How churches can better serve those who are single

October 15, 2018

When I placed the silver “True Love Waits” ring on my 15-year-old finger, I never dreamed that I would still be single into my 40s. Growing up in the south, expectations included getting married in your early 20s so you could begin adulting and start your own family. In retrospect, I didn’t even have a category for people like me. Today, most churches still don’t have a category for people like me.

For a variety of reasons, prolonged singleness is on the rise in modern societies. So, please consider a few simple reminders and suggestions from a single woman living in a Christian culture that often idolizes marriage and family.

What the Bible teaches us about singleness and marriage

Marriage is a beautiful picture of the gospel. We are the bride, and Christ is the bridegroom. Marriage is one significant way that God chooses to demonstrate his glory to the world. However, it is not the only way. The single life also demonstrates God’s glory to the watching world.

The Bible gives clear teaching on marriage and singleness. Both marriage (Prov. 18:22) and singleness (1 Cor. 7:7) are gifts from the Lord. We should find contentent with either situation. Biblical marriage is a unique reflection of God’s glory for earth, but it is temporary. There will be no marriage in eternity (Gen. 2:24-25; Matt. 22:30). Paul reminds us, however, that singleness allows for undivided devotion to the things of God (1 Cor. 7:35).

Sidenote to singles: Undivided devotion is not our wretched heart’s first instinct. It takes work and discipline to make the best use of our time. The enemy wants us to squander our resources and limit our use of the talents God has given us. Be aware of what distracts you. Be disciplined. Set limits for mindless activities and scrolling in your day. Intentionality is the key to undivided devotion.

How our society (especially the church) idolizes marriage and family

In her new book, Gay Girl, Good God, Jackie Hill Perry elaborates on what she refers to as the heterosexual gospel. This idea “tends to put more emphasis on marriage as the goal of the Christian life than on knowing Jesus.” God’s plan for the world was not to make single people married; it was to reconcile a people and bring glory to himself.

God’s plan for the world was not to make single people married; it was to reconcile a people and bring glory to himself.

Churches need to be intentional to offer opportunities for community and discipleship for all of their members at various life stages. Singleness has a way of making you feel hidden in plain sight. Married friends, how much of your identity revolves around the other people who live under your roof? How do you introduce yourself? Do you seek your spouse’s opinion, approval, encouragement and validation more than your heavenly Father’s? It may be worth consideration: has your family become an idol?

Social media has spotlighted the widening gap between married and single people, and it depicts what people value and seek. Your social media feed and your bank statement are good indicators of potential idols in your life. We must constantly evaluate our hearts. What is most important to us? Where can we release our grip on things? Who gets our best each day?

There are times for a marriage sermon series, marriage retreats, and date night babysitting events within our churches. Still, the rate of singleness is on the rise and should not be disregarded or ignored by the church. A 2017 study from Pew Research showed that 42 percent of American adults do not live with a spouse. This number continues to grow each year. Our churches must stay relevant to all members. Are single people an integral part of your plan to push your church’s mission forward? If not, you must evaluate possible reasons why.

Welcome and embrace the single life across different ages

Few people would come out and say that singleness is a second-rate life compared to married life. However, as believers, we must consider what we are unintentionally communicating. Does your church encourage and invite multi-generational friendships? I know more than one church that has a Sunday School class named “Pairs and Spares.” This may seem like a silly example, but when I visited one class, I couldn’t help but notice that I was considered a spare. What does this terminology communicate to the widow or single dad who is visiting the church?

Does your church provide opportunities for single people to build community after the age of 30 and before the age of 70? Basically, there are 40 years of life when they don’t quite fit into the “college and career” class, but they aren’t quite ready for the “olden golden class” either. Even if your church places less emphasis on programs, do single people know where to find community, help for projects around the house, or a little league baseball game to go to with a family on a Saturday?

Warren Wiersbe explains, “Some have been called to a life of singleness for one reason or another. Their singleness is not sub-spiritual. It all depends on the will of God.” Churches must be intentional to make sure that singles feel welcomed, included, and valued every day of the week, including Sundays. Sundays should not be a single person’s loneliest day of the week.

Sidenote to singles: We are not exempt from needing community. It is still not good for man, or woman, to be alone (Gen. 2:18). You will have to work harder to create this because community is more than likely not under your roof or committed to you through a covenant. Or is it? As believers in Christ, we all have entered into an even more permanent and serious covenant than marriage. Don’t think you are free from covenantal commitment because you don’t have a ring on your left hand. Our salvation is sealed with a greater covenant.

Brothers, mentor young men in your church

Admittedly, my opinion is biased, and my perspective is skewed. I know a plethora of God-honoring, gospel-motivated, ambitious, mature, stellar, single women consistently serving in churches and ministries. In contrast, many single men my age are not faithfully committed to a church body. Most of my rockstar single lady friends still very much desire to be married. Do you see the dilemma? “Where else would we go, Lord?”

Married men, will you do your sisters in Christ a favor and mentor young men to be God-honoring, gospel-motivated, ambitious, and mature? Disciple them, teach them how to pursue women in a godly way, and invite them into your home to see a healthy family unit. Model to them how to be a good husband, father, and brother in Christ.

With the rise of prolonged singleness in our churches, we must clearly understand what the Bible says about marriage and singleness. Our churches should strive to include, value, and welcome the input of single saints and provide them with the family that is already theirs in Christ.  

This article originally appeared here.

Sara Beth Fentress

Sara Beth Fentress is the founder and executive director of 127 Worldwide, a non-profit organization that helps Christians tangibly live out James 1:27. God has grown a passion in her heart for orphan care, advocacy, education and discipleship. She lives in Raleigh, N.C., and is a covenant member of Imago … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24