Shepherding Singles

One of the potential pastoral challenges is ministering to single adults. We are often The Singles—one monolithic block of unmarried people. But there are as many stages and seasons to single adult life as there are for married adults. A single woman in her 50s with a demanding career caring for elderly parents is not equivalent to a recent college grad still living at home. Both are unmarried, yes, but chances are, the older single woman and the parents of the college grad may have more in common.

Through the years, I’ve observed that “the singles” can be a prickly lot to pastors. Whatever leaders say from the pulpit about singleness is guaranteed to encourage some, but offend more. I know, because I’ve been in both camps, depending on where I am in the cycle of hope or despair and how I am working that out in my soul before God.

Therefore, I have a list of insights about single adults I’d like to offer to church leaders. The hope here is that these ideas will foster a stronger connection between unmarried people and their local congregations.

    You are Not Shepherding a Dating Service…Wait…Yes You Are!

Churches should have a high view of marriage and uphold it without apology. But, church leaders also need to recognize that when marriage is devalued in our culture, brokenness also comes into the church. Many single adults are adrift and need help to meet and marry wisely, because that’s not a priority in our culture.

There is a huge difference between being nosy busybodies and facilitating relationships among single adults. The church needs to be proactive about creating settings for singles to meet each other and live out dating relationships in the context of community.

    Marriage is Not the Ultimate Prize.

While I believe all churches should prize marriage and family, I also believe we must be careful about the unintentional messages potentially conveyed about marriage and family. The one relationship that survives eternally is the one we have as the bride of Christ to our beloved Savior. The relationships we have as brothers and sisters in Christ are the ones that will not end.

These relationships need to be cultivated as much as family life. Additionally, single adults need to be reminded that God has not withheld His very best from them if they remain unmarried.

    Single Men Need Leadership Responsibilities.

Put 1 Corinthians 7 to work in your churches by showing that the church needs unmarried adults who are devoted to the Lord, especially single men. When church leaders ask unmarried men to take on significant responsibilities, they demonstrate a belief that godly singleness is a tremendous asset to the body of Christ.

    Single Adults are Not Workhorses.

Conversely, unmarried men and women are not the church’s workhorses. As a new believer, I was in big demand as a new babysitting resource in the church. While I was thrilled to get to know so many families, a wise woman saw the burnout coming. She advised me to pray and ask God which of these families He was asking me to invest in. By knowing those relationships where I was to say “yes,” I knew where I could say “no” without guilt.

    Understand the Challenges of Endless Opportunity.

A wise pastor once told a group of single adults that he was sympathetic to the challenges of endless opportunity. Because he was a pastor, father, and husband, the boundaries of his day were fairly well-defined from the moment he woke up. Single adults may think they don’t have those same clear priorities and can be tempted to drift through their days. But, we actually do have many of the same boundaries and priorities in working faithfully as unto the Lord, in building up our local churches, in reaching out to non-Christians, in praying for others, in caring for our family members and friends (especially as single parents), in offering hospitality, and so on. Although some of the most intimate relationships may be different, we all share a basic set of priorities and we often need to be reminded of it.

    Don’t be Afraid to Challenge Bitterness.

Extended singleness is a form of suffering. There is an appropriate time for mourning with those who mourn. This is especially true for women who see the window of fertility closing on them without the hope of bearing children. Don’t minimize the dashed hopes for unmarried adults.

As single adults, we need loving challenges when we have allowed a root of bitterness to spring up and block our prayers to God, our fellowship with others, and our service to the church. Deferred hopes cannot be allowed to corrode our thankfulness for the gift of salvation.

    It’s Not Self-Improvement; It’s Others-Improvement.

We often give advice to improve and equip the unmarried adult to attract better relationships, rather than reminding them they are stewards of whatever relationships they have been given. If we think of each individual who crosses our paths as a beloved sister or brother in the Lord, about whose care and treatment we will give an account to Jesus one day, this radically alters everything.

It’s not whether boy gets girl; it’s whether we can look Jesus in the eye and say, “Thank You for the time You gave me with this person. I did my best to encourage and pray for this individual while I knew him (or her). I loved without fear of loss because I wanted to be like You. So, by Your grace, I did my very best to build up this man (or woman) and return him (or her) to You with thanks for the gift of this relationship.” Even if we get married, that’s also what we have to do for our spouses.

We are all part of the bride of Christ and recipients of His faithful covenant love. Therefore, how we care for others who are also Christ’s beloved speaks volumes to a watching world.

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