Psalm 68:6 – “God sets the solitary in families” (So, it doesn’t say, God wants the “families” and the “singles” to stay separate from each other? Ohhhhhhhh!)
Single people are neither “problems,” (Ch.1) “pariahs,” (Ch.2) or “projects.” (Ch.3) Single people are people – people made in the image of God (Ch.4). This should be a given, a “duh.” But somehow, it isn’t. Some of the people who were interviewed for this book said that they believed “marriage and families have been elevated to such a high status in the church that single people don’t always seem to fit anymore, or, at worst, seem to have less value than married people…” (25) How sad.
Somehow we’ve lost our way. The church needs to be reminded as important as it is to encourage and resource families – the Gospel is bigger. The full Gospel message encompasses, values and calls on all all members of a church body – both married and single (and can I add, “divorced” for a more explicit comprehensiveness?). In Gina Dalfonzo’s own words,
“The church is to be one great family in which everyone, single and married alike, can find a place and be cared for, so that they’re supported in doing God’s work and living for him” (173)
Gina Dalfonzo’s new book, One by One: Welcoming the Singles In Your Church reads like an insider’s view for how to get there. A sort of report from the front lines. 2/3 prophetic/critique, 1/3 exhortation/let’s fix this, it is a summary from someone who’s both been there for a while (has been single, and in the church for a while) and has been thinking and reading about it for about just as long. Dalfonzo’s aim in writing this book is to,
“…Help create a better climate within the church than in trying to give the whole church a makeover…it goes beneath the scenes, beneath the sociological and theological explanations, and explores some of what’s really going on with single Christians…It’s a way for us to tell our fellow Christians about what our real needs and desires are and how the church can help support us in reaching our goals, living our lives for Christ, and becoming fully functioning, supportive members of the church… (18)
Dalfonzo does this especially well in Part Three of her book, the section titled “Where Do We Go From Here?” (Pages 147-227) These last 80 pages are chock-full of good insights and recommendations, a few of my favorites included:
- The Church should feel free to hold people to standards that are realistic and Biblical. In discussing the “courtship” model so prevalent in the 1990s and early 2000s, Dalfonzo argues we have taken the Bible’s balanced treatment of marriage and singleness, of men and women, and attempted to create something “better, holier, higher…but in trying to create something better than what God offered us, we’ve instead managed to create an unholy mess.” (137) Anyone still holding on to the courtship methodology would do well to challenge themselves by reading chapters 5-9 of this book. I wouldn’t be surprised if that little section is now the most sustained critique of the movement currently available.
- The Church should feel free to stop teaching singles to “play games and start teaching us to live in the real world.” (145) We single Christians don’t need fairytales, and we don’t need hoops to jump through or obstacle courses to conquer. We need to hear truly godly, practical wisdom on how to trust, how to respect, how to forgive, how to be patient and kind – all the things that go into creating and sustaining strong relationships with the opposite sex.
- The Church should feel free to include single people at all levels of involvement and leadership. As one woman says on page 150, “single women need to know there is a place for them at the grown-ups’ table.” Most people have sat at the little kids’ table at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner at some point in their lives. The problem is, many singles feel as if they never get to leave it.” This will inevitably involve more complexity and nuance within ministry teams and the life of the church, but will be more helpful in the long run. As one woman puts it,
“It’s so easy to build a shiny, attractive children’s program, but a singles program is challenging because there is a different dynamic between twenty-five and thirty five than there is at the thirty-five-plus life stage, and often there’s one “college and career” group trying to meet everyone’s needs. Singles don’t want to feel like they’re not allowed at the “big kids’ table” because they’re not married with children, but that’s often what it feels like” (165)
And lastly, my favorite:
4. The Church should feel free to facilitate, encourage and help maintain true friendship-relationships. Of course, this cuts against our cultural grain. What Dalfonzo says is oh so true, “Unfortunately, we all seem convinced today that the number one requirement to get along with people is for them to be able to identify with every single experience we’ve had and to comprehend perfectly every facet of our character and personality.” (72) So, “you don’t understand” becomes an excuse to push each other away. To not dive into actual, real, sometimes-difficult friendships. But the fact is, it doesn’t have to be that way. Especially in the church.
It’s certainly wonderful to be perfectly and thoroughly understood by another person who has gone through exactly what you have, but this should not be a necessary element (or requirement) of friendship. The church should be a place where friendships can be fostered within the beautiful diversity that exists within the body of Christ. As one woman put it, “My church body itself has been influential only at a relational level through mentoring relationships with older women – which have been much more valuable than any ‘retreats’ or ‘dating talks.'” (37)
These are the sorts of friendships that singles need with other married people, not the kind of friendship that’s based wholly on wanting to swoop in, fix their lives for them, and swoop back out…It has to be the kind of effort that flows naturally out of an established friendship, in ways that honor your friend’s good qualities and are sensitive to his or her needs and desires. A perfect example of the importance of a friendship-context is when married people are trying to “set-up” their single friends. It can’t just be a case of “he’s breathing and she’s breathing – it’s a perfect match!” Dalfonzo says, “Do that enough times and your single friends will start thinking you don’t actually know them at all, or else that you just don’t care about who they are and what they’re looking for in a partner.” (77)
On a more personal note: My wife, four kids and I “do life” with singles on a very regular basis and we see the desperate need for this kind of life sharing ALL.THE.TIME. CONSTANTLY. This is so valuable both for the single people, and especially for us. Who would my family be if not for the community of single people who surround us? We in the church should be the very best at facilitating true Gospel friendships. Praise God, it can be done. As long as we have the vision, and are willing to put in the work. Dalfonzo has laid out the vision-part for us. The only question remains. Are we willing to put in the work?
“What if we in the church saw each other not as people in different categories from us but as fellow human beings with needs – basic needs like comfort, affirmation and encouragement – we could help fulfill? What would our lives and our churches look like then?” (157)
*Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied*