Does the Church Embrace Singleness?
In general, does the church view singleness as ‘normal’? Even as a gift? Ever since I started university, the questions began: ‘Are there any nice young men up there?’ Considering there are 14,000 students, yes, there were plenty of ‘nice young men,’ but it didn’t mean I was envisioning dancing down the aisle with any of them.
The purpose of this article is not a rant against romance, which is a beautiful gift from our Creator; in fact, I have recently become engaged to one of those ‘nice young men.’ However, I struggle when Christians treat singles over 25 as if they were needy or lacking. I also struggle when single friends long to be in a relationship because they think it will fulfil them. Are we not complete in Christ, rather than in marriage?
The church has arguably idealised romantic love just as much as society has. In Greek there are four different words to describe types of love – Storge (familial) Phileo (friendship) Eros (romantic) and Agape (selfless). All four come into play in a romantic relationship, but even the church’s portrayal of eros has been negatively influenced by the world. As Vicky Beeching said in her blog on Valentine’s Day, ‘Eros isn’t primarily about fairytale castles … True eros is much more about the beautiful choice to love through tough times even when it feels like all hell breaks loose …’ (Vicky Beeching's Blog)
So let’s try not to elevate romantic love above the other types of love, nor misrepresent it. To do so simply leads to singles feeling left out.
We all need deep, honest, intimate relationships. ‘It is not good for man to be alone,’ says the Lord (Gen 2:18). The trinity itself establishes relationship as foundational to our lives. So friendship, not romance, is essential for our emotional wellbeing – It is interesting that David enjoyed Jonathan's love more than any woman's, (2 Samuel 1:26) and friendship is something that the church has an amazing opportunity to provide.
Both John Stott and Mike Pilavachi have spoken about the privilege of having adopted family – John talked of having ‘hundreds of adopted nephews and nieces all over the world,’ whilst Mike has been ‘best-man’ at 19 weddings so far.
Churches are filled with families, couples and children. Entering church alone can be a daunting prospect. How can we create an environment that makes those who are in this position feel just as welcome?
We can acknowledge that singleness is a gift, just as marriage is. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘Each person has his or her own gift of God's grace.’ (1 Cor. 7:7).
We can make a conscious effort to include those who are single by inviting them for meals, the theatre, or on holiday.
We can greet people with a warm smile, immediately putting their fears to rest. The Welcoming Team can make an enormous difference – whatever our relationship status.
We can put on more events and activities for those who are single. Despite the fact that single households are on the rise, this is not always reflected in our churches. Some can be turned off by churches that ‘continue a heavy emphasis on family,’ says Candice Watters, in a day when ‘it’s single households that are growing.’ (Boundless). Rather than cut back the family activities, I’d suggest that we aim to both draw singles into families and provide separate activities. Unlike youth groups, ministry for 20s and 30s isn’t always as prioritised.
- What do you think? Do you agree with me that the church could do more to embrace those who are single?
- Do you think that the church has elevated romance or does it simply celebrate it as a gift from God?