Four Things the Single Parent Needs from the Church

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Single parenting! I remember those days well! When I entered into this stage in my life I had just left the military but little did I realize I was entering into an even bigger challenge. One that would demand more physical and mental stamina than my Drill Sergeants had demanded from me.

My daily routine consisted of getting not only myself, but the kids, out of bed and ready for the day. I’d get them to the babysitter or school, then off to work I’d go. After work it was time to pick up the kids from the babysitter, arrive home, fix dinner, clean the house, help with homework, bathe the kids, then sit down to work on bills, plan meals, get up to clean the daily clutter and wash the dishes–all before collapsing in bed at night, depressed with the thought  that tomorrow would start the routine all over again. It felt like each day was a battle that left me exhausted, sometimes bloodied and bruised. I’d wake with the new sunrise, facing another battle to be won.

Chances are that within your church are many of these brave troops . Whether you are on staff or a concerned brother or sister, these brave soldiers need you and your church. They may not admit it, they may not even know it, but they need fellow believers to come alongside them in their daily battles.

Here are 4 things all singles need from the church to accomplish the goal of raising children who love and honor God.

  1.  Love: This is such a no-brainer really. We all need love, but single parents need to experience unconditional love and acceptance from the church. Single parents come in all shapes and sizes. Single parents can be widowed, divorced, or never married. They may have purposely adopted children while single. They may be taking care of nieces and nephews or grandchildren. They need to be known and loved for who they are and who they can become. Every situation, every single parent family is unique and face unique challenges but they all hold great potential and can be a great asset to your church. They just may need a little extra help to get there.
  2.  Protection: To begin with, the church must be a safe place for their kids. Your children’s ministry should be clean, safe, well-staffed and maintained. Make sure the staff knows who is allowed or not allowed to pick up the kids. A check-in system is vital in any children’s ministry. Single parents may be going through custody battles and who picks up their child could mean the difference between life and death. Additionally, I believe single parents may need protection from predators who may target their children based upon their vulnerabilities. This can be especially important for young mothers. We have all heard the horror stories of children being abused by a stepdad or mother’s boyfriend. Single parents who are left to deal with life alone may, in some cases, let their guards down because they are desperate for companionship and in real need of help in the home. The church can and should protect against this by coming alongside single parents to provide them with the very things that leave them vulnerable. Families of the church can help single parents by offering things like child care and assistance with transportation to events or sports practice. Churches can provide classes and advice about dating, what to look for in a man or woman, and how to introduce them to your children. These are only some of ways the church can provide protection for the parent and the child.
  3.  Help: This can come in many forms. Everything from outside yard work, handyman work in and outside of the house, babysitting, or providing housing. Assistance can come in many forms, but the most effective help comes from knowing the single parent personally so you can know the best ways for the church to step up. The single parent may need assistance education about handling their finances, dating advice, or classes on parenting techniques. Unless the church makes an intentional effort to get to know the parent and discover their needs those needs may never be met. The church needs to be proactive in offering assistance. Don’t wait for them to ask for it, or an incident to occur before offering help. Be intentional about connecting single parents with the church community and with leaders who can offer help and or advice.
  4.      Encouragement: For the single parent, this need is second only to love. At times, single parents become overwhelmed with their life and daily responsibilities. In the dark times it can be hard to see a way forward. To single parents It may seem as if there is little hope for their future or their children. Sometimes it is hard to see the future when you are mired in the present and haunted by the past. Single parents need to be reminded they follow a great God! One who has amazing plans for them. They need to be reminded that even if life seems challenging now, what they are experiencing is only temporary, God is doing something amazing in their life. The church should give them hope for the future. When I look back at the man I was then, compared with who I am now, I realize my time as a single parent was a period of growth. I failed many times, but no matter what life brings, God taught me He is enough.

He taught me to rely on Him alone for everything and then later He brought an amazing woman into my life. This year we celebrated 21 years of marriage. I am a pastor at a church in south Florida, and God is continuing to use my experiences as a single dad to encourage others. My hope is your church recognizes the incredible potential of single parents. Yes, they may need some extra attention, but the payoff is worth it in the end! Learn to see beyond the present and look to the future that God has in store for the single parent in your local church.

