Podcast: Singleness and the Church


Josh, Kyle, and Bob continue our series on Singleness with a sober conversation on the church’s view of singleness.

Without shaming ‘matchmakers’, they seek a balanced position, acknowledging that some singles are called to marriage and that some are called to singleness.

They also talk about the ways that the Church often idolizes marriage.

Overall, they discuss that becoming married does not equal ‘spiritual arrival’, but instead, that we are all on this journey towards Jesus.

Click for Full Podcast Transcription

Josh 0:07
So as we continue our series on singleness, Bob and Kyle, you were talking offline, and one of you made the comment. And I think it’s a sobering comment that you thought it’s easier to be single in the culture than it is to be single in the church. So just respond to that. Why? Why would you? What is it about being single in the church? What are some of the specific challenges that singles Christian singles experience in the church?

Kyle Bowman 0:53
I think one of the biggest challenge is, is that there’s an expectation that marriage is the end goal. And marriage might not be the end goal for a lot of people whether whether they desire it, and it never happens. Or if a person chooses that, they want to remain single. So it’s sometimes it’s difficult when you go into church. And people kind of look at you, oh, you’re saying, oh, have you haven’t found a nice young man, or you haven’t found a nice young woman? And so all of a sudden, then you begin to feel small, and you feel like, wow, like, you don’t have to feel sorry for me, because I’m single.

Josh 1:32
Right? Yeah. I mean, if we’re if if marriage is the goal, if that significant other is the goal, then what does that say about the marrieds in the church, compared to the unmarried men and women in the church? I mean, it just automatically sets up this kind of this ranking system just based on, on on whether you’re married or single, gosh, that’s, that’s ugly, it’s very ugly.

Bob Ragan 1:58
You know, sometimes you hear the comment, well, well, the right matter, the right woman just hasn’t come along just yet. And that’s presumptive, in a way, because the presumption is you are going to be married. So they’re there instead of meeting me as an individual where I am, the assumption is, well, it’s just because the right person hasn’t come along just yet. And that, that puts pressure on me that, in fact, that’s making that’s that’s in a way, saying, you know, that you are lonely and that you have to find this person, I’m trying to think the right words to say there. But it’s, it’s almost like putting me in a category in a way and instead of seeing me right where I am in this moment, it’s reminding me of something I don’t have instead of telling me what I am right now,

Josh 2:53
right? And so we talked in a previous podcast about just the the acuteness of loneliness, and how that can be felt differently for singles. Then you go to church, and you got somebody who’s saying, hey, oh, I’ve got the nicest girl you should meet or the nicest person who’s come along yet, or, or Hey, look at that. Did you notice the new guy who just started showing up? And all of a sudden, it’s it just kind of goes back to this. And I think Bob even talked last time about, like, shedding the label of single. Like, that’s like, stop seeing me just through that grid. Like, what? There’s more to me than than just this and not only that, but but that presumptive nature of like you’re meant to be married, you’re supposed to be married? Or Or what about your involvement in the church? I mean, there’s a lot of kind of assumptions underneath that that don’t sound right.

Bob Ragan 3:40
The song Matchmaker, matchmaker, just filtered through my head right now.

Josh 3:46
And that’s not to say, by the way, that that some single men and women in some seasons wouldn’t want somebody to set them up with a date. We’re not saying that’s a bad thing automatically.

Bob Ragan 3:55
Yeah, I don’t want to negate the good heart of married couples who want me as a single to to experience the joy that they’re experienced. I mean, that that that’s wonderful. But the danger is, is to say, this is what you are absolutely are, you must absolutely have in your life to be happy.

Josh 4:14
Yeah. And I think Kyle, what you’re bringing up really, I think, summarizes it while are kind of nailed it with just this idea of that. There’s this almost like better and worse state to be in, you know, you’re married, you’re you’re better off, you’re single, you’re not quite as well off. And so I think behind underneath the good good heartedness. I think marrieds might ask themselves that question even as they’re wanting to set somebody up or, like, you know, wanting to speak into this, do they believe automatically that to be married is is the better? And then maybe in addition to that, like, what does it say about the person is your assumption whether you’re married or single in the church, that people who are married have something about who they are, that is better than single people in church? How about who they are. Can you speak to that at all?

