Shepherding Our Singles

 

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.

Singles and the Church

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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.

Where is Your Heart? (When Considering Online Dating)

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The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

~ Jeremiah 17:9

“Nick, what are your thoughts on online dating?”

Continually over the past few months this question keeps coming up in my life. Is it ok? Is it right? Is it wrong? All valid questions, none with a straightforward answer, the answer simply isn’t: “Yes go for it!” or “No, stay away.”

Last time I checked there is not a “Thou shall not date online” commandment in the Bible. So what do we do? We all know people who have had horrific experiences with online dating; as well as know people who met online and are living happily ever after!

So how do we answer the question?

To answer this question, I want to ask a different question:

“Where is your heart?”

This question usually comes up due to one or two reason: the person asking is considering online dating, or the person asking has been talking with others who are considering it.

Where is your heart? Is it in a good place? Or is it frustrated? Is it lonely? Is it seeking satisfaction in something outside of Christ? Where would your community say your heart is?

Where is your heart in regards to:

Satisfaction 

Are you in a season where you find yourself satisfied in and with the Lord; or are you in a season of frustration regarding your singleness. I’ll be honest, most conversations I have with people considering online dating fall into the later category. They are tired of being alone, tired of having “no one to ask out” or no one asking them out.

The desire for a relationship, and potential marriage is a good gift from the Lord, but one that will never satisfy in and of itself. There is One who will satisfy, until we are fully pursuing and trusting in Him we will put a burden on a future relationship that it was never intended to carry.

Are you in a season of trusting the Lord or seeking to take things into your own hands?

Community

Is your heart surrounded by community that you trust, listen to and allow to speak into your life? Community is a great gift of God, that He uses to help mold us and shape us more and more into His image. Are we in a place where we are allowing those with whom we do life with to be heard? Or are we tuning them out?

Unfortunately, our tendency is to drift away from community, away from the light and into the shadows. As we examine our hearts, does the draw to online dating feed our tendency to live and act in secret, or are we allowing our community to speak into our hearts?

Fear

Is the draw to online dating driven by a heart filled with fear? The fear of rejection, or the fear of not being pursued? Lets be honest the blow of rejection hurts, and can be awkward if we do life around the other person. I don’t want to minimize that at all, but while looking into our hearts a question one must ask themselves is fear the main driving force to diving into online dating.

Perhaps its seen as easier because if they say no, it doesn’t hurt because I don’t really know them, or maybe its easier to say no when its online and not in person. But there is great growth in getting to know people in and around your community and if you get rejected; it matters how you continue to interact with them.

Again, there is no right or wrong answer to the question of should you jump into online dating. There are obviously other questions to ask and things to consider in the process. But, I do believe that there is a heart evaluation process that one must go through as you begin considering it.

This evaluation of your heart should be done honestly and within the context of community in all areas of life, especially when it comes to dating. Knowing that a heart not satisfied in Christ will never be satisfied in a relationship, should drive us to evaluate our hearts throughly.


“The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs” ~ CS Lewis


When The Answer is No

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Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

~ 1 Timothy 5:1-2

 

 

 

Listen to any Ben Stuart sermon series on dating and you will hear the point (and I agree) that:

Singleness is for Devotion (to the Lord)

and, Dating is for Evaluation (can you get along).

Unless the first person you pursue (or are pursued by) you marry; the evaluation process doesn’t always end in marriage. Leaving the process of either remaining friends or awkwardly avoiding the other person for the rest of your life. Remembering that as believers, we are first and foremost family as brothers and sisters in Christ how we respond matters.

Oftentimes, the breakup or the end of the pursuit in hope of a date can be awkward, especially when you attend the same church or have the same group of friends. You know you will see each other; it never fails no matter how big or small the church is you come walking in and the first person you see is “them.” Perhaps you put your head down and act like you didn’t see them, or try to hurry to find someone else to talk to, or just awkwardly say “Hi, how are you?…”

Lets just be honest here, the interaction shortly after a breakup can be awkward, but how we interact matters, how we respond in our hearts and to the other person matters.

So, what do we do when the answer is no?

