Have you talked to the single people in your church one-on-one lately? How well do you really know them? Are you still relying on your experience as a single person to counsel them?
Therein lies something that you've probably haven't considered before now. With that in mind, let's ask some different questions.
How long has it been since you were single? At what age did you marry?
If commonality is an indicator, the last time you were single was a while ago and you weren't single for long. Truth be told, I do not know too many pastors that didn't get married in their 20s.
Let's have an honest conversation about singles and the church.
For starters, there are several types of single people in your congregation:
Single people who have never been married – Many of them are just out of high school, college-age kids who are probably placing marriage on the back burner until they feel they are ready. As ABC News reported, people who have never been married are waiting longer to get married for various reasons.
Divorced single people – Divorce happens for many reasons. Some of those who do divorce want to get married again and some of them don't. Some are waiting to hear from God on what is best for their situation.
Single parents – regardless of the circumstance.
Regardless of which category they fit, what message are you sending to your single people? In many cases, the church sends mixed signals to singles.
I was recently challenged myself when I heard a sermon to single people based on 1 Corinthians 7. I myself am a 35-year-old male who has been divorced for more than a decade and I desire to marry again.
The message, paraphrased, from that sermon, was "it is we—the married people—that have it wrong. If you are single, you have it right. You should be praying for us "because "married people are burning with lust."
The sermon was supposed to be an encouragement for single people to embrace singlehood. But I wasn't encouraged at all.
For starters, everyone has God-given sexual desires. Lust happens when these feelings are not being placed in the proper perspective.
I also have a different take on Paul's admonition. Because Paul said his counsel was not a command from the Lord but based on wisdom (v.25.) Paul also had a bigger issue that he was addressing. He said in verse 26 that "because of the present crisis, I think it is best to remain as you are."
The present crisis, according to Matthew Henry's Commentary, was that Corinth was a city known for its wealth, its arts and its vices. Paul was guiding the church from getting "caught up" in the vices.
While the message to single people is to stay single, there is a big poster promoting the church as a place for families. Many church websites show the pastor and his lovely family, along with the church leadership and their families as well. Christena Cleveland observed that married couples and families are often the model used for attracting people to join a church.
She further observed "married people are the ones calling the shots" and that "they remain central to the life of the church. Meanwhile, single people are relegated to the margins."
Let's return to the question of "have you talked to the single people—one-on-one—in your church lately?"
Now would be a good time to do so if it's been a while. I propose you will find out some things that might surprise you—things like their maturity, whether or not they wish to marry, and even how they feel about your sermon(s) regarding singlehood.
The important thing is the singles in your church are people too. They are likely in a situation that you have never experienced or haven't experienced for a while. And, they have their own individual needs.
If they want to be married, help them get ready for their spouse. If they want to stay single, help them stay strong in their singlehood. But no matter the situation, make sure your counsel is informed by their reality.
P. Kenneth Burns is a reporter in Baltimore where he attends Connexion Point Church. He also works in the media and the communications ministry.
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