By Sara Beth Fentress
When I placed the silver “True Love Waits” ring on my 15-year-old finger, I never dreamed I would still be single into my 40s.
It honestly didn’t even cross my mind. Growing up in the south, expectations included getting married in your early 20s so you can begin adulting and start your own family. In retrospect, I didn’t even have a category for people like me. Today, most churches still don’t have a category for people like me.
For a variety of reasons, prolonged singleness is on the rise in modern societies. Please consider a few simple reminders and suggestions from a single woman living in a Christian culture that idolizes marriage and family. If you’re single, keep reading; I’ve included some truth in love for you, as well.
1. Understand what the Bible teaches us about singleness and marriage.
Marriage is a beautiful picture of the gospel. We are the bride and Christ is the bridegroom. Marriage is one significant way God chooses to demonstrate His glory to the world. However, it’s not the only way. The single life also demonstrates God’s glory to the watching world.
The Bible gives clear teaching on marriage and singleness:
- Both marriage (Proverbs 18:22) and singleness (1 Corinthians 7:7) are gifts from the Lord. Be content with either situation that you currently find yourself in.
- Marriage is a unique reflection of God’s glory for earth, but it’s temporary. There will be no marriage in eternity (Matthew 22:30).
- A biblical marriage is between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:24-25).
- Paul reminds us that singleness allows for undivided devotion to the things of God (1 Corinthians 7:35).
Sidenote to singles: Undivided devotion is not our wretched heart’s first instinct. It takes work and discipline to make the best use of our time.
The enemy wants us to squander our resources and limit our use of the talents God has given us. Be aware of what distracts you. Be disciplined.
Set limits for mindless activities and scrolling in your day. Intentionality is the key to undivided devotion.
2. Admit that our society (especially the church) idolizes marriage and family.
In her book, Gay Girl, Good God, Jackie Hill Perry elaborates on what she refers to as the heterosexual gospel. This idea “tends to put more emphasis on marriage as the goal of the Christian life than on knowing Jesus.”
God’s plan for the world was not to make single people married; it was to reconcile a people and bring glory to himself.
Churches need to be intentional to offer opportunities for community and discipleship for all of their members at various life stages. Singleness has a way of making you feel hidden in plain sight.
Married friends, how much of your identity revolves around the other people who live under your roof? How do you introduce yourself? Do you seek your spouse’s opinion, approval, encouragement and validation more than your heavenly Father’s? It may be worth consideration—has your family become an idol?
Social media has spotlighted the widening gap between married and single people, and it depicts what people value and seek. Your social media feed and your bank statement are good indicators of potential idols in your life.
We must constantly evaluate our hearts. What’s most important to us? Where can we release our grip on things? Who gets our best each day?
There are times for a marriage sermon series, marriage retreats and date night babysitting events within our churches. However, the rate of singleness is on the rise and should not be disregarded or ignored by the church.
A 2017 study from Pew Research showed that 42% of American adults do not live with a spouse. This number continues to grow each year. Our churches must stay relevant to all members.
Are single people an integral part of your plan to push your church’s mission forward? If not, you must evaluate possible reasons why.
3. Evaluate how your church is welcoming and embracing the single life across different ages.
Few people would come out and say that singleness is a second-rate life compared to married life. However, as believers, we must consider what we are unintentionally communicating.
Does your church encourage and invite multi-generational friendships? I know more than one church that has a Sunday School class named “Pairs and Spares.”
This may seem like a silly example, but when I visited one class, I couldn’t help but notice that I was considered a spare. What does this terminology communicate to the widow or single dad who is visiting the church?
Does your church provide opportunities for single people to build community after the age of 30 and before the age of 70? Basically, there are 40 years of life when they don’t quite fit into the “college and career” class, but they aren’t quite ready for the “olden golden class” either.
Even if your church places less emphasis on programs, do single people know where to find community, help for projects around the house or a little league baseball game to go to with a family on a Saturday?
Warren Wiersbe explains, “Some have been called to a life of singleness for one reason or another. Their singleness is not sub-spiritual. It all depends on the will of God.”
Churches must be intentional to make sure that singles feel welcomed, included, and valued every day of the week, including Sundays. Sundays should not be a single person’s loneliest day of the week.
Sidenote to singles: We are not exempt from needing community. It is still not good for man, or woman, to be alone (Genesis 2:18).
You’ll have to work harder to create this because community is more than likely not under your roof or committed to you through a covenant. Or is it? As believers in Christ, we all have entered into an even more permanent and serious covenant than marriage.
Don’t think you’re free from covenantal commitment because you don’t have a ring on your left hand. Our salvation is sealed with a greater covenant.
4. Brothers, mentor young men in your church.
Admittedly, my opinion is biased, and my perspective is skewed. I know a plethora of God-honoring, gospel-motivated, ambitious, mature, stellar, single women consistently serving in churches and ministries.
However, most single men my age are not faithfully committed to a church body. Most of my rockstar single lady friends still very much desire to be married.
Do you see the dilemma? “Where else would we go, Lord?”
Married men, will you do your sisters in Christ a favor and mentor young men to be God-honoring, gospel-motivated, ambitious and mature?
Disciple them, teach them how to pursue women in a godly way and invite them into your home to see a healthy family unit. Model to them how to be a good husband, father and brother in Christ.
With the rise of prolonged singleness in our churches, we must clearly understand what the Bible says about marriage and singleness. Also, our churches should strive to include, value and welcome the input of single saints.
SARA BETH FENTRESS (@sarabeth127) is the founder and executive director of 127 Worldwide, a non profit that helps Christians tangibly live out James 1:27. This article originally appeared on IntersectProject.org and is used with permission.