6 Encouragements for the Single Christian:

According to a 2020 Pew Research study, 41% of adult Americans 18-21 are single, which the study defines as “not married or living with a partner or in a committed romantic relationship”.

Christians are not immune. While we would define singleness differently (those who are not married) the number of unmarried adults in the Christian community in the US is also on the rise, with Table of One ministries claiming that 23% of churchgoers are single.

Yet many single Christians feel pressure to get married or unflagging disappointment over their relationship status. They might experience church as a space primarily for married people with families. They may hear teaching from people they trust that makes them feel like a junior-varsity adult. Or they may simply have a strong desire to be married, and experience daily pain because of that unfulfilled longing.

As a single Christian woman, here are 6 things that have encouraged me. I hope they encourage you too:

Whatever you’re feeling about your singleness is OK

Some of us are single and totally fine with it. Others of us have painful or complicated feelings. I spent much of my 20’s feeling relaxed about being unmarried, but then wondering if there was something wrong with me as my peers were pining after a spouse. Or there have been times when I’ve read articles like these and found something that rubbed me the wrong way, only to discover it was life-giving to someone else.

Singleness is not a monolithic experience. Whatever your emotions are, that is OK. Please always bring those emotions to the Lord, to scripture and to wise counsel. Don’t let those feelings be the only thing that informs your reality. But know that you’re not doing singleness “wrong” just because your feelings about it are different than someone else’s.

Singleness is not a gift

At least, it is not a spiritual gift the way that “Prophesy”, “Teaching” and “Faith” are. Singleness does not appear on any of the Biblical lists of spiritual gifts(1 Cor 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4).  Spiritual gifts are special aptitudes given for building up the church. And for each gift, some people have it and some don’t. Think about how church elders must be “able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2), and how someone without this ability is not qualified to be an elder. 

Unfortunately, singleness gets conflated with this type of gift. When certain pastors or lay people hear that I am content in my singleness, they respond with, “well, you must have the gift of singleness!”. This thinking is flawed. I am not single because I have a special aptitude for being single. Nor is someone prohibited from being single if they don’t have this aptitude (unlike teaching and eldership). Do we say these things to married people? If my friend says her marriage is going great at the moment, should I respond with, “well, you must have the gift of marriage!”?

Some confusion comes from 1 Corinthians 7, where singleness is actually called a gift. However, we shouldn’t focus only on verse 7 (“I wish that all were [single] like I am. But each has his own gift from God…”), but read all the way through to verse 17, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him…” The gift of singleness is a calling, not a spiritual aptitude.

If you are single, you have been gifted with singleness. Once you marry, you no longer have the gift. Spiritual gifts are special aptitudes. Singleness is a life situation.  All are given by God for His glory, but are gifts in different ways.

Please don’t spend time wondering if you are especially blessed to be supernaturally good at not being married. Instead, ask God to grow you in your contentment and trust for as long as He calls you to this state. And give thanks to our sovereign, loving, Father who has placed you in this life stage.

You are not a second-class adult

This often gets communicated in subtle ways. A relative asks you about your dating life every time they see you. A pastor up front on Sunday morning prays only for marriages and families but not for single adults. Married friends exclude you from social events, probably because they didn’t even think to invite you. This is a problem with how others’ view singleness, not with your relationship status.

What makes us complete and qualified in the Christian life is the finished work of Christ applied to us by His Holy Spirit, not our relationship status. You are just as capable as married folks of sharing the gospel, impacting the lives of others, contributing to important discussions, serving in your church, being a good friend, and raising the next generation of believers. In fact, Christianity is probably the most pro-single religion out there that still values both single and married people.

Consider that Jesus Christ was single. Yet He lived the most fulfilling, God-honoring life in all of history! He had close relationships with others, and He was a complete person. Today, the same Spirit that empowered Christ lives in every believer. Singleness was good enough for our Savior, so it’s certainly good enough for me. I don’t need a spouse to validate me, I am validated by the finished work of Christ.

