Wading through Singleness in Single Creek
- Thursday, June 02, 2011
Singles. They're not like the others. So what do you do with them, right?
Many single adults are never married but eager to change that as soon as possible. Some struggle with same-sex attraction but remain celibate. Others are parents with children born out of wedlock. And whether due to divorce or death, more and more are now single again.
Director-producer and Lifestreams Media founder Chris Lang didn’t give the different forms of singleness too much thought until he himself experienced second-time singlehood after his own divorce some years ago. As he reentered the single waters, he soon found that it wasn’t as smooth and easily navigated as some might think. He also discovered that many churches are either unequipped or uninformed when it comes to meeting the needs of singles in their congregations today.
But with 45 pecent of all U.S. households comprised of single adults, shouldn’t singleness be somewhere on a church’s priority list? Should singles be considered “the least of these” since they don’t fit in with “the norm” when it comes to a husband, wife and 2.5 kids? And what can singles do to feel connected and get involved with other believers in their communities of faith?
In his groundbreaking documentary Single Creek, Lang, who is also host of the young adult talk show, Hope on Fire, interviews singles of all walks of life as he explores these issues of singleness and how and where single adults fit in the body of Christ in today’s church. Once married and now divorced, widows, single parents, never marrieds and those who have left the homosexual community, they’re all represented here in this fascinating look at what singleness is all about in the twenty-first century. Singles won’t be too surprised by what is shared here, but will certainly take away renewed hope, encouragement and perspective. And marrieds, Lang says, will hopefully see into the hearts of their single brethren and know what it means to live lives not defined by marital status but in pursuit of peace and contentment in God’s will.
I spoke with Lang recently about his documentary and the very revealing, yet sensitive, interviews he was able to secure from singles of all ages and life spaces in Single Creek ...
What led you to make Single Creek and why did you feel there was a need for a documentary such as this?
I went through a divorce, and that was a number of years ago. And I host for a TV talk show for young adults called Hope on Fire. We had just finished last season, and I was praying about what God wanted me to do with the rest of my time in 2010. And my local pastor had called around that same time and asked me if I would be a singles ministry pastor for the local church I attend [in Orlando, Fla.], and that felt kind of awkward to me for a couple of reasons. One is single adults don’t necessarily want to be defined by their marital status and two, I felt strongly that God’s call on my life was to do films and television, not in an administrative role in a local church. So I was struggling a little bit about whether that was God’s voice calling me to do something else other than what I thought I had been called to do.
And to make a long story short, I asked the pastor if I could pray about it for about 30 days. And so basically I just felt that by the end of that period that the Holy Spirit was convicting me that it was okay to pursue a film about this topic. And really the fleece that I put out for God was if you want me to do this, please provide the funding that we need to buy the equipment we needed. God led me to some people that had a passion for singles ministry. They wrote donations, checks for exactly the amount we needed to go and do this project. So it’s clearly God leading on this journey. As a result, we had not only a local church that was going to hire me as a singles ministry pastor, they purchased the documentary as a way of ministering to single adults in that church. And so instead of just ministering to that local church, God’s opened doors to hundreds of churches that are buying the Single Creek DVD to minister to their local congregations and not just singles, but as you know the awkwardness is that [the church] is marriage and family centric which is a biblical concept.
You can tell in the movie, we’re not throwing rocks at families and marriage. We’re simply trying to educate married people in the church as well that this is the way the singles in your church feel, and these are the truths from the Bible that you’re complete in Christ. And marriage doesn’t do anything to complete you in Christ. It’s a very personal journey. We’ve had married people when we do screenings at churches with the film. And that’s why I know God was in the making of this film, because we have married people say: “I will never see single adults ever again in the same way. This just changed my perspective completely, what I thought I knew about single adults.” I think married people don’t realize their whole circle changes when [after marriage] suddenly all your friends are married friends. And very few married people hang out with single people and continue to be sensitive to those stresses that they feel in a Christian church. So that’s just been an amazing journey.
It seems like the documentary is not really offering a solution to a problem, but is simply raising the issue for people to consider who may have never thought about what it’s like to be single. Would you say that’s a fair assessment?
Absolutely. A lot of people have asked me. Who’s the intended audience for Single Creek? Life in this world is not easy to put in a box and wrap up with a nice pretty bow. And so I agree with that summary. Most people don’t know that over 90 percent of church pastors are married. And that just plays in to the awkwardness in the church, because I guess people assume that pastors lose their propensity to see their blinders. That’s the human condition. We only see what we’re surrounding ourselves with, right? But the 90 percent of pastors who are married probably aren’t that different from married people in the congregation that need to be exposed to the issues and then pray that the Lord will impress them to minister with and to singles in different ways. The idea of “singles ministry” as you saw in the film, well we kind of had a little fun with it. Because even the term itself is awkward both to singles and to married people.
