Shepherd the flock of God that is among you…
1 Peter 5:2(a)
Looking at the trends today in the US we see that there is a growing trend of Singles; men and women are staying unmarried longer than any other time in US History. Currently, as of 2015 there are 109 million singles in the US making up nearly 45% of our total population. Viewing this chart (here) we see that the gap between those married and those unmarried has shrunk quite a bit since 1950.
Not only is this trend in the United States growing, it is also growing in our churches causing us to pause and think, perhaps for the first time, how do we best shepherd this demographic within our body. There seems to be a growing discussion amongst church and their ministers around this topic. Recently 9Marks released their new journal titled Pastoring Singles, due to this growing demographic within our churches helping aid us in thinking of our Singles.
Lately I have had multiple conversations with local pastors asking the same question, “How do we best love and serve the singles entrusted to our care?” Having thought through this question as well as speaking with many singles on the subject, I would like to provide a starting place for us:
Speak to Who They Are Not What They Are
When speaking to those under our care and in our churches who find themselves unmarried, we must remember to speak to who they are. Who are they? They are first and foremost adopted children of God (as believers) and as such our brothers and sisters in Christ. Speak to them as such!
What are they? They are single, a label that is on them defining their current season of life but not one that is defining all of who they are. This is one of many labels that are making up their life as a whole, don’t narrow down their whole existence to this one label.
Ask Better Questions
I believe we are asking the wrong questions of our singles today. We ask them, “Are you dating? Why aren’t you dating? What about so-in-so?” While I feel that if Paul was here today he would walk into most of our churches and see the group and singles and ask, “You are all single? Where are you going? Who are you discipling? How are you advancing the Kingdom?”
This again helps speak to who they are as a brother and sister in Christ and not simply speaking to what they are and assuming that every single is looking to date and every single is in season of life to be dating. The first set of questions are ok questions to ask if you have a close relationship with singles in your life and are having these conversations on top of many other conversations.
Have Higher Expectations
We have a generation of singles today that want to be challenged and held up to a higher standard. Many singles I talk to, have the sense that the expectation of their church is that they are simply good church members and attenders until the day they are married. These singles came up in youth groups and college ministries where they were challenged not to let anyone look down on them because of their youth (1 Timothy 4:12); now feel they get to “big church” and their expectation is to be a good member.
The singles in our churches have special gifts and talents for the betterment of our church bodies. Leaders use the singles under your care, have high expectations for them. Allow them to worship the Lord and serve the local body according to their giftings.
Churches, leaders and ministers as the culture continues to trend in this current trajectory it will become more and more important that we think on and begin to answer the question, “How can we best love and serve the singles entrusted to our care?” This population is growing and in many of our churches will continue to grow. Let us shepherd this flock well, in this season of their lives for His Glory and the betterment of our churches.
“A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance”
~ Ecclesiastes 3:4
There are commands in the Bible such as Philippians 4:4, commanding us as believers to “rejoice in the Lord always,”and in case we missed it the first time Paul adds an echo, “again I will say, rejoice.” Yet, there are also commands such as Romans 12:15, to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
Here is the unique collision, to rejoice and to weep, when needed. Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes that there are seasons for both. How do we do this well? When we need to weep and long to weep how do we weep/ mourn well? We lament.
In a recent article on Desiring God, lament was described as:
Lament is God’s people desperately crying in faith to their Lord until God shows himself to be the faithful one he has promised to be.
Webster dictionary defines lament as:
to express sorrow, mourning, or regret for often demonstratively
We see examples of a holy lament throughout the Bible, there is a whole book dedicated to this theme, the book of Lamentations. Also throughout the Psalms we see example after example of lamenting before the Lord. Psalms such as 142, where we see David crying out to the Lord as he is hiding in a cave. To lament is to be honest before the Lord with where you are, how you are hurting, how you are struggling to see Him rightly. To lament rightly is to in a holy manner weep before the Lord.
In an article for the ERLC (Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission), looking at Psalm 142 they list out four points in learning to lament:
- Turn to God
- Cry for Help
- Speak the Truth
- Trust the Lord
I have learned that in lamenting I must:
- Be Honest with Myself: I must admit, I don’t like this step, perhaps because I am a dude and we don’t like trying to figure out our hearts. However, in order to lament rightly I must look into my heart, be honest with myself, with how I am feeling and deal/ wrestle with it not suppress it.
- Be Honest with the Lord:Once we are honest with ourselves we can then be honest before the Lord. Lets be honest, He already knows, how we are feeling, He knows how we are wrestling, He knows our concerns and hurts more than we know. So tell Him all of it. He is big enough to handle it. If you are frustrated, tell Him. If you are hurting tell Him. He already knows!
- Focus on the Lord:The point of lamenting rightly is to pour out our hearts before the Lord. In focusing on Him, we are turning to the One who already knows what we are going through and to the One alone who is able to hear and answer. Who alone is able to heal the hurting, answer the searching, and restore the broken.
