Singles and the Church

 img_8764

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.

Advertisements

Top Three Reads of 2016

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:

  1. 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.

2. The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in Our Limitations Through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus by Zack Eswine

“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.

 

Who is My Neighbor?

img_8492

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 


Seeing the One

img_8351

 

Afterward Jesus found him in the temple

~ John 5:14a

 

 

For many in ministry the idea of serving the multitude is either exhilarating or paralyzing. We get excited about serving and meeting the needs of the masses or we find ourselves overwhelmed at the task in front of us, wondering where do we even begin.

I’ve recently been reminded that the crowds are made up of individuals, individuals who have specific needs, longings, and wants. Individuals who need personal attention, conversations, and time. True ministry begins in the small, meeting with the individuals in order to serve the crowds.

Many times while Jesus was walking the earth we see Him going to the individual, in order to connect with them personally, to bring them into the Story He was writing. Yes, there were times we met the needs of the crowds, such as when He fed the five thousand in John 5, or the four thousand in Matthew 15.

But how many times do we see Jesus going to the individual, in order to minister to them. In John 4, we see Jesus going through Samaria, in order meet with a woman at the well, that no one else would go to. In John 5, we see Jesus going to the pool of Bethesda, where we are told there was a multitude of invalids, and yet Jesus went to one, an individual and asked him if he wished to be headed. Once healed the man is thrown out of the synagogue, and we see that Jesus seeks him out, individually again, to restore him and welcome him into His Story. We could look into many more scenarios, such as Jesus calling His disciples, individually, etc.

Whether we find ourselves, leading churches, home groups, Sunday School classes, or meeting with a group of friends for discipleship, lets remember that each group is made up of individuals. Individuals whom are each unique, with different needs and wants. Let us not be so excited about reaching the masses that we neglect the individuals; nor be so overwhelmed by the crowds that we never seek to get to know the individuals. We are where we are because at one time, the Lord used someone to reach an individual, us. Let us also go to the individuals.

Where is Your Heart? (When Considering Online Dating)

dating

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

FullSizeRender-2

 

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.

City of God in Our Cities

FullSizeRender-7“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. ~ Jeremiah 29:4-7


Three weeks ago I had the privilege of preaching in Visakhapatnam, India. This is a summary of my notes from that Sunday. 


All of us here today are writing a story, for ourselves personally, for our families, and as a church. From the beginning of time there is One who is writing a Greater Story, and our stories only have life and purpose when our stories line up with His. He is writing a story that ends with a new heaven and a new earth and peoples from every tongue, tribe and nation gathering around the Throne worshipping Him. And He has invited us into this story to play a part, not because He needs us, but because He loving allows us to play a part. We remember that although we are currently living here on earth, that this is not our home. There is coming a day when we will see the Lord face to face and our dwelling place will be with Him (Revelation 21).

Much like Abraham and Sarah who were called out to a place or land they did now know, we are being called out to a new city a heavenly one; so they had their gaze set on it and did not return to where they were being called out from (Hebrews 11). Our eyes are to be set on that day to be looking/ longing for that day to come.

But in the waiting, we as the Church have a purpose, to be a City of God within our cities. The Church has a purpose in our cities as part of the Greater Story.

Jeremiah 29:4-7

The Lord is speaking to those in exile from Jerusalem, who find themselves in Babylon, a place that is not their home. Much like today the Israelites find themselves not home, and they are going to be there for a while.

So what does the Church do in the waiting?

Be Planted Where You Are

Verse 5aBuild Houses and live in them

This is a long-term command, the Lord is telling them to set up roots where He has planted them. As we remember the words of Jim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be all there!” That is be committed to where the Lord has you, finding rest in the truth that it is Him who has placed us wherever we find ourselves. Whether we love the city we are currently in, or want our as soon as possible, He has placed us in our cities for a purpose.

Verse 5bPlant Gardens and eat of their produce 

Not only are we to be planted where we are, we are also to contribute to the society and the culture of our cities, wherever we find ourselves.

Be About the Cultural Mandate

Verse 6 – Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease

In Genesis 1 & 2 we see the Lord create Adam & Eve then gives them the Cultural Mandate in Genesis 2:15 –The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

Also connecting with the command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28)

The Lord continues this original command telling the exiles that as they wait for deliverance, to be home, they are to marry and have children; to fill the city with the people of God.

Adam and Eve were to fill the earth and seek to make it look like the Garden; we as the Church in our cities are to seek to fill it and be apart of the Lord’s work of restoring all things to Himself

Be About the Welfare of the City

Verse 7 – But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Welfare = Shalom / peace

 

We as the Church are to seek the peace of our cities. All aspects of peace, that we as the Church in our cities will seek to push back evil. To where we see injustices we will push back for the greater good of the City. That we as the Church in our cities would stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. That we carry out the Great Commission in our cities by brining the Gospel to those we work with and shop with and ride the bus with that all may know Him, the author of peace.

Ultimately the Church is called to be Salt and Light in our Cities so that the watching world will take notice and praise God for it (Matthew 5:13-16).

He has called to Himself making us His own, and is preparing a Heavenly City for us; while we wait for that day He has placed us as a light on top of a light stand in the midst of cities, so that all may see and give Him glory!

While we wait, we must be about the Greater Story that He was called us to, to be a City of God within our cities!