Is the church too focussed on marriage? How can we care for Christian singles?

I am interested in your thoughts on this. I have never been a single Christian you know. I have been in a relationship from the day of my conversion. But I have many single Christian friends who I care deeply for. And I am conscious of how single status often translates into second class social status in evangelical circles. Amongst other things I think we need to reflect critically on our teaching about marriage and singleness.

It's crazy you know, in the Catholic church singleness is the accepted norm for leadership, in the Protestant church marriage is the accepted norm for leadership. You would think both should be acceptable, given there were both married and single apostles.

14 thoughts on “Christian Singles

  1. In my experience, the church is definitely too focussed on marriage. When I was a single man, despite being one well into my early 30s, I was usually treated as a boy, a sort of half-mature believer. When I got married, suddenly I was “brother Barry” and apparently I became a responsible, mature believer overnight. People who hadn’t wanted to give me the time of day before suddenly started to invite me and my wife to their homes. (We declined – if they weren’t interested in me before I was married, I wasn’t interested in them after I was married.)
    How can we care for Christian singles? I would say, by treating them the same as married people, and not marking them out as different in any way. Forget “singles ministry” – just give them respect based on who they are, rather than on their marital status.

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  2. I’m single and have no plans to marry. I have several favorite stories about churches that have not done so well with people with no marital status, making me wonder if we hold ANY actual status.
    First, there was the church where the very few single adults were always being talked about as marriageable material and “set up” for a relationship with this or that other single etc. Finally, my equally single friend Elaine and I decided we would sit together and when the pastor asked the congregation if there were any more news/prayer items, we would stand up, hold hands, say, “We have an announcement. We’ve decided … [and then gaze longingly into each other’s eyes] NOT to get married!” and then kiss each other on the cheek and sit back down.
    Shoulda done it. We really shoulda done it. World’s greatest punk-back at a congregation that was irritating in their demonstrated belief that singles shouldn’t be. (Of course, except when it fits their familial needs, like singles are always available to babysit, etc. etc.)
    Second favorite story. The supposedly seeker-sensitive church where the pastor announced (yet another) “practical living” sermon series on strengthening your marriage. For six weeks. Ummm … right. So some single friends and I went up and said, in essence, “So, why would we even need to be here for the next six weeks? You expect us to stick around for a series of messages that have nothing to do with us?”
    The pastor was dumbfounded and murmurred something about well, we could learn things that would help us relate with couples and families. “For six weeks? And when are you going to have a series on living with singleness for six weeks that everyone else has to sit through so they can learn practical points on relating with us?” We were serious. This was not the first time singles were not “sought out” by this “seeker-sensitive” church. And this was really presented in an offensive way.
    The pastor caught the drift. As A Grande Gesture of Reconciliation, they changed their plan and had one of the six sessions be a panel of single and single-again people to talk about singles as part of the family of Christ and as part of their families in the church. It actually went pretty well. But would they even have thought of it unless The Marginalized Singles decided to squawk?
    Hence: The Perfectly Awful Church for Singles either has singles in the crosshairs of their Cupid’s Bow, or they act as if Singles Are Stealth and so are not on their radar at all. The Perfectly Awesome Church for Singles treats us … well … just accepts us for who we are, where singleness and marriageness are not the prevailing demographics – are you interested in follow Christ or not, that’s the issue, and welcome!

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  3. I don’t think the church is too focused on marriage, I think its not focused enough on singles. Both have their blessings and challenges. Though I think the promotion of the married ideal in Protestant circles may make the challenges of singleness more difficult.

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  4. hey all,
    I begin by quoting Shane Claiborne from ‘The Irresistible Revolution’ (p109-111):
    “… many of the people I had grown to admire had lived beautiful lives of singleness…And their lives would have been different had they been married (not bad, just different)… Singleness [is] a beautiful means of discipleship and… church history is filled with folks who followed God as singles – Jesus for one; many of the disciples and martyrs, Francis and Claire of Assisi, the desert monastics, to name a few others…”
    Brad, I am astonished at the stories you shared – so much for everyone being valued for who they are as persons (it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got no ring?). Grr!
    I also agree with Barry’s sentiments above. I’m basically the only single person in my “young adults” small group; everyone else is paired up. Naturally, this means that I, Single Girl, cannot possibly contribute to particular conversations. What infuriated me a while back was the suggestion of a “young marrieds” retreat being run – guess I’m just supposed to stay home and mooch that weekend?!?!
    So, how can we care for Christian singles? The same way we should care for marrieded ones. Of utmost importance: scrap the isolation pitfall, for we *cannot* do life alone, and that goes for married couples as much as singles. We need to make inclusion intentional: by sharing ordinary daily life together. In my community (3 couples, 8 unmarrieds), we have a regular weekly meal together; we do gardening and our washing up together… Yet we need to find ways to recognise the particular joys and difficulties of singleness, just as we congratulate/ help our married ones in their relationship. Like some sort of anniversary celebration thing… any ideas out there?
    hmm… gotta dash off to work… might write more later…

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  5. Oh, dear…where to start?
    How about the Singles are Lepers approach? That was always uplifting!
    And when “integrated” with the couples get knows as “Pairs and Spares” … always loved being a “spare” … as in only needed when something goes wrong with one of the “regulars”….
    I must close by sharing that the worst relationship choice I ever made was in part a result of being worn down by the “you’re not right with God if you’re not married” mantra.
    And as horrible as it is for men, Brad, it is so often worse for the sisters since, well, the men can at least “do” stuff, you know? The sisters … well in some places they can’t do anything if they’re not standing behind their man or taking care of their kids.
    …can’t even say more right now.

