On September 23, 2013

For All The Single Ladies (And Men)

“If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it.” -Beyonce

Single and Calm

Once upon a time, a bride was about to give herself to her groom. All the Christian community had gathered to have watch a couple make sacred promises to each other.

But it never happened.

Because Thomas, as in Thomas the Apostle, the one who had touched Jesus nail scarred hands after the Resurrection, busted in during the wedding ceremony and talked them out of getting married so that they could devote themselves more fully toward the Kingdom of God. If you had been attending the wedding ceremony that day, I’ll bet you would have thought, “Sheesh Thomas! Do you have to doubt everything?!!

Now this story probably sounds crazy to most of you, but Christian tradition says that Thomas actually did this exact thing. And if he didn’t than at least we know that enough of the earliest Christians thought like this to keep telling this story.

Because they knew what we have forgotten.

Jesus was single.

The Single Most Forgotten

At Highland Church, we are in a series called The Sequels, and yesterday Jeff Childers and I did a sermon together, and I’ve never had so many people come up and say something like, “We’ve never heard that before.”

So I wanted to share a bit of what we talked about on here too.

I’ve been in full time ministry for over a decade, and for several years I served as a Singles minister, and what I’ve learned is that most American churches don’t know what to do with Single adults. Which is crazy, because for the first time in American history, more people are Single than married. When we train missionaries to go to another culture, they are expected to learn the language and how they think. But Churches in America haven’t done that well at all.

Instead it is incredibly difficult for a single to feel like they belong to a local church. The on ramp seems to be something like, attend this new member’s class, sign up to volunteer in a ministry, wait a few years to get married and then belong.

And all of this makes me wonder, how did a movement that was started by a Single man and advanced by another (Paul) become a community that didn’t have a place for people who were in a season of life just like them? And if you doubt what I’m saying, here’s a well written take on it from someone else. 

And by the way, I get it. I understand how we got here.

When the Sexual Revolution happened, the Church realized that the way we had been talking about sex was very wrong. We realized that sex was really not something to be ashamed of, but was a gift from God given to people who had made promises and covenant to each other.

But then we bought into the idea that if God gives a gift, than everyone must have it.

Did you know, historically speaking, that people used to live Celibate lives and they didn’t blow up or die? We lost our imagination for what it meant to be human, and we started listening to the story that without someone else a person was incomplete, and then we started telling that story ourselves.

Henri Nouwen once said that the task of a minister is to keep people from suffering for the wrong reasons. Here’s what he says:

“Many people suffer because of the false suppositions on which they have built their lives…Therefore ministry is a very confronting service. it does not allow people to live with illusions of immorality and wholeness. It keeps reminding others that they are mortal and broken, but also that with the recognition of this condition, liberating starts.”

Every kind of relationship status is going to have suffering, married people let each other down, and single people sometimes wonder if life is better if you are married.

But more than just not creating a space for people, do we realize what a gift to the Church a Single person is?

Stay Where You Are

There’s a reason that Paul was able to go all over the world planting churches. It was because He was fully committed to the Kingdom of God. In fact, that’s what he wanted people in all of the churches he planted to be! Look at what Paul says:

 I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is.Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned;and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this… I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord.  But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided.

Paul wants people to be able to be fully devoted to the Kingdom of God, so much so that he has to say, “Don’t worry you haven’t sinned if you’ve gotten married.”

Well that’s comforting.

This is not a new idea. It’s not a Catholic idea, it’s a Jesus one. Some people are called to be single, to show radical trust in God and His family. Some people are called to singleness and some of us are called to show God’s love for the world by how we love our spouse.

And we need each other.

Jesus doesn’t need you to get married to belong to His Church. And any church or Christian Institution that makes you think that way, or makes you feel like a 2nd class citizen probably isn’t communicating the Gospel as much as they are an American dream.

By all means, if you meet someone who you want to pledge your life to, do it! Show the world what God is like by making a promise and keep it.

But I wouldn’t send St. Thomas an invitation.

Question: If you are Single, what has your status allowed you to do with your life that you wouldn’t be able to if you were Married?

