CHURCH PARKING ONLY

This post is part of the July blog series “Why Am I Still Single? {And Other Pressing Questions}”. To follow the series and meet other likeminded readers, like Phylicia Delta Blog on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or join me on Instagram!

I could have grown up jaded by the church.

When I was 12, the church where my parents were married – and where all my childhood friends, surrogate “aunts” and “uncles”, and even extended family attended – split down the middle. For four years we visited every church within a 50 mile radius of my tiny hometown. We’re not talking about the Bible belt here – Protestant churches are hard to come by in Michigan. And it wasn’t as if my parents were being overtly picky, either. They were looking for a place where the Word was preached and where they could have a community of believers in which to raise their children.

Many, if not all, of the churches we visited were full of good-hearted people, but we didn’t settle on a home church until right before I left for college. By then, I had something of a church family, but nothing like the one I remembered before I was 12. Fortunately, the church my family now attends is a wonderful, Word-based church that feels like home even though I attended it far fewer years than the rest of my family.

I tell this story because all the hopping around, church hunting, and in-and-out of church culture could have chased me away from the church, if I let it. If I were looking at the church as my savior, I might have reason for that. But the church isn’t my savior – Jesus is. And though the church failed me in some ways, I simply remember that it is made up of imperfect people striving after a holy God – people just like me.

This is an important preface as we broach the next topic in the singleness series. Since I spent all of my single years in less-than-desirable church circumstances (except for the last few years in my twenties, spent in the church where I was married), I am very familiar with the questionable role of the single in church. I longed for community. I wanted to be a part of a church family. And even though I didn’t have the privilege of attending the same church for twenty years, I came out of my singleness with a positive outlook towards the church because of a few principles implemented along the way.

Below are five ways I’ve found singles can contribute to the church. This is specifically geared toward single women (since that is who my blog is for). Keep in mind every church is different.

1. Get Out of the Singles Group and Into Service

I’m not saying the singles group is “bad”. Many young adults or singles groups are, in fact, great ways to fellowship with other believers (if fellowship is truly acted out as it was biblically defined – reading the Word, praying, and confessing to one another, not just chomping on brownies and watching Andy Stanley videos). However, “singles group” should not be the sum of your participation in the local church.

The best cure for loneliness is to get out and cure another person’s lonely. In the same way, filling the needs of others in the church – whether that means cleaning once a week, assisting with prison ministry, or playing piano on the worship team. In fact, the very reason we call it a church service is because it is meant to minister to all those in attendance. As a member of the church, you are part of that ministry! It’s not just the pastor’s job.

I was never highly involved in youth group or singles group. I chose instead to work in the nursery, serve refreshments, and play or sing for the worship team. Sometimes I assisted with events – weddings, women’s ministry luncheons or Christmas dinners. I still met people my age. I still had friends. But I wasn’t dealing with the drama that can occasionally coincide with groups of singles. Serving helped me meet people who became influential in my spiritual life – including the “church ladies”.

2. Get to Know the Church Ladies

They are “church ladies” for a reason. And they are your Titus 2 mentors, just waiting to be asked. I purposely chose the company of older women as my top priority, with good reason: they would teach me how to be a woman of God, the kind of woman who would be worthy of a godly husband someday.

Even with my on and off church experience, there was at least one “older woman” in each church who took the time for me, mentored me, and guided me in God’s truth. I learned from them, watched how they talked, listened, and studied God’s Word. And they watched me grow in my faith.

Young women friends are great and we need them, but their discipleship is limited by age and inexperience. Talking to a woman who has been married 35 years, or nearly lost her life to breast cancer, or who went through a major financial crisis, or who simply lived a long life for her Lord will be essential to your own spiritual walk and growth.

And let’s be real – if you’re single in the church, someday you probably want to get married. And there is nothing wrong with that desire! I found that dates instigated by women who knew and trusted me (referring me to their sons, grandsons, or “this young man I know…” were typically a far better investment of my time than the unknowns encountered in some singles groups.

3. Get Involved in a Real Bible Study… Or Start One Yourself

I adore women’s Bible studies. I had a friend once tell me that she’d been to enough studies by Beth Moore and Priscilla Shirer, she didn’t need to do them anymore and would run her own. I’ve been to a lot of those studies too – but I don’t get tired of them because 1) I always learn something and 2) I meet more women.

I think co-ed Bible studies are nice, but women’s studies (ideally) are a place of openness and transparency. Now, that said, I have attended studies where this is facilitated better than in others. The church I currently attend in Virginia does an excellent job of  blending single and married women in groups. The focus is so completely on the Word of God and its discussion you would never know the relationship status of the women involved! They are all equals, all lovers of God and lovers of each other.