Stop Following Your Heart

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Have you ever heard of Lemmings? It was a popular game a few years back, when floppy drives were still in use! It’s also an animal associated with the idea of following the leader no matter what, blindly going where they lead. The problem, of course, is that lemmings follow the leader, even if it’s over a cliff! They follow blindly until something happens, whether good or bad.

Singles are no different when they follow only their heart in relationships.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” Jeremiah 17:9.

We are obsessed with a Romeo-and-Juliet culture where love is nothing more than following your heart to find true love. This is made even more popular by shows like “Once Upon a Time,” where every character is centered around finding their happy ending. And it never comes!

Christ wants you to follow Him! Proverbs 3:5 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” Trust Him with everything! Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Christ says “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24.

Following your heart leads to paths that are not always what God wants for our lives. Sin can creep into our decision-making and relying on our “hearts” leads to poor choices.

And as for that happy ending? In John 16:33 Jesus says, “The world will make you suffer. But be brave! I have defeated the world!” Christ has defeated the world through death on the Cross!

This world will never bring a happy ending, our happy ending as Christ followers is hearing the words “Well done my good and faithful servant.” Matthew 25:21.

The “Friend Zone”

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No one is happy.

The ladies say the guys won’t ask them out.

The guys say the ladies stay in their social circles and won’t come out. No one is on anyone’s romantic radar.

Welcome to the Friend Zone. It’s a place that single adults find themselves at almost every church event. Sure, there are people that blast through the friend zone and find their mate through church, but more and more singles are frustrated by the “dating within the one place it’s best” to find a spouse.

So how does it happen? How can so many eligible people, with similar beliefs and values, AND the desire to date, be around each other for so long without ever developing relationships?

It’s simple and complex all at the same time.

First, let’s address it from the guy’s perspective. Guys want to pursue dating relationships with the girls. They want to find “her”. Despite what the ladies think, they are not scared of girls. That’s the simple part.

It gets complex from there. There is a dating shelf life in any singles group. Guys can only ask out a certain number of girls before they are branded a “player” in the singles group. And that’s the best thing they can be branded. The other brand is much more damaging. “Creepy”. Creepy guys are done…finished. They are the ones that girls warn other girls about before they even darken the door.

For the guys, they spend their entire time trying to figure out which girl they should pursue and how they will be branded by the group based on their actions. If a guy messes this up and is viewed poorly by the girls he is damaged. Sometimes irreparably.

From the ladies perspective, they aren’t going to pursue the guy. And they shouldn’t have to. Many of them are interested in dating, but unfortunately their pool of selection is small. Male leadership in the church is lacking at all ages and they aren’t going to waste their time with guys that won’t step up and show spiritual leadership within their group.

And why should the ladies waste their time? If these guys can’t step up in leadership in the church, how will they ever do it in the home? Showing boldness, in the minds of the ladies, begins with stepping up and asking them out.

So we find ourselves in the friend zone. We find ourselves in a place where guys won’t pull the trigger on asking a girl out because he’s afraid he’s going to get blackballed, or because another guy has called “dibs” on asking a girl out. And we find the ladies frustrated because of the lack of real mature men that want to not only ask them out, but more importantly the lack of men that are serious about their spiritual life. We end up having large singles groups of people that aren’t dating but hang out all the time as friends. They will then refuse to move into a dating relationship with someone in their group because “it’s just too weird” or “I don’t want to mess up our friendship” or “I think of him/her like a sibling”.

Breaking out of this is going to be tough, but here’s how we do it.

Guys, step it up. First, focus on your spiritual life. You don’t have to stop dating to do this. It’s a journey and you’ll never reach perfection. Don’t wait on perfection. Second, find the ONE girl that is special to you. Be a man and ask her out.

Ladies, give the guys a chance. Don’t gossip with your girlfriends about the guys and do everything in your power not to “brand” the ones that are genuinely trying.

It’s a two way street.

– Author Will King

It’s Just Me This Christmas

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Regardless whether a person is completely content with being single or not, the holidays for older single adults reveal a somber truth. It is logical then to see when time marches on, things change, and those who are dear to us pass on. For singles, this can create a situation they never saw coming.

 

It is just me this Christmas.

 

Small families have some amazing abilities to do more with everyone since there are less people to logistically connect with. This also means less siblings, if any, and for most singles, one Christmas day they find themselves the last of their family. We know this sounds extreme, but for one single adult this was exactly what happened.

