By BARBARA MARTIN
Help! I’m single at church
QUESTION: How can I find good community as a single person when my church doesn’t offer it (or when they do, it is known to be a gathering where your main goal is to meet a mate)?
As I have thought about this question through the lens of the book of Acts, which I am currently reading, I realized that while the first Christians faced every kind of suffering (even being stoned to death or decapitated), there was one struggle they didn’t seem to face: loneliness. If the church reduces the Christian community to marriage and the family, we are not delivering on true biblical ethics.
Single people are vital to the church community — which is the primary family unit in Christian terms — and should experience deep love and affection from other believers. While Paul commends marriage, he values singleness more (1 Corinthians 7:38). At times the church culture inhibits this by overemphasizing marriage and parenting, so Christians need to fight for culture change and embody the biblical reality that the local church is their true family.
The longer I live, the more I realize every Christian is a struggling Christian and dependent on help from brothers and sisterswho know their needs and vulnerabilities. We are simply not designed for solo flight! This is true for all believers, married or single.
In an article titled “Marriage Is Not the Mission,” Desiring God staff writer Greg Morse says, “I do believe in purgatory. It’s called Christian singleness. In my experience: most who were there didn’t choose to be; if you were there, you prayed to leave soon; and Christians who had escaped constantly reminded you that it’s ultimately for your good.” He goes on to say, “I was tired of feeling like I’d fallen through the cracks — even in the body of Christ. I was tired of hearing the well-intentioned (and even correct) exhortations to be satisfied in the Lord alone, from those who then go home to their wife and children.”
I have a dear friend who is single and I asked her to give me some insight from her perspective on how to find community as a single person in the church. Her answer was insightful, so I will share it.
She said, “I think the first question that needs to be considered is one’s definition of community and expectations of community. Are they seeking friendships of convenience (a quick lunch/coffee a couple of times a month), friendships around similar interests (books, careers, life experiences, etc.)? Are their expectations of community realistic? Deep bonds are typically not formed overnight. The person must then consider ways they have sought connection. How much time have they invested before calling it quits? Did they give Sunday school/small groups more than two or three tries?”
“Once a person has an idea of their expectations and how much time they are willing to invest in community, the person can then begin making connections. A great starting point is asking those in their church for suggestions of ways to be involved beyond Sunday school attendance; is there a baking team, church newsletter group, etc.? Outside of church, consider areas of interest with other church members such as book clubs, exercise groups, etc., as a way to get connected. Also, the person must recognize their picture of community might not be God’s picture of community. They can’t write off people in different stages of life as noncommunity members.”
The apostle Paul reminds us that to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). To live is not to marry. To live is not to raise children. To live is Jesus Christ. This means if you are single, you are not in purgatory but you are called to be part of a God-designed adventure.
God sees you; He knows your loneliness. He knows each of your needs before you ask Him. He knows the number of hairs on your head. He has called you to a great goal. Rediscover the beauty and enormity of the Christian mission. There are battles to fight, souls to win and darkness with which to battle. Grab lunch with both believers and nonbelievers, pursue time with other Christians, grow in the knowledge of His Word. Fill your time with what God has called you to do.
We have a glorious commission from the Lord (Matthew 28:18-20). Being single does not disqualify anyone from it.
Barbara Martin, LPC, LMFT, clinical coordinator of the Counseling Center at Reformed Theological Seminary, has her own private practice at RTS.