- Remember Who He is: Once we have set our focus on the Lord it is then that we begin to remember who He is. That He is good and does good (Romans 8:28); that when we cast all our burdens on Him for He will sustain us (Psalm 55:22), that it is He alone who satisfies the longing soul (Psalm 107:9), that we can wait on Him and trust on Him for He is our refuge (Psalm 62:8), that when we wait on the Lord it is He who restores our strength (Isaiah 40:31), and that it is the Lord who helps us, strengthens us and upholds us (Isaiah 41:10).
Lamenting rightly reestablishes my trust in the Lord, taking my eyes off self and placing them onto Him who is able to do abundantly more than I could ever ask (Ephesians 3:20). It is here that I am able to begin to rejoice again in the Lord, no matter my circumstances.
Lament is a cry of belief in a good God, a God who has His ear to our hearts, a God who transfigures the ugly into beauty. Complaint is the bitter howl of unbelief in any benevolent God in this moment, a distrust in the love-beat of the Father’s heart.
~ Ann Voskamp
I recently picked up again The Power of Prayer in a Beleiver’s Life by Charles Spurgeon, it is a top three read all time for me. This morning I was reminded of the hope we have in prayer, that we do not approach a Priest that is unable to sympathize with us; He sees us, He hears use and He knows what we are experiencing. On this Spurgeon writes:
And so, all the petitioners miseries shall be compassionated. When I come to the throne of Grace with the burden of my sins, there is One on the throne who felt the burden of sin in ages long gone by and has not forgotten its weight. When I come loaded with sorrow there is One there who knows all the sorrows to which humanity can be subjected. Am I distressed? Do I fear that God has forsaken me? There is One upon the throne who said, “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). It is a throne from which grace delights to look upon the miseries of mankind with a tender eye – to consider them and to relieve them. Come, then, you who are not only poor but also wretched, whose miseries make you long for death, and yet you dread it. You captive ones, come in your chains; you slaves, come with the irons upon your souls; you who sit in darkness, come forth all blindfolded as you are. The throne of Grace will look on you if you cannot look on it and will give to you, though you have nothing to give in return, and will deliver you, though you cannot raise a finger to deliver yourself.”
To the wanderer, the weary, the heavy-hearted the call this morning from the Throne of Grace is to come; as you are in your mess, in your hurt, in your despair and there you will find grace upon grace.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need ~ Hebrews 4:16
Quote taken from The Power of Prayer in a Beleiver’s Life by Charles Spurgeon, Chapter One, page 24.
The question of how does the local church love and serve singles is something I have been trying to pray through and think through for the past year. Around a year ago I reached out to several non-married friends of mine with the question:
“What has the church done well and not so well in serving you as a single?”
Within the group of those questioned were both men and women, some in large cities, some in rural cities, some that attend mega-churches and some that attend smaller churches. Now when I address this question, I am predominately thinking about those in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties, as this is the context I find myself in and ministering in. Asking myself the question, “How do we as the Church minister to singles well?” So that they are able to flourish as part of the Body of Christ and in their personal walk with Christ to see Him as the main object of their affection.
Conversations I have had with other non-marrieds I would say are always all over the place. Oftentimes I feel that singles make things hard on the church. We want to be apart of the Church like everyone else, but also want something separate for us. Plan something centered around families and we feel left out; yet plan something specifically for singles and we wonder if it will essentially be “speed-dating.” Oftentimes we are so focused on wanting to get married that we are not serving in the Church, and the Church as a whole is suffering because we have specific gifts the Lord has given us and placed us within our context for the flourishing of the Body that we are not using.
All that being said here are some ways I have observed as well as discussed with other singles that the Church has loved singles well and not so well:
Things I have seen the local church do well concerning the non-marrieds:
- Recognizing the gifts of the singles as a valuable part of the church. Seeking to use their gifts and allowing them to serve the church in a manner that grows their gifts and utilizes their gifts.
- Allowing the Singles to have a voice in the church. Essentially having an ear for the non-marrieds to have a voice. Whether by serving in leadership or by being part of focus groups as the church thinks through and prays through various issues facing the church.
- Reminding the non-marrieds that their identity is in Christ not in a relationship. By not looking down on the non-marrieds as “lesser members”
- I have seen Pastors do this from the pulpit by not only using family illustrations and being more mindful how the passage or point also applies to the non-married.
- Emphasizing the need of the non-marrieds to serve and volunteer within the body, and pointing them to ways to serve.
Ways I have seen the church do not so well concerning the non-marrieds:
- Making them feel like they are “lesser members” until they are married. Many singles I have talked to have discussed the frustration that they feel from their Church that until they get married their life will not be fulfilled.
- Have a singles ministry that is almost completely separate from the rest of the Church. This does not build up unity in the body. Non-marrieds have gifts and talents to serve the body that the marrieds need and vise versa.
- Placing singles into service areas that do not meet their specific giftings or talents. There is a tendency to sometimes take a single who wants to volunteer and immediately place them into Children’s Ministry to help out. Many singles love this and have passion for working with students and the children of their Church, but not all of them do. The end result is volunteers being frustrated in seeking to serve.