Kyle Bowman 5:03
You know, I just thought about even just even the, the opposite of that where, you know, you’re talking to a person and, you know, you’re thinking, Okay, well, it’d be nice if that happens. And there’s this immediate thing from this single person who may be I mean, this married person whose marriage may not be going well, sure, yeah. And then you get this message? Well, I don’t know, you might want to just stay the way you are. Because this is really hard. And if you were going through what I was going through, you would wish you hadn’t ever gotten married. And so I think I heard, I think it was Tony Evans, who said, you know, you got this thing was like, between singles and marriage, like, singles are on the outside of the screen, and like flies on the outside of the screen who want to get in, and they’re married people who are in the inside of the screen, they want you to get out. And so people can project their own personal views about marriage for you on you, that might not be for you.

Josh 6:08
And I think it was we’re talking about kind of, how do we walk in health, healthy relationships, wholeness, that you guys have brought up in previous podcasts, the importance of not always holding out the well, you know, if only I were married, if only I could find the right person. And so recognizing in the church, hey, you might have a good heart, you might want something like that, that might be good for the person, that single person you’re talking to, but recognize that it may not be helpful for them, it may be kind of adding another layer of making it difficult for them to keep their mind and their eyes focused on the Lord rather than marriage as their end goal.

Bob Ragan 6:43
And I want to bring up a challenging topic here in that I see a times that that churches make marriage an idol, that somehow, you know, it’s up there. And that that’s like, I think Kyle said, that’s the end game here. And what happens then is the singles feel like an afterthought, that the danger here is, I think, frequently, most of the times those who, you know, pastors or clergy, who are speaking from the pulpit, are married. And what happens is, we hear a lot of examples from their marriages, there’s their marriages, in a way, routinely referenced and talked about. And yet, I wonder how many times does a single person person be able to be given a voice to speak, such that when I’m sitting there in the congregation, I’m hearing someone who is speaking at a place for maybe I’m walking right now, right?

Josh 7:48
I remember having a meal with a single friend recently, who is saying, I’m sorry, he’s married, he’s recently married. He’s been married about a year. And he said, Josh is kind of amazing. He said, I almost feel like I’m given more credibility in the church now that I’m married than before. He said that one of the most godly singles I knew and now a godly married man, although very young, in his marriage, and trying to learn to walk that out. So there is just a it was I don’t know, I mean, I’m, I guess I’m kind of speechless about it. Like, but you, Bob, you were the one who pointed out to me years ago that that reality of of illustrations from the pulpit being about, you know, well, in my marriage, or with my parenting and, and how for children? Yeah, so. So for the single man or woman in the congregation, even if they can completely take joy in the fact that you’re married and completely take joy and your kids and enjoy those illustrations to still kind of say, Well, you know, how about an illustration every once in a while, that kind of lines up more with what I’m walking in day by day?

Unknown Speaker 8:47
And am I point this out to that it could be my issue to that again, if I’ve got this single label and plastered on my forehead, that I want to hear everything refers to me as a single and so I may be hearing it also in a way that is slanted that I already am, like, judging ahead of time, you know, I’m trying to say, so there’s got to be this balance here, where, okay, so they’re talking about marriage, so So can I can I hear this through your filter, Lord, and how it can be applicable to me as well.

Josh 9:22
So I mean, that highlights I think the idea that you brought before that marriage as treat as an idol in the church, it’s this unspoken idol, which both marrieds and singles can bend their knee in front of in worship, you might come out differently.

Bob Ragan 9:35
And here’s an example I find interesting is how perspective plays an important role. I remember I got into the cynical position at one time because when the church service was over, like everybody just kind of vanished, all the families vanished and all that. And I was getting angry because no one’s asking me out to lunch. No one’s invited me out to brunch and I was really getting angry. And the Holy Spirit just gently said, Well, Bob, what about you asking them out to lunch? And I thought, Oh my gosh, and see. So I was, I was hyper aware of myself. And God challenged me. Okay. So here, my singleness as a giftedness that I could, how could I pour into a married couple? Or family? How can I engage with them in a way to be part of them as

Josh 10:26
well? I want to come back to a little bit later. But let me let me ask this. Let’s go back to the initial question. What what are some of the the maybe extra challenges that singles experience in the church that maybe they don’t experience in the culture? Kyle, before you were talking about just the phenomenon of singles groups, and some of the mean, that’s a great gift to a lot of people, but they’re also some pitfalls that can happen there. Can you share a bit more about what you’re sharing with that? For sure,

