The fallacy of “singles ministry” & the beauty of Biblical obedience

A few months ago, I was asked to be a guest writer for the excellent website, SingleMatters.com.  Here is an article I wrote for them a little while back.  With some slight changes, I thought it might be nice to re-post it here.

John Gunter and Aaron Milam in the Middle East

My friend Aaron Milan and I in the Middle East a few years ago. Picture courtesy of Ed Graham.

It was spring of my senior year in college. My friend Phil and I decided to go to our first ever “singles Bible study.” There was one in our city that was making all kinds of buzz. Thousands were showing up. “The teaching and music are amazing” we were hearing everywhere. We decided to give it a shot.

What we found was pretty shocking.

Yes, the teaching was fine, and the music was good. However, this “Bible study” felt more like a frat party. It was the very environment from which both Phil and I had been seeking refuge.

It was a meat market of the highest order. The Jack and Coke had been replaced with just plain old Coke. The joking was less crass, but the motives seemed identical: find a girl/guy at any cost.

It felt gross.

I didn’t know why it felt this way at the time, but I think I have a better understanding now.

What We Often Find in Christian Singles Ministries

This introduction into the world of the “Christian singles scene” was indicative of what I often find in this world of single adults of faith.

I see churches that view singleness as a problem that must be solved. I’m honestly not sure why they feel this is the case. Nowhere in the Bible do we see getting married as an ultimate goal of an individual follower of Christ.

We absolutely do not see the Bible teach it is the mission of the church to marry folks off. There are clear Biblical teachings on the roles of the church, and this is not one them. Yet churches everywhere seem to think this is a mission of theirs.

I see individuals consumed with stress and anxiety by this issue of singleness. I have felt this myself, so I’m not casting stones here. However, I just wanted to put what we all see out on the table. There is massive anxiety within the single community over, well, being single.

I see a community of people frenetically trying to find “the right one” at all costs. How many dating websites are there now for Christian singles looking for partners? Dozens, I suspect. Just now I Googled “Christian single” and the first several pages of results consisted of links to dating services. Only after some serious digging did I find actual content on the subject matter. As my simple Google research suggests, this search for “the right one” takes up unspeakable amounts of time, energy, and even money within the Christian singles community.

Biblical Singleness

No, I am not going to go in the direction of “it is better to be as I am” now. However, when I look to who I am in the eyes of God, I don’t see Him differentiating between singles and marrieds. Yes, there are teachings specific to marrieds, but nowhere will you find the Bible elevating marriage over singleness.

Rather, what I do find are callings for ALL of us to be about the work of redemption through the Gospel!

We are ALL called to the work of kingdom expansion, whether in our neighborhoods or around the world. We are ALL called to take care of the widows and orphans around us. We are ALL called to care about the Gospel message being proclaimed among unreached peoples around the globe.

Dreams of What Could Be

What would it look like if churches became serious about not seeing singles as merely a ministry within the church, but instead started viewing us as a force to be mobilized within our cities and around the world?

What would it look like if, instead of investing countless hours, massive amounts of money and all of our best energies on “finding the right one,” we as singles simply viewed our lives as not our own?

What if, instead of asking “Where can I find a mate?”, we FIRST asked “Where is God working and how can I be a part?” This is my dream for single American Christians.

I can think of several benefits for singles like me first looking to Christ and the world at large instead of looking first to find a wife or husband.

  • Glorious kingdom of God expansion – Some of the best missions and ministry efforts in church history have been accomplished by single adults committed to our Savior. Think about what a city like Atlanta (my hometown) would look like if the thousands of singles who gather each week to meet each other were instead equipped and deployed for the work of the Gospel in their city and the world. Many fatherless children could have role models. Widows would be cared for. It would be amazing! Think of the places in the Middle East and East Asia, which are deprived of the Gospel, having a massive new number of committed believers laying down their lives for the sake of kingdom expansion in these areas. It would literally change the world!
  • Personal growth and discipleship – When I meet single people committed to first looking to Christ and the world’s needs, I am blown away by their character and Godliness. When we look first to God’s calling over and above our personal desire to find mates, I believe we will experience personal growth and fulfillment in ways about which we can only dream.
  • Meet like-minded SINGLES with REAL potential – This is what baffles me most when it comes to the common American Christian perspective on singleness. How can you better judge someone’s fitness and desirability as a mate: “chatting” over the Internet, or serving alongside other singles to meet the needs of the impoverished in your own cities? Consistently, I have seen the best marriages start by people meeting while jointly serving in missions overseas or in ministries within their own cities. If we look first to Biblical callings in the world and not to our own pursuit of a mate, then we are actually more likely to find someone who is ideally suited for us!

In the end, I am single, and I do hope to be married one day.

However, I am, first and foremost, a child of the living God; a servant of my Savior, Chris Jesus. My desire is to live my life through this grid in all things.

This is bigger and more wonderful than my relational status.  I dream of churches and communities of single Christians who understand and live their lives accordingly (and help me to do the same).

(This post is from my ongoing series called “My thoughts on singleness (a series. . .)“. To read an overview and previous posts from the series, please click here.)

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Comments

    • says

      As always, thanks for letting me know you have read and enjoyed this article. Love you and Mr. Clarke and look forward to seeing you both when I am back in America next!

  1. says

    I must confess I have been the “Where can I find a mate?” type of Christian, much more than the “Where is God working and how can I be a part?” type and I am afraid part of me will always automatically think of that first.