Desiring marriage is not wrong, nor is it ultimate

Some of you are single and desire to be married, and it consumes every waking thought. Some feel guilty and embarrassed about your desire, while others are tempted to pursue that desire at all costs. Most vacillate between the two.

For those who feel embarrassed, the thinking goes like this, “God will bring someone at the right time, and I’m supposed to trust God. So these feelings of desire and discontentment are sinful because it means I’m not trusting God. I just need to want marriage less and trust God more.”

The truth is, God designed humans to wed (Genesis 2). Desiring marriage is good and God-glorifying. And, when our desires are not met, it is natural to feel disappointed. Having an unmet desire doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t trusting God.

What matters is what you do in that disappointment. Will you acknowledge that desire, yet move forward by faith? Or will you fixate on it, allowing it to fill your heart and mind? Learning to honor our feelings without idolizing them is difficult.

This is where we must also remember that our desire is not the ultimate thing. Figuring out how to honor our feelings while simultaneously not idolizing them is a bigger topic than I can cover here. But it may help to remember that whenever we are making a good thing into an ultimate thing, we are creating an idol (paraphrasing Tim Keller). This happens when we seek to satisfy a need or a want with something other than God. 

Resisting idolatry, then, would include identifying what our needs and wants are, submitting them to God, and openhandedly looking for His provision. For example, the provision for loneliness may be a spouse, or it may be a church family or another lonely friend who needs your help. Or loneliness may be an invitation to lean on the Lord in new ways for a season. The key is to worship God, not the resolution of our loneliness, even while we desperately want resolution. I recommend sitting down with a pastor or a wise single Christian and beginning to work through this together. 

We must also guard our theology. Although it’s statistically likely, nowhere are we promised marriage. If you find yourself waiting and longing, bring those things to Christ. Growing closer to Him is the truer treasure.

Singleness has advantages

I love being single! It’s not better than being married, just different. One of the main advantages is the heightened control over your time.

Without family-life distractions, singles often find it easier to care for themselves. It honors God when I steward the mind and body He gave me. It’s easier to make time to exercise, meal plan, and see loved ones.

There is also more time to serve others. Now, in the wrong context this sounds like, “Single people have no life so they can do all the work.” That’s not what I mean. But, I can say “yes” to a four-hour airport drop-off without consulting a spouse, and respond quickly to other needs. Plus, I’m less likely to be overwhelmed or distracted when needs arise.

Similarly, I can pour more time into my friendships. My mom-friends love that my flexible schedule makes it easier to get together. I’ve also hosted Christmas for my single friends and loved it! Having energy to cultivate a wide social circle is a tremendous blessing.

Importantly, I have more time to read the Bible, pray and cultivate my relationship with Jesus. And, to channel 1 Corinthians 7 again, being unmarried spares me from the distractions and sorrows of marriage in a fallen world (verse 28). Of course, I have my own trials, but there are certain heartaches I avoid.

Christ is your bridegroom, and your family is the church

Ultimately marriage is a reflection of the intimacy and commitment present between God and His church. If you do not marry, you are not “missing out” on the best God has for you! You’re only missing the pale imitation, but you still get the real thing.

Being single helps me understand and rely on the church as God’s family. Without a “default” support person, there is space for Christ’s body to meet my needs in a powerful way. I have experienced incredible love, joy, intimacy, safety, and growth from my relationships within the church.

Single Christian, be encouraged. Your joys and sorrows are held by the One who loves you most. He has placed you in this life stage. He is sovereign over your desires. He will use all of this for His glory and your good. And He is pleased with you in Christ.

Seven Books Every Christian Should Read in College

I recently asked a student, who is a fairly new believer, what Christian books he has been reading. He replied that he was not much of a reader. This surprised me. This young man had gained a great deal of knowledge about his faith in a relatively short period of time. So I asked him how he had managed to accumulate so much information without reading.

“TikTok mostly”, he replied.

