Our church has roughly 1,000 members. Many of those members are single. Most of them, by God’s grace, feel loved and connected to various families in the body. I think of one sister in particular who has a standing dinner with the same family every Wednesday night.
How do you think the families in your church are doing at loving single people? Do you think they strive to fold single people into their lives? If there’s room for improvement, how do you think you can shepherd families into maturity? Maybe it’s the Puritan in me, but before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to shepherd well in this area, we should take a minute to consider the matter theologically.
A THEOLOGY OF FOLDING
The gospel jewel has many facets, adoption being one of them. In adoption, those with no family are folded into the family of God. God doesn’t predestine us to a vacuum-sealed experience with himself; he predestines us into a family (Eph. 1:5). In the gospel, God saves us from being slaves of Satan and redeems us as sons of God (Gal. 4:5–7).
Everyone who has repented of their sins and trusted in Christ is a literal child of God. The illustration of family is more than a metaphor. Everyone who has been born of the Spirit (John 1:13) is literally a member of the same family (Gal 3:26). Jesus himself told us that those of us who belong to him by way of new birth are closer to each other than those of like bloodlines (Matt 12:48).
MAKING IT NORMAL
Pastors will care for single sheep who are single for various reasons: some young members simply haven’t found a spouse yet, some members have lost a spouse and are now widows/widowers, and some may have been divorced earlier in life and have yet to or may never remarry.
How should a pastor shepherd the single sheep in his flock well without trying to force marriage upon them, make them feel like second-class citizens, or treat them like charity cases? One of the easiest ways to serve single members is by cultivating a church culture wherein members understand themselves to be family members, not merely church members.
This hits particularly close to home for me as a man who grew up without a father, but who nevertheless found spiritual fathers in the church (1 Tim. 1:2, 1 Cor. 4:16). That experience was profound for me as a young man, and is still impactful as I look to older men as spiritual fathers. I found, and am still finding, family in the church where the Lord saw fit not to give me family in the flesh.
I’ve tried to pass on this blessing by folding singles into the fold of my family. More than a few times over the last 12 years, the young single people I disciple end up moving into our home. After all, if we really believe we’re members of the same family, then it’s not difficult to open up our homes and our lives to those who are in need of family.
Of course, every pastor can’t open his home to people. You’re a pastor, not a superhero; your house is a home, not a hotel. I get it. But here’s the thing: pastoring isn’t about doing everything yourself, but rather, equipping the saints to do the work God is calling them to do (Eph. 4:11–12).
This philosophy of ministry is not without its difficulties. If nothing else, it can just be awkward. But folding people into your family is nothing more than opening up your life to others, warts and all.
BJ, a young man who lived with us for a year, saw me love my wife well while she was pregnant and wake up early to read my Bible; we even memorized the book of Ephesians together. But BJ also saw me snap at my wife after a long day at work and open the computer when I should have done devotionals. That’s uncomfortable.
Later, BJ sent me an email and told me that while living with my family and me he saw how incredibly human I was. But more than that, he saw how heavily I leaned on Christ to put my flesh to death and grow in holiness. BJ needed to be discipled, but he also needed family. I couldn’t offer him a perfect family, but I could offer him a family that follows Christ, and I think BJ would tell you how powerful that was for him.
So as you go about the business of leading your flock, here are a few things to consider:
- Encourage families in your church to see heaven as their home, not just their house. Encourage them to be on the lookout for opportunities to serve those who miss their family or who have no family to miss in the first place.
- Remind families that singles aren’t just good options for babysitting, but brothers and sisters whom God has brought into your church family, and should be incorporated into the life of your family in intentional ways.
- Whenever the doctrine of adoption comes up in your preaching, don’t miss the opportunity to make helpful applications from the text for the families in your church.
- Model familial love to singles as much as you can in your own life. You don’t have to invite people to live with you, but you can take single people out to lunch or connect a widow with another single lady in the church for prayer and encouragement.
- Always be looking for opportunities to remind members of your church that, even though they may not always feel like it, they are members of the same family. They will spend eternity in heaven around the same dinner table (Rev. 19:9). Encourage your members, brother pastor, to take every opportunity to live out the eternal realities of the gospel here in the present. It will only get better as we go.
Editor’s Note: This originally published at 9Marks.org