By Hope Bolinger, Crosswalk.com
I fall into the stereotypical single the church—if mentioned at all in sermons—will give a shout out to.
The twenty-something post-grad girl who didn’t find God’s match for her in college. . . enter Hope Bolinger. I've seen singles groups that come off this way because of these reasons, although I'm sure their intentions were good...These were things done probably unintentionally that gave off that impression, and here's how we can be more inclusive in the future.
Although singleness is not a curse (in fact, it was encouraged by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7), the church can sometimes treat it as such, isolating or refusing to address those in different walks of life who do not have a marital partner.
Even if a church gives a nod to “the singles” in a sermon or in a group, they’ll often blip over the following types of singles I have outlined below. What can also be missed is the unique gifts and insight that each type can bring to the table. Let’s be intentional about celebrating these groups of singles!
1. The Widowed
Sickness, suicide, War, and numerous other circumstances can take away our loved ones from us. The widowed wives and husbands of the church do not receive many specific takeaways in sermons and in life groups, especially if they had lost a loved one early in life.
How this type of single is gifted: Because of their circumstances, the widowed singles exercise extreme faithfulness to God after terrible loss. They show believers true examples of how to take heart during the most dire of tragedies.
2. The Single Parents
Couples split apart a lot these days. As of 2016, 3.2 out of every 1,000 people got divorced. Although that may seem like a drop from the antiquated “half of marriages end in divorce,” those numbers add up quickly on Sunday morning.
Not every single parent got married, also, and not every single parent intends to get married. In terms of biblical examples, Mary, the mother of Jesus, likely lost her husband by the time Jesus had entered his public ministry. He died sometime between Luke 2:41-51 and Mark 1:9-11. Scripture never talks about Mary marrying again.
How this type of single is gifted: This type of single shows hearty perseverance and compassion, often having to work twice as hard to provide for the needs of the children. These believers can show us how to give one hundred percent of ourselves in any task.
3. Those Older Than Thirty
Even if God calls us into a marriage, not everyone finds that someone in their twenties. Even if they do and end up breaking off that marriage, they may find difficulty finding a group that accepts them “no rings attached.”
My dad and mom split when they were 50-something and 40-something, respectively. Although they married soon after the divorce to other God-fearing people, during the limbo period, they experienced a great deal of isolation from the church, as testified in this article. The small groups they attended gave them a bit of a cold shoulder, and they had to seek out other churches to find that community they had lost.
How this type of single is gifted: They possess wisdom and knowledge that comes with age. These singles can help both younger singles and married couples in their walk with Christ.
4. Those Singles Inclined for Leadership Roles
My roommate in college studied to become a youth leader in a major known as Christian Ministries. One night, she lamented how many churches would refuse to hire her to lead a youth group because she didn’t have a ring attached to her left finger.
“They won’t hire a female youth pastor unless she’s married already. They see her expertise as less warranted if she doesn’t have the experience of a marriage.”
I’ve heard many single pastors lament that their churches tried to usher them into a marriage right away, as if their preaching efficacy lessened when they didn’t have a spouse sitting in the first pew in front of them.
Granted, some Christians may point to verses such as Titus 1:6, which seems to indicate certain roles in the church need to be married.
How this type of single is gifted: As indicated in the title of this category, God has gifted these Christians with leadership. They will be able to shepherd His flock well.
5. Those Who Have No Interest in a Marital Relationship
Many Christians do not burn with passion when it comes to a romantic relationship (1 Corinthians 7:9). A number of believers may never feel such urges to enter a relationship at all and may remain single the rest of their lives, either by their choice or God’s. But they feel pressured by family members and fellow believers to jump into something in which they have no desire to partake.
How this type of single is gifted: These Christians have more time and talent to exercise for God’s kingdom. Without the cares of a relationship or marriage, they can spend more time using their gifts to bring heaven down to earth.
6. Those Who Have Chosen Celibacy
I know a handful of fellow believers who experience same-sex attraction. Many of them have decided not to act on these urges and, instead, have chosen a life of celibacy.
One of my friends anticipates she will never enter into a marriage because of this, so her pastor’s sermons and different events geared toward those singles in her age group—mid-twenties—have little or no effect on her.
Other Christians have chosen a life of celibacy for other reasons than same-sex attraction, but almost no messages seem to reach this group of Christians.
How this type of single is gifted: Christians who choose to remain celibate to avoid sexual temptation exemplify incredible self-control. We can learn from them how to fully rely on God.
7. Those Who Don’t Fit into Easy Categories
This article alone cannot capture all the singles within a biosphere of a church. There are singles who are dealing with traumatizing relationships from the past who do not want to jump back into a relationship again. Singles whose family pasts or mental health can compromise them from wanting to commit to another Christian in marriage. Singles who date or are in a very serious relationship with an unbeliever who want to see their partner commit themselves to Christ before entering a marriage. In terms of a biblical example, the woman at the well wouldn’t fit into an easy category in a church singles ministry (John 4).
The list goes on.
The church doesn’t often lump married couples into set categories. They differ in life experiences, spiritual maturity, etc. So why does the church often feel the need to lump all of single people into the same grouping?
How this type of single is gifted: Scripture lists all kinds of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12), which apply to both single and married Christians.
How do we make sure to include all singles?
Different churches may have different solutions to this. Although I will suggest a few ways below, you can take these suggestions with a grain of salt:
- Don’t dissuade singles from other groups: It sometimes feels like you need a wedding ring as a requisite to enter certain groups in the church beyond the singles group. A forty-year-old widow will feel out of place if the singles group just caters to 20-somethings.
- Don’t treat singleness like a curse:Singleness isn’t purgatory. Paul himself encouraged it. Other figures in the Bible such as Jesus, Daniel, and all the disciples except for Peter pursued single lives. Singles have great amounts of time, talent, and resources to bring heaven down to earth. They shouldn’t be excluded from sermons, talked about in hushed tones, or given a sad crinkle of the eyes when they explain their relationship status.
- Consider eliminating singles groups altogether: Yes, this may seem a bit extreme, and many will push back against this. I don’t have a problem with a group of singles coming together to discuss relevant issues. I think these groups often run into the problem of turning into Free Christian Dating Services. They operate a bit like escape rooms: you try your hardest to find the key, the answer (the husband/wife) to get out of the room and to bigger and better places. Like a hierarchy, you cannot move “up” into the women’s group or the men’s group in your church until you pair up with someone in the singles group. If we choose to keep such groups, they most likely need a serious renovation.
Hope Bolingeris a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a recent graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 350 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, “Blaze,” (Illuminate YA) just released, and they contracted the sequel for 2020. Find out more about her here.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Emma Paillex
Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 500 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze, (Illuminate YA) released in June, and they contracted the sequel Den for July 2020. Find out more about her here.