We, Remember…

Our First Love

We remember that our first love is Christ and if singleness is for devotion to the   Lord, then the Lord is granting us an extended period of time to pursue Him. Perhaps there is more the Lord is seeking to teach us, or there more of us that He is seeking to remove in order to make us more like Him.

We must remember that until we love the Lord rightly we will never love a spouse rightly. So in our singleness we have a period of time set aside to fully pursue the Lord, to go deeper with Him; allowing us to grow and be shaped more into His Image. The end results, your future spouse will thank you for.

We are Brothers / Sisters in Christ

We remember that we are first and foremost brothers and sisters in Christ. That because of the work on the cross we have been adopted into the Family of God. This is a point I always want to put before singles, especially when they meet. As believers, members of the Family, we are brothers and sisters in Christ first, and we are to live our lives as such.

When we remember that we are brothers and sisters first, some of the awkwardness of meeting new people and remaining friends post-breakup is removed. We are able to remember they are family and as family we are commanded to love them. It is this love that the world is to behold to know we are His disciples.

Our Identity

Lastly, we remember our identity isn’t wrapped up in our relationship status, but has been purchased for us on the cross. We are sons and daughters of the Father, and have been adopted into the heavenly family. We have been created in the image of God and called to Him, our identity is found in Him.

As we remember who we are in Christ, we remember who He is. We remember that He is a sovereign God, who is loving and One who is after our ultimate joy not our current happiness. That He is a good Father who does good for His children; remembering that He has been faithful countless times for us in the past and can be trusted with our future.

Even when the answer is no, we have the unique opportunity to put the love of Christ on display for a watching world to behold. Whether we are single, dating, or married, how we interact with one another matters, because it is telling the world a lot about our God.

Look for the Open Door

locked-doors-2And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.

~ Acts 16:6

 

It happens in every horror movie ever created, someone or a group of people are being chased by the villain and somehow they manage to find a locked door; now everyone watching it screams for them to run, while they sit there and knock and kick and try to force open the door (this always ends badly). And its a movie, we know its going to happen, we can even predict it, continuing to run and seeking an open door just makes sense to us watching in the comfort of a movie theater or on our couch. But what do we do in life when God shows us a locked door? Do we sit there and bang on it, kick it, try to force it open; or do we move on and walk through the doors He has opened in our lives?

There are times in our lives when God may currently have a door in our lives closed, the desire may not necessarily be a bad thing, just that at that time the Lord has other doors open.

Why spend all our time fighting a closed-door? 

In this passage in Acts Paul desires to go to Asia to spread the Gospel, this is a good and right desire, but at the time the Spirit says no. Paul, one of the greatest missionaries to ever live doesn’t try to fight it, he doesn’t go to Asia anyways (perhaps he learned from reading Jonah to be obedient); he continues his journey until the Lord gives him a vision of a man in Macedonia, urging him to come. He is obedient and goes, and the church of the Philippians is born. Again we see in Romans 15, that Paul has had a great desire to travel to Rome but up until this time had not been able to come because the Lord continued to open up doors for him to preach the Gospel in places where it had never been preached before.

Simply looking at Paul’s life we see a life of obedience, a life that faithfully walked through the open the doors the Lord laid out for him, this is why at the end of his life he could boldly proclaim, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).” Why? He had lived a life of obedience and faithfulness.

I see this playing out in my life and in those around me over and over, sometimes it’s so easy to focus on the locked door that we miss out on the open ones. I recently was discussing this with a friend who was asking me about my singleness, and how I was handling it. The truth is, yes there is a desire to be married and a desire for a family one day, but at this time it is a door the Lord currently has closed in my life, but in His graciousness He has opened many others (ministry opportunities, home group, speaking opportunities, volunteering with student ministry, etc.).

More than marriage, I want to be found faithful and obedient! 

The ultimate goal for man (men and women) is not to have a good marriage and family, but to glorify God in our lives and to make much of Him, and that means in our singleness and in our marriages. We seek marriage not to “complete” us, but because it is a good desire and to have a marriage that honors and glorifies the Lord as a living example of Christ and His Bride, the Church.

