Last week I had a friend message me and ask about some of the benefits of singleness. He explained that they were doing a relationship series for their youth group and wanted to do a week on singleness and how great it is.
How can I answer this question? The fact is, there are some freedoms that come with singleness and some abilities to take risks and be adventurous with no one to consider but yourself. But the truth is, these small things cannot compete with a church culture who tells you that you are less than if you have not attached yourself to someone.
When young girls who are getting married have the women of the church surround them and help them set up a beautiful home and share stories of cooking and sex, and those who remain single are left to piece a home together from Craigslist and have the married women exclude them from get-togethers.
When young men are asked if they are gay in their ordination interview because they are not yet married at 25.
When young adults of both sexes are elbowed and winked at for having close friends of the opposite sex. When they can’t meet with a skilled mentor of opposite sex because they have no spouse to accompany them.
We in the American church have not practiced what we have preached. We have shared a theology that if you wait well, if you keep your kisses to yourself, God will reward you with a godly pastor (or worship leader) husband or a ‘smokin hot’ wife who will keep a perfect home and deliver you a pie with a smile on her face.
[pullquote]If we want our teens to embrace the path that God has for them, if we want our children to grow to be fearless and adventurous and to waste their lives for the cause of Christ, we need to be adults who model for them a fearlessness and a family that they will belong to whether or not they are married.[/pullquote]
We have taught that singleness is a phase to bear, a waiting game, and if you do it well, you will come out of relationship purgatory and get marriage. We have preached entire series on marriage and parenting and have left an entire segment of adults out of the body. We have put an even number of chairs at the table of Christ and have said I’m sorry, this one’s taken – there might be a folding chair you can pull up at the end there, if you can find one.
We have created a culture of fear for single Christian adults, rather than an inclusive environment where we are a family – where we break bread together, young and old, single and married and widowed and divorced. We have created a fear of eternal exclusion, of “you can’t understand because you don’t have kids,” of us and them.
We need to come around our young women, regardless of whether they are to be wed, and share stories with them of cooking disasters and relationships and leadership. They need women who will talk to them about dating and being loved and breaking up and having a legitimate wonderful full life bursting with dreams and purpose. They need purpose beyond being told that motherhood is God’s highest calling.
We need to come around our young people – men and women – and validate that they can have a full, effective ministry without a spouse. We need to affirm them that they can be whole and pure and successful in the ministry single. If they are called to world missions, they can go now without waiting for someone to accompany them. We need to advocate for their legitimacy in ministry. We need to let especially our young men know that they are capable and whole and able to be an effective minister without waiting for a wife.
We all need to advocate for singles of all ages. Married friends, we need you to not laugh at the jokes made at our expense. We need you to not make jokes about setting us up with weird awkward people. We need you to see and affirm us as whole – as legitimate contributors to the Kingdom. We need you not to look at us as people who are waiting, but rather as people who are your co-laborers. We need you to not talk about your own season of singleness as a time that was pathetic and desperate.
So what is my answer to this youth pastor’s question? How do I convince young people in today’s church that the ultimate prize is not marriage but a life unwaveringly committed to the cause of Christ? I model it for them. I ask you to do the same – married or single. We open our hearts and our homes to one another as the family of Christ. We put an uneven number of chairs at the table and we welcome those who are alone, those who are together, those who are lonely. We welcome those who are not like us – we make space to live with and learn from those who are in a different category. An unconditional yes to working toward the call of Christ together – making disciples and spreading the gospel without condition or prerequisite.