The singles in your church are hurting. Many (dare I say most?) of them have a strained relationship with the church.
There’s Pain in Your Pews
Since writing a book on singleness, I hear from singles often. Here’s what one thirty-nine-year-old woman has to say:
I’m convinced there is something very wrong with me! I feel like a complete outcast in each and every church. The weird thing is I don’t feel that way at work, which is a completely secular environment. Lately I’ve been crying all weekend and so grateful to be able to go to work on Monday morning because I know I’m valued and wanted there and I know I am contributing something as well.
This woman isn’t the only single who feels like an oddity in church. You might be tempted to think, Oh, toughen up! You think marriage is easy? But here’s why their hurt is our problem, too.
It’s a Family Responsibility
If you’ve placed all your trust in Christ as your righteousness, you’re now a tiny but vital member of His family and of His Body. There are millions upon millions of other members, and what impacts each of these people impacts you because we’re one now. Paul tells us:
But God has so composed the body . . . that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Cor. 12:24–26, emphasis added).
We have a responsibility to care for singles as we would our own families, because we’re not independent individuals anymore. We’re a part of something so much larger. Besides, in heaven there will be no individual marriage or families other than the family of God (Matt. 22:30).
So how can we care for singles as we ought? It starts with how we think about singleness.
Singleness Isn’t a Disease to Be Healed
Many people view singleness as a disease to be healed. I’ve been guilty of this myself. God’s Word, however, has quite a different perspective.
In 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul addresses the whole church about the advantages and benefits of singleness. Singles, he says, are spared anxieties and troubles. (If you told a single that, they’d probably think, Ha! Paul obviously didn’t have a clue. I have plenty of troubles, and plenty to be anxious about!)
I don’t think Paul intends to minimize everything a single has to juggle in life. His point is that they’re not distracted by needing to please the Lord and their spouse. They have the freedom to be singularly devoted to the Lord.
Let’s be careful that we don’t adopt a “woe is you because you’re single” mindset when God celebrates singleness.
Let’s also be careful about how we “encourage” singles.
The American church tends to get a bad rap—and often with good reason. That’s why I want to tell you about a gem of a church that Trevor and I stumbled across on our way to Illinois this past Thanksgiving. A church that shattered the negative stereotypes of what the American church is all about. A hospitable church.
Happening Upon a Hospitable Church
Up until the day before, we planned to attend a different local church. But when my friend invited us to her church and then over for lunch at her pastor’s house, we were intrigued.
“You’re totally welcome,” she said. “We do it every Sunday. We spend the whole afternoon together, go back for a 5:30 p.m. service, and then make supper there. Leftovers, pizza rolls . . . nothing fancy.”
I wasn’t terribly keen on the idea of spending the entire day with strangers (I like my alone time!). But Trevor was excited about attending a church that made it easy for us to corporately set aside the Lord’s Day. So we said “yes.”
And that’s how we ended up spending all Sunday with perfect strangers. Believe it or not, I didn’t miss my alone time. That day was the highlight of our vacation . . . and even one of the top highlights of 2017 for us.
What made it so great? Yes, the songs and sermon were meaty and rich. Yes, the people were friendly. And boy, those homemade salted caramel cookies they served after service . . .
But what really sealed the deal was the hospitality we experienced after the church doors were shut.
Walking Into a Hospitable Home
We felt right at home from the moment we walked into the house and the kids took our coats at the door. The mom of the house showed me a messy but private bedroom where I could nurse Iren.
Trevor and the pastor talked and ate while I fed Iren. Then I came down, and different kids held Iren while I chowed down and talked with my friend.
I noted that the pastor was down-to-earth and accessible. He seemed a bit shy, but he was present with us all afternoon. He didn’t lead the conversation; he just sat on the couch with a drink, obviously enjoying the conversation and people.
Kids of all ages sat crosslegged on the floor. Men and women sat around the room in chairs—one woman knitting.