 

Robert was an only child. He had dated a few times but never really found a person that shared reciprocal interest in marriage. Holidays were spent with mom and dad at his house. In the span of three years, both parents had passed to be with the Lord and then it happened.

 

Robert was alone for Christmas. Years of traditions with family are gone and his extended family were too far away to travel to see them.

 

Where was the Framily?

 

Robert was active in his church and had several friends. Many were close as family, they were framily (friends considered family). But they all forgot that he was a single child and both his parents had passed away. His close network of friends forgot to reach out. In all fairness, Robert also failed to reach out and seek a place to go to on Christmas Day. But, he also didn’t prepare to spend it alone.

 

We Have to Pay Attention.

 

Singles, leaders to singles, and anyone reading this blog: We have to be observant of singles in our lives and make sure we reach out often to keep them connected. In this case, Robert may had forgotten he was going to be alone for Christmas due to the busyness of the holiday season. Robert may have wanted to spend the day alone, which would be fine. But, the issue is that everyone lost sight of their single adult friend and where he was going to spend Christmas.

 

Churches Need to Connect Singles.

 

Church, however you connect singles you need to make it a priority. Singles like this one and others make up nearly half of all adults in America and as more and more adults age without a spouse, this number and scenario is going to increase. Churches need to have a focus on connecting singles in whatever discipleship strategy they have to minister to singles all year. Some will still fall through the net you build to catch singles, but your strategy to reach them will connect more than it misses.

 

Being alone for Christmas does not have to be the saddest thing ever. This blog was not out to say everyone needs to be with people on Christmas. This blog is an attempt to shine light into an area of need for the Church to connect singles at some of their most critical life moments and for the Church to reflect Christ in those times.

 

How does your church reach single adults? Do they do a good job trying to connect singles? Anything done to ensure the lone single is included during the holidays?

Left Behind

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As a single guy who is old enough to be pondering questions such as, “Am I contributing enough to my 401(k)?” or, “Does my potential new job offer dental benefits, because I might need dentures soon…?”, I have been around long enough to have witnessed the marriage of many of my best friends. Heck, most of my friends are on their second or third kid and are worrying about which school district has the best honors program for their supposedly gifted offspring!

Single adults often have to act enthusiastic in uncomfortable social situations, but perhaps the most painful and awkward act we have to perform is putting on a big smile and offering a heartfelt “Congratulations, that’s awesome, I’m so happy for you guys!” when our best buddy or childhood friend finally decides to tie the knot – and we have no prospects on the horizon whatsoever!  Maybe you have “made your peace” with the whole Being Single thing and are content with where God has put you in life – good job, great friends, nice place to live, a church you feel really plugged into, etc. – but, to my mind at least, there is nothing that will challenge this state of contentedness more profoundly than the news of a close friend that’s getting engaged.  Sometimes it doesn’t even take that much – we’ve all had those friends who were mainstays of our social group and who we hung out with all the time, but as soon as they found and began dating their soul mate they immediately vanished from the group and were gone from our lives as suddenly as the flip of a light switch.

Now don’t get me wrong – as someone who hopes to be married someday myself, but more importantly, as a Christ-follower who, in my better moments, attempts to treat others the way I would like to be treated – I am definitely not saying we should not or cannot truly rejoice with our friends when they come to us with the news that their lives are going to be permanently changed – far from it!  But if we are painfully honest with ourselves, we will admit that sometimes it is like attempting to grin cheerfully during a root canal to try to be as sincerely happy for our soon-to-be-married friends as we hope they would be for us if it were our turn.

So what to do?   First of all, acknowledge that it stinks – not that you necessarily need to tell them that (and if you do tell them, pray long and hard beforehand that God would give you the right words, the right time, and the right spirit in which to have that conversation).  Just be honest with yourself and with God and admit that, yes, you are losing someone, at least for a while.  In fact, it’s almost like someone close to you has died.  For a romantic relationship to strengthen into a God-honoring, rock-solid marriage, the couple has to enter into a much more exclusive relationship than any they (and you) have ever experienced.  Know that your engaged or newly married friends are not (99% of the time, at least) intentionally trying to leave you, their single friend, behind – they just need to spend a lot of quality time together in order to enter into that intimate relationship that God desires for them to have so that they can truly become one.   But none of this changes the simple fact that you’ll miss having them around like they were before!