In some Bible studies, you watch a video, answer questions, and go home feeling no different than you did when you walked in. That’s why I encourage you to find or START a “real” Bible study – one where opening your Bible is essential. Beth Moore is excellent for this, but a simple study of a book of the Bible is a great start. Few women truly know how to “rightly divide the Word of truth” and understand what it means. There is a great need for a deeper understanding of how Scripture applies to life. If your church doesn’t provide this – you might be the person to start it up!

4. Balance Your Stage Time With True Service

It is very common for young women to be involved in “stage service” – serving on the worship team or in some other capacity, filling a spotlight in the church. I am very familiar with this role. My sisters and I have sung as a trio for over 13 years, often singing offertories or assisting with the worship team in some capacity. The stage is an attractive place for the young person. But it is an easy place to get distracted from what “service” is all about.

Going to worship practice, actually practicing at home, getting up early – these are admittedly difficult things, so I am not saying worship participation is not “service”. But I have enough years’ experience in it to say that it should not be your primary “ministry” to the church. Stage time is separated time. It is not time spent looking into someone’s eyes, filling a need in their hearts, and imparting God’s truth to their soul.

I know this because the first time I discipled a younger woman, I realized the power of what had happened. I was no longer separated from the church, protected by words on a screen and a microphone I could shut off. Suddenly I had no script, just Scripture.

It is also important to note that for every moment Jesus spent on the public “stage” – speaking before a crowd – He equaled that time with prayer. Marching on that stage with a weak spiritual life is like going on stage to worship yourself. Worship is not about singing songs: it is about how diligent we are to get on our knees and humble our hearts before our Savior every day of the week, not just Sunday.  If it doesn’t happen on Monday, it shouldn’t be happening in front of a congregation on Sunday.

This doesn’t mean giving up your role on the worship team (which should be a prayerful decision, if it comes to that). It means balancing that time with the kind of service that puts you “in the trenches” with the congregation. Are you actively welcoming and greeting new young women in the church? Are you seeking out mentors? Are you finding a way to bless others in the congregation, or do you call it quits after the solo ends? Stage time should equal hands-on service, and public worship is only as good as what happens at home.

5.  Disciple and Be Discipled

I first read about discipleship in Anne Ortlund’s book The Disciplines of a Beautiful Woman. In it she mentions an annual goal of discipling three new women a year, and seeing those women disciple others in turn. I had never thought about discipling another woman. At the time, I was fairly young and was still learning from my own parents and mentors. But at 23, my first discipling experience changed my life forever. Mentoring a 15 year old girl through some of the most tumultuous years of her life opened my eyes to needs I never even knew existed. I had been so blind. I had been so consumed by “serving” in the church – even with good things like refreshments, worship team, or Bible study – I had failed to ever embrace the greatest thing, which is to “go, and make disciples” (Matt. 28:20).

You see, this isn’t optional. We are to be discipled so we can then disciple others in the truth!

Being single in the church can be hard at times, but it is also a time of the most freedom to pour yourself into ministry and discipleship. Listen to the sermons: take notes, discuss with friends and family, and save your notes to re-read later. Find a mentor in a godly older woman: learn from her, follow her, and listen to her story. And then look for ways to share the precious knowledge you have acquired with someone younger than you physically and/or spiritually.

The amazing thing about God’s truth is that sharing it with others cements it in our own hearts. Discipling others is a discipleship of our own spirits, too.

I remember my single years in church. At times they were hard. At times it was awkward. I didn’t always “fit in”. But for the majority of human existence, groups of people weren’t segregated into “single”, “married”, “child”, “adult”. People operated in communities of…. people, all ages, all walks of life. Don’t let your relationship status limit your involvement in the church. Give as you would give if your life changed, or if it never changed at all.

The most important thing to remember – single OR married – is that Christ loves the Church. Whether or not we like the church is irrelevant. Paul describes how much Jesus loved the church in his command to husband in Ephesians 5:25-27:

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,  that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,  so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

The Church is neither a building nor a specific denomination. The Church is comprised of every single Christian who calls Jesus Lord, which means that those Christians who “don’t like the church” and think it’s full of “hypocrites” – well, they’re part of the problem! To dislike the Church is to point a finger at your own heart – a heart that can make a change, single or married. You can be the difference.

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In this series:

Am I Single Because I’m Doing Something Wrong?

How to Pray For Your Husband…When You Don’t Know If He Exists

Marriage Won’t Cure Your Lonely

Contentment is Not a State of Being

 

 

 

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