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.

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Come to the Throne of Grace

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.

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.

Why We Go


John Piper begins his book on missions, Let the Nations Be Glad, with the quote: 
 “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exist because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate not man.” 

His point being that and God alone is worthy the be worshipped, therefore we go. We go because there are people across the street and around the world that God is worthy to be worshipped by. There are people in the States in cities we know on a map, and people in the fields in cities around the world that He is worthy to be worshipped by. Many are worshipping idols of self or false gods that will never satisfy. Therefore we go. We go because He is worthy to be worshipped by the self-consumed american, the one in a field who has never heard His Name, and the one chasing another god. We Go! 

The call to go isn’t one for just for “special Christians” but for all. We all have been commanded by our Lord to go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). All nations includes the one next door that we may not get along with and the one around the world who is hostile to Americans and Christians, therefore we all have a part in the call to go. 

Is it sometimes uncomfortable or dangerous? Yes, but remember that our Lord alone is WORTHY, He is Worthy to receive the praise and worship of all peoples. So we go! We all do our part. And in answering the call we seek opportunities where we are at to make disciples and be about obedience. 

Some can’t go around the world, but all can go next door and in our communities. Some in obedience answer to call to go around the world when the opportunity presents itself, but it takes the Church for this to happen. Therefore some answer the opportunity in obedience by sending and helping those who are going. 

Piper goes on to say: “So worship is the fuel and goal of missions.” 
Having our hearts captivated by the beauty of the Lord we go, so others may be captivated as well and give Him the worship He alone is worthy of. 

“Every Chriatian is either a missionary or an imposter” ~ Charles Spurgeon 

Promises for the Weary

FullSizeRender-6“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand…. For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the One who helps you.”

~ Isaiah 41:10;13

 

Perhaps you are like me, when things get hard, your first reaction is to buckle down, grit your teeth and fix it. Whatever the situation may be, you foolishly think, “I got this, I don’t need help!” Or perhaps you are the opposite and when life gets hard and you crumble wondering how will you ever survive this, thinking, “What will I do?“. Where one is over-confident, the other has no confidence in themselves and both lead to stress and weariness, but the good news of the Gospel is that there is help and strength for both.

The Lord has been reminding me lately, over and over in His Word that He is in control of everything, and He gives strength to those who are weak. It is through mediating on His Word and on His promises that I have found myself less stressed lately. I know this isn’t a mind-blowing idea, but perhaps like me, we are prone to forget this, and life happens and we tense up or we crumble before running to the One who holds everything in His hand, to the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10).

Because of Christ is in us, we are free: from stress, from anxiety, free to run to Him for peace, hope and strength.


Both the over-confident and the one with no confidence find strength at the foot of Christ!

 

Recent reminders from His Word I have read: 

Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with their whole heart

~ Psalm 119:2

Your faithfulness endures to all generations; You have established the earth and it stands fast

~ Psalm 119:90

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path

~ Psalm 119:105

In my distress I called to the Lord and He answered me

~ Psalm 120:1

I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

~ Psalm 121:1

I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears

~ Isaiah 38:5b

To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens 

~ Psalm 123:1

Our Help is in the Name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth

~ Psalm 124:8 


These are some of the promises the Lord has been showing me lately, reminding me simply of who He is, and who I am. When we properly see Him, we can find rest and strength that only comes from Him.


“Remember, it is not your weakness that will get in the way of God’s working through you, but your delusions of strength. His strength is made perfect in our weakness! Point to His strength by being willing to admit your weakness.”
~ Paul David Tripp, Pastor

 

Purpose Behind the Tests

IMG_445447583Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
~James 1:2-4

I don’t think it is a bold statement to say that many of us, if not all of us hate tests. Whether we are in school and knowing a test is coming up, or worse it’s an unannounced test; or as an adult we find ourself going through a difficult season of life. Tests make us uncomfortable, stress us out, and no matter how well we may have prepared beforehand they tend to make us a little uneasy and nervous. But how often do we think of the purpose of the test, that the test is doing something; a quick google search showed that test:

  1. Identify What the Tester Has Learned
  2. Identify the Testers Weaknesses and Strentghs

The Test Is Doing Something


 

Yes, tests in life make us uneasy, are difficult, but there is a purpose in them, and it isn’t that God is mean and finds joy in watching us suffer or be stressed out but that He is growing and sanctifying us in the process. This passage in James tells us that trials produce steadfastness, these trials in our life help us remain steadfast in our faith. Or as Paul says in Romans:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
~ Romans 5:1-5

Suffering produces endurance, which produces character that produces hope! How?

One thing I have been learning recently is that it is easy to say, “Yes Lord I fully trust You” and harder to live it out. But you see in the moments when we face those tests that require us to trust on Him and lean into Him, we now have evidence of not only His provision but also our trust and faith in Him. Which can also reveal those weaknesses in our life and areas where we don’t fully trust Him. Until this is reveled to us,  and we remain blind to it, He is unable to go to work in the area of doubt or unbelief.

David was able to go out against Goliath, because in his life he had seen the Lord provide and move time and time again, whether it was a bear or a lion that came after his sheep; the Lord had delivered him. He had hope that Lord who had protected him many times in the past and delivered him was able to do so again. Without facing tests prior to this, David never would have had any hope, but would have gone out there feeling nervous, uneasy and stressed.

Not saying that tests in life should be easy and stressless, but that there is a purpose in them, and that when we grasp this it allows is to breathe a little easier knowing that He is working in us and hasn’t forgotten us. That purpose is that we will know Him and trust Him more, not simply with our words but with our lives.

“Let your cares drive you to God. I shall not mind if you have many of them if each one leads you to prayer. If every fret makes you lean more on the Beloved, it will be a benefit.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

 

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. ~
~James 1:4