When the purpose of any group is a fixed and focused one, the group usually does well. The purpose for a group of astronomers is obvious, as it is for on-line game groups, and so on. They have identified and announced their purpose and pursue it without much peripheral organization. They have fellowship, but they don’t centrally organize fellowship. They meet and share burdens with each other, but they don’t formally declare that in their purpose statement. They just do what they feel compelled to do towards their goal, and the rest falls together as is the case wherever people meet for a purpose.
Why is it then that Christian groups often mistakenly attempt an orientation of meeting the perceived need for that group by doing “something” to occupy them long enough to bring them together and administer some form of mutual back-scratching? For example, in the case of Christian men the perceived need is fellowship since men are loners otherwise. Often the common ground is food and so the “Men’s Fellowship Breakfast” is born. In the case of Christian youth the perceived need is to burn off some energy in a constructive way on a Friday night, so the local gym is the destination. Christian women can’t seem to get an ear at home so they gather around a quilting project.
And Christian singles, identifying the threat of the pub life and yet compelled by various needs, often end up online risking worse odds than six shooter roulette. Or they rationalize other compromises in a silky-smooth world with skilled vultures circling overhead. Some Christian singles groups’ most redeeming value is preventing singles from indulging in these and worse.
So these groups gather, filling the bill to some degree; but they all find one problem.
The orientation is often backward. The strategy of creating a purpose that facilitates the eventual meeting of a need is not a sound one. The needs are diverse, and yet the players of the Church find themselves in arbitrarily oriented subgroups, attempting to find a common purpose. “What shall we do next week?” is the common stumper for many steering meetings.
And yet the one purpose of them all awaits them in their very name – Christian. Christ’s Church has been compared in the Bible to a family. Imagine segregating a family into compartments: boys of this age here, girls of that age there, wife here, and so on – it can’t be done and still be a family! Not to mention that a family is, by God’s design, compiled of no two people alike.
When we picture the Church as the Body of Christ, which it is, it becomes even more ridiculous to think about segregating the hands from the arms, for instance. No part can fully function on its own, and certainly not without being severely handicapped.
The Bible also refers to Christians as soldiers in Christ’s Army. Again, imagine trying to fight a war with each group of soldiers doing it’s own thing and not in sync with the goal of their commanding officer.
In families, armies, and within the physical body, it’s important that all parts work together towards a common purpose and goal. And so it is with the church: all parts are needed to form the best possible functioning Family/Body/Army for Christ’s Kingdom.
Strengthening the biological family shouldn’t be the primary goal of a church. Neither should it be to provide weekend entertainment for singles. Rather, making disciples for Christ’s Kingdom should be a primary goal for all of us, as Christ commanded before He ascended to heaven, and as the rest of the New Testament characters exemplify for us. “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).
The most basic teaching about the function of the body of Christ is missing in many churches, leaving the groups within it mostly aimless, often useless, and sometimes at odds. So many people ask us, “How do I keep my singles ministry vital?” or similar questions, while they seek to herd a diverse group of minds through a portal of self-satisfying weekly engagements. In short, too many singles groups are nursery and preschool groups, or at best youth groups, that never graduated to the next level.
Specialized groups can have their proper place as long as they don’t cause the singles – or the elderly, or the couples, or the preschoolers – to be segregated from the rest of the Body of believers. Such segregation permanently deprives everyone from the little bit of time that their weekly schedule can afford. When a singles ministry is a church’s attempt to get singles out of the way, there’s something wrong with Christ’s Body. If a singles group exists to keep the singles out of trouble, or to provide fun things to do when there’s nothing better on the horizon, the goal of that Body of Christ has gotten sidetracked. In other words, when a singles ministry causes the singles to be so segregated from the rest of the church so that there is little or no mingling with others in the church, then the singles ministry has become a disservice – not only to the singles, but also to the whole church.
As Don Hawkins said on the “Back to the Bible” broadcast, “Within the church, we tend to swing between two extremes with our single people. We either over-commit them because we think they supposedly have all this free time, or we leave them out because every activity or ministry seems to revolve around families.” Obviously, neither is healthy, either for singles or the church of which they are a part.
The same can be said about children’s ministries, women’s ministries, youth groups, and so forth. We all need each other. As singles we need the love of the preschoolers and the wise mentoring of the elderly to strengthen us in our tasks for the Lord. If we’re always segregated into groups, how will we ever get to know each other well enough to give and receive hugs from the two-year-olds, to ask for and receive mentoring from the eighty-two-year olds?
Our goal as a Family/Body/Army is to serve Christ and to bring others to Him, not to get our “singles needs” met or our “parenting needs” met, or our “marriage needs” met, and so forth.
Obviously these needs and many others need to be addressed in the church and in the context of Biblical teaching as part of equipping and preparing us for the larger goal of Christ’s Family/Body/Army. That’s where singles groups and other specialized groups can serve a legitimate purpose, as long as we still keep in close contact with the rest of the church.
Above our individualized needs we must always remember our common goal as a group of Christians. Why specify a subgroup when a choir glorifies our Maker in worship? Why fragment the talent pool, when drama conveys good news of the needed Saviour? Why fabricate purposes, when the needs of the lost abound, and meeting those needs can unite the hands that give?
Unite the army to the Commanders desire, and the soldiers will be strengthened.