I am guessing his response will elicit at least three reactions from those reading this post. Those over 35 will probably ask, “what is TikTok?” (Answer: it is a social media platform where users post short videos.) Those between the ages of 25 and 35 will probablys ask, “there is Christian content on TikTok?” (Answer: Apparently.) Those under 25 will probably not find it all that surprising.

Praise God that quality Christian content is available on so many platforms these days from social media, to Youtube, to podcasts, and yes… even TikTok. With so many sources of content available, it begs the question, why read Christian books?

This is supposed to be a post about what you should read, not why you should read. But let me give a brief apologetic for books themselves before getting to my list. And to be clear I am not saying that you should only read books. By all means, absorb truth from any platform available. I am humbly suggesting that you include a healthy serving of books in your media diet.

Reading books forces us to be reflective in a way that consuming content on other platforms does not always accomplish. In my experience, watching or listening to Christian content is like a nice relaxing bath. I just sort of soak it in. Reading Christian books on the other hand feels a lot more like a wrestling match. I read an assertion and find myself saying (sometimes out loud) “Prove it!” And so the battle is joined. The author makes her case in the text of the book and I present my counter arguments in handwritten scribbles in the margins. Sometimes I find myself bested, and other times I leave unconvinced. Either way, I understand the issue better than when I began.

Though a relaxing bath has its place in a healthy lifestyle, no human body remains healthy and fit for long without some strenuous exercise. Reading provides for the mind what exercise provides for the body in a way that other media forms often fail to.

Another reason that books are important is that they are, by their nature, more thoroughly vetted. This does not mean that they are perfect. In fact, many aren’t even good. However, the process of publishing forces at least some degree of reflection, editing, and correction. CS Lewis would argue that reading old books provides an even greater degree of vetting, but that is a topic for another day.

So, college student, here is a list of books that I want to challenge you to read before you graduate. I chose books based on a few criteria: 1) I selected books to fit 7 different topics I thought were important, including apologetics, biblical theology, and evangelism. 2) I emphasized brevity. Let’s be real, college students already have a lot to read for their classes. Short books are more likely to be read. 3) I emphasized practicality. I picked books that could be directly applied to your life.

A disclaimer: I am not claiming that these are the ONLY books a college student should read. I’m not even claiming these are the most important books you should read. I humbly propose that these are 7 books you should make sure you read among others.

So, without further delay, here is the list:

Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin

Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion:  McLaughlin, Rebecca: 9781433564239: Amazon.com: Books

McLaughlin identifies and responds to the twelve most prevalent and powerful objections to the Christian faith in our culture today. The chapters are short and readable, yet her arguments are compelling and powerful. This book accomplishes two things at once. It helps the reader wrestle with his own doubts while simultaneously equipping him to engage with his friends on these topics. 

For further reading on apologetics: The Reason for God by Tim Keller

God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts

God's Big Picture: Vaughan Roberts: 9781844743704: Amazon.com: Books

Hopefully you have heard someone explain that “the Bible is one unified story”. But honesty, how does the book of Numbers or the weird second half of Daniel fit into that story? Roberts provides a framework that can be used to insert whatever text you happen to be reading into the story of scripture. For visual learners, he provides a very helpful diagram.

For further reading on Biblical Theology: Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church by Michael Lawrence

What is a Healthy Church Member by Thabiti M. Anyabwile

What Is a Healthy Church Member? (9Marks: Building Healthy Churches):  Anyabwile, Thabiti M.: 9781433502125: Amazon.com: Books

Thabiti covers an incredible amount of ground in just 117 unusually small pages. You could read it in an afternoon if you wanted to, but it is better absorbed over time and, if possible, in the context of community. Consider reading this and discussing it with your Bible study or a group of friends. Thabiti succinctly explains how a Christian can be an expositor of scripture, a Biblical theologian, and an evangelist. But, most importantly, he explains the absolute necessity of being a committed member of a Bible preaching local church. If you were only going to read and apply one book on this list, pick this one. If you get your commitment to the local church right, most everything else will follow in due time.

