If your church is like most churches, around a third of the people sitting in the congregation on any given Sunday are single. Some have never married; others are widows, widowers or divorcees.
What’s it like being single and Christian? How can we think biblically about the subject? And how can churches minister more effectively to the many single people in their midst?
Dani Treweek is currently doing some postgraduate research into these questions, and she joins us in this episode not only to share some of her personal experience of being single (and ministering to other singles), but to give us a sneak peak at the results of her research.
Links referred to:
- Our next CCL event: A hell of a difference: Christians and the afterlife
- The Matthias Media special page—featuring The Good Life in the Last Days
- Books mentioned by Dani:
- The Single Minded Conference (Saturday 22 September)
Runtime: 39:11 min.
Tony Payne: How many people in your church do you think are single? What percentage to you think it would be? I was surprised to discover recently that on average in Australian churches, one out of every three people in our congregations are single. About half of those are people who’ve never married, and the other half are widows or widowers, or people who’ve been divorced. But one out of every three people in our congregations are single.
What’s it like to be a single person and be part of a Christian community, and to be a Christian? And how can churches better minister to the circumstances—to the unique challenges that single people face? That’s our topic on today’s episode of the Centre for Christian Living podcast.
TP: Hello, I’m Tony Payne, and welcome to episode 19 of the Centre for Christian Living podcast, coming to you from Moore College in Sydney, Australia. Our goal in this episode, as in every one, is to bring biblical ethics to the challenges of the everyday issues that we face as Christians in this world.
And of course, this podcast is not the only way we do that: at the Centre for Christian Living, we also run public events, and it was great to see so many of you at our recent public event with Phillip Jensen on “Spirit-inspired Christian living”. Phillip was in fine form, and the evening was packed with information and challenge and insight into what the Bible says about who the Holy Spirit is and what his role is in our lives as Christians. If you want to catch up with the challenging and stimulating content that was covered on that evening, both the video and audio of that night are now available on our website—that’s at ccl.moore.edu.au. Go over there and you can download and listen to or watch that to your hearts’ content.
Our next event, too, is—is not all that far away: on October 24th, Paul Williamson will be speaking on what happens after this life, and on how that shapes the way we approach our lives now. The title of the evening is “A hell of a difference: Christians and the afterlife”. Paul has put a lot of thought into this. He delivered the Annual Moore College Lectures on this subject a couple of years ago, and it will be great to hear him bring that scholarship and that knowledge to the challenge of what it means to live now as a Christian in view of the fact that we face a destiny beyond this life. Please do come along to that. It’s on October 24th and, again, you can find all the details on our website: that’s ccl.moore.edu.au.
But to our topic today, which is the joys and challenges of singleness, and to our guest:
Dani Treweek: Hi, my name’s Dani Treweek. I’m currently a PhD student studying through St Mark’s Theological Centre in Canberra, though I’m based here in Sydney. Don’t live in Canberra. I worked for almost seven years as a women’s minister at a church here in Sydney. Before that, I studied at Moore College. And my PhD research that I’m involved in at the moment is looking at a theological ethic of singleness in the Christian life and thought.
TP: So Dani, you’re researching at quite some depth into what singleness means, or what it means for the Christian life and Christian experience. Why? Why are you doing—are you spending so many years delving into this topic?
DT: It’s a question I ask myself quite frequently, actually, I must admit! I have very distinct memories of thinking while I was studying at Moore College, “Oh, I would never do a PhD.” And here I am. So it’s somewhat unexpected. But it’s come about because I have a real passion for thinking about this topic as a single woman and wanting to be able to make a contribution to the broader Christian thought on singleness, and it seemed that if I wanted to have a valuable contribution to make, I really needed to do the hard yards in order to do that. And … God apparently had decided the plan was that I would be doing a PhD on singleness! You know, it was never my lifelong dream to become the expert on singleness. But, yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing for the last three years, really.
TP: We’ll talk a little bit more soon about exactly what you’ve found—what you’ve been researching—what the fruits of the research have been so far. First, though, in terms of you having a real interest—a real passion—for this subject, why do you think that’s happened in your own life? I mean, it—you’re a single woman, but what has led you to be particularly interested and concerned that this is a topic that needs digging into?