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  • Jon McNair

    Oh snap! That was awesome! My favorite line was “And any church or Christian Institution that makes you think that way, or makes you feel like a 2nd class citizen probably isn’t communicating the Gospel as much as they are an American dream.” Looks like I’ll be sharing this one on Facebook too. Thanks for another great article, man.

  • dj

    I love this. Love it.

    As a single youth minister, I’ve been able to go places and do things my married colleagues simply can’t. School plays, sporting events, family dinners, birthday parties, I can be there at the drop of a hat. The accesibility of a single youth minister is unreal.

    There have also been a couple of times where I’ve been in tough church situations that would have been devastating for a family. A few years ago I was hired for a YM job that a few of my colleagues had applied for as well. Two months into the job the church leaders revealed they did not have any money to continue paying my salary. Imaging the toll it would take on a family to recover from that situation.

    As a single church member though, it’s another story. There’s a ton of tough and/or awkward situations. Small group with married couples? Nope. Asked to lead other ministry events? Nope. Tons of people telling me I should go out with the one single female at church because we obviously have tons in commmon being single and all? Check.

    I’ve been in a relationship for 6 months now, and it’s amazing how many invites we get as a couple. Fortunately my girlfriend is awesome, and we can joke around that she’s my ticket into the church social scene.

    Anyways, great post. I’m glad that you’re spearheading this conversation.

  • Rachel

    Thank you SO much for this Jonathan!! Much needed read for me.

  • Patrick

    Thank you for this. I was so very happily married for a little over 27 years when my wife was called home following a long illness. I have now entered into a new episode where, after nearly two years, I am learning how to live a single life in a world of couples.

    I am writing a little volume about some of the many lessons I have learned and am learning along the way as I too see this as an area so often neglected. May God bless you in your service for him who is able to provide for all our real needs.

    Thank you.

  • http://www.ehendrick.org/pastoralcare/index.htm Kevin W. Bridges

    What do you do with Genesis? It seems that God is saying neither man nor woman is perfect or complete without the other. While scripture supports your sermon, it also supports a theology that argues against being alone. Adam was the first Jerry McGuire to discover that Eve “completed him.” I think more than the sexual revolution, Christians have held onto a theology of marriage rooted in the creation story that seems to affirm the idea that we are not okay without a mate. I agree with your statement that some are called to singleness, but there is definately a theological conflict in our church culture that lacks resolution. At least, that’s what I think.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks DJ, I actually thought of you when we were working on this. You’re a great Student minister who fortunately (for the church too) had a church willing to hire you when you were single. I know a lot of my ministry friends had to become insurance agents (not that there’s anything wrong with that) because they didn’t have a church willing to hire them as a single person.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Good question. Most of Scripture has these kinds of tensions, like grace and discipleship or God’s sovereignty and our free will. So if you try to focus only on one you will obscure a broader truth.

    I’d like to make the big grab for marriage as a sacrament (what you are talking about) but not the only way (or even best way) to be human.

    Jesus was single, and in Matthew 19, he actually brings up the Creation story to talk about marriage, and then right on the heels of that says that “Not everyone should be married. In fact, some should be lifelong celibate people for the sake of the Kingdom of God.” And that’s Jesus!

    Honestly, I think that the real conversation is the way we’ve idolized romance. Anytime you look to another part or person of creation to complete you and make you whole, it’s not going to end well. No one can bear the weight of worship but God. So it is actually not a marriage/single problem, it is a worship problem.

    So that’s what we are trying to talk about in this series. Hope you’re doing well Kevin!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Patrick, blessings on your new season of life.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    My pleasure. Thanks Rachel!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Jon! Hope you’re doing well friend!

  • Katherine

    Oh my word, this is so so needed to be stated & repeated!! This is something I have long wrestled with as one who is confident in my calling from God and also has a strong desire to have a family one day. I have seen so many ways lately of realizing that what God is calling me to in 6 different countries in Asia right now, I would most likely not be able to do if I were not single. I am so thankful and blessed by every opportunity and it still often blows me away that He has called me to all of this. Of course I still desire to have a family one day, while I recognize what I am doing is very unique and there is a purpose for that right now. My desire is stronger to be faithful to His calling, and I hope one day I will also have someone to partner with in this mission.

