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Small State of the Union:
Because of my propensity to dogmatism, I tend to shy away from God-talk or anything that sounds like I’m trying to be holier than I know I really am. In my desire to not fall into legalism or pietism or any other ism that would put me in a sometimes disliked category of “Christian,” I choose my words carefully.
My concluding theory in this two-part blog will probably get those who “follow the rules” to nod their heads in agreement. Those who are skeptical or have been hurt by the church will probably think I am some crazy-type-A-follow-all-the-rules-so-I-can-walk-on-streets-of-gold-Christian.
I might be Type-A, but I am not trying to be legalistic or discourage critiquing fallible institutions. This is more a call to re-evaluate and get involved.
That’s where you come in to help me with my research…
I was asked to speak next week to pastors and church leaders on “Being Single in the Church Today…”
As I was preparing, I realized there isn’t much in scripture on what the church should “do” for Christian singles. So, I decided to interview young Christians in my city and get their stories, opinions and plans of action.
I believe my generation is very aware of where it has been wronged. Mark Sayers in his book, The Trouble with Paris, talks about a study that was done on Generation Y. In summary, the study explained that in the modern world, our generation is much more likely to recall a time in our lives where we were in despair, as opposed to our grandparents who have had far more years to experience pain. One third of the people involved in the study had succumbed to depression by age 27 and David Meyers who headed up the study concluded by saying,
“Never has a culture experienced such physical comfort combined with such psychological misery.”
I am not undermining people’s despair and depression. I have been depressed and I know people have legitimate chemical imbalances, but despair and depression seem to have turned into cynicism and criticism and I see it often in the church.
Because culture as a whole is delaying marriage, we are now seeing in the church a generation of singles that are no longer just the divorcees or widows. Many churches don’t have a “program” for this group because they are no longer in college and aren’t in the newly married or young parent’s crowd.
As a single person, nearing 28, I have empathy for those who feel like they don’t exactly fit in the “church community.” Even though culturally we may feel ok being single, there can be underlying sensitivity…a feeling of being behind. Many people I have spoken with assumed they would be married with families by this age. Subconsciously, I believe we tend to be our worst critic. Consciously, that sensitivity can manifest itself in blaming someone or something (the church) for our status.
(My questions went from broad to specific in responses. #1 was feelings based, #2 was action based, #3 was observations of others and #4 & #5 were yes or no responses.)
1) As a single person, how do you feel like the church (westernized American church) has failed you or disappointed you?
2) What are some tangible ways you would like to see the church better serve the unmarried?
3) What percentage of your Christian friends do you think are currently serving in the church?
4) Are you currently serving your local church?
5) Are you currently giving financially to your local church?
After interviewing my first peer, I quickly made an adjustment. I asked, “Are you currently serving your local church?” The response was, “Oh great, now I am going to look like an a-hole on camera.” I changed the last three questions to be optional, anonymous and written because my intent was not to shame or embarrass people.
I learn quickly.
My goal is to help both church leaders and churchgoers. For the church leaders, my desire is to allow them to hear the pain, frustration or desires of young singles. For the singles, I want them to see how easy it is to complain, but how much harder it is to come up with a plan of action or get involved.
People who are involved by serving and giving financially to their local church will be less cynical. There still may be hurt or frustration, but a deeper level of understanding and empathy will come with being involved.
They will (by default of serving) be more a part of the community. Serving and giving should allow people to gain perspective on the church’s real role in their life. As a result, there may be less blame for what the church isn’t doing and appreciation and understanding for how it’s trying.
Singles will feel less like children needing to be coddled, but as a member who is equal in value and has a sense of being needed. When people realize their value and need, they are less apt to resent someone or something and more apt to understand their purpose.
The Church needs to encourage the body of Christ to understand their purpose and help foster the person, (not the stage of life) towards a deeper understanding of Christ.
The desire I have is to see all of us mutually serve and love one another in whatever season or state we are in. That takes understanding, grace and a hunger for scriptural truth on both parts. We all must serve more than we expect to be served.
Do you think we become more realistic and gracious when we give of our time and resources?
What is the church’s responsibility to its body of believers?
What do you think the results were from my interviews?
(I will share about the interviews and my talk in Part II)
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Love and Respect (Now) is a division of Love and Respect. Please be considerate.
I know this is aimed at young, never been married singles, but would encourage you to state that in some clear way. There is another whole group of singles (previously married) that I have become very sensitive to in recent years.
All of that being said, I appreciate the idea of being considered more as individuals than of any particular group. With even the best laid plans and programs aimed at groups based on societal tags, many people don’t fit the mold, and therefore feel left out twice.
