What to Do About a Surplus of Singles
- Wednesday, August 31, 2005
It’s no surprise that a culture that denigrates marriage will have a high number of unmarried adults in its midst. The church is not immune from being affected by this trend, as evidenced by the comparable divorce rate. So I applaud pastors, theologians, churches, and ministries that are studying this trend and calling for transformation, as far as it can be brought about by our endeavors. I would only appeal that when these discussions are held, please don’t forget that you are talking about people and not just statistics. Please offer biblical hope for change to those who are currently single and listening to you.
We singles have to learn to listen to generalities about marriage and singleness without taking it personally. I know it’s hard, but let’s be thankful that the Lord is raising up various people to notice, examine and teach in order to correct these trends. To continue the gemstone analogy, we have to remember that they are looking at a different facet of singleness when they are speaking.
Singles can play a vital and fruitful role in our churches, especially when everyone remembers that our primary identity is Christian, not whatever marital status we currently possess. We are all called to grow up in Christ, who is the head of the church (Ephesians 4:15). Being single does not exempt us from this sanctification process. It is just a different path toward that goal. (Yes, I understand that marriage puts a bright spotlight on selfishness and that many married people will testify to how their weddings put them on the fast-track of sanctification. But there’s a different form of long-simmer sanctification for single adults who have to continue to choose daily to be involved, confess sin, serve others, and not withdraw in the face of years of loneliness and lack of intimacy.) The Bible is clear that singleness is not a second-rate status in the church (1 Corinthians 7:8), and it provides several compelling portraits of singles (Paul, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Lydia, and possibly John the Baptist and even Timothy.)
Yes, we singles do bear some responsibility for our current singleness, but that isn’t the same thing as bearing the entire or sole responsibility, as though God is not in the picture. There are numerous factors in life that contribute to an individual’s current status, but what we can see now is not the end of the story. Joseph’s future wouldn’t have looked promising if you’d met him in jail — a result of choices made by Joseph, his brothers, and others. But that wasn’t the end result of God’s plan nor was He limited by those choices. The same goes for us. For example, I did not become a Christian until I was 30. So perhaps that’s a factor in why I’m still single more than 10 years later — I was not in the church in my prime marrying years. There are consequences for the choices I’ve made in my life, but I’m still committed to praying for a husband as long as I desire to be married because I have no idea what God has ordained for my future. And while I’m praying, I want to remember to thank God for saving me at all, even if it was at the ripe old age of 30! Unmerited favor at any age is a stunning gift.
Not all singles ministries are alike, so sweeping condemnations or celebrations of such are unwise. A singles ministry reflects the leading and teaching of its church elders, and as such there are as many flavors of singles ministries as there are churches. Even within any particular singles ministry, you will find serious Christians and the shallow souls who give singles ministries their bad reputations as “meat markets.” In my opinion, however, singles shouldn’t be segregated from the rest of the church. We need relationships with families, and perhaps those relationships will curb stunted singles ministries.
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