DT: I mean, firstly, it is, for me, personally: I am a single woman myself. I’ve never been married. And as far back as, sort of, my early 20s, I guess, I remember being interested in thinking about singleness, because that’s where I was at with my life. And as friends around me got married and I didn’t, I really recognised, I need to do some thinking about what that means, rather than just sitting with it and not being intentional in the way I think about that. And so, there’s been a personal element of that for me all the way through.
But I think—particularly my years in parish ministry, spending a lot of time with women—women who, themselves, had never been married, women who were widowed, women who were divorced—and of course I had relationships with men at church who were in those circumstances, but most of my time was spent with women—just recognising this is something that we—big picture “we” Christians—evangelical Christians—haven’t served our churches well, I think—not just as single people, but also those who are married—by not having a great understanding of what the Bible actually says about singleness and what that therefore means in practice in the Christian life.
And I think another more recent development—at least, in my thinking about the urgency of this—is the conversations we’re having about same-sex attraction and broader sexuality, recognising that as we call people who are same-sex attracted to live a life of godly celibacy, we actually don’t have any realistic expectations that that is a viable life option in the way we tend to think about singleness. So even though that’s not my experience myself, I do have a pastoral concern for people who are seeking to live a godly life of celibacy, because they’re same-sex attracted, but are finding that really hard, because they don’t know what that means.
TP: Sure, that’s complicated, isn’t it. So in your experience, not only as a single woman yourself, but in ministering to lots of different kinds of single people—married, ah—divorced, widowed, men, women—what are some of the real pressure points for Christian single people? What are some of the real struggles that they’ve had—that you’ve had personally, or that you’ve seen in ministry as you—as you minister to people?
DT: I think some of those are common across the different circumstances of singleness. Some of them are very different, depending on whether you’re—never been married or you’re divorced or you’re widowed, you know. My only personal experience is never married. So I can’t speak personally for the other, and as a woman as well. So, again, that’s different to a lot of the male experience of singleness.
I think, generally, things like not feeling an authentic sense of belonging within their church communities and families is one that is common to a lot of single people—single Christians. Possibly with the exception of widows and widowers, or to a lesser degree, I think. And that’s—that’s reflected in the statistics, actually, in our churches, where we have more widowers and widows in our church congregations—particularly looking at Anglican churches, but generally in Christian churches in Australia—we have more widows and widowers in our churches than are in the broader population. But we have almost 50 per cent less never married and divorcees. And significantly more married people in our churches and in our congregations. So there’s a real disconnect there between the demographics and the make-up of our churches and the broader population around us.
Having said that, about a third of the people in our congregations are not married. And that, I think, is quite surprising, because certainly when I think about it, I tend to put it much lower, and I think that’s because we just don’t do a very good job of recognising how many single people are actually in our churches.
TP: So there’s quite a high percentage of people in our congregations who are single, for whatever reason, and you’re saying that for many of them, one of the chief issues is just a sense of belonging—of belonging to anyone, or belonging—having those rich relationships of belonging?
TP: And that’s—that’s one of the things that churches need to look at more intensively and more intentionally, wouldn’t you say?
DT: Yes, I think so, and not just a—not just a sense of belonging, but an authentic sense of belonging. I read a really interesting article a couple of years ago now, which had some really great tips about how to help single people feel like they belong in their church congregations. And it had some really great practical advice.
But when you read between the lines, what the author was suggesting was that churches need to carve out a sort of synthetic or an artificial place of belonging for single people. They need to make single people feel welcome. Whereas I think theologically, want—we want to say that church is home just as much for the single person as the married person, and we need to move away from this thinking about creating a place of belonging, but actually see—recognising that they already belong, and we are maybe not doing such a good job of actually demonstrating that in the way that we—we function as church communities.
TP: We’ll come back later in the conversation to talk about what that looks like in practice—how churches could do more to build the kind of community you’re talking about. But whenever we’re talking about practice and what we should do, we want to have it driven by theology and by good thinking and by a good understanding of the issue, and of all of it. So let’s dig into what you’ve been discovering in that area—into your PhD research. Let me start by asking, you’re obviously not the first person to think about this question.
TP: As you survey the landscape of thinking about singleness and Christianity, what did you find? What are the standard approaches to this question in the Christian world more generally?
