Singleness is not brokenness.
This is a message that nearly everyone would affirm in theory, but how well are our churches communicating this message in practice? Especially in the suburban context where Grace Church is, my fear is that ministry is often done in such away where you only feel comfortable and well placed in the church if you are married with 2.5 kids and a dog named Daisy. When seemingly everything offered in churches today are geared towards catering to couples and families, we ought to take stock of all that we do and ask the question: if I were a single man or woman at my church, would I feel loved? Welcomed? Included? Here’s a few thoughts:
1.Creational Status > Relational Status
It seems that in our culture, one of the first things we want to know about one another is whether or not they are married. So we meet someone and our eyes look to their finger to see if there is a ring (even though this is not an air proof method). We ask if they are married or single, and if single, are you at least dating someone? Now, wondering these things doesn’t always have ill-intent, but we are groomed to at least partially define someone based upon their relational status.
The Bible, as if often does, keeps us from seeing the world through the cultural lens. We read first that “God created man in his own image” (Gen 1:27). The most essential aspect of your identity is not whether you are single or married, but rather that you are made in God’s image. Drew Hunter puts it best when he said: “Our worth is rooted not in our marital status, but in our creational status. This is nowhere more clearly confirmed than in Jesus Christ, who shows us what it means to be truly human. He lived a perfect life as God’s image – and he did so unmarried.”
Jesus’ singleness was not brokenness, for Jesus was the full image of God and lived in perfect harmony with the Father as a single man. This is also why there is no marriage in heaven (Matt 22:30), because all of God’s children will be in eternal, perfect harmony with their Creator. In heaven, for all of eternity, we’ll all be “single” and nothing about being in Glory will be broken.
Whether single or married, we can see our relational status as a gift from God that we can use to steward our role in expanding God’s kingdom. So then, in the church, if our single brothers and sisters in Christ feel “less than” or incomplete, or broken, that’s the fault of the church’s design, not creation’s. Singleness has unique benefits, and it has unique challenges, just like a marriage does. It’s not an “either/or” in regards to what is preferred, but rather a “both/and”. Singleness is beautiful, and singleness is messy, it’s a blessing, and it’s a challenge. But it’s not broken.
2. Singleness and Friendship
Another way to discern whether or not we are holding up a Biblical view of singleness in the church is whether or not we are able to recapture the meaning of friendship. It is well noted both within religious and secular circles that as people grow older, maintaining and cultivating friendships gets harder. This is unfortunate for everyone in the church, but it is our single brothers and sisters in Christ that feel this impact the hardest.
Loneliness is a very real and unique challenge for all people, but it becomes a prominent and unique obstacle for singles. While marriage is one (and the immediate) answer to Adam’s aloneness in the Scripture, it is not the only answer. Let me say that again: marriage is not the only answer to our loneliness. Scripture puts forth both friendship and the family of God (the church) as provisions that help fight again loneliness in the context of community. Real, meaningful friendships within the Body of Christ are not just a bonus, they are vital for spiritual health.
For the church, this means we ought not quarantine the singles to their own ministry, and it has become my growing conviction that a “young adults” ministry or any kind of “singles ministry” is unhelpful at best and damaging at worst. At Grace, we’re moving toward ensuring all of our major ministries are opportunities for people from different stages of life are together as one, encouraging and challenging one another, learning from one another as opposed to trying to match up everyone with others who are exactly like them.
This extends beyond just church programs and ministries, but should be evident in the organic life of the church. It (prayerfully) should be a regular occurrence to see couples, families, and singles all be intentional about spending time with one another in the daily and weekly rhythms of our lives.
When true friendships form in the midst of diversity, that is far more of a powerful witness to Christ-centered community. To see married couples learning from singles, and singles learning from married couples is a sign of health and an indication that the church will be fruitful both inside and out. If we lose a vision for Biblical friendship, then along with it we will lose the gifts and inclusion of our singles within the church.
3. Many Members, One Body
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about the church by comparing it a body. We all have one body, and yet, within this body, there is a diversity that is not only helpful, but crucial. Hands are different from ears, mouths are different from feet, elbows are different from shoulders, and yet they are all needed together to make up a single, unified body. So it is with the church.
Let us not fall into the trap of trying to “match” every group in the church up so they are exclusively around others who are like themselves. This is the reality of suburban life, but it need not be the reality of the suburban church. Let’s be countercultural in celebrating and encouraging diversity within the Body, because that is what will be used to reach a world that desperately needs Christ. A diversified church will be more effective in reaching a diversified world.
Singleness is a gift from God that men and women can steward for the Kingdom, just as marriage is, so let it be true of every church both in word and practice that singleness is not brokenness.