If there is one thing Christian singles seem to agree on these days it is how frustrated they are with the church. “The church is so focused on family!” “All they care about is marriage, marriage, marriage!” “There’s no singles ministry at my church!” “They leave singles out of everything!” “All the sermons are about marriage; singles are never addressed from the pulpit!” “They treat us like misfits!” “We feel like outcasts!” “No one knows what to do with us!” “No one cares about singles!” “All the church activities are family-centered!” These are the common cries heard on Christian singles blogs and message boards. Just Google the words single and church and your search engine will bring up tales of woe sometimes going on for pages and pages. Below are actual online quotes from single Christians frustrated with the church:
“Singles are treated like they are in the waiting room of God's Will. We really don't matter until we get married and start having all those babies and homeschooling our kids.”
“The general feeling, when speaking to church ladies,(is) that I am not one of them, that I do not belong among them.”
“Sometimes there are women’s groups but the topics discussed are mostly about being a wife and/or mother… I just want the church to acknowledge that there are single people who are present.”
“Overlooked, left out, abandoned, forgotten, ignored, rejected, exclusion, avoided, judged and HAVING NO VOICE!!!!!!!”
“Sometimes it feels like church is an exclusive club for married couples or even seriously dating couples. Or just about any kind of couple.”
Being a long-time single myself I am sympathetic to the angst of the unmarried out there. I know exactly where you’re coming from. I’ve sat under numerous marriage talks from the Sunday pulpit, painfully long and detailed examinations of Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3, parenting sermon series, marriage and family conferences, Proverbs 31 bible studies, parent-child dedications, Mother’s Day sermons, and that Song of Solomon study by Tommy Nelson. It seems the only time the word “single” is even mentioned in the assembly is when the pastor throws out the old chestnut, “You single people need to pay attention to this sermon on marriage because you might be married someday.” Believe me, I feel your pain. But I must warn you…..you may not like this post. All I ask is that you hear me out and view this post as heartfelt advice, from one Christian single to another.
Christ and His Bride
We singles have unique frustrations and many of those frustrations are directly related to our experiences in the church, but we must be very careful how we talk about the church. Let me put it to you this way: Close your eyes and think of the most humble, quiet married male parishioner at your church. Maybe it’s that inconspicuous deacon who feverishly works behind the scenes, eschewing praise and accolades for his hard work. Or possibly it’s that modest elder who carefully watches over the spiritual lives of those in his zone. Or maybe it’s that unassuming usher who stands at the sanctuary door and passes out bulletins with a gracious smile. Now I dare you to walk up to this man and start criticizing his wife – tell him she’s an unattractive nitwit with questionable dress sense, a horrendous cook, a social moron, she keeps a filthy house, her hairstyle is at least two decades out of fashion, she has no sense of humor, she has all the personality of a wet sponge,…..just go on and on like that and watch this normally kind, mild-mannered man drop all vestiges of gentlemanly decorum and punch you right in the mouth. You’ll get a fat lip for your trouble, single sister. Why? Because you’re disparaging this man’s bride – the woman he cherishes and loves dearly – and he won’t stand for that.
Men love their brides! And Christ loves His the most.
The church is Christ’s bride. He loves her so much that He laid down His life for her (Ephesians 5:25, 1 John 3:16). Even now He nourishes and cherishes her (Ephesians 5:29-30). He sanctifies and cleanses her (Ephesians 5:26, John 17:17). He intercedes for her (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25). He has promised to protect her from everything, even the Gates of Hell (Matthew 16:18). Sure, she may have a lopsided veil, each of her shoes may be on the wrong foot, her bridal bouquet may be infested with weeds, her gown may be wrinkled and full of spots, but to Christ she’s lovely. She is imperfect now but one day God the Father will present her to His Son blameless and sinless, gloriously beautiful, and transcendentally radiant (Ephesians 5:27, Revelation 19:7-8)! In short, if you don’t want to get on Christ’s bad side really quick, don’t trash talk His bride.
Now, having said that, I will admit it is very difficult at times to be unwillingly single in the midst of a very married church. There do seem to be an abundance of sermons on marriage, child-rearing, sex, family leadership, submission, and other topics of interest to those married and with families. The College and Career class focuses on preparing young adults for the roles they will assume once they marry, while the Young Marrieds class specializes in topics of help to those just starting their families. There is pre-marital counseling for the engaged, nursery provisions for those with small children, marriage retreats, marriage “poundings” (not a beating, but a chance to stock up a newlywed’s pantry), baby showers, family picnics, children’s choirs, and many other activities that accommodate the needs and desires of families.
In larger churches there are singles ministries but they sometimes seemed to be treated like distant leper colonies. No one wants to go near them or be involved with them. Excited talk at the church surrounds who’s dating, who’s newly engaged, and who’s pregnant. The life of the single just isn’t all that interesting to people. Probably the most painful aspect of all this, especially for women who are single past child-bearing years, is that no one seems to care if we ever get married or not. The church is very concerned about the problems husbands and wives, children, teens, and young adults face in this world but they don’t seem to be concerned about the problems older singles face.
Much of this is just human nature. Families, not individuals, are considered the building blocks of our society. In most churches (mine is no exception) married couples with families outnumber the singles by a huge margin. As a result, most people are interested in topics centering on marriage and family and the church simply responds to that interest. In addition to this, an overwhelming majority of pastors and church leaders are family men who tend to gravitate to topics that they know a lot about….that of being married and raising children. All these factors present a challenge to unmarried women in the church. How do we find a way to fit in? How do we carve out our place among the saints?