DT: Well, the first thing I—I think I found is, well, two things: that pretty much every pun on the word “single” has been used in a Christian book title already. So I’m—I’m stretching myself to try and find one that actually hasn’t been used. And there’s lots of really bad books out there about Christian singleness with lots of really dodgy covers as well, actually. So I—yeah, I have surveyed pretty much all the literature I can get my hands on—not just books, but also listening to podcasts, sermons, articles, all sorts of things.
And that was a really helpful process for me—spending almost a year, really, just surveying the literature, distilling it down and working out what themes were coming through—to really diagnose where we’re at as an evangelical Christian culture in thinking about singleness. And one—one thing that I hadn’t anticipated was that as I started thinking about singleness, I had to spend a lot of time thinking about marriage, because you can’t really separate the two of them in terms of the way that we as a Christian culture tend to think about singleness. The way we think about singleness is very very highly informed and developed because of the way we think about marriage.
Now, that’s an—there’s a natural connection there, but what really became clear to me was that our theology of singleness was being driven by a particular theology and pastoral application of marriage. And couple of the big themes that came out for me were—were concerning the identity of single Christians and the purpose of the single Christian life.
In terms of the purpose of the single Christian life, almost all of the literature frames singleness in a very instrumental way. So singleness is only good insofar as it allows you to get involved in gospel ministry. Or—
TP: Being more devoted to the Lord. Etcetera.
DT: That’s right. That’s right. Which is all true. I mean, 1 Corinthians 7 has some really important things to say about that. But we tend to scaffold the whole discussion about the goodness of singleness around the utilitarian kind of framework of singleness. But that’s very different to the way we think about marriage. We look at marriage as Christians and say, “There’s something inherently intrinsically deeply good and purposeful and relevant about the institution of marriage itself.” We don’t have that for singleness. The single Christian life is only good insofar as the single Christian lives the good single Christian life. I think that’s really—that’s problematic, because the Bible has some really interesting things to say about an intrinsic purpose and value to singleness itself. So that’s really where my research is driving.
In terms of the identity of single people, I was really sad when I sort of pulled all the patterns together and found out where we’re at on that. One of the key—one of the first things that I came, really, across was the way we tend to frame singleness as a deficit identity. And by that, I mean we talk about it or we define it, really, as a state of lacking: you’re single means you’re not married, or you’re unmarried. If you’re single, you’re not a wife, you’re not a husband. We don’t think about it in the other way. Married people are never called “unsingle” or “not single”. They’re never defined by the fact that they left their singleness behind. And so, I find it really disappointing that the way we—and not just Christians, but generally, I think—just the way—the language we use in the broader community defines singleness as by what it’s not. It’s not marriage. And I think that sets the tone for the discussion.
TP: But what does that do for a single person—not only—I mean, I’ll get you to talk in a minute about whether that’s a good way to think about it biblically—but what does that do for you as a single person?
DT: Yeah, I—it makes it really hard to be content as a single person, I think. One of the things that I wanted to be really proactive in embarking on this research was not becoming myself or being seen to be down on marriage. Marriage is a wonderful gift from God. You know, it’s a gift that I still hope that he will give me some day. It hasn’t been his plan for me today, and I—I haven’t ever wanted to raise or elevate the goodness of singleness by denigrating the goodness of marriage. Marriage is a great gift from God. And I think there is a sense in which—there’s a rightness to aspire to marriage as we look back to creation. I don’t think we ever want to say, “Well, marriage is, you know, is no longer relevant or is decreasing in relevancy” as Christians.
But we have, unfortunately, and really it’s only been in the last 50-60 years with about a hundred years before that leading up to this, I suspect—we have actually turned marriage from a good gift that God gives his people, and not just people individually, but his church as a wh—body corporate—we’ve turned it from a good gift to the goal of the Christian life for many of us. We’re no longer—do we—are we called to simply esteem and honour marriage, which is what Hebrews—the writer of Hebrews—writes, but we almost have this unwritten rule that Christians are all meant to be pursue marriage. And what that means is that, for most of us who have never been married, the single state is just depicted as a state of waiting. It’s the transition—sep—prep—preparation to real life beginning, when you’re married. And that’s—
TP: It’s provisional; you’re on your P-plates.
