Written By Ben Kampmeier, USA
Ben has been in vocational ministry since 2008, and desires to see God use his pastoral ministry to help people follow Jesus with their whole hearts (Psalm 86:11). He serves now as the Lead Pastor of the 125-year-old Corinth Reformed Church in Byron Center, MI. Ben’s married to his wonderful wife, Ann, and they have two young children, Reuben & Abigail (along with their Chihuahua, Boston). Ben enjoys trying new restaurants, taking in great art and music and exploring Grand Rapids, MI.
Let’s name something that probably doesn’t get mentioned enough: The church as we know it today custom tailors a lot of its activity to the family. From ministry programs to sermon applications, even to the term “family-friendly,” our churches operate with families in mind as their primary audience. After all, family is a gift from God. But when this happens as the norm without consideration for singles, it can leave Christian singles in the church feeling unsupported, odd, and invaluable.
I was in a church ministry role well before I was married, and I remember all too well the awkward dissonance of trying to lead others as a single man in a church culture that put marriage on a pedestal. I would sometimes feel like I wasn’t “whole” because I was single. It’s a story that’s often unintentionally perpetuated when churches talk about marriage so much that it causes single people to feel like a kind of second class citizen awaiting an upgrade to married life as the “final state” for a Christian.
If you’re single and trying to navigate life in the church today, my guess is that you can relate to this experience. If that’s you, allow me to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you’ve gone through that, and before I am quick to critique the church on the whole, let me own my part in all of this too. Even in my own experience as a now-married pastor, there have been times while preaching that I have caught myself working through the same narrow lens, forgetting that singles are also listening to this same sermon. I’m sorry for the ways that I, as a church leader, have contributed to a culture of hyper-emphasis on marriage.
Hopefully, the church can realize that if we’re not careful, this implicit message about being single in the church will be reinforced. It’s something that should concern us—if we alienate people (even unintentionally) in the church because of their singleness, it would be a message entirely opposite of the gospel we proclaim. We are people “who once were far away [and] have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). The good news we proclaim is that God’s great sacrifice has brought us near to Himself, and to the rest of His people.
The Bible may leave some things in a grey area, but thankfully, this is not one of those things. Saint Paul, like Jesus, was single himself, and made a point of upholding both the value of marriage and singleness as “gifts” of God (see 1 Corinthians 7:7). Knowing that we have a tendency to prize marriage over singleness in the church today, it’s worth asking: what are some practical ways we could adopt more of the attitude Paul and Jesus had toward singles? Here are a few thoughts.
First, we can diversify our communities.
We can diversify our communities to include people who have a different relationship status than us. The church as a whole needs singles and marrieds sharing life together. I think of Saint Paul’s own warm sentiments in his letter to the Thessalonians. He, a single man, writing to a community made up of people who were likely married and single: “. . . Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
When my wife and I were brand-new in our marriage, we had the privilege of pastoring a passionate community of mostly-single young adults. Because of that sweet experience, I know that our community today would only be enriched by the presence of singles. Their presence in our lives reminded us that our way of experiencing the world as a newly married couple wasn’t the only way other people experienced it! Honestly, it made us better at serving other people, because it opened our eyes to how others in our community struggled and celebrated different things than us. Having a more diverse community helped us see even more of what God was doing around us.
Because of that experience, I believe if the church were to promote healthy, active community among the entire family of God, the church would not only flourish even more, but also would be more biblical, showing no preference to anyone (James 2:1).
Second, we can bravely cultivate deep relationships.
We can bravely cultivate deep relationships with others across the married/single divide. Intimate friendships in the Christian context are possible because we are anchored first by our intimate relationship with God. There is something that the gospel—the good news of God’s incredible love for us—does to inform the relationships we have, reminding us that we have a God who knows all there is to know about us, yet loves us anyway. That can give us confidence and courage to pursue these kind of friendships.
Another pastor I work with recently asked, “Who has refrigerator privileges in your life?” He was talking about the people in our lives who can walk into our house and grab something to eat or drink without it being weird. Those are the people that we’re living life with. We can make it our aim to expand the circle of people who have refrigerator privileges in our life. What if a married couple actively sought out some singles to do life with? If you’re single, is there a couple at your church that you admire? Ask if you can get together sometime to hang out, and over time, seek to build that deep and meaningful relationship informed by the love of God.
Though others around you may not do this, you can create the culture you want to live in. You’ll be amazed how contagious it can be!
Third, we can listen to new perspectives.
Church leaders need to hear perspectives of people who experience life differently than they do. Personally, I would love nothing more than to spend time with single and single-again people in our church, hearing their uncensored perspective on what their experience is like. Pastors should take seriously the Bible’s call to “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10). It would be a real gift to know how to better serve an often under-served group of people in the church.
This is a call not just for pastors, but for everyone who calls the church their home. It’s worth considering: if you’re not single, how could you help the single person’s perspective be heard? Seeking out single people in your church to hear about their experience and perspective would be a great place to start.
And that’s what it’s all about: a place to start. I genuinely believe the church can do better at supporting and including singles, and I am even more sure that we won’t regret it. Let’s make it something we actually start doing today!