Mike Cope's blog

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A few more thoughts after those amazing responses to last Thursday's blog about being single. First, this reminds me that we must continue telling people that in baptism the church--others who have signed up for following Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life--is our first family. We have to be careful about all our language about "family values," "family retreats," "family devotionals." For those of us who have responded to the call of the kingdom, our primary family isn't birth (as important as that family still is). Second, I was struck by the suggestion that we try to have an odd number of seats at our small groups. What an image! (And it makes me thankful that we do have an odd number at our covenant group.) Third, I'm reminded of the need to "look to the side" (to reflect my words from Sunday in speaking about Luke 10:25-37)--to see those who are maybe not in our tunnel vision. An invitation to dinner, even if it's running to McDonald's after church, can be so important. Fourth, the good feedback makes me wonder about our tendencies to separate people by "market groups." I think of one of our classes at Highland that has successfully incorporated couples, university students, grad students, and other singles into one group that seems to be bonding well. Fifth, we must keep the mission of Christ always before us. If we're working side-by-side in the work of the reign of God, we will inevitably be drawn closer. All right, admittedly, I'm saying the obvious here. This may be redundant, but would others like to offer specific suggestions of ways in which some of these barriers have been broken down?

14 Comments:

  • My church has always been my first family since my birth family is not very religious. If we are brothers & sisters, then our children are cousins, so let's get together & do the stuff that families do - go on outings together, etc. I am happy to say that my small group has been doing this & it is wonderful (although our group consists of 5 families w/small children - no father/mother figures). Anyway....we can always do more to get involved in each other's lives like going to sports events to support the teens in the church.

    By Blogger Beaner, at 11/22/2005 05:30:00 AM  

  • Well, you know me, Mike, the shrinking violet that never has 2 cents to interject. Yeah! right! ;)

    There are some practical things that come to mind, such as;

    * Occasionally, such as once a month, have the whole church family come together for worship time and potluck following, with a suggestion from the pulpit that we sit with someone we do NOT know, looking especially for those that are sitting alone.

    * Might it work to have a program where singles and married couples {with or without kids) could sign up for mutual adoption.

    * A place where small groups that have an empty odd-numbered chair can be found by singles looking for closer bonding with their church family through the small group ministry. I often forget that Jesus was a single among his married apostles. [exceptions noted, especially re. the women that were among his close disciples.]

    * A few times throughout the year, maybe a group of married couples could invite a single(s) to their home for dinner. The match up could be handled by a simple sign-up sheet for both groups.

    * In new membership orientation ask if the new member would be intersted in any of the above activities, that way they could be matched up with a host family, person or odd-chair small group.

    I'm sure your blog family has many more ideas, but being the shy one of the group, ;) thought I'd start it off.

    Again Mike, you have blessed us by sharing your caring heart for everyone in the family of God. You truly are a blessing!!!

    By Blogger Kathy, at 11/22/2005 06:22:00 AM  

  • I think sensitivity in general is important. Some older people like to give single people a hard time and joke about how they need to find a spouse. That kind of thing can be very hurtful. Kind of like the way well-meaning people would ask me "Isn't it time you had another baby?" when I had been suffering miscarriage after miscarriage. Not exactly music to my ears.

    My brother and I were talking about this the other day (he is single) and he made this comment I wanted to pass on: "I talked to a older lady that has never married, and she gets perturbed when she hears people talking about being single as a 'gift' from the Lord. A gift should be something that you want, like money or something cool, not underwear and socks...."

    By Blogger Deana Nall, at 11/22/2005 08:09:00 AM  

  • I'm single. In fact, I'm about as single as one could possibly be. I'm quite fine with that too.

    I have had married friends tell me, "It is great that you have the gift of being single" as if it were on the 1 Cor 12 list of spiritual gifts. In 1 Cor. 7, Paul didn't not call being single a gift. The gift is finding satisfaction in God alone. God's gift to me is himself, and I enjoy unwrapping that gift everyday.

    I do think that specific/targeted minstry groups are valid and needed. Especially from late elementary through high school. However, from my past experience, singles ministries have been the most unhealthy ministries I've ever been around. They seem to foster a "woe is me for being single" mentality and have the feel of a "meat market." I think it is more important in years beyond college to intermingle with all age groups both single and married.

    There is so much more I could write, but I will stop here. Being single isn't a disease. Being married is not God's stamp of approval on an individual. Fortunately, our identity in Christ is not based on either.

