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What Singles Need From Pastors

Photo courtesy of James Good via Flickr
Photo courtesy of James Good via Flickr

Don’t worry, it won’t be long before someone snatches you up.

Oh, there’s always more fish in the sea.

Make sure you don’t let yourself go.

God’s being gracious to others.

Just keep running after God, look to the side and see who’s running next to you.

So many times, pastors’ advice or responses to single adults either in sermons, in blog posts, or in person are so far from matching up with an unintentionally single person’s everyday experience that they are laughed off, fumed about, or cried over. I’ve done all three — in a 30-minute span.

If you’ve been unmarried in the Church for long, you’ve probably been there too. When you hear well-meaning but trite comments, flippant answers with a genuine hug, or an unneeded dose of tough love from spiritual leaders, it can be hard not to let your shoulder cynic become your constant Sunday worship companion. Since the majority of evangelical pastors are men with families and they work in churches filled with families, they don’t often have a great context for some of the questions single adults in the Church are asking in the 21st century.

I cringe when I read most pastors’ blog posts on the seven reasons you’re single, or hear pastors use the phrase “saving yourself for marriage” as a footnote for the unattached in a sermon series on Ephesians 5. Single adults are desperate to hear more than clichés disguised as wisdom. As the number of the unmarried in pews rises, pastors, elders, and other church leaders need to understand singles’ unique struggles, perspective, and needs.

Growing Numbers

According to a Pew Research Center study, barely half of adults in the U.S. are married. While any given church’s numbers might not be that drastic, it’s important for pastors and church leadership to understand how the demographics of North America are changing. In order to reach your neighborhood for Christ, the church has to know who’s in the neighborhood–unmarried mothers, never-married 35-year-olds, widowers. Churches need to be places where families are welcomed and helped, but they also need to be places where single adults aren’t looked at like they aren’t wearing a button-down shirt in the country club dining room.

Diverse Experiences 

When I read those oh-so-great articles or hear advice about why I might be still single, I internally chafe because the advice really isn’t hitting the mark. It’s not written for a single woman who was just newly christened at 30 or for a 45-year-old single dad. The “single” category is so undescriptive that it’s laughable. One such article asked unmarrieds who wanted to get hitched, “Do you know … I mean really know yourself?” While it might be appropriate to ask this of a 21-year-old, telling a woman born in 1965 that she might be married if she would only know herself a little bit better is borderline farce. Some singles have a strong desire to be married. Others are content. Some have been married before. Some have children. Some had spouses pass away. At one point in time, if you were unmarried, chances are you were young and just starting out in life. These days, that’s just not the case.

Robust Theology

Singles in the Church need pastors to take their theological questions about sex, marriage, and celibacy seriously. From wedding ceremonies to marriage conferences, marrieds in the Church are frequently reminded of how their marriage reflects a larger truth about Christ and the Church to the world. Sadly, singles are frequently left with the message of “Just wait to have sex, you’ll probably get married eventually.” The truth is though that singleness and celibacy — whether for a season or for a lifetime — express powerful theological truth in ways that marriage cannot. John Piper and Barry Danylak remind singles that their lives are a testament to the fact that we are living under the New Covenant — which means God’s family grows not just through biological families but through spiritual lineage.

Whatever your church situation is, whether it’s very singles-friendly or not, our job as unmarrieds in the congregation is not to take pot-shots, peck away a eviscerating email, or hold on to grudges for careless words said from the pulpit … but to prayerfully and patiently work within your local body with wisdom and grace.

About Anna Hayes

Anna is a 30-year-old who recently left the East Coast for a life as a grad student in a small city somewhere in the middle. She spent several years in East Asia teaching English and loves words, language and being a small part of applying the Gospel to current cultural trends: gender-role confusion, marriage/family breakdown, sexual sin and delayed marriage/unintended singleness.
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