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February 9, 2011 / Meg

Theology of Singleness.

Last Monday, I went to a group discussion on the theology of singleness.  As a single, mid-20something seminary student, theology and singleness are two prevalent parts of my life, so I was quite interested in the discussion.

We got the ball rolling by sharing the first thing that comes to mind when we hear “theology of marriage.”  Some of the answers included love, unity, sex, and sacrament.  When we switched the conversation to “theology of singleness,” most of the answers changed to nuns, monks, and monastic life.

Two of the ten people in our group had actually contemplated monastic life, and although this is something that has honestly never crossed my mind before, it was an interesting direction for the conversation to take. I was hoping to discuss the idea that singleness denotes incompletion, which I vehemently disagree with.  Unfortunately, our conversation didn’t have enough time discuss this in great detail.

We did discuss, however, the idea that there may be no such thing as a theology of singleness at all; if we are truly in union with God, are we ever really single?  If you take that line of thought, then when does singleness begin?  How can you label singleness—at birth, or teenage years, or sometime in your 20’s?  It certainly opened up a range of thoughts and ideas.

We then had a long discussion about single ministry in the church.  [Please note: our group was very diverse and represented many different denominations.]  The amount of struggle and frustration that many in the group have had with single ministry was not unexpected yet still discouraging.  So many of us had experienced a single ministry similar to match.com for the church.  Is this the point of single ministry?  Why is there such a pressure to match singles up within the church?  And when you do find a relationship, does that mean you’ve graduated from the single ministry?  It’s a weird concept.  I’m sure that there are some really awesome single ministries out there, but unfortunately it seemed like our group either had bad experiences or none at all in single ministry.

That being said, we talked about how we can improve this as a church.  Are small groups that are homogenous by age (20-somethings, 30-somethings, etc.) the answer?  For young 20-somethings who may only attend their home church on breaks from college, this may not be the best answer.  But single ministry reaches beyond the 20-something age bracket, so it’s definitely something that needs to be considered.

If there is a theology of singleness, it would be best to know how the church defines it.  We never were able to talk about what exactly being single means by the church’s standards.  Does single mean unmarried?  Unmarried by choice?  And what about those of us who are still looking for Mr. (or Mrs.) Right?  Does singleness even need to be defined at all?  So many questions!

I’m turning the discussion over to you:  Do you think there is such a thing as the theology of singleness?  How would you define it?  Also, have you had any experiences in single ministry?  Great?  Not so great?  If not so great, how can we improve this in the church? I’d love to hear from you!  Leave your thoughts in a comment.

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5 Comments

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  1. greekphysique / Feb 9 2011 3:01 pm

    I go to a Christian 20-somethings group that I do feel wants to become more of a singles group. But most of the guys and I heavily oppose this. We don’t want to date within group. I’ve had enough trouble due to 1 or 2 broken friendships. Would I really want to date within the Church and cause division if it doesn’t work out? I’m afraid I’m in the troublesome camp where I almost prefer to date outside of church because I’ve seen how bad dating can ruin things in church.

  2. reneamac / Feb 14 2011 3:34 pm

    Found your site when you’re “Worst Date Ever” was Freshly Pressed, by the way. Congrats!

    Interesting thoughts about being in a relationship with God negating, in a sense, singleness. That speaks to our communal-orientation in general. We were created in the image of the Trinity (the perfect community), designed to be in relationship with God and with one another; we need more interdependence, not more independence. This is a large part of why I’m not a huge fan of demographically segregated Sunday school when there aren’t other things in place to foster relationships across age and marital status. And this is where I believe a “theology of singleness” comes into play. We need each other. From the vantage points of our various ages and stages we image God in various ways and have huge potential to learn from one another about who God is and how he works in the word, who we are and how we work in the world…

    Great post.

  3. Beppo / Feb 14 2011 3:50 pm

    Singleness doesn’t make anyone “incomplete”. It’s sad that so many people think that way. God promised to supply all our needs, and we don’t need anything other than Him.