And of course, as a single adult, having a friend get engaged and married is just another not-so-subtle reminder that we are not.  It’s not that we mean to be childish or jealous, it’s that our minds are being bombarded with thoughts like, “Why not me?” “Am I going to be the last one standing?” and on and on it goes… So yeah, just say it, “It stinks!”

Having said that, know that genuinely rejoicing with your friends while at the same time mourning the passing of an era and the permanent alteration of your friendship is not only possible, it’s also not “wrong,” so you shouldn’t feel guilty or weirded out about being in this seemingly conflicted state of mind.  As a guy, I’m not too proud to admit something like this, but let’s face it – God also made men just as capable as women of feeling loss.  We men probably don’t express it the way the ladies do, but yeah, we’ll definitely miss not being able to spontaneously call up our buddy to go skeet-shooting on a Saturday morning without him having to first check with his “social planner.”

Finally, remember that your “couple” friends still need you!  Yes, they will withdraw into themselves for a while and yes, your relationship with them will never be exactly what it used to be, but just because they are getting married doesn’t mean they don’t want or need your friendship any more.  It may take them a few months or so to realize it, but they will wake up one day and realize that their husband or wife, however wonderful he or she is, cannot satisfy their every human need – and God made each one of us with a deep need for friendship.  They need your friendship as they enter their new romantic relationship, and they will still need your friendship months and years after they get married and start having kids.

God is not the author of pain, sadness, or loneliness – His word tells us that all these things are the by-products of our fallen and broken world and will one day pass away with the coming of the new Heaven and Earth. Sometimes, though, I believe God allows us to deal with the “loss” of a good friend so that we will be reminded that He is, indeed, truly enough. He and He alone is our constant companion, and in a world of constant turbulence and change, we need this reminder often.  He always has a way of providing exactly what we need at just the right time – and sometimes He has to take away what we think we need to show us what we really need. Thankfully, His wisdom and timing are always perfect, and when nothing else in the world makes sense, we can trust His heart and know that, as a gracious and loving Father, He will never fail to provide for our needs in ways that are far greater than we would ever imagine!

Distracted

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Life is full of distractions. We’re distracted at work, at home, with media, and even our local churches. It’s not hard to wonder why it’s so hard to stay focused on the most important things in our life. How we handle distractions is a part of maturing our faith. Choosing the difference between a distraction and God’s calling is vital to following Christ.

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Matt. 4:19, NIV)

Do you find yourself starting a task, only to pick up your phone at the first ding of text notice? Could you go more than an hour without picking up your phone? Longer?

I often remind myself, I survived for years without a cell phone. I didn’t always get a phone message until I arrived home and checked the answering machine. Sometimes that was late into the evening. Friends didn’t panic. Family didn’t call 911. We just trusted that God had a plan and it didn’t usually involve immediate gratification and the distractions of media devices.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23, NIV)

Jesus instructed his followers to do just that–Follow. He didn’t add, “when you can.” “If you have time.”

Being obedient requires a focus and Him and His calling for you this moment, this day, this week, this life. It may mean saying no to events. It may mean saying no to the four-hour marathon of your favorite show. And, yes, at times, it may mean not filling up our weekend schedule with friends and family. Sometimes we just need to turn off the world off for an hour, a day, a weekend, a week and spend time with Him.

When I find I’m getting agitated with the little things, I’m reminded that I’m not doing the Big Thing. Shutting off the noise of music, television, computer, phones brings me back to where I should have never left.

We all know we need to sometimes turn off the distractions, but how often do we take the challenge? Is it time? Turn off the noise. Ignore the distractions. Turn up the volume of Christ in your life. Spend time with Him today and follow where He leads.

Sunday Single Selection

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It is Saturday night and you know you should go to church tomorrow, yet you have reservations in your heart about where to go or if you should find somewhere new to go. You want to Worship and hear the Word preached, but the church you go to does not seem to get being single or you can not find a church with a singles group. Many singles have this Saturday night emotion, wanting to go to church for all the right reasons, but still desiring more in community with other singles like yourself.

Many churches don’t have a targeted group for singles, if they even seem to acknowledge they are present. Those that do have singles groups may not feel like they are targeted at people like yourself. While the emotions are valid, your response to these issues should have only one outcome and that is to go Worship with other believers. Worship is not a self serving activity where you get something for doing something. Worship is about praising God for who He is and learning more about Him through that experience. So here are a few encouragements for singles with regards to church selection.

