Part 2 of V on Singles Ministry in a Couple’s Culture Church
As a single, what has your experience in church been like? Do you feel welcomed, neglected or something else?
Throughout church history there has been error and extreme views from both sides of the marriage/singleness issue that has influenced the church’s attitude about singleness.
The Hebrew Rabbinic Talmud states, “The man who is not married at 20 is living in sin.” On the other side, church ascetics have lifted singleness up as a holier call or higher station in life than being married. The Catholic Church even went so far as to prohibit their priests from being married.
Cultural Bias in the Church
We think it is helpful to be aware of any personal or cultural bias that is explicitly or implicitly implied in the church in general or that may be part of any particular denomination or congregation. For example, in more recent years as Evangelicals have become more politically involved, there has been the rallying cry for “family values.” There has been a lot of popularity around ideas and campaigns that have come from Evangelical Christian groups, such as Focus on the Family. The emphasis has been to promote legislation that protects the traditional family unit as defined by the traditional American ideal of a nuclear family. The idea is that the traditional family unit is the most critical, essential, and important form of relational structure in both society and the church.
Many evangelical churches are unapologetic about their primary ministry focus to families, and they structure their ministry offerings and resources to encourage and strengthen families. We have personally been in church leadership conversations around the importance of attracting and keeping families in the church because they were thought to be the most reliable financial contributions to the church budget. We have even observed the implication that a large population of singles in the church was a liability because of less giving potential and the seemingly higher neediness of that population. This is dismissive though of the role of singles and is a distortion of God’s definition of family which transcends marital status.
Fortunately, we do not think this is a prevailing attitude in most of the churches in the Triangle area. We think there is a greater expectation of singles being a prominent part of one’s church because of the high college student populations and the job growth that is attracting and keeping singles in the area.
Restoring Real Family to the Church
In order to minister well to singles and married people alike, churches need to look at how God defines family in Scripture. God’s definition of family is much more inclusive than the American cultural definition of family. Christians define family in a radical new way thanks to Jesus Christ.
· Mark 3:31-35. In this passage, Jesus redefines family by challenging the crowd’s traditional assumptions about family. The crowd thought Jesus needed to know his family was looking for him but He responded with a question, “Who are my mother and brothers?” Jesus told the crowd that they in fact were his family. Jesus redefines family from a blood based relationship to include those who do the will of God. “And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother!”
· Brothers and Sisters. The apostle Paul in the New Testament refers to the body of believers as brothers and sisters an incredible 132 times. The death and resurrection of Christ has created a new family and given the new family new names, “body of Christ” and “brothers and sisters”. Family now transcends bloodlines and is based on those who identify as followers of Christ. The definition of family is now expanded to include all those individuals (regardless of marital status) who believe in Jesus as the Christ. Thus, a new family is created now and for all eternity that breaks down superficial barriers like marital status.
So for married couples who read this, please remember the single person in the church is your brother or sister. For single people in the church who read this, please remember the married couple in your church is your brother and sister.
For more resources on this issue:
· Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoffer
· The Church by Edward P. Clowney
Keith Clement and Laura McGee are pastoral counselors at Bridgehaven Counseling Associates, which exists to provide excellent, Christ-centered counseling to individuals, couples, and families in the Raleigh-Durham area. Please contact Keith (email@example.com) or Laura (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like them to speak to your church or small group on this issue.