Does this make any sense to you?
Totally makes sense. Thanks for the reminder. I have my videos (click here) and my explanation of why I am doing this (click here) to hopefully help with that so I don’t have to give that caveat from time to time, but I know that would be helpful. Some of my research on 18-35 year olds will probably spill over to other generations, but for the most part that is simply my focus at this point.
Your point of feeling left out twice was really honest and made sense–Thanks!
In answer to your very good questions, Joy, I think that as part of the body of Christ, we need to give each other…ourselves….which includes resources and time. I think that true, vulnerable giving of self is really difficult to do–and I don’t know if it’s a regional characterisitic of where I live or a generational trend, but most singles my age in the church seem to be pretty okay at showing up to events and volunteering their time, but when it comes to giving of themselves and taking from the gifts others have, that’s where the disconnect lies.
More on that later.
My guess is that the majority of the people in your study who were involved with volunteering in the church had more grace for the shortcomings of the church (they had names and faces of people trying to do the right thing from their own experiences with service)
Hi Joy! I like this research. I wonder though, if it’s correlation rather than causation that people who are serving in and giving to a church are less cynical and more a part of the community. Are less cynical people just more attracted to serving in a church, or does serving and being involved transform cynical people into caring, understanding people? I’m not sure what I think…but do you have anything to say about this?
I completely am of the mind, however, that this desire for self-actualization and our culture of narcissism is forming a culture of cynics (I see it all around me and in myself) and I totally agree that in taking our minds off of ourselves and all the ways that we don’t feel whole or don’t measure up, we’ll become less and less depressed and more caring and understanding of others. So maybe being a part of and serving in a church is one way of doing this.
Excellent post, Joy! The challenge for EVERYONE to serve the Church is a major one (usually involves actually becoming a member, which I think a lot of singles avoid because they think only families make that choice or something), as is the challenge to understand that we–the church–*belong* to each other:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members,  and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
I wonder if married/families in the church need to spend more time intentionally noticing the “unattached” people in their congregation, be they young or old. They need to intentionally be reaching out to singles and treating them like adults (no sitting them at the kids’ table just because they didn’t bring a date).
At the same time, I don’t think single people realize how intimidating they can be. From the way they dress (it’s easier to spend more on clothes when you’re the only person you’re taking care of financially) to the company they keep (are you surrounded by a great cloud of other singles?); single people, though inwardly insecure, can *sometimes* send out a great big “I don’t need you” vibe to the fuddy-duddy married folks in the church.
Anyway; maybe we all could be a little more approachable. Just a thought!
Erin – You are right in your guess. Also, the thought about not taking from other people’s gifts is so true for many. Especially among singles I think there is a fear of seeming needy and like Val said, we then give off this vibe that we don’t need anyone.
Jenny – Your insight was profound. I think personality has a huge part to play in people who naturally serve…in a faith based community or otherwise. I think as Christians we are called to a life that reflects our belief in Christ and so even the Christians who are cynical (it can be good for promoting change) need to be called to a life of serving. It’s true that for some people cynicism would push them into “being the change they wish to see in the world.” For others trying to “be the change” can be what causes them to be cynical. But overall, I think consistently serving, no matter what state we are in, is an act of discipline that will come out of a deeper place than just “serving.” And that’s what I will talk about in my next blog.
Val – Thanks for that verse and insight from a married perspective. I think what you said about membership is another huge key. It’s not a must, but it’s a reminder that we are apart of the body as Romans 12 states.
Ok, so my opinion is that the church has failed singles MISERABLY. I’m now married, but my heart still twists in agony over how we have failed singles. I was a single for a long time and there just was no place to go. I once had a fellow Christian say this to me as she was fretting over not being married yet at 22….
“Oh no! I am just getting so old and I’m so worried I will never meet the man I’m supposed to be with!”
She was 22 – I was 34.
She then looked at me and said, “Gosh I can’t imagine what YOU must feel like.”
It became this metaphor for what the church does to singles. For some reason, singles are asked to stay later at ministry events, volunteer for more things, just because they don’t have kids or husband to go home to. I don’t get that. They have the same lives and value as married folks, but are treated – often – like 2nd class citizens.
Bums me out. But also drives my continued heart for singles.
I relate to @Jenny
I had to leave a church because of the demands placed on me as a single person. I just didn’t get asked to stay later at ministry events, everybody continually bailed out early so that I was forced to stay. It was not uncommon for the pastorial team to schedule me to volunteer for events six days a week. It was hard to say no, because if I did, the events would be cancelled and I’d look like the selfish-jerk.