    By Blogger Jon, at 11/22/2005 08:59:00 AM  

  • In agreement with Jon, I have a dear cousin who is in his 50's and single.

    He told me once to not try to set him up, he was fine being a "Family of One."

    That stuck with me, his relationship with his Savior is more important than a marriage.
    God did bring someone into his life, and he always said he knew it would happen when it was the right person. He never pined for anyone, but rolled his sleeves up and gave of himself and his light continues to shine for Christ.

    By Blogger Hoots Musings, at 11/22/2005 09:28:00 AM  

  • My fabulous father and stepmother, active members at your church, have for many years invited singles to their home on Valentine's Day for a special dinner. My father was at one time a widower, and my stepmother a widow, until they married 23 years ago this Thanksgiving. What they do is not a big announced event, but has become a very meaningful tradition among the various single folk at Highland. She and Dad will be embarrassed that I even mention it here, but I think it is a terrific example of one special way to include those who are single. Valentine's Day can be such a thorny issue for lots of singles, but this takes some of the sting away.

    Here are ten other suggestions:
    1. Some single women do not have, for various reasons, positive histories with men. The church should be a safe place for them to get to know that Godly men are okay. So anything the leaders at church can do to foster better examples of healthy relationships between men and women, whether single or married, is a great thing!

    2. From a female point of view, it is such an enriching experience to learn at the feet of women from different walks of life – be it age, culture, economics, education, etc. And having Christian sisters to be friends with who have different backgrounds is such a blessing. Spiritual mentors are a gift! For some who find it daunting to get around a large crowd of 500 and over 1,000 at church in order to find or become such a mentor, the church could possibly figure out a way for women to get together?

    3. Diversifying within the church family is so important. I was once at a church in a singles group where nearly all the women were single through divorce. The majority at the time were extremely bitter in their outlook towards men and marriage because theirs had turned sour, and it felt very awkward and unhealthy after awhile. But there was not another ‘market group’ who would absorb me. So your comment about the church’s tendency to separate people into marketing groups struck a chord. Absorb, absorb! J

    4. Why can’t the leaders of a church instruct the singles that it’s okay to have good Christian friends of the opposite sex? A lot of the single men (and even single women) don’t want to become too invested in a nice, healthy relationship with the opposite sex if it they think a person isn’t their ‘physical type’, or marriage potential. Look at the examples of the rich relationships Jesus seemed to have with Mary, Mary, and Martha (and others I have left out). We haven’t been privy to their physical appearances!

    5. Consequently, if the leaders notice that certain older single men seem to keep preying on single women 10-20 years younger, then kindly take a lead and inquire ‘Why must you do this?’ A really sticky subject -- the younger women shouldn’t have to defend themselves all the time.

    6. When there is a church potluck being planned, it’s okay to assume a single person can indeed be a good cook. Don’t always consign the single men to provide just chips and dips or beverages. If cooks are needed, ask the singles who cook to don an apron – some are pretty great chefs!

    7. When there are prayer groups or Bible study groups being formed that will have a mix of married couples, couples with/without kids, the AARP group, and singles, ask a single person to lead it or host it at their home. Allow singles to assume some responsibility for sharing their spiritual gifts among others.

    8. It is healthy for children to see healthy single adults of many degrees and all ages to have some leadership roles in the church … not all singles are the babysitting, jolly uncle, crazy auntie types!

    9. Why do singles always have to be the odd one out?

    10. There seem to be more ways for single women and married women to share with each other and become friends and mentors. Are there just as many opportunities for single men and married men to get together for support, friendship, and spiritual encouragement? Retreats can be fun and productive.

    Blessings!

    By Blogger Deb, at 11/22/2005 10:41:00 AM  

  • One last comment from me on this subject.

    How can we project the truth to our churches that ONE is a whole number. Singles are not a fraction of a person just waiting for another fraction to make them a whole person. ONE IS a whole number.

    By Blogger Kathy, at 11/22/2005 10:49:00 AM  

  • Thanks, Mike, for returning to this subject.

    We've touched a lot on there being a change of mind and heart in churches regarding singles in their midst, and that is definitely a big piece of what needs to happen, IMHO.

    A bigger piece, however, will be sitting down and re-discovering how the body of Christ might allow each unique gift to be utilized. As it stands, singles are not the only segment of churches that seem to be marginalized: In many churches, teens, children, women, minorities, and even the elderly are not given freedom to exercise their spiritual gifts, and many of these people wouldn't know what to do if they were!

