I dreaded Sunday; it was my least favorite day of the week. I went to church, but not Bible study because there wasn't a class for me. I sat on the pew alone watching married couples in front of me holding hands. Then I quietly slipped out. After all, I was single.
I was most aware of my singleness when I went to church on Sunday mornings. It was like a sign hung from my neck, tagging me as someone to treat with kid-gloves or to not engage at all.
That was about 10 years ago, and since then, there has been more conversation about singleness in the church. This is good. However, we need to keep this topic in the front of our minds or else we'll miss an entire group of people who need discipling and shepherding just as much as anyone else.
Here are 10 ways we unintentionally make singles feel invisible in the church:
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1. Believe They Have Ulterior Motives
After a training session on serving in the children's ministry, I went up to the male speaker to ask a question about what he was teaching us. He was fidgety and short with his answers – obviously uncomfortable. After that awkward interaction, I thought more about it, wondering why he acted that way. Then it hit me – I was a single woman talking to a married man. The room was filled with people, and my question was about the training he presented, but he may have seen me as someone with ulterior motives.
There's no doubt that Christian men and women, single and married, need to be vigilant of snares from the enemy. He is prowling around like a lion waiting to kill, steal, and destroy our families, ministries, and callings. It is prudent and wise to treat interactions with the opposite sex, married or single, differently so that Satan does not get a foothold. However, we cannot operate under the fear that single people always have an ulterior motive when talking to someone of the opposite sex. Single people are not out to find a spouse or steal a spouse no matter the cost. We shouldn't treat them as if they are.
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2. Don't Include Them in Sermon Examples
I've sat in church listening to sermons and thought, "What about the people who are single?" I used to be one of those people, and it was disheartening to hear a sermon where the emphasis of all life's struggles centered around being a spouse and parent. When we ignore an entire group of people in our congregations, it shows that we do not see them or understand them.
Pastors and other church leaders, along with the congregation, should make understanding the needs of singles a priority so that they can address their needs in sermons and in other places within the church. This is how we love them. The opportunity is before us to disciple people before they are married so that, by God's grace, they make wise and healthy decisions and build strong marriages and families in the future. To ignore this group of people is a missed opportunity.
Plus, single people can teach married people so much about modern culture that they may not realize in the context of marriage and family. I have found for myself that family life creates a sort of bubble where I become sheltered from issues in the world. Singles can help pop that bubble.
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3. Don't Talk to Them Like Adults
Once at a social event, I was the only single woman. As I stood with a group of the women, one of them declared, "We really shouldn't be talking about this with Brenda here." Humiliation covered my face. She put me in a different category and made me feel like a child. The best way to understand singles is to befriend them not out of pity or even mentorship, but out of genuine desire for their friendship. Just treat them like you would any other adult and treat their friendship like any other friendship.
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4. Convey the Message that Singleness is a Sin
The message that singleness is a sin is subtle, but it's there. I believe culture has a lot to do with this. The truth is people are waiting longer to get married for self-focused reasons - to travel, get advanced degrees, move up in a career, accumulate wealth, and enjoy the freedom of singleness. However, rushing into marriage or marrying an unequally yoked person can be an act of disobedience just as much as staying single for selfish reasons. Remember, the Bible tells us that people should not be unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14).
The decision to marry or stay single is a matter of the heart. I don't mean the romantic heart, but your heart relationship with Jesus. It's an act of obedience. An act of worship. An act of service. A person's decision to marry is uniquely personal. It will look different as God leads people differently.
The state of singleness itself is not sinful. It does not inherently mean that a person is selfish or wants to date around or sow their oats. After all, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 7:38 that a person who stays single does even better than a person who marries.
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5. Believe They are Doing Something Wrong or Something is Wrong with Them
People make the most inappropriate statements to single people.
"Why are you still single?"
"Are you dating anyone yet?"
"That biological clock is ticking!"
"You're too pretty to be single!"
"When are you going to get married?"
"Anyone would be lucky to have you."
"You can't be too picky!"
"They're not going to come knocking at your door!"
Comments like these convey the message that something needs to be done. There's a problem to fix, and the single person needs to figure it out and fix it. For someone who is single, and especially someone who is single but wants to be married, these comments are discouraging. Singleness isn't a problem. It's a calling, possibly a seasonal calling, and it's a gift.
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6. Assume They are Involved in Sexual Sin
I get it. According to statistics, most singles, even Christian singles in a church congregation, are engaging in premarital sex. However, when we assume that, for instance, a 30-year-old who has been dating someone for a year has to be involved in premarital sex, we diminish the power of the Holy Spirit and what the Word of God tells us.
It is possible to date someone without having sex with them. Is it hard and does it get harder the longer you date? Of course. But we shouldn't charge singles with a sin we assume upon them because of their singleness.
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7. Convey the Message that Sanctification Only Comes Through Marriage
We have a tendency in the Western church to put these "rules" around our relationship with God and even put callings He established for us above our relationship with Him. For example, marriage and parenthood are often thought of as the highest callings, when in fact this is nowhere in the Bible. Are they high callings? Yes, extremely high callings. However, singleness is also an extremely high calling.
Our highest calling is to glorify God in all that we say or do (Colossians 3:17) and through this, He wants to sanctify us. Sanctification does not come through one path. It is a process regardless of our season of life.
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8. Don't Allow Them to Lead
Singleness does not equal irresponsibility. It also doesn't mean that a person hasn't fully grown up. So it shouldn't limit a person in leadership opportunities in the church. If anything, single people may be in a position to devote more focused attention on leadership roles depending on their other responsibilities. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 7:32, "The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord." The calling of single people is to seek to please the Lord without distraction. Leadership service is a calling for those who are single.
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9. Group Them with the Wrong Age Group
There's nothing worse to be 28 years old and put in a group with college-aged singles or singles in their 50’s, but this happened to me many times when I was single. Often there's not enough singles to make a "singles group," but there doesn't have to be a group just for singles. Single people want to be included with people their own age regardless of their season in life. It's a misconception that single people do not want to interact with family life. This is a missed part of their lives and often welcomed. And on the other side, children especially often benefit from having other adults in their lives.
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10. Don't Serve Them
The bottom line is that in general, we're not serving singles well. One of the biggest struggles in singleness is that there's not the support you'd have from a spouse. Many singles do not live close to their parents, siblings, or other family members. They need us to serve them in practical ways but also by befriending them and loving them well. The best way we can serve singles is by treating their lives with the same honor we treat other people's.
Brenda Rodgers considers herself a “recovering single” after years as a single woman chasing after marriage instead of chasing after Jesus. Now her passion is to mentor young women to live purposefully and grow in their relationship with God and others. Brenda has been married for five years to a heart transplant hero and is the mom of a toddler girl miracle. She is also the author of the eBook, Fall for Him: 25 Challenges from a Recovering Single. You can also read more on Brenda’s blog, www.TripleBraidedLife.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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