DT: You are; you’re on your P-plates, and if you’re in your 30s, 40s, 50s on your P-plates, there’s sometimes even a sense in which you’re considered to be a bit of an irresponsible Christian. You haven’t really grown up. You haven’t really matured. In fact, one of my favourite ironic quotes that I came across in my research was from an author called Gary Thomas, who says that the best way to become more like Jesus is to get married—that he couldn’t imagine any better way to becoming more like Jesus than getting married. And I just think the irony of that is supreme! But, that’s—
TP: At all sorts of levels.
DT: That’s right! But there—there is—that is very much the thinking that marriage and parenting are the primary arenas in which we’re sanctified and we grow to be more like Jesus. And singleness is a delay of that. And it—it doesn’t really allow you to fully grow in the way that you ought to be growing as a Christian.
TP: So if these are some of the approaches that you’ve sadly found too widespread—that is, seeing singleness as eith—as purely instrumental: you might pursue it on an utilitarian basis for what can be achieved through it, or that it’s some form of deficit identity that—a waiting period ’til you achieve true Christian life—
TP: —how have you approached it, then, and—as you’ve dug into the subject, how’s your approach been different?
DT: My approach—in terms of my postgraduate research, from the very outset, I knew that I wanted to head in a particular direction, which was thinking about singleness theologically, but from a perspective of eternity. So as those who understand that there is a trajectory in Scripture from creation to new creation, with Christ right at the centre of that, how does thinking about new creation help us to understand the value and purpose of the single life as Christians now? So in the same way that we would—we say about marriage, well, marriage is a picture of the—the heavenly relationship between Christ and his church, and as we look at people’s marriages now, they ought to be foreshadowing that and—and pointing us towards that in eternity—my question is really, “How can the life of single Christians do the same? How can—how can the single Christian life have purpose and value in pointing all of us as Christians towards the eternity that awaits us as people who, Jesus says, will not be married to each other for eternity?”
TP: My wife wonders whether we’d still be allowed to hold hands.
DT: I s—well, yes, I mean, we’ll wait and see, I guess! I certainly think that—I don’t think it—what, you know, it’s a reset of all relationships or anything like that! But I sus—you know, my understanding is that we’ll have such perfected relationships with each other that the marriage relationship that we shared on earth will look, in some sense, paltry to, you know, the intimacy that we will all share in heaven for all eternity as we gather around the throne together, so …
TP: So you’re wanting to think of singleness by starting with the picture of the new creation and what that does to our vision of ev—of all of life now and draw that especially back into what it means for singles—singleness. What sort of things have you been finding, then? How—how does our vision of the future shape a v—a more positive vision of singleness now?
TP: Or is it too early to say? I know you haven’t finished your PhD.
DT: I’m—I’m—I’m finished. I’ve spent most of the time sort of getting to the point where I can really delve into that. There’s a few things running around. As, you know, as we just talked about, Jesus says that “They will neither marry nor be given in marriage in heaven, but will be like the angels” (Matt 22:30), whatever that means. But it does seem to—to indicate that we won’t be individually married to each other. And so, that means that now as a single woman, my relationship with you—with other Christian men and women—is a foreshadow of what all of our relationships will be like for eternity. As I relate to you as my brother in Christ, the person I’m united to in Christ, that’s a little glimpse—a little—a little foreshadowing of the perfected nature of what those relationships will look like for eternity. And I find that really exciting, because it gives me as a single Christian woman a purpose in modelling my singleness to you as a—as a married man. And so, yeah, I find—I find that really exciting.
I think … the out—another thing that I find really compelling is that we have been adopted into God’s family through spiritual rebirth, rather than physical birth; we’re not born into—into God’s family in Christ; we’re adopted in in him. And so, spiritual parenting is also something that is really exciting for me as a single woman, who has no children of my own, but as I look at what it means to disciple others with eternity on view, it gives me a—a real—a joy to know that I can actually be involved in parenting—not even necessarily younger brothers and sisters in Christ as I see them grow to maturity as well.
TP: We’ll come back to Dani in just a moment to hear more about what it means to live as a single person in the light of eternity. But I just want to tell you about our book special for this month. We put this on with our friends at Matthias Media—a book that relates to the theme of this episode of the podcast—and the special this month is Mikey Lynch’s new book, The Good Life in the Last Days.