    I was single until 31 and am still involved in singles ministry. We’ve never let our singles group become a dating service. I don’t like that kind of promotion, even if it’s done in fun. On the topic of singleness, people can get hurt even in jest because it can be a sensitive area.

    I lead a small group of single adults, and personally I don’t care for the age categorization — if it’s 20-somethings, how does someone feel when they turn 30 and are still single? There may not be a perfect solution, but I don’t like the idea of kicking someone out because they’re “too old” and still single. That could do a lot of harm.

    I think dating is over-hyped in our society. They way God led me to approach it (just to me, not a doctrine), is to become best friends before getting romantically involved. God led me to a 4-year fast from dating (though at the time I didn’t know how long it would last). This started at age 25, when I was about ready to get married (after finding the right one, of course). I was just friends with girls during that time, doing my best to not think about dating. And although it was hard at first, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. There was so much peace, life was simpler, and it made my friendships with girls so much better. I could be myself, without worrying about what so-and-so thinks or whether it would work out. God said He would take care of it, and when it was time, He showed me who I was supposed to marry. But He made me completely surrender it to Him — even if it meant never getting married should that be His will. Surrendering it to Him is what we should do anyway.

    That approach, while unconventional, helps avoid problems of division and hurt if it doesn’t work out. There’s still pain sometimes, of course, but I think it’s less that way, especially if the other person buys in to your philosophy on dating. And perhaps most important of all, your relationship is built on a foundation of being best friends, instead of it being clouded by romance, status, and physical affection (even just hugging, kissing). Plus there’s not a trail of failed dating relationships and the emotional baggage that ensues. And once two people go beyond being just friends, it’s really difficult to ever go back.

    One of my friends took this even further, making a commitment to not even kiss until his wedding day. And they had a great relationship and are still together years later.

    Personally, I don’t think someone is really ready for marriage until they are content in singleness. (I know, that’s debatable, but it’s my opinion.) If someone feels they need someone, then part of the relationship is built on that insecurity instead of on a solid foundation.

    • Meg / Feb 14 2011 4:21 pm

      I totally agree with you. I hate the way that society makes us feel incomplete unless we’re in a romantic relationship. I also took a dating fast which intentionally started back in 2008. With the exception of one short short dating experience (which only lasted about 6 weeks), I’ve been single for a few years now. I’ve grown so much in my relationship with God and am incredibly thankful for the “alone time.” I definitely think it’s important to be happy with who you are just as God created you. If we’re not happy with ourselves, how can we be happy with anyone else? That’s at least how I see it. Glad to see you’re leading a fantastic singles ministry.

  4. victoriamiles / Feb 15 2011 3:49 am

    I was one of those girls that never really gave boys too much of my time until my husband – who is actually the only guy I’ve ever dated.

    I didn’t get married until I was 26 (Apparently the average age for women now, who knew) which I know means that I didn’t spend too much of my life single, but I never really understood the whole segregating people because of their relationship status.

    When I was single, “singles groups” just seemed weird to me – maybe because I wasn’t looking? Or maybe just because I didn’t consider my relationship status to be any sort of defining factor in my life, I don’t know. After I got married, we were invited to a “couples” group that we checked out once or twice – but that felt weird to me too.

    I guess for me, I just don’t get why relationship status makes that big of a difference. My best friend got married 3 years before me – and had been dating for 2 years before that. I was single the entire time and it’s not like once she got married we couldn’t relate to each other any more.

    Of course, I don’t like segregation of ages either. I’d rather be able to hang out with the seniors or the kids and be able to get to know them than be in a group of people just my own age.

    I understand that it’s sometimes easier to connect to people that you have things in common with… but I think the church is a great place to connect with people you DON’T always have everything in common with too.

    I’m sitting here wracking my brain trying to figure out if I conscribe any sort of theology of singleness… and I don’t think I do. God uses everybody. Their circumstances/”statuses” do not change that.

    I’m not sure if any of that answers any of your questions…

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