Kyle Bowman 10:51
I think that while singles groups serve a great purpose within the church, it gives other singles to connect with one another, they can really talk about commonalities of struggles. And I think even just through the differences of never married, or divorced, or widows just talking about those different challenges and how you approach them as a single individual. But they also can isolate singles from the rest of the church. Right. Right. And so singles are not often asked to engage with married couples, or, or, you know, other folks who are in married relationships, or have kids or whatever the case may be. We’re not just asked to engage with those folks in and how do we connect with them on a regular basis, so that, like Bob said earlier, we’re not looking through this filter of singleness all the time, right, we get to really see life from someone else’s perspective, other than our own. Yeah,

Josh 11:58
and vice versa. I mean, I think it’s safe to say that for the rest of the church body of singles are kind of compartmentalised over a group of themselves, then the rest of us miss out on the great gifts that, that singles bring in their singleness to the to the church. And again, we’ll talk about that in a little bit. You mentioned an age before, so I’m just going to tee up this next kind of thing 35 talked to us a little about about what you were saying before about about 30 to 35. And beyond?

Kyle Bowman 12:26
Well, in a lot of churches, when singles groups are formed, they are done by age. So you know, you might have this young adult group that is, has maybe married and singles because they’re like 18 to 3435. And then you’ve got this over 35 group. And so there’s like this message like, well, you’re 35 we’re gonna push you in this group. And there you go, you guys hang out and do whatever you do. And you’re not, it’s almost like saying that, well, once you’ve reached this age, is not a real place for you. Right, right. And so we’ve got to lump all of you guys together, because there’s no other real place for you.

Josh 13:12
So so there can even be and I think, I don’t know the statistics on this, but just anecdotally, I’d say, gosh, it just seems like a church can can, will highlight and pour resources into their young adult group. Once we’re talking about singles who are over 35, or somewhere in that vicinity, there’s just less airtime for that group less kind of focus in ministry on that group almost again, we and I think it’s, it’s our belief at this table that part of the reason for that is because there’s this kind of it goes back to that kind of viewing this group of singles as as less than or different, different groups than than the rest of us in a way that’s not healthy and not biblical.

Bob Ragan 13:54
What they want to add to that, I think the largest demographic we’ve grown within churches are the singles. Right, you know, whether whether whether the divorced or widows or widowers you know and so if if your demographic may even be the largest demographic within your church, how is that influencing the way that you are doing outreach to your own congregation? Yeah.

Josh 14:20
So let’s let’s shift gears here a little bit say um, you know, we’re all part of different churches and and help to lead in various capacities. What can churches do, to help singles are encouraged singles to engage with and even serve, married people, families in their church, and then also vice versa? What can churches do to encourage married people and families to serve singles another way of saying that is is is to love to live in a self giving way towards singles or towards marriage that kind of crossed that that aisle if you will?

Kyle Bowman 15:01
I think one of the ways that can happen is how do you? what ways can you create for singles in marriage to be together so that they can learn to just even know one another? Yeah. Because as a servant, if I am serving as Christ has called us to serve one another, then when I engage with a married person, maybe who has little kids, and they don’t get an opportunity to be out of the house much, then I can say, hey, would it be helpful? If you know one day you, you and your spouse can do a date night, and I’ll watch the kids for you? Right? Or maybe that holiday season comes around, where you have folks who are single, who can’t make it back to wherever home is because a lot of single people, they have the freedom to kind of leave where they’re from and to go be somewhere else. And they’re not close to family, they don’t have the opportunity to get back. So how do as a married person? How do I invite a single person in to be an extension of my family?

Josh 16:09
Yeah, yeah, those are, those are two great examples. Yeah.

Bob Ragan 16:12
And sometimes I with individuals I’ve worked with is that their singleness becomes egocentric, such that, you know, I want, I want to engage with people the way I want to engage the way I want to enjoy things. So that so let’s say I get invited out to go to lunch somewhere. And the parents want me to go to Chucky cheese instead of this nice, quiet restaurant? And I say no, because why don’t I go Chucky cheese,

Josh 16:45
no parents want to go to Chucky cheese.

Bob Ragan 16:49
But it’s, you know, in a way, it’s like, Can I be graced filled in a way to extend that grace and, and in a way, deny myself in a way that’s healthy? Because what’s more important here is to be connected and engaged with other people. Not because well, I want to do it this way. I want to be I want to go to this place, not that place. And in a way, it’s it’s dying to my own self, so that God can do something bigger than me. And deeper in me, right.