Mikey came onto our podcast way back at the beginning—I think it was episode 5 or 6—to talk about the ideas that have now come to fruition in this book. And it’s really about the tension that we experience as Christians in living a life now that is both a life of thanksgiving and enjoyment of the good world that God has given us. And there’s so much in our world that is good and to be enjoyed, and to be free to do that. But at the same time, the life we live is one of sacrifice. It’s one of dying to self. It’s one of not falling in love with this world and the things of this world. How do you hold those two things together as a Christian? That’s what Mikey digs into in this book,The Good Life in the Last Days. You’ll find it over at matthiasmedia.com.au/ccl/ and there’ll be some sort of special offer to help you get hold of this book. It’s called The Good Life in the Last Days by Mikey Lynch, and I’d encourage you to grab it: it’s a very stimulating and helpful read.
But back to Dani Treweek and to the challenge of living as a single person in a Christian community. And Dani has just been laying out some of the positive ways we can begin to think about singleness in the light of eternity. I asked her how these positive biblical ideas contrast with some more worldly ideas that we often tend to be infected with on this subject.
DT: Yeah, I think in—in recent months, I’ve been particularly convicted of some of the areas in which our thinking as Christians is not very different to the thinking of the world. A couple of areas in particular—one of them being our understanding of the—the priority and the place of romantic love, which the Bible demonstrates is a—is a wonderful thing, but the world presents it as the goal of—of life—the way that we reach personal fulfillment and happiness—and I don’t think the Bible does that. But we haven’t been as Christians particularly discerning as we—we’ve taken on a lot of this world’s view. And so I think there is some work for us to do about the place and the purpose of—of romantic love for us as humans—the place of it in marriage; I think we put an enormous stress and pressure on married Christians when we sort of base marriage primarily around these feelings of romantic love.
I think another area is friendship: I am concerned that we are subsuming friendship more and more into marriage and they’re becoming almost synonymous: the ideal of friendship is now found in marriage, so when you see Facebook posts of people celebrating their anniversaries, and I love that; please keep doing that, people! But just take note of the number of people who talk about being married to their very best friend. That’s not just a throwaway line; that’s actually saying that we—we think the ideal of friendship is now to be found in the husband or the wife. That’s an enormous pressure to put on one person—that this person be everything to you. And it also means that single people are left thinking, “Well, I a) can never enjoy the—the ideal of friendship, and, you know, my—my—my good friend just got married, but I’m no longer her good friend, ’cause now she has a husband.”
TP: It would almost be a betrayal for her to say that you were her best friend!
DT: Well, that’s right! And I mean the language of “best friend”—
DT: —I try to avoid it because it puts me back in primary school, you know.
TP: Yeah, BFF.
DT: But—but we have friends who are very dear to us, and we have different, enriched friendships in all different areas of life, and I’m concerned at the way that we Christians are tending to locate that—that—best the friendship has to offer and the highest form of human intimacy that’s ever available solely in the marriage relationship. And I think, again, that is not just difficult and problematic for single people, but for married—married people too.
TP: It can place unrealistic expectations on married life.
DT: Yeah, that’s right.
TP: It’s interesting too that, in a sense, those worldly ideas you’re talking about are responses to our world’s hunger for meaning. Having abandoned the idea that God gives our lives meaning—that God creates us, and our meaning comes as creatures—as people related to him and to each other in him—then other things rush in to fill that, and we—we clasp onto things to say, “This is what my life’s about. My life’s about having a family and being married. That’s the ultimate purpose of me.” Or—or finding that soulmate who—who I’m madly in love with and stay madly love with forever—that that’s my purpose and that’s the dream. And you’re right: we get colonised by those ideas. We—we imbibe them without critiquing them. And there’s another couple of PhDs for you to do, Dani!
DT: Great! No problem!
TP: Do one on the nature of romantic love and how to think theologically about that, and friendship!
DT: Yeah, yeah! That’s right.
DT: Might leave those for someone else! But—but that’s certainly why my research is wanting to fix our eyes on eternity, rather than here on earth. I want—want to think about how we can really live life here in light of the life that’s to come—whether we’re married or single.