My concern is I see so many people who have gifts and talents for the Body, the Church, yet they aren’t using them because they are so focused on that one locked door the Lord has for them in this season. Look up and see all the doors the Lord currently has open for you. Be obedient! Be faithful! He’s a good Father, trust Him.

Do I look for that open door to marriage and a family? Yes! But when I find it locked, I want to focus on the open doors and not the locked ones.

Fellas – We should be looking for Godly women to form Godly friendships with in hopes that they will blossom into something more. But only Christ will satisfy, don’t stop your pursuit of Him fighting locked doors. Be obedient and faithfully walk through the open doors the Lord has in your life.

Ladies – I know, you are waiting for that guy to man up and ask you out (sometimes guys are slow) but don’t stare at the locked door wondering when it will open. Be obedient, and faithfully walk through the open doors the Lord has in your life.

And when the door of marriage opens, faithfully walk through it as you have all the other open doors the Lord has opened in your life.


‘Well done, good and faithful servant.”

~ Jesus


Related Posts: 

It’s Not You, It’s Him

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The Westminster Catechism, written in 1646, begins:

Q – What is the chief end of man? 

A – Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. 

Simple, straight to the point, and such a good reminder for us today. And if this is true (and I would argue it is, Psalm 86; Psalm 16:5-11) then this should affect everything about our lives. Including the way we walk through singleness and dating.

Singles, singleness is hard, I know. Couples dating, dating is hard, its messy. And they are both even harder when we make ourselves or our partner the focal point of our pursuit, of our thoughts, of our longings. Can I simply remind us, there is One who is the focal point of all of history, from eternity past to eternity future and it is not you, nor is it the one whom you are dating or hoping to date.

Our chief end isn’t to get the date we really want, it isn’t to marry the person of our dreams, it is to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. Your singleness isn’t about you, it’s about Him. Your season of dating isn’t about you or them, it’s about Him. Your marriage isn’t about you and your family it’s about Him. Francis and Lisa Chan paint this picture beautifully in their latest book, You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity. Where they remind us that marriage is great but it’s not forever, you see in eternity we won’t be married. Yes, right now, singleness or a rough season of dating can seem like a huge obstacle, but in light of eternity it is simply a small spec.

There is a greater story going on all around us, and we aren’t the main character, from the beginning of time and that is of the Father drawing peoples to Himself and we have been invited into this. Let us not forget that our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. For all eternity we will do this (see Revelation 21-22) and we have been invited into this story now, don’t delay. It is possible to walk through singleness and dating in a way that both glorifies God and enjoys Him, but He must be our focal point. We can’t enjoy Him when we are, to steal a quote from Chandler, “navel-gazing”. When our focus is on ourself and our circumstances we will never enjoy Him, and if we aren’t enjoying Him we will never glorify Him, they go hand in hand.

What does this look like? How do we glorify Him and enjoy Him, while walking through singleness and dating seasons? Some random thoughts:

  • Singles: I recently heard a sermon from Ben Stuart in which he said, “Singleness is for devotion” (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Your season of singleness is a gift for you to devote yourself to the Lord. He has gifted us and equipped us as believers for the betterment of the Church, don’t waste this season not using your gifting and chasing your calling because you are so focused on yourself. Pour yourself our for the sake of Church and the Gospel. Live your life in your singleness in a way that glorifies God and shows the watching world that your joy is found in Him.
  • Fellas: If there is a lady friend you are interested in, pursue her in righteousness. Seek to honor the Lord in your pursuit, in the way you talk to her, and in the way you think about her. Be clear with what your intentions are and don’t play games. All the while still running after the Lord and pursuing Him with all you got. Seek to run after the Lord hard and if you find someone running just as hard pursue, but don’t slow down to look. That is not glorifying God nor enjoying Him.
  • Ladies: Don’t sit around waiting for someone to ask you out or to pursue you. Run after the Lord, pursue Him, pour yourself out for Him, His Name, and His Church. You do this and maybe some of the guys around you won’t ask you out, because they are intimidated by your pursuit, and this is good; it will cause them to grow up.  Ladies, the Church and our cities need you, don’t neglect your gifting and calling sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, please I beg you. Use your season of singleness for devotion, seek to know the perfect Father, and to be used by Him for His Glory and your Joy.
  • Dating Couples: Remember you don’t complete each other. In that same sermon Ben stated, “Dating is for evaluation,” his point being evaluating each other to see if marriage is a possibility. But while you are dating, don’t neglect your devotion to the Lord. Date in such a way that honors Him, and shows the watching world around you that your ultimate hope isn’t in each other but in Him. Date in such a way that glorifies Him and enjoys Him. Continue to run your races hard together, serve and pursue the Lord together. The Church and our cities need you.

