To be honest, I loathe the title of this article. We live in an age of quick-fix solutions and yet no number of tips will help you actually accomplish anything. If we want to cultivate change in our habits, we must seek more than technique. We need to be spending more time contemplating the nature of situations and thinking harder about the problems pastors uniquely see from the pulpit.
Though our pulpits are generally only about two and a half feet higher than the laypeople in the pews, we are called to a heavenly vocation which requires us not only to be exegetes of the word but of the heart. Having our heads in the clouds, and with such an elevated view, we are called to actually be able to apply these truths we so often say apply to everything. Such a task is daunting, and so we often look to a world of answers with little success. Where we should be looking is to the good book. I begin this article in this way simply as a reminder that these “tips” must be applied in prayer, with much contextualization, slowly, and consistently. They should not all be slapped onto a meeting for coffee with the next single male that pops into your mind.
I would also like to add that this is primarily geared towards single men who do not have the gift of celibacy. We are talking about that guy in your church who is twenty-eight and feels like life is slipping away from him because all his friends now have been married for a couple of years and started having children. And since we believe the office of elder is reserved only for qualified men, we do not believe this leaves much room for a discussion about how to walk alongside the single women in your church. The Billy Graham rule is commended by The Shepherds Crook and therefore women will be completely disregarded in this particular article.
So, how does the pastor shepherd those single men?
Hospitality is an often neglected qualification for elders. It is easy for pastors to get in the habit of only inviting families into their homes while forgetting the singles. We must remember that, while the body of Christ is a family it includes not just families, but individuals.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. – 1 Corinthians 12:27
Pastor, one way we can cultivate this practice of inclusiveness to the singles is to invite families and singles over at the same time. It is not uncommon for singles to have moved away from their home towns by this age and this can breed unhealthy isolation from family life. Pastors should use this time to live life together.
One great blessing of living as a family unit is the chance to come home and celebrate accomplishments together. Sadly, singles often are deprived of this shared joy. My fellow ministers, take hold of this opportunity to laugh, cry, and rejoice with the singles in your church. All people need that voice of collective feeling and experience in their life. Besides simply enjoying each other’s company, this time serves as discipleship in how families should interact and function. Treat your brother as a brother, not “a single”. This leads us to our next tip.
Disciple Towards Marriage
If the singles that you are walking with clearly desire to be married, it is a good idea to begin teaching them practical ways they can be a better husband. When that glorious day arrives for them to become one with their bride you will have done them both a service; getting him ahead of the game by learning some of the harder lessons through discipleship. Young love is one way to buff out character flaws through the sanctifying rite of marriage, but these can be polished before two become one also.
Help Them Cultivate Spontaneity and Risk
One reason why Paul tells us that it is better not to marry is that we are less distracted when there is no one else to please. In this time of singleness all people, whether you are gifted with celibacy or not, should be quick to take hold of opportunities that arise. In this time monopolize those last-minute opportunities to do things that a family of five might not be able to do. Pastors, this may come across as un-spiritual and pithy, but how many times has a unique opportunity been put before you and you had to say no because of your responsibilities at the home. I know far too many young single men who will pass up an exciting opportunity simply because he had already created a game plan for the evening. Pastors, it is not irreligious to encourage young men to shift the adventure and excitement of life out of virtual reality (video games) into true reality. Life with Christ is not a boring ride.
While we are on the subject of video games, Netflix, and other mindless activities, we should be quick to embolden young men to pursue what they are passionate about. Who says people need to spend all their time thinking about a potential wife when they could be starting a side business, developing a trade, or composing glorifying art? Ask the single man what he loves to do and tell him to do it with excellence to the glory of God.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. – Ephesians 5:15–16
Part of living in spontaneity and risk is “putting yourself out there”. It is quite hard for single Christian men to find a wife “out there”. It is not advisable to begin hitting up the bars to look for the woman of your dreams. At the same time, you won’t find her if you never leave your couch either. Pastors, don’t be afraid to nudge men to pursue a wife. Please hear me clearly, I am not saying play match-maker! This could cause disaster for you and others. What I am saying is reassure the singles that it is ok to go on a date without feeling like she may be the perfect fit. They may find a life-long friend, a wife, or a one-time acquaintance. But pursuing godly relationships is always worthwhile.
Cultivate a Sense of Beauty
This one might seem odd, but trust me it’s needed. So, one of the reasons I would encourage men to seek meaningful relationships is because they often have a shallow understanding of beauty, which could be obliterated if they actually encountered it. Hear me clearly again, I am not saying men should lower their standards. But, I am saying that pastors should teach single men that beauty isn’t just external.
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. – 1 Peter 3:3–4
How many men have their eyes set on blue eyes and blonde hair, instead of a gentle and quiet spirit? We often forget that external beauty, while it is a wonderful thing, fades and changes. Blonde hair will one-day turn grey and crown her with a silver crown. And the luster of eyes always dims with age, but the spark of life in the window of the soul is eternal. If single men have built up a false understanding of beauty it is the pastor’s job to exhort, rebuke, and encourage a proper view of women. This could look like going out on a date with a woman he would never have looked twice at, but finding that she is irresistibly beautiful on the inside after the first date. This is how beauty is. Realizing that beauty isn’t something to be grabbed, but grabbed by will help give single men an eye for looking for truly beautiful women.
In addition to looking for it in women, men can also begin being shaped by a true sense of beauty. There is a masculine beauty that should be sought after as well. This also will be to every party’s advantage if the single man takes the view to heart.
Finally, and it goes almost without saying, single men should seek first the kingdom of God. If they are pursuing a relationship with God to get the girl, they must realize it isn’t going to go well. Jesus tells us clearly that when we lose our life then we will find it, and all the rest will be added only after we have first sought the one thing needful like Mary. The best way to instill this in those single men is to model it well. Pastor, always keep Jesus first in your own life, and like Paul, exhort your disciples to follow your example.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. -Matthew 6:33–34