Written by: Matt Hodges
Matt Hodges (MA, Dallas Theological Seminary) is the teaching pastor at Risen Church in northwest Houston. He is the author of A Living Hope: Examining History’s Most Important Event and What It Means for the World. You can follow him on Twitter.
This following content was originally published on Acts 29’s website, linked here: https://www.acts29.com/upholding-the-dignity-of-singleness-in-the-church/
Editor’s Note: This piece was previously published by The Gospel Coalition.
I recently preached a sermon on singleness and was shocked by the feedback I received. Several single brothers and sisters told me it was the first time they’d heard singleness addressed from the pulpit, at least in a way that wasn’t telling them how to date or find a spouse. One sister said it was the first time she felt as if her presence wasn’t just welcomed in a church, but wanted.
My heart sank a bit hearing that one. It made me realize how much I wish I had preached—and built into our ministry philosophy—the dignity of singleness from the earliest days of our church plant.
Too often in church culture, we’re inclined to idolize marriage and downplay singleness. But those who enjoy and steward the gift of singleness remind us that Jesus is enough, and nothing else can truly satisfy. We need this reminder.
Church planters, here are three convictions regarding singleness we should teach and implement in our churches.
Singleness Is a Gift
Christians sometimes speak of singleness as a gift—but not always in the way the apostle Paul intended. He upholds singleness as a gift in the same sense marriage is a gift: “But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (1 Cor. 7:7). The two kinds of gifts he’s referring to are marriage and singleness.
The gift of singleness is not a spiritual gift or a unique ability to bear the weight of the single life. It’s a blessing given by God for his glory and the joy of the one to whom it’s given. Does singleness carry unique challenges? Certainly, as does marriage. The gift of singleness reminds us that Jesus is enough, and nothing else can truly satisfy.CLICK TO TWEET
If we even implicitly treat single brothers and sisters as if they’re called to some unbearable task, we rob singleness of the dignity Paul explicitly gives it. After all, given the choice, Paul says he’d rather the church at Corinth have more single people (1 Cor. 7:7–8, 26–31). Like marriage, singleness is a gift given to believers to glorify God and edify others.
Marriage Isn’t a Prerequisite for Participation
Upholding the dignity of singleness means more than just teaching it from the pulpit. It also means structuring our ministries so that marriage doesn’t inadvertently become a prerequisite for participation. It’s good to teach that singleness is a divine gift, but we must take care not to betray that conviction by subtly requiring people to check the “married” box before being able to serve and lead church plants in a meaningful capacity.
When we do this, we communicate that to get married is to “graduate” from singleness and therefore become better prepared to contribute to the work of Christ’s church. Of course, some of the biggest contributions ever made to the church were from single people. This isn’t surprising, since Paul is candid in reminding us that singles have more margin to devote to the Lord’s work (1 Cor. 7:32–34).
From both a philosophical and also a pragmatic standpoint, even implicitly deeming marriage as a prerequisite for service in the church doesn’t fit with the text. If Jesus and Paul would feel out of place in our churches—as if they’re on the outside looking in—it’s probably time to rethink some things.
Marrieds and Singles Belong Together
As the local church pulls God’s future kingdom into the present, it provides both us and also the watching world a foretaste of what’s to come. And the church is at its most beautiful when it embraces the myriad gifts God gives us. Without the meaningful involvement of single brothers and sisters, our churches will suffer.CLICK TO TWEET
A healthy diversity of married and single church members serving alongside each other creates mutual flourishing and edification. As Sam Allberry observes, “If marriage shows us the shape of the gospel, singleness shows us its sufficiency.” Single people need married people to show the type of love Jesus offers. Married people need single people to show that his love is more than enough for true and lasting joy.
When we segment single and married people into silos—community and learning environments with only those who share the same marital status—we stunt our church’s ability to display the depth and dynamics of the gospel. Single brothers and sisters can demonstrate the sufficiency of the gospel and the call of discipleship with their lives in a way few sermons can.
Scripture makes it abundantly and repeatedly clear that singleness should never hinder fruitful and flourishing participation. In fact, without the meaningful involvement of single brothers and sisters, our churches will suffer. So as we plant and pastor, we would do well to teach the dignity of singleness and its unique blessings—and then to structure our ministries and leadership in a way that shows we believe our words.