A Word from Your BCC Staff: You’re reading Part Two of a multi-part Grace & Truth blog mini-series on Biblical Counseling and Women’s Issues. Men—you’d be wise to read these too—to learn more about a biblical understanding of women and about biblical women’s ministry. Today’s post is from Betty-Anne Van Rees on Single in the Church. You can also read Part 1 by Amy Baker: I’ll Probably Be a Widow.
It Can Be Awkward
The family of God has much to learn about each other as we seek to move toward being the family He designed. This post focuses on how to get to know our singles.
Single in the church? It can be awkward. In my part of the world, there are groups for people like ‘that.’ The only exit door is marriage. Those who linger long in the group don’t walk but RUN to that door when they get the chance…and never look back! There is something fundamentally wrong with this.
How Did it Happen?
I am confident it didn’t happen on purpose. A silent shift in the contemporary demographics of the Western world has changed the face of the church, creating a collection of ministry issues that seem to have caught the church by surprise. This shift has come about due to a combination of factors that arose in the 20th century. The societal traditions of a two-parent family with one wage earner and a stay-at-home mom were abandoned of necessity during World War II. With a large portion of the men employed in serving in the war, the women were called upon to fill the gaps that were left in places of industry. The timing of this in relation to the equal rights movement beginning in the 1920s and the sexual revolution that had its genesis in the 1950s, made the cultural changes that ensued virtually inevitable.
Women were empowered within the work force and gained for themselves a level of independence that was unprecedented in western culture. The sexual revolution paved the way for unplanned pregnancies and unwed mothers and a society that grew to be comfortable with a new normal. Going it alone has become a truly viable and even perceptually attractive option for women…which inevitably leads to a significant increase in both male and female adult singles. “Census data from 1970 show that 70 percent of American households contained a married couple. The 2006 report from the Census Bureau disclosed that fewer than half of American households are now maintained by married couples.”
For decades it had been appropriate to organize church activity around the nuclear family, which traditionally had consisted of two parents. If the church today is going to serve its members and the community beyond its doors effectively, it is essential that the Body of Christ rethink its ministry focus and format. The singles or single-again groups I speak of above are a weak attempt to fill the gap in ministry programming.
I’d like to suggest that what is needed is a theological reorientation—an Ephesians 4:23 kind of change. We would do well to think deeply about what it means to be the family of God and the Body of Christ.
Identity is Key
I recently invited participants attending an event at my (Christian) workplace to a “singles’ lunch.” The reluctance as they walked into the room was palpable! As conversation developed, the reason emerged. “Singleness is not my identity. I don’t want to be separated from the Body of Christ based on my marital status.” Amen!
Because we serve a God who has been all about reconciliation since the Fall, there is great wisdom in considering how to build bridges rather than dividing walls. (A discussion regarding how we do this well was actually the purpose for that lunch.)
David Powlison’s oft repeated quote, “We are more like the people we counsel than different” could be more universally stated: all humans—from Bangladesh to America—from child to octogenarian—from married to single—have far more in common than our differences. When Christ is indwelling, the differences diminish more completely.
Bridge Building is Key
When the church begins to reorient its thinking with these truths, we begin to think about inclusive ministry. All the sheep need shepherding and that happens most effectively when we are engaged in each other’s lives “shepherding” each other. How better for a single to prepare for a potential marriage relationship than to share life at a relationally intimate level with some of the married couples in his church—both young couples and older? How better for married people within the church to grow in empathy and understanding than to share life with people whose circumstances aren’t just like their own? How better for all of them to look at the circumstances of their lives through a more objective Godward lens when the people they discuss them with are not buried under the same circumstances?
A quick glimpse of New Testament teaching expands our understanding. Paul, a single, gave much counsel to the married people in the churches he nurtured. Even more dramatically, Jesus, a single, sought to reorient His hearers’ views of family relations entirely when he declared His mother and His brothers were those who heard the word of God and did it (Luke 8:21). When questioned about Levirate marriage implications for heaven, Jesus completely undid their thinking; “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30).
The Bible makes it clear; under the New Covenant, there is a new blood line defining relationships; the blood of Jesus Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”(Galatians 3:28). It is not a stretch to say that, if it had been culturally appropriate and helpful, Paul might have added ‘neither married nor single’ to this list.
When we let these truths wash over the way we consider ministry to our church family, we won’t add random programs for people who are on the peripheral of current ministry; we’ll look for effective ways to integrate those people into the life of the family.
More on what this can look like in my future posts at the BCC….
Join the Conversation
This post suggests a radical shift on how we view “singles” and how we do ministry with “singles.” What do you think?
 Thomas F. Coleman, “Religious outreach programs target singles,” Eye on Unmarried America, http://www.unmarriedamerica.org/column-one/9-11-06-singles-ministries.htm (accessed December 9, 2010).