The reality is that 51.2 percent of the population in America is single, according to the Martin Prosperity Institute’s Charlotta Mellander, who ran the figures recently. This percentage is an overwhelming number of adults who are single, divorced, or never married. I am shocked at these numbers, however, I’m not surprised. In fact, I’d say I’m more surprised at the lack of care that singles get in the church. I mean if 51.2 percent of the population is single, why aren’t we talking about it more in our churches? Why aren’t more books being written about singleness? It seems that there is a pandemic in Christian thinking, we feel like everyone is on a journey towards marriage instead of a journey towards discipleship, which could include both marriage and singleness. I imagine Oprah standing up on stage screaming at the top of her lungs, “you’re going to be married, you’re going to be married, you’re going to be married.” We have countless books and curriculums that are written on how to find the perfect partner, what to do while your married or on a pathway to marriage (like kissing dating goodbye or something)—but we have very little pertaining to faith as a single adult.
If we’re all honest, the church communicates that marriage is the pinnacle of Christian life, whether explicitly or implicitly. In fact, I can remember distinctly– during my time of singleness–the pressure to get married from people within the church. People were trying to pair me with folks I had never even talked with. We treat singles as if they’re the clean up crew at the church, or the go-to daycare workers for preschool. I have heard, anecdotally, from friends that being single in the church often mean you’re treated as a child who has yet to enter into true adulthood. What a sad reality. The church must reclaim singleness and make it a viable option for a faith journey with Jesus.
Jesus talks very little about marriage and family. In fact, when He does it makes me feel oddly uneasy—like in the verse of Matthew 10:37 (also see Luke 14:26). It seems that Jesus reframes what it means to be apart of a family. Family to Jesus is a broad inclusion of your neighbor and a kinship that can only be found by the cross (sacrificial love). Jesus talks about family as an adoption into a much larger family, the church. With this reality at the helm of Jesus’ teaching, perhaps the church should reframe how we talk about sexuality, singleness, and family. We must keep in mind that what matters is how we choose to live into the single life the same way as it matters how we choose to live into marriage. In both instances, Jesus calls us to two profound realities–being a lover of God, and loving our neighbors (Matt 22:36-40). Neighborly living is taken by Jesus to new heights in the Gospel, and so too should the church heed the call.
- Church should be a new family.
As mentioned, the church must adopt the same mentality Jesus had of kinship. The church has to practice what is found in Eph 2:19, we are citizens and members of a new household where everyone plays a part. In this household, no one has to fear growing old alone—because we are so intertwined and connected, that we share life to new levels of intimacy. Perhaps Jesus knew this better than anyone where in Matthew 12 of the bible someone tells Jesus that his mom and brothers wanted to talk to him, he responds by saying, “who is my mother and who are my brothers?” He goes on to point to his disciples (both men and women) and say, “here is my mother and brothers.” That is a radical notion. I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself, “wait and does that mean I have to include everyone?” The answer is “YES.” We’re just a big ol’ happy family.
- Value discipleship
Yes, more people are choosing singleness. Some people are not choosing singleness but are presently living into it not by choice but by circumstance. We must have ways to include people into the church leadership and service that are choosing a whole host of lifestyles. The same way the church creates pathways for successful faith in families, the church has to create an equal amount of pathways for singles to experience their faith. The church has to see both singles and married people as equals (Side rant: The church should also value women as equals, that is for another blog). The church has to keep in check and avoid using terms like, “family night” or “Family pot-luck.” If the church can do this, it will be effective in being a multiplier of leaders. It will harness the gifts of the individuals in new ways and the church will accomplish much, much more.
- Stop telling singles to be patient
It’s not helpful to tell someone that will potentially be single for the rest of his or her life to be patient. God calls each of us to different rolls and seasons. One Author notes, “patience implies that singleness is a stage of waiting for something to happen (I.E. marriage), making singleness a sort of batter-on-deck, temporary state that is simply the waiting-room to the goal of happy union with another single person.” (Rebekah Eklund, A Theology of Singleness) That is simply not the case with singleness. Singleness is an opportunity for deep discipleship with the Creator. A single lifestyle allows a person to offer a different kind of hospitality than that of a married couple. Singleness is a virtue that literally frees a person to explore their faith and design to new heights and thus experiences the Creator in brilliant ways.
My prayer is we can start to reframe and re-appropriate a Gospel that has been lost to the pressure of marriage being the highest expression of Christian faith. After all, Jesus was pretty great at being single.