    You hit it so spot on talking about how churches often do not have a clue on what to do with single people, which I have found ironic in that we can be such valuable assets with the flexibility and time. I know we are all called to minister in different ways, and hope we can work on ways to figure out how to use all of our gifts to serve in each stage of life, and be fully embraced by the Body.

    Now I am going to have to go listen to what you & Jeff shared…maybe I will do that while I am jet lagging ;) Thanks so much for sharing, my brother-I am definitely passing this on!!

  • Tiffany

    I am married, but I applaud you for tackling this subject, and I think much of what you have to say also applies to childless couples. Somehow, it seems modern American churches have embraced the notion that one is not a “real” adult unless one is married and has children.

    I would caution, however, that a balance must be struck between encouraging churches to recognize and respect those people who are lacking in either or both of those categories (whether by choice or circumstance), and a respect for the fact that these individuals may have callings to serve God in ways apart from the needs of their home congregation. I have found that it is often the view of church members who cannot empathize with these single and/or childless adults to view their time as 1) somehow less valuable or 2) needed to minister to the needs of “families” (read: “everything you’re not”) around which our churches seem so often to be centered. Maybe a single person feels more free to travel on mission trips or show the love of Christ through humanitarian relief in the developing world moreso than he or she feels called to sign up for extra shifts in the building cleaning rotation or to teach Sunday School. That does not make the individual selfish; it simply means that the person (or childless couple) has listened to the call of God upon their lives to serve Him and His people in their unique capacity.
    So yes–by all means, the church body should be encouraging single adults to embrace their status in life as a gift for dedicating more time to the ministry or ministries to which they feel called. However, we must also respect that these are true adults, even if they have not gone through the traditional rites of passage or have passed into a new phase of life, and are therefore able to discern the call of God upon their own lives.
    (I hope that made sense.)

  • Katherine

    Yes, it did…and I Amen what you said :) Especially as one who has followed that calling overseas in mission work, which does not look traditionally like most people imagine…but knowing it is exactly where God wants me, and especially with the flexibility being single provides at this time.

  • Angie Burns

    Jonathan,

    Thank you from this 43-year-old single-never-married! Having experienced a few decades being single, I’ve gone through lots of phases with church life as well as just trying to figure myself out.

    As far as church life, I’ve sadly found it to be predominantly the way you described – the family driven church. But there are pockets of people who crave diversified fellowship where I feel more valued and validated ‘as is!’ So I try to seek them out. But it makes me very loosely connected to the church as a whole (and very easy for me to skip out on its gatherings more often).

    As far as figuring myself out, what you mentioned about the damage done by the sexual revolution has probably been my largest hurdle. I’m committed to celibacy, but it ain’t easy! And part of the reason it’s more difficult than it should be is because of how distorted things are for sex and the single woman/man. Movies and music (which I love!) haven’t helped me keep a strong perspective.

    The point you made about suffering for the wrong reasons is blowing my mind. I mean, if you are single in America and not FULLY COMMITTED to the kingdom… that is the crux of a whole different kind of suffering. I’ve felt that. I’ve wanted to claim the “I deserve this” mantra and just seek to fulfill my own happiness without regard to the larger picture.

    Right now what I’m exploring is the whole “called to singleness” deal. I don’t feel called. I feel like it’s circumstantial. It’s the way things are, but not how I want them to be. I want companionship. I want vows. I want the other side of the coin of suffering. But I just waited a very long time before I admitted to this! Regardless of whether I’m called for a season or forever, it’s still where I am and where I’m called to be faithful. That’s a call I definitely feel!

    Grateful for what I learned from this post today. Definitely uplifted after reading.

  • Zach Snyder

    Thanks for this! I’m so thankful for what being single has allowed me to devote my time, efforts, and money to.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Angie, thanks so much, and thanks for your honest response to this. One of the things you said that I want to key in on is how movies and music make it difficult to keep a strong perspective.

    We’re actually doing a sermon series at Highland called “The Sequels” about the idolatry of romance, sex and dating…specifically for this reason. People who are not religious, are starting to point out that we, as a society, are putting way too much emphasis on marriage and our sexuality. Sometimes people, like David Foster Wallace (an atheist) even say we are worshipping it like an idol.