    IMHO, one of the main problems with the church today (maybe THE problem) is its ineffectiveness in putting into practice Ephesians 4:

    7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it [a] says:
    "When he ascended on high,
    he took many captives
    and gave gifts to his people." [b]

    9 (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions [c]? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

    14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.


    According to this verse, the church "grows and builds itself up in love" ONLY "as each part does its work." How many churches can honestly say that each part is doing its work? Is this even possible at most churches due to their size? We need to be creating and re-creating (and re-creating, and re-crea...) communities of faith that allow each part to do its work -- single prophets, female evangelists, black pastors, teenage teachers, and even elderly apostles.

    As a current and future church planter, I refuse to create a community where every part cannot do its work. We cannot expect growth -- true, "disciple-making" growth -- if each part is not doing its work.

    That's all I've got...I'll shut up now.

    By Blogger Steve Jr., at 11/22/2005 01:30:00 PM  

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    By Blogger K Speck, at 11/22/2005 01:44:00 PM  

  • Sometimes we singles get very territorial about our "single-ness". We think no one else knows what we're going through. Sometimes others don't know exactly but I think we need to give a little slack to those who are trying!

    By Blogger That Girl, at 11/22/2005 06:23:00 PM  

  • I am late for Thursday's discussion: being single again after 23.5 years of marriage has been a daunting experience. Perhaps the most difficult part is going to church. I have never felt more lonely than I have at church. I feel like I have an invisibility cloak on. On good days I get more than my share of hugs but on other days I can come and go without being seen and strangely no one says a word.

    After 20+ years in full time ministry I now sit in a church that in three years has not asked me to say a prayer and only recently they grabbed me at the back and asked me to pass communion trays when someone else didn't show up. I think it was someone who didn't know I was single. I taught the auditorium class for the three months before my seperation/divorce. I don't think they will ever ask me to teach again.

    This is a church of 2000 and I do have some friends there. Some have reached out to me. I still go to my married class and they support me. They continue to stand with me.

    I just need people to stop and talk to me. Acknowledge that I am there. Let me be the person God made me to be. I am single but I am not dead! I have given my life to ministry and now I am mostly ignored.

    I go to another church once a month to preach. They are totally supportive and encouraging.

    I have started attending a large singles Bible study in another church (non-CoC) and have made many wonderful friends. They have a great ministry going. Why can't we do it in the CoC? If this is happening to me, what about those who were on the marginal fringe already?

    By Blogger Paul, at 11/22/2005 09:04:00 PM  

  • My wife and and I both married a little later in life (35 & 38). From opposite sides of the world, we had both answered God's call to serve him in Africa, and met and married each other here. When I was single, I had several friends who would say--I'm going to the mission field, but I can't do it as a single. I'm going to get married first. And they did, and they served God faithfully both overseas and elsewhere. That's not wrong. I believe it is what God called them to do. God called me to do something different--to obey without conditions, though I wanted terribly to be married and to have a family.

    To singles in any situation, I would say to listen to God and to obey whatever he is calling you to, but be involved in ministry!

    For those who are married, the comment about inviting singles to a meal--even if it's to McDonalds--is so important; it can be lonely and hurtful to be left standing in the foyer after church with no one to leave with.

    By Blogger Anthony Parker, at 11/23/2005 07:00:00 AM  

  • One incident I will never forget when I was single. I was standing around with a few of my married friends after church and they were talking about a marriage class they were involved with. The subject of sex and intimacy came up and one of my frinds turned to me and said "Well Joel I guess you wouldn't know that much about sex." I had just been a Christian a few years and unfortunatly I knew more than I should. But I resented deeply being treated as a non-sexual person.

    I think we need to some how find a way to confirm each other's sexual identity whether we are single, married or divorced. Helen Gurley Brown wrote the ground breaking book "Sex And The Single Woman" back in the 60's. I wish someone would write "Sex And The Single Christian." As it is now we just don't believe that Christians have a sexual identity before marriage. We treat single adults like adults in children's bodies.

    Another thing that I think hinders us as a church is not involving single adults in leadership positions in the church. We look at the qualifications for elder and believe that the normative qualification for ANY leadership position is marriage (and male-ness but that is another topic). A few years ago we hired a single youth minister at our church and it had a big impact. I would love to see more singles in church leadership other than just being asked to lead a bible study every once in a while.