One of the women you interviewed jokingly said of singles that “we’re relationally remedial,” and I just had to chuckle at that. Do you think that that is how singles are really viewed?
That was an amazing interview actually, because the girl you’re referencing, her name is Rebecca. We spent an hour and a half interviewing her and to be honest it was a very, very challenging interview because she was so introspective and so measuring every word that it took her forever to try and come out with answers. And yet God showed me when I was working on it in post-production that the way the story flowed, it was just amazing. It took three months to take 50 hours of film that we shot during the year and boil it down into a storyline. We had to kind of touch on the issues and make it flow in a way that comes in for a landing.
What God showed me is that those times when Rebecca shared in the film, I didn’t realize how powerful they were going to be, because I think that the idea is that singles need to be off in the corner. It just reinforces the awkwardness instead of integration which is kind of the message of the film. The church is beginning to reach out in a more effective way that is more integrated and less specializing ministries and labeling each other. You know, like the single parents in the movie—the single moms in the film—and the way they’re labeled. Again, hopefully people are seeing that the larger issue really is the human condition. The singles issue is just one of many in the church. It’s awkward.
I think the former homosexual in the film was probably the greatest example of sacrificial testimony. That’s another supernatural thing that happened is the way that this interview happened with this formerly openly gay person who told his story. In Single Creek we’re not really speaking to that issue [of homosexuality] exactly, but by God’s grace it’s affecting people even who are heterosexual and never struggled with same-sex attraction. They’re seeing it as a call to sacrifice, to surrender whatever it is that I’ve struggled with in my life. And for some reason, the awkwardness of the homosexual question is so divisive and the sin itself is seen as almost more sinful than any other kind of sin. And that’s just not biblical.
I also felt what came through in Single Creek was a nod to how with singles can be treated insensitively in respect to their “loss.” Oftentimes they're told to just "get over it" and made to feel that grieving for the spouse or family they don’t have is not as valid or important as say an infertile couple who is grieving not being able to have a child.
Yes, and then you have the layers of singleness within the whole topic of singleness. God hates divorce but he also hates people abusing each other and doing evil things to each other in secret, whether it’s pornography or extracurricular affairs or whatever those other sins are. The question is which is worse, because God hates people hurting each other just like he hates divorce. We know that that’s just part of our broken world. For those people like myself who didn’t sign up or go to class called “Divorce 101,” perhaps there are sub-elements within the film that are … I wouldn’t say unintended. It was just a way of trying to introduce the various brokenness that happens under this umbrella called "singleness."
I wanted to not come about this topic in a “Pollyanna” way. Some people say get over it. God is enough for you. But you don’t really allow yourself to feel the pain of loneliness or a loss that you feel. I didn’t want to be so overtly Pollyanna that I would only interview people that weren’t real, people that acted that as if they didn’t hurt from time to time over the waiting on God to deliver on the promise that it’s not good that man be alone. The original Eden creation story shows us what God’s original plan was, and while we know that some people choose to live a celibate life we know that the majority of singles are single reluctantly. And so how could we deliver a positive message to singles while we educate married and pastors and leaders with this movie? How can we inspire singles in a balanced, honest way?
There’s a certain kind of single, and you’ve seen them in the church, that is constantly complaining that the church just doesn’t do enough for them and for singles. My heart goes out to them, but I didn’t want to portray a dysfunctional type of single that wasn’t finding strength in God and in their journey with Christ. The journey with Christ doesn’t mean that you resolve your loneliness and you never feel it and you never hurt from it. But because we surrender to Christ as single adults, we determine that we’re not going to be defined by that hurting spot in our hearts. We are determined to live productive lives. We’re determined to overcome through faith that literally we choose to follow Christ and be active in our faith, not sitting around and waiting and complaining for the church to create meaningful programs and those needed when we’re broken. We go through journeys of brokenness in life, whether we go through a divorce or whether we lose a job. There are a lot of losses in life, and the church should be a hospital for these kinds of things, but it should also be a way of mentoring, discipling champions for Christ.
