Is singleness an issue in the church?

Should the church do anything about the single people in its midst?

I threw this out on twitter and got more feedback than on anything I’ve ever tweeted before. So one thinks there might be a few things to ponder here.

The responses fitted into two broad groups, those who thought it wasn’t really an issue, and those who wanted the church to stop being so sympathetic and patronising.

But maybe we conflate the church with the church leadership, or the church staff, or the officially organised and sanctioned programmes of the church.

Because the church doing something about it is you and me deciding to help people get together. Or encourage people struggling with relationships. Or discipling people to help them not find their identity in being someone’s girlfriend – or having that girl on your arm. The girls blame it on there being too few guys, and the guys say there’s too many girls. (seriously, they do.)

And I’ve heard enough sermons with the intentional brief asides that challenge guys to man up and ask girls out. And I’ve had enough conversations with girls frustrated with guys not asking them out, and with guys daunted by the prospect, or dizzied by indecision.

The core criticism seems to be that the church treats married people as the norm, and single people as those who are waiting for the right person to come along. Thrown into this mix are those with the specific calling to be single, which we are told to remember to affirm as a gift from God andSt Pauland John Stott are cited as our exemplars.

This description lets two groups of people off the hook and leaves the people out side these mutually exclusive groups rather stranded. If you’re married then you’re ok, if you want to be single, you’re affirmed. If you are single and pretty desperate not to be you’re kind of in trouble.

You are in trouble because the church doesn’t know what to tell you. Should they tell you that marriage is an ideal that you strive for? Of counsel that singleness is a wonderful calling?

We’re not very good at living in a place where things don’t add up. We’re unable to handle the ideal of one thing, the gift of another, and the role of God in redeeming humankind and working in each of our lives at all times.

We want it simple. We want someone else to do something about it. But we also want our independence. So we like the idea of speed dating in the church. Of semi arranged marriages avoiding the social awkwardness of dating, and well, removing the risk element from it all.

But that’s the fastest post I’ve ever written, so I haven’t really thought this through. What are your thoughts? Is there such a thing as a singleness problem, and if so, is it in the number of single people or the way in which they’re treated?

Please tell me.

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4 thoughts on “Is singleness an issue in the church?

  1. Another aspect which you have probably covered elsewhere is that church leaders need to stop telling single people who want to get married that God’s will for them is probably singleness, and that they just ought to reconcile themselves to it. This is very poor biblical exposition. I don’t believe that this is God’s will for the majority of single christians in the church at any given time! It is a seemingly ‘easy’ way for church leaders to deal with the singleness issue.. and is often taught by the happily married unfortunately.

  2. I think the singleness issue goes to the heart of the whole Arminian/Calvinist debate. Did God decide before the beginning of time that a certain induvidual would be single (Calvinist) or is their singleness a consequence of a combination of human factors (Arminian)? Most churches I have come across go for a Calvinist approach which I’m not entirely convinced is completely helpful. It can encourage inactivity which can then make singleness more likely. We don’t apply this to any other area of life. We wouldn’t encourage an unemployed person to wait on God to provide a job in His perfect timing so why do we use this logic with single people.

    It also stops the church taking responsibility for its failure to reach men with the gospel over many generations. Widespread singleness in churches is an obvious consequence of this failure.

    Obiously God does call SOME people to be single but if the statistics are to be believed then 50-70% of Christian women should expect to stay single (unless they marry outside the church) and there’s no way in high heaven that that many women have been called to singleness! Human nature just isn’t like that!

  3. Hey Danny, I mention that loaded word ‘issue’ and how I think it can imply church thinks singleness is a ‘problem’ that needs to be fixed. Often, well meaning married people can forget the frustration and stigma than can come with being pitied for being single, being told ‘never mind, you’ve just got to wait’. That singles are in a pre-marriage state and just waiting for God’s hand to reveal the next stage of their lives…

    On the other hand, single people can look over the fence at the marrieds and think ‘they’ve made it, they’ve got it all, it’s in the bag for them…’ The whole church rejoices and gathers round the couples but the pressure of ‘happily ever after’ is a heavy one.

    One thing I was struck with this week: as believers, we are all brides. We are all getting married, we are all preparing for the most beautiful spiritual union there is. That’s why we should rejoice at every earthly wedding and support every earthly marriage – because it points to the perfect completion and ultimate wedding. Let’s face it, if Jesus is supplying the wine, it’s going to be cracking 🙂

  4. I know this is clearly a problem but I think we need to start considering the real issues:

    Please watch, think and discuss.

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