TP: I guess one of the reasons, then, you would say that singleness can be hard and that marriage can be hard is that, although both states of life we’d want to live in the light of eternity and in the light of who we are becoming and who we—who we are in Christ—that’s not where we are now. We’re on our way. We’re on the journey. We’re living in that tension of still being here—
TP: —and still being in the created—in this creation, as we wait for the new creation. As you’ve been through the research, how’s that helped you to reflect on—on the hard things about singleness for you personally? I mean, how’s it been as a personal experience, thinking and reading so much about this and reflecting on what you find difficult about singleness?
DT: God has been very kind to me. Having never been married, there have been seasons of my—my life personally where it’s been harder to be single. And seasons where contentment has never been easy, but has been more attainable to varying degrees. I’m speaking very personally: I’m very thankful for God that most of my last three years as I spent, you know, day in, day out thinking about singleness has not sort of thrown me into the pit of despair as a single person myself. There’s been moments, but he’s sustained me in that, which is—which is good. And I’m thankful for.
I think single Christians … it’s really hard to live in light—in that now, but not yet, as those who have already been raised with Christ who are already seated in the heavenly realms with him, and yet, are here on earth, grieving what we don’t have. And I—I think it’s important to validate that grief—to recognise that not having been given a particular gift from God is a hard thing, and that people will feel that differently, and it’s even harder, I suspect, in some ways, for people who have had it and for whom it has—no longer their reality—whether that’s through divorce or death. And so, I think I’ve been able to personally grapple with that grief in a productive way. It doesn’t mean that it’s gone. But I think it’s important for us to validate that that’s a real thing, in the same way that we talk about the real grief of infertility, for example. I—
TP: Or the grief of family breakdown—
DT: That’s right.
TP: —or the grief of marriage not turning out the way you thought it did, or the grief of a child who you don’t get on with—
DT: That’s right.
TP: —and your relationship breaks down.
DT: Yeah, that’s right.
TP: —and—and and and, the … Life is full of trouble, in a way.
DT: Yeah. And I think, just a bit of a tangent from that, one of the things I’ve been reflecting on recently is I’m not sure that we honour the single Christians, both men and women out there, who have committed themselves to living a life of godly obedience and gospel service in the midst of that grief, because very many of them could go out and get themselves married pretty easily, if they decided they were just going chuck it all in or go and marry a non-Christian, or, you know, whatever that might be. I can’t remember the last time I heard a pastor honour the single people in their midst for prioritising their relationship with Christ over their desired relationship with someone else.
So I—I think—I think that’s something that we could do a bit of thinking about and encouraging those who, even if it hasn’t been a conscious decision—even if they haven’t sort of said, “Well, I’m not going to pursue that person because they’re not a Christian”, but who have just, you know, ruled out the possibility of a relationship with someone else almost instinctively.
TP: It kind of brings us to thinking about the church and about the community of Christ, and how we care for one another and minister to each other in that way. What’s your research so far indicated, or what sort of ideas has it brought to the surface, about how church communities could do better in this area? You’ve just mentioned one.
DT: I think one of the key ways is actually being committed to our church congregations as family in more than just words. So we talk about our churches being our family, but I suspect what we most often mean by that is our individual families come together to make one big family. Now, there’s a truth in that, because churches are often usually made up of lots of individual families. But when we think of church as a bit of a club for families, single people don’t know where they belong and, again, don’t feel that authentic sense of belonging into the family that they are as much a part of as their married counterparts.
So I th—I would like to see us be more committed to understanding what does it mean for this group of people that I meet with on a Sunday, or my Bible study group, or whatever that community is in their different sort of aspects—what does it mean for them to be my primary family who I will be spending eternity with? And what, then, does that mean for my earthly family? So I think—I think that’s one key way.
That will then inform, I suspect, a whole lot of the things we do and the things we say at churches. I’m not sure that—that married people and particularly parents appreciate the—the way that even sermon illustrations tend to be very heavily based in family life. Little things like if you’re at a church that has a Kids Spot before the kids go out to their—to their Sunday school or something, very often you’ll hear people from the front say, “Kids, turn around and say goodbye to the mums and dads”. Not everyone sitting there is a mum and dad. I’m very thankful the church I’m, at we talk about, “Say goodbye to the adults”. So there’s just l—really little things that most people wouldn’t even pick up on. But are quite—they can be quite hurtful for single people, who feel like they’re just maybe listening in on the real deal, which is—is for parents and husbands and wives.