Toward the end of [Single Creek], you see a number of these people who shared their brokenness early in the film. But then you see them ministering in the church and ministering in the community. But even with that I didn’t want to come in for a landing in the film with this “call to service” as being the endgame, because I almost felt like that would be Pollyanna if that’s how the movie ended—almost too much like a propaganda film for churches. You’ve heard people say, “Well singles have more time, singles have more money, singles have more resources than married people do.” And of course we make fun of that stereotype in the film. So that’s why the last section is called “Counter Culture to Contentment,” because I just felt like where the rubber meets the road really is where do we find contentment in spite of our loss, in spite of our loneliness. And that’s why when I was filming in Montana, I had the privilege to go out there and interview Stacy who’s the blonde girl in the film in front of the mountains. Not only was the natural beauty just stunning, and that’s a whole story in and of itself how it all worked out, but while she was sharing … to hear her telling her story the way the Lord spoke to her heart that he adored her, I started weeping while I was filming her sharing that because it’s like the Spirit was impressing me during that filming that this is the end of the film, that this is the way I want it to end.
Was the footage of Stacy crossing the creek in Montana the inspiration for the title of Single Creek? Or did you already have that imagery and symbolism in mind before it happened?
Very good question. People have asked me about the whole “creek idea” of singleness. About a year ago when the church had asked me to be a local singles ministry pastor, I actually went through about three days while I was privately praying and I just started brainstorming about you know what would a ministry like this look like to what kind of metaphor would make sense so that you could engage singles of all times. And the idea of a creek with the water flowing just made sense, because you’ve got water flowing from upstream and you’ve got water flowing downstream. And young adults are the upstream, and the older singles are downstream. And they have different stories, but they just happen all to be flowing together in this thing we call singleness. And so it just kind of ended up being branded before the film even started. But I will say that I had been in Montana several times to visit friends, and I knew that the natural beauty and the creeks out there would be really awesome if it could work out.
What surprised you as you were interviewing singles like Stacy? Did you hear anything that you weren’t anticipating?
Well I can tell you about one of the most astounding surprises that was hurtful, but it turned out to be part of God’s plan. We started a Facebook page when we started on the film, and so as we were shooting interviews we were posting clips on YouTube and linking it to our Facebook page. I got an e-mail from someone who I hadn’t talked to in 25 years and she said, “Hey, I’ve been following your posts on your Facebook page and I was just impressed to let you know I just lost my husband to suicide last year.” She said, “I’ve been married 23 years and I just wanted to share this with you—my reentrance into singleness because of my broken place. And it’s only been 11 months since this happened. If there’s anyone this could minister to, I just wanted to let you know.” Well, this is halfway through our production and I wrote her back and said of course. What do you say to someone who has experienced something like that? And I just told her I was praying for her and if she was serious about wanting to minister to others would she be interested in an interview. So that’s how Beth Morris ended up in the film. She reached out to Facebook originally and that was a surprise to me.
You can’t sit down and craft out everything that happens in a film. That’s one of the things that surprised me. We also interviewed Karla, the Filipino woman who plays the ukulele. She had just written that song after a four-year relationship ended. And what surprised me in interviewing her was it’s hard for singles to be vulnerable in front of the camera especially because no one wants to admit their loneliness. And for a Christian it almost feels like you’re not being faithful to God if you admit that there’s a part of you that hurts sometimes. And while I was talking to Carla, it wasn’t so much her young age but the fact that she could write that song called “Life Is Good,” and write it during her grieving process after a four-year relationship ended and to be heartbroken over it and yet to write those words of faith that life is good when God is on your side.
And then we’d been interviewing her almost two hours when those scenes of her weeping happened. That’s how long it takes for some people … it’s almost a surreal experience. You almost see them stepping out of their protective mode and looking down on themselves, if that makes sense, but not a mystical thing, but perhaps just a moment where they recognize, “You know what? I’m not really being real.” And I asked her, “Does it feel safe in church to you? Does it feel safe to you in the church to share your broken places?” And at first she was saying, “Yes, it’s supportive, there’s a circle of believers around me.” But I said to really make this personal and kept pushing because it seemed like she couldn’t really be that happy all the time. And that’s what was so astounding to me, because you could see her stop and there was this long pause and she said, “Well now that you say it that way from a personal standpoint …” And you could just see her eyes start to get wet and then she started sharing how she was begging God to take this away and just like weeping. And you know it went on for five minutes. When I was going through for three months all of these 50 hours, I wept every time I looked at [her interview]. It was so real, it was so raw and perhaps there are parts of it that we’ll post on our Single Creek Web site, so that people can see more of that part of the interview because you only see a very small part where she just opened up.
Is the end goal of this documentary to get it into as many churches as possible to encourage and inform people and to have study groups or discussion afterward?