  1. Base your selection on if the church Worships God and honors His Word.
  2. Connect with a congregation close as possible to enhance your ability to participate.
  3. Look for churches with existing singles ministries listed, if none are found it may be time to start a singles ministry in your area. Chances are there are several people like you looking for a place to connect.
  4. Bring or invite a friend to help you select a church, it helps to debrief with someone over lunch after Worship.

Finally, choose! Go to a church where God is calling you, make roots and serve. Don’t spend all your time looking when you could be connected to a church and start building a singles ministry for people like yourself. Your efforts to do so will not return void and God will honor your commitment to serve Him.

 

A Single Budget: Those Unexpected Expenses

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For some, it is pretty easy to stick to a Spending Plan except when some unexpected expense arises. Some of these expenses can be predicted, some are just pure, unwelcome surprises. It is important to have an emergency fund to take care of the unwelcome surprises that we know will happen from time to time.

However, there are many “unexpected” expenses that with a little thought and planning can be anticipated. Singles frequently tend to work more and socialize more because they often have fewer family obligations. In socializing, it is common to eat out a lot, celebrate lots of birthdays, weddings, babies and many other things. So we need to plan in our Spending Plan for things like gifts, dinner parties out, social events celebrating milestones like birthdays and graduations, etc.

We also have expenses that don’t occur every month. If we are not planning well, these expenses can be “gotcha expenses”. Examples would be things like oil changes, car tags and registration, children’s school Field Trip costs, Christmas gifts, etc. It is important to anticipate these expenses and work them into your monthly Spending Plan.

Take a calendar and go month by month to help you anticipate these expenses. Working these into your Spending Plan will help you have more confidence in your plan and therefore help you be more successful.

Is Sexting OK in My Relationship

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For those unaware, sexting is a form of provocative language between a couple using electronic communication. In a relationship, couples will often find creative ways to convey their love to one another. In years of old, this may have been letter writing or heaven forbid an actual conversation.

In any relationship communication is key, but what type of communication is profitable? For an unmarried couple sexting is crossing a line of respect for the boundaries of the relationship that honors God. If you have to ask ”Would God approve of this?” then you need to reconsider why you are doing it in the first place! At the core of these words you will find lust, and lust is sinful–not playful, and not loving.

Our response to dating singles is sexting crosses the line, it is lust and it is wrong. Even once you are engaged, it should be off-limits; you are not married and need to save something special to share after your big day. EVEN THEN, let us all not forget that the NSA is reading most anything we send and the high profile people caught sexting and the embarrassment it caused. So keep your text above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2) and have a happy, God honoring relationship.

A Single Budget: How Can I Have a Life When I Have No Money?

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What a great church service you had this morning. Now all your friends from the Singles Group are heading out to lunch. You know your money is tight and a constant headache, but you just can’t take going back to your apartment and having something frozen. Besides you deserve to go out to eat because (insert reason here).

The truth is, if you don’t have the money in your budget for this meal out, then you don’t deserve it. In fact, you don’t deserve the hurt you are causing yourself by spending money that you don’t have. We all have a 5-year old living inside of us. That 5-year old doesn’t care about a Spending Plan.  That 5-year old wants what it wants, and wants it NOW!

Sometimes we have to tell our inner 5-year old “no.” That is harder to do when we don’t have a spouse or parents helping us keep ourselves in-check. So, does that mean we should put on a sack cloth and go home to eat our frozen dinner alone, never to have any fun again? Absolutely not! It just means that you need to be creative with a little discipline thrown into the mix.

Knowing that the group typically goes out, come up with some good alternatives. For example, you could pack a sandwich or a snack to eat on the way and then just fellowship with them once at the restaurant. This doesn’t mean go and order water and then fill up on the free chips and salsa. You need to do what is right and don’t forget to tip the server.  They are still serving you even if you just order a drink. Another idea would be to offer alternatives such as suggesting the group brown-bag it to a park one week, invite everyone to your place for a potluck, or share 2 for 1 coupons in order to reduce the cost of your meal.

Keep in mind, this is temporary. You won’t have to do this forever, just while you are getting to a better place in your finances. Keep your eye on the prize which is winning with your finances.