This is the third and final installment in this blog series, as we think about singleness and the church. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments and interaction. I welcome your comments this week too (scroll down to the very bottom). You can see the previous two posts at:
Why Churches Need to Pay Attention to Singles
8 Things Churches Can Do To Include Singles
This week, 7 Things Singles Can Do:
1. Don’t shy away from couples and families – As has been stated in the previous posts, we need one another. Seek out opportunities to spend time with those in demographics and generations different from yours. Take courage and ask a family if you could join them for one of their family supper times (tell them you don’t care if it is chaotic). Take courage and invite a couple in for dinner or games or a movie. Go and visit some seniors. Find a spot to volunteer at the church. Take courage and join the church class or small group where there is a mix of demographics. Be consistent - it takes time to become a familiar face and build connections. Showing up once in a while won't do it! We need each other in the church family.
2. Diligently seek and tend to community for yourself – Because of everything mentioned in the blog two weeks ago it can be difficult for singles to find community in church. Take courage and seek it out. God made everyone for community. You need friends, inside and outside the church. This is similar to the suggestion above, but here I want to encourage you beyond just the friendliness of meeting people from a variety of demographics and move towards finding those that can be deeper community. So, with those you’ve started to be friendly with at church, start testing the waters of who can become deeper friends – find those in a small group, or over coffee, you can start safely opening your heart with and them with you. Seek to understand their reality, story, struggles and joys and trust that in time they will ask you about yours. Remember, as you look for these deeper friends, they could be waiting in a completely different demographic and context than you. Some of my dearest friends are double my age, married with kids, and across the continent – but they are my dearest, most trusted community. Instead of waiting for community to happen, where can you make it happen? - start your own group, get some folks together, start something new for adults at the church etc. I've seen people start great books clubs, lifegroups, movie groups, learn to run groups, walking groups, mentoring relationships... If you can't find it, where can you create community and become part of the solution?
3. Enjoy the advantages of singleness – Recognize, that whether it is for a season or a lifetime, your singleness comes with some great opportunities. Celebrate and enjoy those opportunities. Seek and honour God for all the ways He wants to use your singleness as a gift to the world without it being complicated by couple-hood. I know I would not have been able to serve or have the ministry I have had without the freedom of singleness. Focus on others in your neighbourhood and world. Take your pick – there is church volunteering, community volunteering, classes, sports, home reno projects, community building, book clubs, learning... Invest in others families, invest in friendships, investing in other peoples’ children… Don’t overdo it and burn yourself out, but recognize the gifts your singleness can bring and choose your “yeses” wisely.
4. Make a plan for the tough seasons – Make a plan for the times when you know loneliness tends to creep in, and you recognize more keenly why God says “It is not good to be alone”. I know in our world admitting to loneliness feels like you are putting a great big “L” on the middle of your forehead, but remember God created us with this need. God knows you need community. We can walk through these times, and others can help us. Just as a married person can experience times of difficulty and needs support in walking through trying times, singles need support at times too. This is not a single thing it is a being human thing. I know many singles have said holidays can be a time when they feel loneliness especially creeping in as others focus on their couple-hood and families, so make a plan ahead of time. Who do you want to spend time with, who do you not want to spend time with, where will you go, when will you enjoy alone time, when will you be looking for people time…? I’ve starting being vulnerable with a few people closest to me in the church family, and I tell them when I’m especially feeling forgotten in a world of couples and families and see if we can plan a lunch, if I can visit their family or if they’ll pray. Yup, it is scary being vulnerable in an area that can be so misunderstood and could invoke more judgment/assumptions/advice, but I trust I’m reaching out for the community God wants me to have. I am inviting them to be family to me and me to them, the family God designed us to be in the church. The truth is loneliness is a created need from God. God put it in all of us as a reminder that He made us for community. Furthermore I trust my vulnerability in this area helps others be more vulnerable in areas of their life where they experience struggle and need support. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
5. Set an example of healthy, godly singleness – Unfortunately most peoples’ view of singleness is formed more by the “Sex in the City” variety than the “Paul in the Bible” variety. So, let your life show what healthy, godly singleness can look like by pursuing Christ. Especially for the young men & women, widows, other singles, couples, and families, looking to you as a role model in your church family, set an example of what it looks like to honour Christ as a single. This does not mean you have to pretend you are completely happy being single, if you are not and desire God to bring a relationship into your life. BUT, completely happy or not, how you conduct yourself in that reality does matter and shows others how to conduct themselves if life is turning out different than they planned too. Be an example of living God’s way in your friendships with both genders, in dating, in speech, in break-ups, in internet dating, on social media, in working with both genders, in how you spend your time, in your service etc. Yes, this also includes our sexual standards. In our over sexualized culture don’t buy the lie that you need to lower your sexual standards. God can give you healing, forgiveness, wisdom and strength for what you need here. As it says in Romans 12 in the message “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God…Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” God really does have the best in mind for you. Thank you singles for showing the world what it looks like to pursue Christ fully as a single. I am looking up to you too!
6. Honour marriages and families – Recognize, while it’s not your situation, marriage and families are hugely important. It is extremely important to honour other peoples’ marriages and families, by being a person of integrity, making sure to include a person’s spouse or family when appropriate, and turning spouses and families towards one another. This last piece of advice is especially true for when someone comes to you to complain about their spouse – listen well and without judgment, but always encourage spouses back towards each other and finding a way forward together. (Of course, this is unless it is an abusive situation.)
If you are single and in ministry leadership, don't shy away from addressing issues surrounding marriage and families in your ministries. These are important dynamics and demographics! Singles don't have to pretend you have the marriage experience yourself, but you need to speak to these things by listening carefully to those in these situations, learning, doing research, sharing from other experts and again, above all, listening. In terms of marriage and family, take the attitude of a learner and listen well to your married friends. Just as we shared last week – make sure your illustrations/examples in teaching cover a variety of demographics, including marrieds, singles, various ages, and various walks of life. As well as encouraging singles, make sure you are helping, equipping and encouraging marrieds and those with kids in the challenging tasks of living out their faith 24/7 in their reality.
7. Do not sell your singleness short – Recognize that you walk in the path of many Christian greats throughout history that were single: John Stott, Mother Teresa, John the Baptist, Paul, and of course, Jesus Himself. Any shame you feel about being single is NOT from Christ. Singles have a lot to show the church, and the world, about what it means to be the family of Christ, and trust in Christ as our hope and resurrection.
Rodney Clapp, (in Families at the Crossroads: Beyond Transition & Modern Options) says it well “Without children, the Israelite fears the single’s name will burn out, sift to ashes and be scattered and forgotten in the winds of time. But Paul has seen the arrival of a new hope. Jesus has risen from the land of death and forgetfulness, and so someday shall all who have died. And Jesus has inaugurated the kingdom, a kingdom most fundamentally known and seen not among brothers and sisters in kin, but among brothers and sisters in Christ. Thus Hauerwas says of singles, ‘There can be no more radical act than [singleness], as it is the clearest institutional expression that one’s future is not guaranteed by the family, but by the church. The church, the harbinger (forerunner) of the Kingdom of God is now the source of our primary loyalty.’”
- Any other advice you’d add for singles in churches?