In September I attended the sold-out Single Minded Conference. Most of the people there were single, but it was hugely encouraging to also see many pastors and married couples put aside a day to consider how they can better understand and care for the single people in their lives.
One quote by the main speaker Sam Allberry particularly resonated with me: “If singleness means alone-ness, we’re not doing church very well.”
Church as a family
I’m not here to condemn married people, telling them they’re failing to do enough to care for the single people in their churches. I have friends who invite me into their families, consider me an aunty to their kids, and invite me over for dinner even in the messiness of marriage and life.
Not all single people have the same experience, and it’s a good issue to talk about in your local churches. I’m glad this conference encouraged and equipped married people to help the unmarried who may have felt lonely for a long time. But I want to focus on the challenge in Sam’s words for all of us. We often refer to our “church family”, but are we acting this way?
Let’s remember what binds us together:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1–6)
We are united by blood—but by Jesus’ blood, poured out to make us part of his family. We are God’s sons and heirs, bound together the Holy Spirit. Do we treat our fellow Christians as if we really believe this?
Singleness and family
Those who are never married lose out on having a nuclear family. It’s important not to minimise this—it’s a real and often very painful loss. Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India in the early twentieth century, wrote of her grief in leaving behind the possibility of marriage and family to go on the mission field. Yet she also recognised this as an immense privilege. By giving up an earthly family, she was able to grow the family of God. She wrote this moving poem:
If thy dear home be fuller, Lord,
For that a little emptier
My house on earth, what rich reward
That guerdon were.1
Most of us have extended families, of course, and I hope that everyone is able to enjoy rich relationships as a daughter or son, brother or sister, grandchild, aunt or uncle. But our fundamental identity is as brothers and sisters in Christ. This will last beyond death, through all eternity. Our church family is not a consolation prize for those who don’t get to have a spouse and children.
Singleness and the kingdom
Sam Allberry also talked about how singleness is advantageous for the kingdom of God. This truth isn’t always comforting—maybe you’re taking on extra ministry pressures because everyone thinks you’ve got endless free time, or perhaps you’d rather have the husband and kids than serve more. But this is still a benefit to singleness.
As an unmarried person, my time and energy are at my disposal. I have freedom to choose what to do, and in many seasons of life I’m able to do more ministry than somebody who (rightly) needs to care for their family. I can use this privilege to joyfully serve those in my church family who don’t have the same freedom.
Singleness has its pains and challenges, and it’s wonderful that conferences like Single Minded acknowledge that. But God’s good gift is not nullified because it’s not what I would have chosen for myself. In the end, serving God with all that I have will make me happier than any earthly comforts I could find in a spouse.
Challenges from Single Minded
Reflecting on everything I heard at this conference, I see several challenges for churches, single people, and (especially) myself.
For churches: Are there lonely people in your congregation? Why is this the case? If our most fundamental identity is being a child of God, we must live like a family.
For single people: Are we looking for our purpose, identity and contentment in a future spouse? Are we grateful to be able to serve our church family, without thinking of them as a consolation prize? Are we maximally using this gift that God has given us to advance his kingdom?
I was prompted to reflect on how I personally deal with loneliness. Am I putting all my hopes for intimacy in spouse, or am I pouring myself into relationships in my church family? Am I dwelling on my own feelings, or reaching out to others in my church who may be battling loneliness?
I need to be on the lookout in my church for anyone who feels isolated—immigrants, people in difficult marriages, those who are sick, new arrivals to the area. They are my blood-bought brothers and sisters. I should not be so wrapped up in my own singleness to care for them.
Whether married or single, you’re an indispensable part of your church family. You need them, and they need you. How can you serve them today, in whatever situation God has given you?
You can listen to Sam Allberry’s talks, and other sessions from Single Minded, at www.singlemindedconference.com.