ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Reflections on working with, ministering to single Christians
The singles ministries provided me with meaningful friendships with young adult Christians who were or had been in similar life situations. Many of my brothers and sisters in those ministries, whether they identified with my experience or not, were supportive and encouraging in my spiritual journey. I will forever thank God for the conversations, activities, and trips I enjoyed with the participants of those singles ministries.
For a year, I volunteered as the leader of one of those ministers. Now, in my full-time ministry role, I get to serve with both college students and young single adults who are not students. Drawing from my singles ministry experiences in three different states, I can offer the following seven reflections.
First, churches need to be as intentional and prayerful in this area of ministry as they are in any other. Single adults, both young and not-so-young, often feel left out and unappreciated. Churches tend to offer sermons, classes, and seminars about family life, parenting, and marriage. However, in many regions, similar resources for singles are minimal and hard to find.
Second, churches should recognize that there is no accurate stereotype of a single Christian. My experience a few years ago as a single in my mid-20s was different from the experience of my friend who is approaching 40 and wondering if he will ever get married. The experience of my friend who has decided to remain single in order to devote his life of celibacy to God is different from that of my friend who recently lost her middle-aged husband in a work accident. My friend who is a young single parent must deal with life in a way I cannot fully understand. I mention these experiences to illustrate that we cannot rightly speak of “THE single life,” for the lives of single adults are so varied.
Third, based on the absence of an accurate stereotype, it often is unrealistic to try to serve all singles through one ministry program. For example, recent graduates’ needs and interests are vastly different from those of single parents, widowed Christians, people who have been hurt through divorce, or Christians with a couple of decades of experience as singles and no intention to get married. Singles in different life stages can identify with each other to an extent and can benefit friendships with each other, but their needs in ministry are different.
Fourth, churches should abstain from assuming that all single adults want to get married. I am grateful that the singles ministries I experienced in Abilene and Norman did not emphasize dating or preparation for marriage. Of course, dating and marriage often happen among members of healthy singles ministries. However, if leaders turn a singles ministry into a dating service or a marriage factory, they will frighten away many single adults seeking spiritual nourishment. (In my current ministry, I try to plan discussions about dating and/or marriage no more frequently than once every two or three years. However, if someone asks me for guidance in those areas, I am happy to comply.)
Fifth, churches should embrace a full and rich theology of celibacy (more than sexual abstinence!), drawing from experiences, teachings, and examples in the Bible and the history of Christian spirituality. Such a developed view can enrich single Christians’ meaning, purpose, and service in the Kingdom. Marriage and singleness both can be lived as spiritual disciplines that draw us closer to God, and the church must encourage and equip single Christians for that adventure.
Sixth, churches should welcome single Christians into full ministry leadership. Often when opportunities to serve in ministry are available, singles get overlooked. A few years ago, I was a single young adult Christian with a college degree in ministry and some part-time ministry experience from my college years, and most ministry job announcements required candidates to be married, and many of them expected candidates to have children. That frustrated me almost to the point of giving up. Of course, that is not always the case. However, the church should remember that some of the greatest leaders in the history of the church were single.
Finally, churches that choose to give appropriate ministry attention to singles should also seek to integrate the singles into larger church life. Christians in every demographic group need intimate, spiritual friendships with people in other groups. Mutual edification happens through such relationships. Singles need opportunities for conversation, prayer, and fun with their single peers. They also need meaningful partnerships with other Christians who value them as they are without expecting them to get married and have children.
Gaines serves as associate minister for young adults and college students at the Central Church of Christ in Spartanburg, S.C. He can be reached at [email protected]. He blogs at stevengaines.wordpress.com.
FeedbackIt seems that God often blesses congregations with active young adult ministries (both single and married) with more growth than those without such ministries.
Any thoughts?Steven GainesCentral Church of ChristSpartanburg, SC
USAJuly, 17 2009As a Young Adults minister, I have seen our post-Grads/Singles become a huge and vital part of the congregation; starting and maintaining much of the mission work and community outreach that the church does! There is not only lots of ministry potential TO this demographic, but also FROM this demographic! Embracing, mentoring, and empowering these Young Adults will be what continues to keep the Church passionate,vibrant,and relevant.TJ McCloudOtter Creek Church of ChristNashville, TN
USAJuly, 15 2009I just want to respond. I was one of the people who participated in the previous article and I just want the say that the piece was well done. I also read Steven’s article and I believe that God has some great things for Christian singles both within Christ’s Church and in the community at large. Thanks and keep up the good work.Kevin WilsonBammel Church of ChristHouston, TX
USAJuly, 10 2009