If you haven't read the other articles in this series, or if it's simply been a while and you need a refresher, we recommend you start with Stephen's overview of the problems singles face in the church today: Singles are People Too.
In my overview of the problems that singles face in many churches, I addressed four points. Two of them were personal and collective attitudes, while two of them were specifically related to leadership’s actions. As the attitudes lead at least in part to the actions, I'm going to address the two attitudes first, and then I will address the actions.
Two attitudes that lead singles to frustration:
Singleness is treated as a problem (curable only by marriage).
Singles are considered to be morally, responsibly, and fiscally inferior to married people.
It is perplexing that the church would see singleness as a problem, especially considering that Paul argues for the superiority of singleness because it allows for an undivided state of devotion that is unavailable to married Christians:
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. . . . I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
(1 Corinthians 7:32-34a, 35)
It is a simple fact that single people do not have as many commitments and obligations as married people. The amount of time that single people have to commit to ministry makes them prime candidates when divvying up the labor for the hands-on work of the ministry (a topic I will return to in greater detail in my next article).
Please note that Paul was not condemning marriage; this part of 1 Corinthians 7 is typically understood to be referencing missionally-oriented chastity. The Bible is overwhelming in its support for marriage as an institution; marriage is even one of the primary metaphors that God uses to describe his relationship to the church. But there are benefits to being unmarried; they should not be overlooked nor do they need to be “cured.”
The second attitude is often tied with a distrust of youth, as many singles are still young. While it is true that inexperience often leads to indiscretion, our response should include increased mentoring and teaching rather than a wholesale dismissal of the age group. Most Christian singles are following hard after God—just like their married peers; this snap judgment to condemn youth is unbiblical and discouraging.
Much of the same can be said in the area of responsibility. If no one teaches a man to be responsible, nor gives him the chance to exercise responsibility, he simply will not grow to be responsible. Now, some will protest that the risk of failure is too high. If a young person fails—what then? Mentors and pastors should come around that single person with grace and teach him through his mistakes and failures. Alas, this is very often not the case for anyone in the church, much less for young singles. God’s grace poured out on us, despite our sins and failures, ought to be our model in everything in the church.
Finally, while it is true that many young people do not have the same fiscal means as their older brethren, this does not mean that they have less to offer to the kingdom of God. (If that were so, all the believers in third world countries would be far worse off!) It is far better to be a faithful steward of a small amount of money than to mishandle a larger sum (Luke 16:10, Prov. 17:16)—on this basis we can say that some singles may do better than their married peers in honoring God with their finances. God is concerned not with how much money a person makes, but what that person does with the money he has been given.
Attitudes are difficult to change. Contrary arguments, no matter how true, often bounce off of well-entrenched ideologies. These attitudes will change only under the combined assault of Biblical exposition and careful modeling. Discipling and engaging singles in the church requires older Christians to participate with, and trust in, singles—sometimes even before singles have proved themselves “worthy.” This will not take place unless attitudes toward singles in many churches are influenced positively by the Word of God.