I didn’t have much of a social life with people inside the church outside the institution of that church. I tried to initiate things, but everybody was always too busy with church and their families. When they did have social outings/get-togethers, they’d just invite the other families and overlook me all together.
The combination of me working 60 hours a week, being volunteered constantly to do service in the church, and having only superficial relationships with those I served with burnt me out.
To make a happy ending, I did find a church that treated me as an equal. I do have relationships with the married couples outside the church institution.
I just sat there with my mouth gaping. She had no clue. oye.
What the church could do…
1 – create intentional multigenerational ministries for singles/couples – rather than always split singles/couples out
2 – redefine the image of God – meaning – we are not only ‘1/2’ the imago Dei if we are single… we are not “defective” if we are single. This needs to be emphasized theologically and practically.
3 – watch our language and be aware. Often singles are ostracized because we forget to pay attention to them. I try so hard to nurture friendships with my single girlfriends – just me and them – just like I do with my married girlfriends. Single folks need friendships where they feel important and loved – not like a third wheel.
4 – sermons tailored to them – in the midst of church that has a lot of married couples too and sermons instructing married folks how to minister to single folks.
those are my ideas… 🙂 will keep thinking
@Jenny, I don’t even feel the need to comment anymore because both of your comments are so spot on. I’m so encouraged by your awareness and understanding!
I will say this. Joy, your hypothesis about serving and giving leading to less cynicism and disappointment with the church makes sense but I have found it to be anecdotally untrue in my own life.
My church has only been around for a little more than 6 years. Our founding pastor was single for the 5+ years he was the lead pastor. I think that influenced this church a lot for quite a while. We’ve never had a singles group. When we have had groups (besides our small/home groups) they were by ages—20 to mid 30 somethings; mid 30 to 40 somethings and everyone else. We weren’t that big. There was intentionality in language to include singles in the language of sermons. I really appreciated that.
I’m a big fan of the multigeneraltional groups that Jenny mentioned. I need to be around couples, men, older people, younger people, kids. I think it breaks the mold for most churches to do the multigenerational thing. Perhaps we need more broken molds.
Yes, yes, and yes! This post and discussion is so rich; thank you, Joy and everyone–I feel another FB share coming on.
I appreciate Jenny’s recommendations, and when she talked about how unmarried folk are always being asked to do the church-equivalents of working on Christmas, I immediately identified. A little fist raised in my heart and I thought, ‘Yeah!’ But then I thought, ‘But… this season of singleness, particularly childlessness, *does* afford me with more disposable time and income.’ And 1 Cor 7 came to mind.
But it is the assumptions that get us into trouble, because not all unmarried folk have as much leisure as I do, so it’s important to, like Erin said, treat people as people (individuals) rather than a demographic. BUT… grace. Because the tricky thing about our assumptions is that we don’t know their presumptuous, or we would know better!
As a former single who really, really struggled with this season, and who now has a heart for single women, I have a few comments:
1. I think that in some churches (and possibly smaller one) there is an underlying feeling among leadership and married people that something is wrong and some sort of sin is involved or the reason for singleness. It is not stated, and I may have felt from my own envy or self-consciousness, but none-the-less this is the sense I got, and honestly now being married, still get about single adults. Yes, something is wrong – it’s our fallen world that has continued and will continue to fall until Jesus’ return. But the focus isn’t on that like it is with other undesirable circumstances.
I love your statement, “The desire I have is to see all of us mutually serve and love one another in whatever season or state we are in. That takes understanding, grace and a hunger for scriptural truth on both parts. We all must serve more than we expect to be served.” As the church we are called to LOVE EACH OTHER and CARRY EACH OTHER’S BURDENS. I think this is sorely lacking when it comes to Christian singles.
2. On the other hand, I do see a hesitancy for Christian singles to truly devote their single lives to Christ and serve and get to know him wholeheartedly. I know that I lacked in this area big-time! All Christians struggle with this, not just singles, but the more the focus become others-focused instead of me-focused the less depression, etc. there will be. (Again, this is not true for just singles.) There is still the idea, “When I get married I will X, Y, and Z, but right now I just have to find a man no matter what it takes!” I was there, and it leaves long lasting scars. By focusing on service and God, singles are setting themselves up for strong, healthy marriages, which is what our true hope in all of this is in the end. So , yes, singles do need to take responsibility.
I wrote more about this topic here: http://www.triplebraidedlife.com/2011/10/church-for-single-woman-day-20-31-days.html
Thank you for your insight and wisdom!! You’re doing a wonderful thing through your ministry!!