Finally, remember this life isn’t about us, it is about so much more. It is all about Him.

Longing for someone to date, someone to marry is a good longing. But it can’t take place of what is to be our ultimate calling, to Glorify Him and to enjoy Him forever. There is coming a day when we will do this, lets not wait to begin.


Anything I put before my God is an idol
Anything I want with all my heart is an idol
Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol
Anything that I give all my love is an idol

~ Jimmy Needham, Clear The Stage


  • Westminster Shorter Catechism: http://www.reformed.org/documents/wsc/index.html?_top=http://www.reformed.org/documents/WSC.html
  • Related Post: “Singleness and Serving

Singleness and Serving

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I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

~ 1 Corinthians 7:32-35

I talk to a lot of Singles in the Church, being part of the group myself, and there is always a debate on how the Church should minster to us. Minister to us directly and we feel like the Church is setting up a speed dating event; minister to the church as a whole focusing on families and we feel like we are “lesser” Christians because we aren’t married yet or have a family. Often times I feel the Church is in a no win situation when trying to minister to the singles they have been granted the task to shepherd and oversee. This isn’t a post on how the Church should minister to us, perhaps that one is coming, today I want to look at our role in the Church as a Single.

Looking at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we see a very familiar passage and one that most Singles know and have probably heard taught before, but what has recently caught my eye is the reason Paul is writing this section. He says in verse 32 he says, “I want you to be free of anxieties,” this is the purpose he begins this section on those who are single and those who are married and the benefits of being single. Lets be honest Singles, we aren’t always free of anxieties, we worry if this or that girl likes us, we worry about will this guy ever ask me out, will we every be married, how come I’m not married, God why do I have an urge to be married but I’m still single, etc. We worry about a lot of things, and these things can very easily become idols in our lives which in the end become unhealthy longings and desires in our lives. But Paul’s point here is as a single, we can be free of anxieties because we have the ability to focus fully on the things of the Lord. Where as the married couples focus is divided between the Lord and each other, Paul says hey you Singles, you have the unique opportunity to focus fully on the Lord and be about the things of Him.

Singles, we have a purpose in the Church, and the unique opportunity for a season of our lives to be fully focused on the things of the Lord, lets not waste this season. As Singles, I truly believe we ought to be at the forefront of service within the Church. I talk to too many Singles who aren’t sure if they have a place in the Church. What is your special gifting from the Lord? Use them! If it is teaching, look for opportunities to teach, it may not be from the main stage, it may be to a group of 3rd graders, but praise the Lord for the opportunity to teach His Word; maybe your gifting is hospitality, then look for those opportunities; if your gifting is prayer look for those opportunities to be a prayer warrior in the lives of people and in the lives of your churches staff; etc. Perhaps in this season the Lord has blessed you with a job that allows you to have disposable income, then you have the opportunity to support missions, ministries, and church plants.  Or use your free time to serve the greater Church, so go and do missions, maybe in your hometown, or the other side of the world,  while living your daily life on mission by looking for those opportunities to be the hands and feet of the Lord.

Singles, we have plenty to opportunities to look at ourselves and question what is going on, and why am I still single, but at the same time we have been blessed with a season to pour ourselves out undivided, for the things of the Lord. Too often we focus on what is the Church doing for us, instead of looking how can I use my unique gifts, talents and season of my life to serve the Lord and His Church. Paul’s argument is that singleness should bring us less anxieties, for we are able to focus on the Lord. When I find myself stressed over singleness it is often because I am looking at myself and not the Lord and how I can love and serve Him in this season of my life.


Your money your singleness marriage talent your time
They were loaned to you to show the world that Christ is Divine

~ Lecrae