    By Blogger Joel Maners, at 11/23/2005 07:46:00 AM  

  • I have been part of a really good singles dept at my church. We have really strong friendships (coed), and there is a group that goes out to eat together just about every Sunday. We play together quite freqently - although every once in awhile it gets expensive for those of us who haven't settled into a career yet with a nice consistent paycheck. But it has been a healthy group. Of course there are usually several marriages each year or so. But we are also a stomping ground for quite a few seminary guys...so that helps!

    But I definitely resonate with the need for family. Which is quite ironic for me to say, because I've been one of a very few who has stayed at the same church since jr. high. So, my parents attend that church too. But being in a stage in life where I'm trying to make the transition into adulthood (and since I don't have the closest relationship with my parents) I've needed to find that "adult" guidance/friendship elsewhere.

    I've found myself in relationship with several married couples (most with kids). I do tend to be a babysitter more than an "equal". Which gets kindof irritating. It happened last week actually. The statement that's bittersweet. "I'm in a bind, can you pick up my kids and take them home" (the sweetness of being trusted to care for their children) - "we called all our friends and then we remembered you don't have your own kids to put in bed!" (the bitterness of being reminded of my lack of husband and children of my own!) And they weren't trying to be insensitive. It was a compliment, to be asked/trusted to do this for them, for anyone who ever needs me to take care of their kids. The babysitter role just gets old sometimes. At 25 years old, I struggle with wanting my own. And I struggle with the adults who aren't that far ahead of me in years having a relationship with me be more about taking care of their kids (i.e. a really old "college student" - even though I graduated 3 years ago) instead of being an equal partner/participant in an adult relationship.

    I have no idea how to translate that into church ministry.

    I also totally agree with Joel's comment about the sex issue. Whether as a single I've experienced it or not - it's not some taboo subject just because I'm single. It's not like my single friends and I don't talk about it together. It would actually be more helpful if Christian singles got good information from married couples within the church. That's where our information should be coming from! That's where we should be taught - hey, "____" is ok! (And "in marriage" doesn't have to be said after every sentence...I think if you preface your entire dialogue with, "obviously everything I'm about to say about the sex topic is in the context of marriage" I think we get it). Most of us don't even need that...if we've grown up in church..we know! I just wish we as a church would allow that subject to permeate the walls of the church building in a singles' class and not think they're going to be walking out of the room like dogs in heat! Geez, we can have a civil conversation on the topic! We are adults after all. We don't all giggle when you say the word, anymore (most of the time, depending on context)!

    I too like the idea of having an odd number of chairs, anywhere. Bible studies, dinner parties, etc.

    The other thing that stood out to me is the potluck dinner. The church I attended while doing college ministry in PA did that once a month. I loved it. I really felt the atmosphere of family. Of course that's a little easier to do with a smaller congregation, but it doesn't mean you can't improvise.

    The other thing that comes to mind is that the single has to make an effort to become involved in the lives of families. Obviously, ideally, the family would reach out to the single. But I don't think as a single I feel comfortable putting all the pressure on someone who already has an incredibly hectic schedule if they have children who are involved in any extracurricular activity (including church). So the single needs to put themself in situations where they meet families in the church. Volunteer in the nursery one or two Sundays a month. Make an effort to get to know the parents who drop them off. Be in a women's or men's Bible study, or start one that's open to all age groups/life situations. If you want leadership roles, initiate them. You don't have to wait to be asked to be on a committee, go to the committee/ministry leader and say - I want to serve, what can I do? Most churches are lacking in people with a heart to serve. They would fall on the floor and kiss your feet if you came and said..I want to do something to participate in the life of my church! Also, invite people over, don't just expect them to invite you. Find out from your pastor the name of a family who could use some emotional encouragement (maybe they have a child about to have surgery, or a family member was just diagnosed with cancer, etc) - invite them to dinner, begin building a relationship through casual dinnertime conversation.
    That's my advice to my fellow singles. Don't be afraid to take the initiative - or put it on everyone else. We are just as capable of throwing a dinner party, complete with Disney movies ready for the kids to be entertained during the adult conversation time. Emperor's New Groove was a classic among my ACU friends and I...!
    I'm not saying we don't educate married adults to look for opportunities to invest in singles, I saying it's not their responsibility alone.

    By Blogger Kathryn Young, at 11/24/2005 06:24:00 PM  

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