Josh 17:21
So as a married guy, I remember as a single man, being with a family I was close to, and they started having kids, and manage got crazy in their house. And I remember, I remember multiple occasions going over there. And just missing the depth of conversation that I used to experience there. It was such a meaningful place for me, this husband and wife, D people. And then Allison just became chaos. And I didn’t like going over there as much. And my brain was exactly where you’re saying, but I’d like I was like, you know, man, I’m not sure I want to come over here anymore. I wasn’t thinking at all about the fact that I now know hasn’t married or thinking, Oh, it’s just chaos here. You know, I missed the deep conversations I used to have. So but but so there’s that kind of reaching across the aisle that can be so valuable. And so one of the things that for for married for married perspective, I can say, it can be so easy on a Sunday morning or on holidays, like you were saying, Kyle, to think well, this is family time like this, I want to get to my family like we, you know, it’s already busy enough, we got enough mouths to feed, and not pay attention to the single man or woman who’s like, well,

Bob Ragan 18:22
where am I going after church, I just want to share with you a very special story that happened to me there is one Easter where I had no plans. And I could have just easily just turn it on myself. And just kind of say, Oh, poor Bobby and that self pity party, right. And I was standing in back of this couple that I knew marginally, while we’re all waiting to go into our church sanctuary, you know, for Easter. And this couple turned around and the waiter me said,

Bob, what are you doing for Easter? And they said, Well, I don’t have any plans. He said, Would you come join us? And and, you know, this was so spontaneous. And it was just such an incredible, memorable Easter for me. And and this couple, just out of the, the generosity and the hospitality of their heart, invited me in. And I was so blessed by that.

Josh 19:20
You know, I can think of a time where in our family, we had a young woman over, she happens to experience same sex attractions. She’s single probably later in life and she wants to be but we just love her. She’s a beautiful young woman. And, and I mean, there’s so much more to her about than just those things. But we had her over and I remember her playing with my son and she probably played with him for like 45 minutes to an hour on this, this silly game that he and he was kind of presuming that she would keep playing with him. You know, she’s just this new playmate. But as a parent watching that happen, that was such a gift to us and to our son and we know as parents that when other people love our kids They experience something different than when we love them. And something that reaches them in a place that we can’t. There really is, I think a great opportunity here for marries and singles to serve each other in the church in a way that can even actually demonstrate something new and different to the, to the culture around

Bob Ragan 20:17
us. And I think also to, let’s say that, that God does have marriage in store for you. And you spending time with families, you’re observing, you’re learning, and God can use that experience of you spend that time with a family with children, that you don’t know how to use that later in your life if you are to be married. Right, right.

Josh 20:38
Yeah. And I think there are things that I mean, I can say experientially there are ruts that married people and moms and dads get into and their spiritual lives and their relational lives the way they do or don’t listen to each other, that that inviting somebody in from the outside who’s not there, you know, they’re not met, they’re not hypnotized by the drone of the day to day with, with kids or with family that can reinvigorate and actually help to serve and wake us up to the presence of Jesus and to other other aspects of living. Kyle, some things even you talked about last time that bring life to us. So we’re out of time, unless there’s one more burning thing in the room you want to say about how it can serve across the aisle. Okay, so let’s pray. And Bob, why don’t you just close to maybe pray for the Marys and singles, listening and specific regard to how we can really begin to serve each other?

Bob Ragan 21:30
Well, Lord, I First off, I thank you for every brother and sister who’s listening to this podcast right now. And I thank you, Lord, God, do you know exactly where they are, and you know exactly what their needs are, Lord God. And I know, Lord, that You will provide but but Lord, I want to pray for the broader church here, Lord, that, that you would, would begin to move upon the church, to to to better engage with all of us, Lord goddess, as married and as singles in a way that, that there is a greater community that we become, as we as singles can rise up with our guests and and, and be poured out onto others. And that way, married couples and families can engage and invite in those who maybe feel they’re on their periphery, that may feel that that depth of loneliness, but but I just think you that the Jesus, you have the path laid out before us, and that you see us, you hear us and you know us, and that you do have the weight plan for us to walk. And so I just thank you for what you’re doing here. And now and I just especially pray for those who are singing in that state of singleness listening to these podcasts that that Holy Spirit, you will help them to learn how to celebrate their singleness to see it as a gift in this season. And to keep guiding them and meeting them in their deepest need. And so we lift these prayers to you father, praying your name Lord Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Original music by Shannon Smith. Audio engineering by Gabriel @ DelMar Sound Recording.

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