The Church: What It Is and What It Ain’t
The first step in finding your place in the church as a single woman is to understand the true nature of the church. The church is the body of Christ composed of individual members who have all been saved. As 1 Corinthians 12:27 states, “…you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” You and I, single people and married people, are all intricate parts of the body of Christ. The church is not an organization like a business or government agency that exists as an entity outside of you and me. The members, you and I, are the church. Also, as the body of Christ, the church exists to reflect Christ to the world. We are the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23) making known the “manifold wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:10). We are “living stones” being built into a “spiritual house” to “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (1 Peter 2:5).
Saying that the church is a body of which we are members and not an outside organization may seem insultingly obvious. But when we say things like, “The church doesn’t care about us singles!” or “The church ignores our needs!” we are talking and thinking about the church in ways that do not reflect it’s true nature. We start to adopt an “us versus them” mentality that hampers our joyful participation as part of the body of Christ. Remembering that the church is a body of sinners saved by grace helps us too because we cannot expect the body of Christ to be perfect. We are all imperfect sinners in the process of being sanctified and changed to be more like Christ. The church then, as a collection of imperfect people, is also imperfect. If the Bible is not filled cover to cover with teachings on marriage, sex, and children shouldn’t the church reflect that? Should there be more sermons on prayer, holiness, worship, evangelism, and the attributes of God? Probably. But change won’t come from singles complaining bitterly to church leaders, sulking in the back of the auditorium, ranting and raving on internet message boards and blogs, or “voting with our feet” and refusing to attend church services, as some frustrated singles have suggested.
God has designed the church in such a way that spiritual growth (both in individuals and in the church collectively) comes as a result of our interaction with each other. As we as a body of believers encourage and build up one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11), pray for one another (James 5:16), instruct one another (Romans 15:14), admonish one another (Colossians 3:16), bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32), and bear with one another (Colossians 3:13) we are “being built together into a dwelling place for God” (Ephesians 2:22). The word “together” there is the key. If we want the church to understand and appreciate the contribution that singles make we must be a part of her, working in her midst, not standing aloof and condemning her for not appreciating the unmarried.
Don’t Do What I Did
Please don’t get the impression that I have always had the correct biblical attitude as a single woman in the church. I have committed plenty of missteps in this area.
My pastor seldom preaches topical sermons; he prefers to teach entire books of the Bible using the expository method. I enjoy this approach in general but I am particularly challenged when we run across passages dealing with marriage and family….passages like Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, Proverbs 31, Proverbs 5, and the entire Song of Solomon. Recently, our pastor lead us through a study of Titus Chapter 2 and I began to cringe as he approached verses 4 and 5 in which the Apostle Paul instructs the older women to teach the younger women to “love their husbands and children” and to be workers at home, “submissive to their own husbands.” I don’t have a husband or children, a condition that often saddens me, so I dreaded enduring sermon after sermon devoted to young mothers, their husbands, and their children.
On the Sunday our pastor was scheduled to cover Titus 2:4, I didn’t show up to church service at all. Instead I sped past the church building in my car and proceeded to the next town, crying and blubbering openly as I drove down the streets, blasting Eric Carmen’s All by Myself on the CD player, and feeling thoroughly sorry for myself. It’s an action I regret to this day. What good is it to mope and cry and complain because I’m single and people at my church are married and have families? After I returned home, I thought of all the things I didn’t do that Sunday. Because of being so absorbed in myself and my own concerns, I didn’t worship the Lord that day, I didn’t hear His Word being expounded, and I didn’t encourage my precious brothers and sisters in Christ. Essentially, I allowed envy over how God had blessed others to make me utterly useless to Him and to my church. Envy has a way of doing that.
"No more Titus 2! Boo hoo hoo!"
I felt so ashamed of myself I vowed to do better the following Sundays. Our pastor camped out in Titus 2:4-5 for three more Sundays and ended the sermon series with the obligatory Mother’s Day sermon on May 12th. The title of that sermon was “Marveling at Motherhood” and, as you can imagine, it was excruciating. But I stuck with it. I attended every sermon and I learned a ton from the experience. God created marriage to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church and He created families to train up a godly generation in the midst of a sin-filled, God-hating world. Our society knows nothing of the true purpose of marriage and family and is attacking the structures from every conceivable angle. It is very difficult to maintain a godly marriage and raise God-fearing children in our world and my married brothers and sisters with families need my prayers and encouragement, not my envy and disdain. Together, we shine a bright light that cuts through the darkness permeating our country. We are on the same side. We are for each other, not against each other.
Often singles complain, "Well, no one prays for us! Why should we pray for them?!" Speaking from my own experience, I think my envy of others has a way of altering my perception of reality. When I am in deep brooding over singleness and jealous over what others around me enjoy I sometimes think no one cares for me, when in fact they do. I have many brothers and sisters and Christ who love me despite my many (many) imperfections - why should I not love them in return? But let's say, for the sake of the argument, that they are all strutting around like peacocks, showing off their wedding bands and baby bumps, lording it over the single women like me. How should I respond? By loving them all the more. Is that not what the Lord commands us to do? "As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them" (Luke 6:31). We are to "keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8).
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