This topic is one I am continually trying to think through to better love and serve those the Lord has placed in my path. This is not complete, I am certain that we could definitely add to this list. Hopefully this helps us begin thinking through how we view and serve those non-marrieds around us.
December 31, last day of the year, a day to reflect back on the previous year, as we look forward to the next. Many of us are planning for 2107, anxiously planning new years resolutions some we will keep and some we will break by January 31. The end of the year is also a time for list, you know we all love them; “MY TOP 10 ______ of 2016!”
As I look back on 2016 here are the top three books I read that had the biggest impact on me and why:
- Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith
“The racial reconciliation message given to the mass audience is individual reconciliation. That is, individuals of different races should develop strong, committed relationships. There is also need to repent of individual prejudice. These are the means reducing racial strife and division. Missing from this formula are the system-changing components of the original formulations. the more radical component of reconciliation espoused by early black leaders and many of the current leaders – to challenge social systems of injustice and inequality, to confess social sin – is almost wholly absent in the popularized versions.”
Unless you were living under a rock for all of 2016, one thing we were reminded of is that America continues to have a racial divide in our country, and unfortunately this carries over into the Church. There is a reason there is the often quoted line of: “the most segregated time of day is Sunday service.” Its becoming more and more evident that it is time for the Church to begin thinking through and addressing racial reconciliation. This book impacted me by helping me better understand the issues in the American church as well as how our “cultural toolbox” (the lenses by which we look at things based on our context) affect the way we see or don’t see.
“Mark this down if you can. Silences, not just sentences, form the work of pastoral ministry. Wise pastors are listening preachers.”
I couldn’t recommend this book high enough for those in ministry or those aspiring to be in ministry. It was a refreshing kick to the gut, over and over again. As it reminded me that I can’t and don’t have to do it all; that there is a God and I am not Him. Yes we all know this, but many times we need to be reminded of this truth. Being reminded of what God requires of us is to be faithful and obedient with what He has before us; and that He supplies all we need to be faithful and obedient is freeing.
3. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
“Martin Luther King Jr. called for us to be lovestruck with each other, not colorblind toward each other. To be lovestruck is to care, to have deep compassion, and to be concerned for each and every individual, including the poor and vulnerable.”
This book more than anything taught me how to listen. We are not good listeners in our day, we want to immediately add our commentary, offer unsolicited advice, tell the speaker why they are wrong, etc. Oftentimes loving my neighbor well is simply sitting and listening to them; to their hurts, to their concerns without telling them why they are wrong or what they should do. We all have been shaped and molded by the context that we grew up in, and rarely understand those of different contexts, therefore we must listen with open ears and hearts. This book helped me be a better listener, as I seek to understand that which I do not understand because I did not grow up in that context.
Reading shapes and molds us, helping us to think better and understand more. These three books have had a great impact on the way I think, the way I learn and understand. Looking forward to all that 2017 will teach me.
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
~ Luke 10:29
Around two thousand years ago a Lawyer after reciting the two most important commandments to Jesus: to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and all your mind and your neighbor as yourself; asked Jesus a very important question, “And who is my neighbor?“
To answer him, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
Who is my neighbor?
This is a question, I feel we need to ask ourselves again. Some neighbors are easy to love, respect, and care for; they look like us, think like us and have similar views and histories. While others prove to be more difficult, you see in my experience, “my neighbor” doesn’t always look like me, think like me, doesn’t have similar views or histories. But yet they are my neighbor, men and women created in the image of God that I am command to love, I am commanded to respect, and I am commanded to serve.
As Jesus brings the parable to an end, we see this conversation:
Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He (lawyer) said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” ~ Luke 10:36-37
The one who showed mercy was the neighbor, to which Jesus adds, “You go, and do likewise.“
How do we love our neighbor, when it doesn’t come naturally, because they don’t look like us, think like us or have similar views and histories?
We See Them:
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion ~ Luke 10:33
We are intentionally looking for those around us whom we are called to love, as ourselves. With eyes to see, we see them; without turning a blind eye to them, we notice them.
We Go to Them:
He went to him … ~ Luke 10:34(a)
We meet them where they are. We are called to love them as they are, so we do not go to them arrogantly telling them to clean up their mess then we can talk to them. We do not tell them to change their point of view or move beyond their past so we can love them. We go to them where they are, it is there that we meet with them. In love we listen to and in love we engage them.
We Meet Their Needs:
He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back. ~ Luke 10:34-35
In love we meet their needs, showing them mercy. The one who needs to weep, we weep with and listen to. The one who needs to rejoice, we rejoice with. To the one who is searching we point them to Christ, planting and watering seeds asking the Lord to bring about salvation in their life. To the struggling believer we point them to Christ, reminding them of who He is and who they are in Him.
As believers seeking to live a life of obedience and faithfulness to the Lord and His Word we are commanded to love Him with all that we are, and to love our neighbors. Many of our neighbors do not look like us, think like us, or have similar views or histories; therefore we must be intentional in loving our neighbors. Loving those who may not be exactly like us is so counterculture that it is in our love to our neighbors that the world gets a glimpse of God, His love, His compassion and His mercy.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven ~ Matthew 5:16
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.
~ CS Lewis