For some time now, our house has been a hangout spot for college-age folks. They come to read and talk about the Bible on a weekly basis. Most of these friends are single, yet they desire to find a spouse. My wife and I can relate as we are not too far removed from this age group. But singles often feel isolated in the church. How can we better minister to them? In Craig Marshall’s 2014 workshop on singleness, he covers the following helpful points that benefit biblical counselors as well as the church at large.
Empathize and Engage
Understand that singleness may create a variety of emotions. Singles might feel lonely, want something they don’t have, or even think they deserve something that is being withheld. The holidays and vacations can be trying times. There may be feelings of failure or the “ticking clock” pressure. It is easy for them to become angry and frustrated. Empathize and engage with the variety of emotional trials that are associated with being single.
Help Them Think Through Singleness Biblically
Marriage tends to be overly emphasized. It is a unique relationship with significance, but it is not the relationship where loneliness is resolved. Marriage is a temporary blessing (Lk 20:27-40; 1 Cor 7:29-31). The Bible has a broader perspective on life beyond marriage. We are called to see an age that is passing away, the new age, and the one that is to come. The age that is passing away was one of anticipation of the Seed (Gal 3:16-19). The new age is when we rejoice because Christ has come. The fact that singleness is an acceptable way of life in the New Covenant is a testimony that the age to come has broken into this age (1 Cor 7:29-31). The New Testament is replete with examples of how singleness is an acceptable way of life now that the age of anticipation is over.
In the words of the inspired authors, we see a unique emphasis on our spiritual family as the blessing we enjoy today; over our flesh and blood families. While singles may not participate in the physical intimacy of marriage, they have a greater opportunity for spiritual intimacy than most married people. At the same time, it is not wrong to desire to be married. God-honoring singleness is learning to embrace the blessings God has given, as well as those he withholds, as that which is best for the life that seeks to please him.
Encourage the Counselee
Your goal should not be to help find your single friends a spouse by doing some variation of church matchmaker. Likewise, encouraging them to be content with their state forever has its limits. During this time of singleness, seek to encourage the counselee to find a balance between honoring God and seeking the blessing of marriage (if desired). Singles often struggle because they are viewed as being in a plan ‘B’ until they get a real family. The reality is that they have a real family now.
Encourage the Church
It would benefit our single friends if the church thought carefully of how we can specifically learn to love them. Work to connect the counselee with others in the church who can offer support and minister to the counselee. Encourage the local church to take time to reach out to singles in genuine friendship. Suggest that they have them over for meals and special events; not just to babysit or introduce to other singles. The church should be a place for many close relationships so that marriage is not seen as the only place where intimacy is found. Let us strive to love those who are single so that God’s love will be felt by everyone.