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  6. One of the problems is of course the conversation dynamics, and I have got to be honest and say I have noticed this much more amongst the women than the men.
    The church I am involved in is overflowing with young families, so when women get together or even just dominate a mixed group the conversation inevitably turns to nappies and child rearing. Seriously, I’ve excused from conversation circles many a time because it got to heavy for me, as a father who is intimately equated with nappies. I have observed the effect this has on childless women. You can’t blame the young mums, they are going through very heavy stuff, it dominates their lives, and they really neeed to share it with people who understand. But it excludes others. In groups where they dominate its a loosing battle. Not sure the answer.

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  7. Matt…yes, I remember those days too, when my boys were all young I was in a new place without any of my family around. Very daunting to have a young family without support.
    There has to be a way to support each person and group in larger group without leaving folks to fall through the cracks. It is very challenging to do and sometimes it is, as you say, a losing battle.
    Some of CovenantClusters is meant to deal with this by having all the ages and stages included (and as much racial and ethnic diversity as possible).
    Thanks for broaching the subject, Matt. There needs to be so much broader awareness of all the members of the Body….

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  8. Obsessed not just with marriage, but with a narrow sense of married life with kids in the burbs. To be blunt, when I was at college it was pointed out to me, at several junctures and by several people, that I would be better regarded if we hurried up and popped some kids out. Of course, being under 30 we were in no hurry.
    Years later I started to wonder if the issue wasn’t just that I looked weak as a man for not having sired some kids, but that by not impregnating my wife, I had allowed her to continue a career outside the home. I’m still not sure on that one.
    This past year, more than a handle of old friends have seen their marriages sink and I doubt that pattern will slow down. Is it a consequence of rushing people to the altar? I’m not sure either.
    In churches the attitude is often that getting married young makes you more mature. However, in our home and amongst our friends, the opposite view tends to prevail.

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  9. Interesting point. Although I married young we waited 8 years before we had kids. And I think it was the right decision. Nevertheless we noticed changes in attitudes towards us when we finally became parents. It seems there is a broader issue than just Christian singles emerging from this discussion. Its that a particular family model is being held up as the benchmark for all relationships. Christian singles, Christian dinks, Christian blended families … they all fall short of this ideal … and that places presure … and we should question whether Jesus would have endorsed this.

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  10. Great post and great discussion – thanks Matt.
    I’m married, but on our very first date (although I’m not sure it was really a ‘date’ at that point in time) my now husband and I ranted about this. I think that church life does revolve around married couples and (even more so) families. I remember deciding to leave a pentecostal church and heading to another church when I was 19, and I’ll never forget the sense of relief I felt when I found myself among singles of many ages.
    On the kids thing…one of the things that fascinates me is that at 14 years old or so, I was considered a competent young woman who could babysit, change nappies etc (although this was at neighbours’ houses, and therefore within walking distance of at least one of my parents). Now I’m 29, and many of my friends who are now parents seem to believe I not only know nothing about children, but are incapable of dealing with them. Sometimes I feel like I’ve got some disease that can only be fixed by producing a child of our own! The really sad thing is that this kind of behaviour is most obvious amongst my Christian friends, particularly those that spend a lot of time talking about the importance of “community”.
    I’ll stop there. I get really fired up about this. LOL.

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  11. Two of my “bestest” friends are young women who have not so far been married. One of them is my daughter and the other is my “spirit-sister” (prayer-partner and dance colleague). I count it a privilege to know them both as they are both beautiful, artistically talented, generous, God-loving/serving/celebrating girls. Both from Protestant backgrounds, they have experienced similar treatment to that mentioned in a few posts already, at the hands of “the church”. I have seen both exploited for their presumed wealth of time and resources. Being a single female with a good job often equates to having lots of spare time and cash to put into church programmes/activities, since there are apparently no direct family dependence/dependants issues for single people!
    At one particular “family church” my daughter attended for about eight years, there was a season when weddings were happening regularly and then an even more hectic schedule when the newlyweds and nearly every other married female was having a baby, so she shared in the joys of many of her friends, attending the baby showers, blessing the newly-arrived precious little bundles with her specially purchased gifts for the happy families etc etc. Then one day, she realised that she wasn’t being invited to various events and this “cold shoulder” treatment became more obvious over time. It turned out that some of the women had decided to “shield” her from constant contact with the little ones because it was assumed that it must be “hard for her, not being married and having to be constantly surrounded by children”!!!!!! Talk about insensitive! If she didn’t have any problems before, she could probably oblige after that episode.
    After a long battle trying to work through this and other unrelated issues with unconciliatory leadership in that church, she finally left… another in a procession of single females who had been similarly treated and felt no option but to seek a healthier fellowship of Christians. Not long afterward, she was contacted by friends of hers who had been banned from that church for trying to make headway in discussions about several troubling issues. They were prevented from entering the Sunday morning meeting by a Security Guard, and the Police were called… no threat of verbal or physical violence from the defendants at all… just shunned for holding a different opinion on some important matters (which, by the way, they were raising privately with the leadership and not in public at the meeting)!
    From what we know of Jesus, it is not likely that he would endorse a family model where people were not encouraged to flourish in whatever phase of life they were, and where they were not encouraged to quest and journey with their fellow pilgrims on the Way!

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  12. Thanks, lots of food for thought. It causes me to ponder, what would it truly look like for a church to embody commitment to married couples, families and singles indescriminately.

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