    However, as the years go by, I am gradually beginning to understand what it means to look at people through God’s eyes: one no longer sees their faults first and/or one no longer looks for the “mate” first.

    I totally agree with the ideas you expressed. But still working to get there. :)

    • says

      Thanks for speaking into this, Iulia! I agree, as I think most of us are “where can I find a mate?” first people. I also struggle with this.

      However, I am trying to continue to seek Christ first and trust Him more with all areas. This is definitely the most difficult area to trust Him within.

  2. Jill says

    John, you articulated so well my angst with church singles groups. I remember visiting a group in Dallas with a lot of buzz like the one you described. You can feel the pressure to market yourself in those groups rather than serve the Body of Christ. Thankfully my church doesn’t create that pressure for those unmarried to feel less than.

    • says

      Wow, I completely agree, Jill. It really is a weird vibe put off at so many of these places.

      I definitely do not think I have all the answers, but I just think there has to be better answers than we have see to this point for singles.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. says

    Serving alongside our brothers and sisters, whether married or single, doesn’t guarantee us finding our mate. It takes a real heart change to start with, and hopefully the service comes from that heart change…which leads to seeing other godly singles as potential mates in the places we find them.

    Singleness certainly isn’t a problem. Just like the sharpening we experience in marriage isn’t a problem. There is healthy tension in either situation.

    You are right, if the local churches did more to encourage everyone, including singles, to be the hands and feet of Christ where they are needed, to point each other and those in their community to Him, and continued to focus on equipping us all to do that–whether by discipleship, fellowship, teaching, worship, etc.–we’d see a healthy growth in the Body as a whole. And as a result, healthy relationships of all kinds! romantic or other.

    Here’s a blog post I wrote that I felt was somewhat relevant: http://www.servantsdiary.com/2011/10/finding-spouse-in-church.html

    • says

      Thanks for all of your thoughts, Christina! Lots of wisdom her and you have clearly thought well through this issue.

      Thanks for the article. I just saved it to Pocket and will read it later. Thanks a ton for posting it here!

  4. says

    Excellent post, John Gunter! My friends and I have had many a discussion about this and how we can encourage a different view of single’s ministry. I heard this podcast awhile ago, and the “a word to singles” part was really great:

    http://www.desiringgod.org/conference-messages/the-ultimate-meaning-of-true-womanhood

    It’s geared towards women since he’s speaking at a women’s conference but I feel like it’s edifying to both genders.

    Hope you are well :)

    • says

      Sindy, keep me posted on how you guys’ discussions turn out. Just curious on the topic. You are clearly a great example of living the single life well and with purpose.

      Thanks for the resource. I have clipped it to Pocket and will read/listen to it later.

      Thanks!

  5. says

    I’m wondering if I went to that Bible Study back in the day…. I loved Tony Evans on this topic. I wish I could remember it well enough to quote it, but it had to do w/ wasting time around the punch bowl at the Christian mixer. Of course, I’m married, so I should keep my trap shut. (although I do have healthy regret over spending too much time at certain points looking for a young lady vs. leveraging the ridiculous amount of free time to pursue God and things I love to do.

    • says

      Thanks for chiming in here. I’m pretty sure you probably know what I am talking about and have attended. I did not mention it by name so as to not be unkind.

      Good hearing from you, Brett!

      • says

        Yes… after reading your post today about Christians criticizing Christians, I’m glad you held your tongue! And I’m glad I didn’t try to give multiple choice. Love reading your stuff. Thanks for writing.

        • says

          Thanks a lot, Brett. Really appreciate your kind words, here.

          Yeah, I was very cautious to NOT tip anything off with the person. I actually waited a few days before posting it so that it wouldn’t appear soon after his tweets.

          Hope you are well!

  6. Kelly says

    John, thank you for this. Amen and Amen. Perfect timing as I’m at the very beginning stages of trying to get a singles class started at my church. Love your thoughts on singles looking to Christ. THIS is what our class to be about…THIS is what I want our church to be about. In focusing not on ourselves but on why we are here & how we can serve each other.

  7. says

    I read your guest post on A Life Overseas, and found your blog. I loved your series on singleness and the affirmation that we are complete in Christ; marriage is not the final destination! And it’s great to hear a male perspective on the topic. Blessings to you :)

  8. says

    I think majority of churches say its God’s will for you to be single!! Although some are encouraging members to pray for future spouse great article .
    I do not agree with single ministries as such i think if singles want to marry they should do other activities such as hiking etc; where they may find a mate. Its kind of strange how they are so many singles in Chritiandom. And every other group such as Jews,Muslims encourage their followers to marry start a family. Even same sex couples are fighting for their right to be married. I find it bizarre

  9. C.Ho says

    Well written and I agree. A lot of single people these days are very obsessed with online dating (in Canada I am speaking from). They are trying to find the right person and spend lots of money, time, energy to find the right person. I have to admit that there was a point in time when I did that too (years ago) but only for a brief while then it dawned on me that the money I used for online dating (which amounted to only 2 months) could of been used to feed the poor or help someone in need. Since then I chose not to be online and not even on FB because for me it is easy to waste time and to not use my resources for the glory of God. There is conviction in my choice.

    Carmen

    • says

      Thanks, Carmen, for speaking into this. Though I am not opposed to online dating, I do wish we would see our singleness as a way to serve with our entire lives (not simply to troll for potential mates). Great thoughts here on time!

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