Absolutely. It’s really a two-pronged plan that we’re praying over. We’ve actually produced two different versions of the DVD from the documentary. One is for home use, a home edition for people who minister with their friends in their homes, and the other is for churches. The church edition has a bunch more stuff on it. I co-wrote two study guides that are in the church edition with Dennis Franck who is the director of singles ministries for the Assemblies of God denomination, based in Springfield, MO. Dennis is in the film as you may have noticed. Dennis has been in singles ministry probably the longest of many active church leaders in the Protestant denominations in the world. He’s been doing this for 30 years now.
He said, “When I saw Single Creek, I realized God used you this year. In my 30 years in single adult ministry, no one in any denomination has ever done a film like this." I was astounded and humbled that he recognized Single Creek as blessed by God for the purpose of inspiring and educating the church. And so when we released the DVD he asked me if he could help distribute it as he travels around doing his seminars not only in the Assemblies of God [denomination], but in other denominations as well. So that’s what he’s been doing this year. He’s one of several distribution partners that we have, and he also helped me co-write the two study guides.
The first one is for church leaders and it’s kind of a smaller version of the second one. But the intent in that was to get in high-level statistics and make it very short and [tailor it] for church leaders and explain to them why they should care, why should you care about singles ministry. And then the second one is longer, and it’s broken down by sections in the film with questions and answers and commentary so that any church leader, lay person, lay leader or pastor can facilitate small groups for singles or divorce groups in the church, and use this as a curriculum over a nine-week period. There are eight sections in the film, and then ninth would be, of course, the first week that they watch the film just to kind of get the 30,000-foot view. And then each week thereafter they watch those sections of the film individually, and then you spend time discussing those issues, those questions and try to draw out some meaning.
So … we’re not trying to answer the questions in the film … but we’re trying to have some meaningful dialogue. We’re trying to say will you please wake up Christian church and look at this and try and help us facilitate, because too many singles feel like they’re off in a corner. They feel like the whole point is to get them married off. But if that’s the only point, [singles ministry] seen as this matchmaking club, then people will avoid it. They don’t even want to be a part of it. Younger people think it’s the older people coming because they’re so lonely, and they can’t find a date. So it’s got to change. This curriculum was intentionally created that it could become a church resource and having a film allows the church as a group, as a family, to have also married people come to this class. Maybe they’re not going to care about the classes, but guess what? The film could be used as a way to help them be more sensitive to singles in their midst.
How can Crosswalk.com readers get a copy of the DVD and the study guide?
The film is available at www.singlecreek.com in the Media Shop, and we can offer a discount to Crosswalk.com readers (see end of interview).
What’s next after Single Creek? Do you envision it possibly becoming a series?
That’s a great question. I want to be flexible and [follow] the Lord's leading. So many people have said you know what, this film is a mile wide and an inch deep. You could drill down any one of those singles’ issues whether it be divorce or never married or the single mom with babies out of wedlock. There are so many rich opportunities that could become a series, I believe, under the Single Creek brand, if you will. I’m open to that. Part of my struggle is … we’ve been getting calls since the film came out. People are saying, “Well, we’ve heard Lifestreams Media is a great singles ministry program.” Well, no, it’s really not. We’re not a singles ministry program. We’re a filmmaking ministry. And but you know what? If God called me to try to minister to singles through film, I’m willing to do that. So if somebody read your article and maybe they’re single, maybe they’re twice divorced but God impresses them to contact us and they say I want to fund a series … I’m open to that. But I think social issues are a rich mechanism especially for those who perhaps haven’t been reminded recently of their great need for Christ and the brokenness in the world. The world wants us to believe that we’re becoming better people, that the world is evolving to a better place. And it’s not. The Bible tells us how the story ends. And it doesn’t end pretty except for those who are in Christ. Because he wins.
SINGLE CREEK COUPON & INFORMATION FOR CROSSWALK.COM READERS:
The unique coupon code for Crosswalk.com readers: "cross10"—the code will provide a 10% discount on all products at the media shop (www.SingleCreek.com/products) including: "Home Edition" and "Public Screening Edition" DVDs, as well as the Movie Soundtrack CD.
The "Home Edition" includes the TV broadcast version of Single Creek (58 minutes), plus the movie trailer and a music video. The "Public Screening Edition" (church-licensed product) includes several additional components: Extended footage, 2 study guides: 1 for church leaders/1 for small groups (PDF format), 2 promo posters (PDF format) and 3 music videos. The small group discussion guide is a structured curriculum, designed with questions and commentary for 9 sessions.
Watch the official trailer for Single Creek below …
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