    5 Harlequin romance novels are sold every second, and these stories that we breathe are writing the scripts for how we should live, and what we think “the good life is”

    We need a bigger and better story..I think you are very wise to see that. Thanks for weighing in Angie!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Zach! Well said. And as someone who gets to go to church with you, and watch you from a distance (in a non-stalker kind of way) I’m glad that you have used your singleness well.

  • Angie Burns

    How awesome! I wanna check that series out! I live in Mississippi though, so I’ll have to see if I can find a podcast or something. My computer hasn’t been cooperating today, but I’ll look ASAP.

  • Jerri

    I am 44 and a single only parent, and I am coming at this from multiple directions. I was married at 22 because for my whole life I was told the right thing to do was “marry a good boy who’ll take care of you (financially).” So I did. Financially, we were great. Emotionally, we were…not. In summary, he was narcissistic, manipulatively passive-aggressive (which meant he would rather lie to you to prevent confrontation and then make it all your fault that you weren’t on board but should be thankful for how he saved your butt or made you look good when it was over), emotionally absent, and had no problem living two different worlds.
    A little over three years ago (married 19 years) we split up. I gave the ultimatum to be part of the healing or leave because our children and I would heal with or without him. He left. On one hand, I was crushed that he could just walk out. On the other, I was thankful it was over. 7 months later, we were in the middle of the divorce when he died of a massive heart attack.
    Life changed radically. Most of our couple friends immediately disappeared, but even those who didn’t, who truly loved the kids and me anyway, were hard because it was hard to be around married people because the truth was, I wanted my marriage to work. It just couldn’t work that way, so there was a lot of pain.
    Another hard thing was finding a place to fit into the single world. Most single’s activities don’t provide childcare. My kids weren’t old enough to leave alone, and I didn’t have money for a babysitter, so that excluded me from a lot.
    One of my biggest issues with the church as a whole is they didn’t understand the thinking of widowed/divorced singles. It seems they thought we were just an older version of the hormonal college students they knew, which is SO FAR from the truth, and the way we are treated isolates us.
    Even now, women’s groups are awkward because they want to talk about being better wives, which is great, except I’m not a wife, and really, there are times when that topic just hurts because my husband told me I failed at being a wife and no one wants me for a wife now (not to say they never will but right now, there is no one in my life), and some days the enemy likes to tell me what a failure I am, which is enough of a battle, but to have that as a women’s group topic…ugh.
    As for what I’ve been able to do as a single? Since I have been single, I have become a member of CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), worked with Habitat for Humanity, received my certification as a emergency medical responder, become a volunteer fire fighter and medic, and am the coordinator for the CERT program in my town. I’ve been published as a writer, and my kids and I do various volunteer work. I still homeschool. I still mow my own grass. I do house repairs. The greatest thing I’ve done is become comfortable with myself and embraced the Truth that I’m whole as me, and I teach my kids if the Lord has it for them to get married some day, great! And we talk a lot about great relationships and how to have a great marriage, but at least for part of their lives, they will be single, and as a single person, they are talented, gifted, purposed, planned, an answer to prayer, and a gift to this world. As a single, they are the whole package, and the confidence and boldness I see in their lives…the fruit is beautiful. :-)

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks for sharing your story Jerri, I love hearing what you’ve been able to do with your singleness.It’s been really great hearing from so many of my single peers and friends about how God has blessed them through their singleness. Thanks for your honesty.

  • Will Klostermann

    Jonothan, I grew up at Higland and was encouraged to read this blog. I am single and my current church in Kentucky is going throug a series called Holy Sex, Gods desire for sex in context with marriage and being single. I am also close to Sally Gary and she is a dear friend. I am very thankful for the message that was given on Sunday, I agreed with some Hearty Amens! So grateful this is being spoken in the church. Thankful for what God is doing at Highland!!

  • Pingback: 5 Things That You Do Better When You’re Single | The Prospect

  • Hs

    Being single allowed me to live overseas for a year and learn a new language. Also, I’m able to be more involved in the lives of my students.