TP: And you’re talking about, you said before, potentially a third of the congregation.
DT: That’s right: potentially a third of the congregation is sitting there, and there will be all sorts of different circumstances that are going on for those different people. I have always imagined it must be very difficult for those who are separated and divorced. And then you’ve also got single parents, which, again, is a completely, you know, it’s another whole kettle of fish. And I imagine that there is a lot of grief that comes in there about not fitting the mould of the two-parent family for those men and women who are seeking to—to disciple and love their children as a solo parent with all the difficulty and complexity that that brings.
So I also think it would be so wonderful to have more models of single people in ministry—in leadership. I’m not sure how that happens, because it’s certainly not our situation at the moment. But particularly amongst men, there’s a lot more single Christian women in ministry leadership out there than there are single Christian men. And I—I do wonder how hard it will be to turn the ship without having those people modelling for us in leadership positions. But God is sovereign and nothing is impossible with him, so, yeah.
TP: Dani, I feel like you’ve opened up, and no doubt your PhD research feels this way too—you’ve opened up a whole bunch of questions that need further thinking and thought, and you’ve certainly stimulated me to think further about these things. How can we pursue and think further about this subject? I know there’s a conference coming up. I want you to tell us about the conference. But how can we pursue and think further about this question?
DT: A couple of things: talking to your single friends, and even if you don’t have single friends, seeking out the single people in your church and developing relationships and just understanding them more—understanding their life. That’s a way to think about it. To love them not because they’re single, but to love them as single people. I think that’s really significant way to be intentional in thinking through this in a very pastoral way.
Some—there are some—there are some good books out there. I can recommend a couple: quite a—a, I don’t want to say “dense”, but a good heavy read in terms of the theology of singleness is a book called Redeeming Singleness by a Canadian author called Barry Danylak. I don’t agree with absolutely everything he’s got in there, but gee, he’s got some really good thinking about a biblical theology of singleness. Sam Allberry, who I’ll mention in just minute, has a new book coming out in February next year called 7 Myths about Singleness. I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on that one. And I’ve just finished an intriguing book, which I need to go back and reread, which is rather provocatively titled Breaking the Marriage Idol, and it’s by a married American theologian called Kutter Callaway, and my copy of it has just got big chunks of highlighted text now, because I just found it fascinating for a married Christian to be critiquing the way that we evangelical Christians have really been thinking about marriage in recent decades. So there’s some good reads for you.
But, yeah, the Single Minded Conference is coming up. I’m chairing that conference. It’s on the 22ndSeptember—Saturday 22nd September—and we’ve got an evening conference as well on Friday 21st, which we’ve had to put on because the Saturday one sold out within a month. I was quite astounded by that; I thought we’d have a reasonably niche conference, but the response has been quite overwhelming. We’re also livestreaming the Saturday, so if you’re free on Saturday 22nd and you’d like to tune in, you can still register for the livestream of that. And we have Sam Allberry, who’s a UK speaker, coming out and presenting a couple of talks at that, we’ve got a bunch of electives, and we’ve got a range of interviews with a lot of single people of different ages and stages and situations.
TP: And where can we find information on that?
TP: Great, we’ll put that link and the link to the books that you mentioned in our show notes as well. Thanks, Dani, for talking with us today.
DT: Thanks for having me!
TP:Well, thanks for being with us today on the Centre for Christian Living podcast. And I know there’s lots of you: I’ve recently been looking at the stats and been quite startled at just how many people have been listening to these podcasts. It’s wonderful to have you on board. Keep spreading the word to your friends. And thanks for the growing number of you who’ve done that by leaving reviews and ratings and that kind of stuff at iTunes. That’s been really encouraging as well.
If you do have any questions or you want to get in touch and make a comment, or if you have an issue that’s in your life that’s part of the Christian life that you’d really like us to address, then please let us know. We’d love to help out. Just send us an email at the Centre for Christian Living: that’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to Moore College, who make this podcast possible. Thanks, too, to Karen Beilharz, who also makes this podcast possible by all her support. Thanks to Slow Nomad for the music that we use in each episode, and you might like to check out a new EP that they’ve just released on Spotify and iTunes and everywhere else. That’s Slow Nomad.
Thanks for being with us today. I’m Tony Payne. ’Bye for now.