It was over ten years ago, we had gone out a few times, not enough to call it “seeing” each other and frankly although I cared about her a lot I had no illusions about her feelings towards me. But, she was a friend, and good company, and she actually took me out for my birthday, a rarity in my life. Anyway, after taking her to a going away party for someone moving from the church I asked her to save me a seat in the service the next morning. She declined, not wanting to give people “the wrong idea”. I don’t believe I’ve ever sat with some one in a church service since.
It was a typical big church singles retreat. The youth pastor who was married when he was about 22 was lecturing a bunch of forty year old singles how it was “Gods will” for them to be single at this time. Of course it’s always “at this time”, being single in this church like most churches was a temporary condition until God presented you with your “perfect mate”. I’ve never heard of or for that matter met a 40-50 year old single church pastor or leader, so obviously it’s up to a bunch of married leaders to tell us how blessed we are. I wonder is an older single not qualified to be in leadership since his or her condition is obviously temporary?
So goes the saga of the church and the single. First, let me make one thing clear. I’m not a church hopper, and I don’t see the particular church I’m attending now as much different than most other churches on the subject. I attended one church for over fifteen years and another for eight. And to make this perfectly clear (I am old enough to quote Richard Nixon LOL) I realize that there are people that have it far worse than I do. I have my health, I have a roof over my head, and I’m not in a bad marriage. I’m getting by, although it’s taking two part time jobs to do it. But there is no doubt in my mind that the idea of the church as a “community” has failed me and many other singles, especially those of us without families. And considering that about 33% of the adult population over the age of 45 is unmarried that is an awful large chunk of the population the church is failing to relate too.
A few issues:
1) Your priorities are where you’re money and time is. The church I’m attending now (like most churches) spends an inordinate amount of time ministering to the family. We have series after series and special event after special event on repairing family relationships, parenting, etc. Even our “men’s” our “woman’s” retreats could easily be called “husbands” or “wives” retreats.
I’ve attended two large churches; both had large vibrant youth ministries with quality music, including professional grade lighting and sound. They had children’s ministries they invested serious resources in. But the singles ministry was a low priority in both of them; they had thrown together music, and in one case weren’t even allowed to use the un-occupied youth ministry auditorium. They were thrown in a room around the corner. Singles weren’t important to those churches, but I guess why should you spend a bunch of time ministering to people with a “temporary” condition?
2) Quit telling us how good we have it. Yep, we have more freedom, but we also get by on a single income, have less time, because we have to do ALL of our own housework if it gets done. The reality is marriage doesn’t solve all your problems any more than singleness makes your life a Caribbean holiday. And for Christ sake (I mean that literally) Hire some singles ministers who at least spent a couple years of their adult lives not either in a relationship or married. I can’t imagine any church in the world that would hire a single adult to minister to married couples outside of the Catholic Church and we see how well that’s worked.
The reality is most churches hire woefully unqualified people to minister to the needs of singles. I quit attending singles ministries for several reasons. One is I refuse to listen to another message about the “blessings” of singleness from someone who hasn’t spent a day in their adult lives out of a relationship or not married.
3) We’re not all weird, and we don’t have leprosy. When all you do is present successful long marriages with wonderful “Leave it to Beaver” families as models it can really make some one whose always sitting alone in the service feel woefully outside of God’s blessing. I must admit, I have a tough time reconciling He who finds a wife finds a good thing (Prov. 18:22) with No good thing does the Lord withhold from those whose walk is blameless (PS 84:11). But it would be a lot easier to deal with if the church didn’t go out of it’s way reminding me of it every Sunday.
4) And don’t treat conversations with us about marriage like it’s going to solve all of our problems or its Gods will for us unless you KNOW it. I can’t tell you how many times I have had “prophets” or men and women of God I respected tell me that marriage was just around the corner for me. One a few years ago had a “word from God”, I’d be married with in the next year. That was five or six years ago. It’s not Gods will for every Christian to get married, or did you forget all those messages about the blessings of singleness when you were in singles ministry?
I use to believe that being involved and contributing as much as I could in ministry would help by taking my mind off the situation and by giving to others working as part of the community of believers I would experience more community. But I sat down one Saturday after working at a food bank with a church team, a ministry I had given up one Saturday a month too for several years and realized that I didn’t know any one in the ministry. In a ministry full of people from the Starbucks generation not one of these other “ministers” had time to have a cup of coffee with me.
I suspect that the biggest problems older singles face is apathy. I know it is for me. I’m just not interested in fighting for anything any more. If someone’s not interested, oh well. I move on, if some ministry isn’t interested in using me, I move on. Doors getting slammed in your face aren’t fun, and despite all the witty face-book proverbs to the contrary, a door getting shut doesn’t mean the next door is wide open and waiting. Being single usually I just move on to the next closed door. It’s what I do.