Conversation meandered here and there until I started a group conversation on parenting and rules. I was amazed to hear they’re not big on adding rules to their kids’ lives but on focusing on God’s two greatest commands: loving Him and loving others. I took lots of mental notes for when Iren gets a little bigger.
We went back to the church for evening service and then joined these same people in the kitchen for pizza and more fun, deep conversation.
Becoming a Hospitable Church
Trevor and I exited those church doors late that evening saying, “We want that kind of love, community, and hospitality at our church.”
“Let’s pray for that,” I said.
“Yes,” he replied, “and it starts with us.”
I am so grateful for his perspective. We are the church (Eph. 1:22-23). There is no need to sit around waiting for someone else to take action—not even the leaders. We can and should take ownership, initiate, and invite others into our lives and home.
How about you? Are you waiting for someone else to set the tone at your local church, or are you welcoming others into your life and home? Let’s be a hospitable church!
PPS: Come back to the blog next Friday, February 2, to read about the one sentence this pastor shared that has lodged in my gut and changed my days—possibly even the course of my life—ever since I heard it.
PPPS: To make it easier on you, type your email in the box to the right under “Don’t Miss a Post!” and you’ll receive Friday’s post in your inbox. (If you’re reading this on your phone, click on the menu button at the top and choose “Subscribe by Email.”) I generally post once a week, though next week it will be twice. Oh, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
When you pass by someone’s free stuff sitting out on the curb, do you stop and take a closer look, or ignore it altogether?
Recently, my husband and I took advantage of a rare moment of freedom (read: babysitting), and set out on our bikes. We cycled through upscale neighborhoods, pointing out our favorite homes and landscaping, until we spotted this strange-looking device by the side of the road.
I wasn’t surprised when my husband instantly recognized what it was: an inversion table. We pedaled home fast. He jumped off his bike and climbed into his ’99 station wagon (the same one he’s been driving since he got his license thirteen years ago). He loaded the contraption into the back, and returned to research what inversion tables go for these days.
A couple weeks later he danced around the house, waving the $50 we had made.
How Should We Spend Our Money?
“Is it wrong to want more money?” he had wondered aloud a few weeks before.
“How would we spend the money if we did have it?” I questioned.
After thinking about it, we both agreed: Hospitality.
We got an opportunity to practice hospitality with a couple who moved in across the street, and we now had fifty more dollars to spend.
Because our neighbors are from Iraq, they don’t have family or many friends here. So we rallied nearly twenty friends and helped move them in, mow their lawn, and more. The mother only speaks Arabic, but as her words spilled out, she blew a kiss toward heaven. I knew she was expressing thanks for our help.
We provided a meal after, and our neighbors surprised us by also calling in an order for Middle Eastern food. I heated the large rounds of pita bread in the oven. Then I roasted a s’more for the mother over our bonfire, and we sent people home with leftovers.
Hospitality = Love for Strangers
Hospitality can hurt. If this is often the case, why do it?
I recently learned that the Greek word for hospitality, “philoxenia,” means “love for stranger.” And that’s exactly who we were — strangers — before God threw open the doors of his home to us:
Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. . . So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:12–13, 19)
As Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth writes in her newest book Adorned, “At the heart of the gospel, at the heart of the cross, is the Lord Jesus opening his arms wide and saying, ‘I want you to come home with me.’”
Hospitality: Worth the Expense
My husband and I are taking small, wobbly steps toward loving strangers, in hopes that we will better see and show the magnificent generosity of Jesus. And quite frankly, the joy far outweighs the pain.
“Is it strange that I feel sorry for him?” my husband asked me the other day of someone whose Instagram account is filled with one exotic vacation after another.
“No,” I replied. “I wouldn’t trade our life for his. While it’s ordinary, it’s so exciting.”
I can’t think of another life I’d rather live than opening my heart and home to others with this frugal but generous man by my side. Jesus is right: The upside-down life really does bring the most joy: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Hospitality isn’t always glamorous. It’s hard work. But hospitality — on a budget or otherwise — is worth it.