This is the second part of my response to Kate Hurley’s post at The Sexy Celibate. I’ll jump right into the rest of her questions:
3. Have you ever felt ashamed for feeling so much grief over being single?
Here’s where my church experience diverges from most singles. I’ve never gotten grief over being single. I’ve never been asked when I’m going to get married, why I’m not married, or had people in my church play matchmaker for me.
I’m sure my gender has a lot to do with it, but I’ve seen other single men get the typical comments and questions most singles face. The difference was my attitude. When I decided to start attending church again in the early 2000’s, I explicitly decided to not make my singleness part of my identity. I would not let my marital status become part of the conversation people had about me. I made no attempt to join singles ministries (and the church did have a college-oriented singles ministry) or associate with them (due to my hilariously dysfunctional experiences with Christian singles.)
So when I joined a Bible Study, I joined a married couples’ Bible Study. That group had its own share of problems, but the bottom line was that I could relate to them better than I could other singles. I made a point to befriend the married couples and invite them over for dinner. I overcame the stigma of being single by not acting like I was single. The end result was exactly as I had planned: no one thought much about the fact that I wasn’t married because I didn’t seem preoccupied with it. As a former Elder in my church said, people never worried about it because I seemed happy to be where I was in life.
4. Have you had experiences in your church body or with your pastor where you felt seen and validated?
Absolutely. My strategy of not acting like a single person led me to all kinds of opportunities most singles missed out on. I served as deacon for eight years and chaired three different ministries over the course of six years. And I know that most churches would not have given my those opportunities due to my singleness. But I also knew that the image I projected erased most peoples’ concerns over my singleness.
5. Have you ever struggled with being a leader in your church or in ministry because you are single?
No. For the reasons I listed above, I overcame the stigma by avoiding the singles crowd in church. If I didn’t seem to care about being single, the congregation didn’t seem to care, either.
6. What can we do to give a voice to single people in the church?
Here’s where I’ll loop back to my answer to Hurley’s first question. Unless your church is founded by young Christians or is largely dependent on singles, you do not matter. Singles are viewed as people caught in a temporary phase in their lives. The stereotype is that they lack the discipline, maturity, and dedication of married couples, therefore since few people can relate to the needs and experiences of singles, they are easily dismissed.
I think this blanket disregard for singles explains the hostility we’ve seen towards Millennials. For most churches Millennials represent youth, singleness, and staving off marriage. That messes with their expectations of how we’re supposed to live our lives, and they resent that cultural shift. I’ve noticed a number of pastors have tried to promote getting married earlier so they can reverse this trend.
If singles want a voice, then they need to do three things: show up on Sunday mornings in droves, volunteer your time, and tithe regularly. A church’s attitude towards singles won’t shift unless the demographics of the congregation shift significantly. I’ve seen it happen with married couples, too. Back when I first joined the church I served in for eleven years, the ministries were geared towards young couples. Then the young couples got older, their kids grew up, and the ministries shifted to serve middle-aged couples. When there was a big surge of young married couple in our church in the early 2010’s, the church reverted back to young couple focus.
And by the way, tithing doesn’t matter because church leadership is greedy. It matters because the biggest tithers hold the most power. In many churches the most entrenched members of the congregation hold more power than the pastor or Elders. If they don’t like the direction the church is going they can (and sometimes do) threaten to withhold their donations and send the church spiraling into a financial collapse. if singles want more of a say, then they’ll have to donate at level where their contribution equals or exceeds what the married couples give.