“So, do you have kids?”
“Are you married?”
“Well, are you dating anyone?”
Talk about a conversation killer. When people ask these questions—in a well-intended effort to get to know me—the conversation usually comes to an awkward halt. Neither of us knows where to go from there, so either the person begins to offer words of consolation and advice or I begin to offer disclaimers for why my life is the way it is. But what if neither of these is the appropriate response? How do we keep the conversation going in a way that glorifies the work of Christ in each of our lives and keeps married people and single people from feeling like residents of two different planets?
I want to be careful not to slam married people within the church or rant on behalf of single Christians. That would encourage further division within the church, which is the opposite of my intent. And I want to clarify that my perspective is that of one never-been-married, single, childless female. Not all single people have the same perspective. I simply want to point out some blind spots in terms of the things we say and the assumptions we make in our churches. With that said, let me identify a few assumptions to avoid when interacting with singles in your church.
Don’t assume a single person will get married once he/she truly follows the Lord’s leading.
Many of us have heard some version of the phrase, “If you’re truly walking with the Lord, He’ll send you the right person when you’re ready,” from the lips of well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ. But what’s at stake in that sentiment is not simply the hurt feelings of a single brother or sister in Christ; what’s at stake is a deviation from sound theology. The concept is the same as that taught in the Prosperity Gospel: if you have enough faith, God will give you all your wants. It’s as though the key to material health and wealth—including marital status—is determined via a “faith formula,” so to speak.
This kind of statement also implies that marriage is a status attained only by those who are mature in the faith. We trust that God’s timing and sovereignty over our lives is perfect, acknowledging Him as the “giver of every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17). But we don’t want to skew this truth by communicating that, as a rule, because someone doesn’t have a spouse, they must not be worthy of the gift of marriage, or that they can’t handle it. Nor do we want to imply that married people somehow have a grasp on the Christian life that single people don’t. In our marriages as well as in our singleness, our sustainer is God, and it is only by His grace that we are able to live according to His will in any of our relationships. Yes, we may meet a single person who is immature, and we may meet married couples who are mature. But we may just as likely meet a married couple lacking maturity and a single person who has been in the faith for years and would make a great husband or wife.
Don’t assume their role is to fill in the gaps for families in the church because they have plenty of extra time.
Singleness should be viewed as a gift—one that often allows a person to serve in unique ways within the church. However, the church is described as the body of Christ, which means each member is to look out for the good of the whole (1 Corinthians 12). If one member is not doing its job, then the entire body suffers.
Single people serving in the church may feel both isolated from their church as well as “overworked” or taken advantage of because of the uniqueness of what they have to offer. For example, single adults are sometimes seen more as babysitting opportunities than valued members. It’s certainly healthy for single people to be around children and families. Absolutely invite them into your homes, include them in activities with your children, and don’t exclude them from conversations about your home and your family. It’s not wrong to ask a single person to babysit, especially if they’ve made it clear that they are willing. I often babysit for families within my church and love serving them in that way. But there’s an important distinction to be made here. Though you may lean on a single person to help take care of your family, you should also be intentional about inviting and expecting singles to participate as valued members of the church rather than simply be a means for you to participate.
I know that married people may feel exactly the same way as they commit to service in the church; it’s not about being single versus being married or being a parent. There’s a fine line to walk between overserving and underserving; many of us struggle to strike a healthy balance. But if any of us, regardless of our marital status, fails to serve the church with our gifts, then we are neglecting our God-mandated calling. Whether you’re single, married, or parenting, don’t let the busyness of your life be an excuse to stop serving or to resign your “extra” responsibilities to someone you assume doesn’t have as many demands on their life. God designed the body to be diverse for a purpose. In fact, someone in your church just might need you to graciously pick up their slack for a while.
Don’t assume their struggles with singleness are insignificant.
This one’s tough and hits close to home. I’ve been on the receiving end of this line of thinking as well as on the giving end. And this is a temptation we have to fight in other areas of our lives as well. How often have we heard someone complaining about something we’ve already been through and thought, “You don’t have it as hard as I did”? Or how often have we been afraid to share what we’re wrestling with because we know someone else has been through worse, as if we don’t have a right to admit our struggle?
Being a member of the body does help us gain a healthy perspective on our struggles. What we think is so terrible in our lives may be a common struggle. However, it’s also important that we not belittle one another based on our own experiences. Our “greater” struggle may have prepared us to encourage another brother or sister through their current situation (2 Corinthians 1:4). You shouldn’t feel ashamed to share your own hardship, nor should you minimize your need for prayer and biblical counsel. Seek out those who have gone before you and let them encourage you based on God’s work in their lives.
Don’t assume their purity is solely for marriage.
If you got close enough to even hear the words “I could sing of your love forever” reverberating from a youth gathering in the last few decades, you’ve probably heard someone say, “Stay pure and save yourself for marriage.” So where does this phrase fall short in the message we send to teenagers and older singles alike?
Encouraging someone to “stay pure until marriage” can imply that sexual purity is important in singleness, but once you’re married, all bets are off. Purity is no longer a priority. But a husband and wife should also pursue purity by remaining faithful to one another. Singles and marrieds should seek to uphold God’s design for sex and marriage.
Additionally, we should avoid implying that the end goal for singles in remaining sexually pure is to someday get married (and eventually enjoy sex). But what happens if you’ve been “waiting” for a long time and don’t seem to be getting any closer to marriage? What happens if you never get married? Is it all a waste? Absolutely not! Purity is not only about waiting for the gift of marriage. It’s about obedience. It’s about submitting to God’s sovereignty and lordship. Don’t miss the bigger picture! God created sex and marriage to be a physical representation of a spiritual reality, an illustration of Christ’s relationship to the church. Every believer, whether single or married, should seek to preserve God’s design for sex and marriage.
Don’t assume they need consoling due to their marital status.
When you talk with singles, avoid the temptation to fill the silence with caveats and consolations. Because it’s in those moments that we often end up saying something that doesn’t quite align with God’s Word. Single people have a vital role to play in the church’s mission, and they are uniquely and sovereignly positioned by God to fulfill that role (just as married couples and parents are). Let’s not downplay those roles! Let’s not unintentionally communicate to one another that our relational status is either unimportant or overly-important to gospel work.
We naturally gravitate toward people who are like us—people we can easily understand. But in the gospel, we are called to be united in love and mission within the church. So even if it means sharing a few seconds of awkward silence as we fumble for ways to keep the conversation going, our diligence in digging deeper with one another and in caring for one another will be worth it in the end.