of worship and active ministry for all God's people.
We are grateful for the various publications offered by many of our denominations which address the topic of singles in the churches. Many of these publications were helpful to us in writing this statement. Some of the ideas in this statement were also inspired by Martha Niemann's The Single Life, A Christian Challenge, Liguori Publications (1986).
We encourage church members to utilize these and other publications issued by Christian authors and our denominations.
The Scriptural texts cited in this statement were taken from Today's English Version and the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
Here's another good one:
Singles Need Church Care
Many churches across the country are starting to recognize the need for single-adult ministry, but there is still a long way to go.
The evangelical community, faced increasingly with issues such as divorce, abortion, homosexuality and cohabitation, is working hard to uphold traditional family values—and well it should. The flip side of this is that single adult Christians often are left with the sense that they need to be married to be "okay."
… many churches are reluctant to begin single adult ministries … "The perception is that these are people with a lot of problems … ."
The challenge for churches today is to adopt a balanced biblical approach to marriage, one that emphasizes the importance of healthy relationships while also acknowledging—without being patronizing—that singleness is given as much value in the Bible. The Bible indicates that marriage is God's general will for human beings (see Genesis 2:18)but it also affirms the single life (1 Corinthians 7).
Many churches across the country are starting to recognize the need for single-adult ministry, but there is still a long way to go, according to the experts. Ruth Stockdale, executive director of Canadian Single Adult Ministry (formerly Single Adults Alive) in Oakville, Ont., says that churches are becoming more sensitive to the need for single-adult ministry. "It's beginning to be in [people's] thought processes," she said.
Sam Moorcroft is 35, single and president of ChristianCafe.com, a Toronto-based Internet meeting place for Christian singles around the world. He says that churches in general are not ministering to single adults very well. "I have lived in Vancouver, London and Toronto. There are so many single Christians, and nothing organized for them. Fifty percent of adults in Canada and the United States are single or single again," he said. "That's a huge group, and many of them are not 21—they are 31, 41, 51." He says that churches often push singles toward meeting someone but don't have anything set up to enable that, and those that do don't usually cooperate with other churches. "To me, churches need to work together."
Al Saunders, national coordinator of adult ministries with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada in Mississauga, Ont., says he wishes all PAOC churches were involved in single-adult ministry. Only 13 percent (or 110 churches) are. "Those who are active in single-adult ministry are doing a great job. Apart from that, there isn't a lot of intentionality." He advises churches: "Have a look at Canada today and recognize the number of single adults and that this is a great mission field."
Saunders says that many churches are reluctant to begin single adult ministries because, basically, it's not easy. "Many of these people have been through divorce and have a lot of hurts. The perception is that these are people with a lot of problems. The truth is they don't have any more problems than anyone else." Saunders cautions against stereotypes and suggests that churches, more than anything, simply lack understanding of the needs of single adults.
Are some churches holding back because they fear that a single-adult ministry will turn out to be a singles "club" or a matchmaking opportunity? "Yes," Saunders answers. "If that's their thinking, then do away with youth groups," he says, pointing out that young people often end up pairing up and dating, and if churches don't have a problem with that, then there shouldn't be a problem with activities for single adults. Most single adults are not trying to find someone when they attend events anyway, he suggests, because so many of them have come out of painful relationships—they simply want fellowship with people who understand and care.
The PAOC is looking at a proposal for a Bible college course on single adult/single-parent ministry and has on hand statistics that seem to support the need for a greater emphasis on single-adult ministry among churches in Canada. Traditional nuclear families (biological parents and children) represent only 27 percent of families in Canada, and that figure is expected to drop to 20 percent this year. In contrast, 47 percent of families are blended (created primarily by divorce and remarriage), 14.5 percent are headed by a single parent and 11.5 percent are common-law (the last two figures are expected to rise by about three percent).
"Between 1995 and 1999 there has been an 18 percent increase in singles in Canada, compared to only a 10 percent increase in the general population," said Stockdale, referring to a May 2000 article in Macleans. "It has to do with the breakdown in families. [Role] modeling, security and confidence are being lost," she said. "Rather than go through that hurt, people are deciding to remain single."
Moorcroft says, "A lot of it has to do with society—divorce, abuse, adultery. Many people are single again … a whole group that was never there before." He points out that with a greater focus on education lately, people are getting married later than before. As well, many young people have been raised in dysfunctional families and have difficulty relating to the opposite sex and understanding the concept of family. Saunders says that many single adults "have come through homes broken by divorce. They're leery. They need relationships but are scared to make a commitment."
According to Stockdale, many singles feel marginalized and need acceptance. "A lot of them have lost their dream, or their spouse through death or divorce," she says. "They need healing." She says that divorced people are often not accepted in church and that "Christians need to be like Jesus with the woman at the well." She also points out that widows and widowers often lose the married community they were once a part of. "We have to recognize that singles' needs are no different than married people's needs. They need prayer, they need to serve, to be accountable and to have fellowship. They don't need a baby-sitter or to be felt sorry for," she says.
Another area that churches seem uncomfortable with is the whole idea of the sexuality of single adults. Church leaders prescribe celibacy for Christian singles with little discussion and little recognition that singles have as great a need for intimate relationships as anyone else. And because extra-marital sex almost seems to be regarded as an unforgivable sin, it is difficult for singles to go to their church and ask for help with their struggles. "There is no recognition by the Church that Christians have sexual drives," says Moorcroft, adding that churches need to deal with this issue.
There are a number of misconceptions about singleness that need to be confronted before effective single-adult ministry can happen. Singles are not "incomplete" without marriage, for example. "Two become one," says Moorcroft," but that doesn't mean you're lacking something if you're single. [Your partner] rounds you out but doesn't complete you. That person shouldn't fill the void in your life. You need to be complete first." There are many benefits to being single, the most obvious one perhaps being the freedom to come and go as one wishes. "You can do whatever you want on Saturday!" says Moorcroft. He adds that singles can "live in the present and enjoy the moment. There's no down side, really." Stockdale points to the opportunities to develop one's relationship with the Lord and to interact with many people. "You can serve in areas where you couldn't if you were married and had a family," she says.
Don't feel guilty about being single or not living up to societal standards.
Some tips for singles from Moorcroft: "Number one, turn to the Lord. He's the one who knows who your future mate is. You need to be inwardly focussed instead of having a shopping list. Use this as a time to prepare yourself. Recognize that there are a whole lot of others facing the same issues. Get out and participate in events—not primarily to meet someone, but simply to participate. If you come across as desperate, you will turn the other person off." Moorcroft adds that many singles need to develop their relational skills. "We hear that we need to do this, but we don't act." He also says that singles need to "bug" their churches about having a single-adult ministry and then get involved. "We go to organized events, but we don't' organize them."
Stockdale advises: "Don't feel guilty about being single or not living up to societal standards. Don't be consumed by worrying about the future—live each day to the fullest. Try to do something positive every day. Be honest all the time and feel comfortable about saying "no." Take responsibility for doing what's right for you. Get out of ruts; break out of routines. Don't allow others to define who you are."
To Saunders, the most important thing single adults can do is "concentrate on learning what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Get involved in the life of a church that is focused on discipleship."
Singles can be happy, fulfilled and effective Christians if they are encouraged to celebrate the gifts God has given them and are accepted as an important part of their church families.