For further reading on Ecclesiology (the church): How Jesus Runs the Church by Guy Waters

Changes that Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud

Changes That Heal: Four Practical Steps to a Happier, Healthier You -  Kindle edition by Cloud, Henry. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @  Amazon.com.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, reading this book in college was borderline life changing for me. Cloud explains the importance of both bonding with others and separating ourselves from others (boundaries) and the consequences of failing to do so. In recent years I have reached out to several trusted Christian counselors to confirm that they would still recommend this classic. The response I received is that many of the truths in this book are indeed, timeless. One criticism I have is that Cloud sometimes ventures out of his area of expertise into Biblical exegesis with mixed results. 

Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman

Questioning Evangelism, Second Edition: Engaging People's Hearts the Way  Jesus Did - Kindle edition by Newman, Randy, Strobel, Lee, Strobel, Lee.  Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Do you worry that you would not know how to respond to questions if you were to share your faith with friends or classmates? If so, this book is for you. Newman explains the importance of asking questions, not just answering them when doing evangelism. I guarantee that if you read this book you will feel far more comfortable having spiritual conversations with anyone. I should note that this book was originally published in 2003, though it has been updated since then (purchase the 2nd edition). As a result, some of its content, including how to handle questions about sexuality, is in need of a revamp.

For further reading on evangelism: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by RC Sproul

Pressure Points by Shelby Abbott

Pressure Points: A Guide to Navigating Student Stress: Shelby Abbott, Paul  David Tripp: 9781948130349: Amazon.com: Books

Walking with Jesus in college is not easy. How are you supposed to navigate issues such as dating, alcohol, loneliness, and new dynamics with your parents? Shelby asks, and answers, the question: how does the gospel apply to these and other “pressure points”? Frankly there are not many books out there written specifically for Christian college students or written by people with decades of experience working with said students.

For further reading on walking with Jesus in college: Seated with Christ by Heather Holleman

A book about Justice and Race within the Church

Ok, so I am cheating here. I am not recommending a specific book. For various reasons, my old “go tos” on this topic need to be updated. I am in the process of trying to find a new favorite book to recommend. Perhaps you could join me in that search. Here are the next two books I intend to read about justice and race in the church. Perhaps when I finish them I’ll write another post.

  • The New Reformation by Shai Linne 
  • The Beautiful Community by Irwyn Ince

This is an incredibly important topic. I would recommend you read broadly and with a generous heart. Warning: if you choose to read a book on this topic you are almost guaranteed to feel uncomfortable. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. 

-Written by Jerry Riendeau

Jerry is one of the directors of Cru at James Madison University. He is married to Katherine. Together they have three children, ages five years and under. You can contact Jerry at jerry.riendeau@cru.org. You can follow him on twitter here.

How to Make Lifelong Friends in College

We all want to be known and loved. Many of us know someone who has maintained certain friendships over the span of time. Perhaps you have an uncle who still talks to his army buddies ten years out, or your parents still keep in touch with college friends from twenty years ago. I often looked on those adults with envy.

I grew up as a military kid, which meant I was great at meeting new people, but I had no experience maintaining relationships over time. Much of my young adult life, including college, has been dedicated to learning this exact skill. I’m not an expert yet, but I’ve learned a few things. We can’t control what our relationships look like, but we can practice being a good friend. In so doing, God may in fact bless you with friends who you’ll keep your whole life! 

Continue reading How to Make Lifelong Friends in College

Winter Break and the Challenge of Home

I had a weird relationship with the concept of “home” in college. As I approached the end of a semester, I found myself longing to go back “home” to my parents’ house for break. I looked forward to the familiarity, the family, and the rest. However, after some time at my parents’ house, I would find that sense of longing for “home” returning. 

The sense of “home” in my mind had shifted from my parents’ house to my college dorm or apartment. I longed now for the freedom, the friends, and the sense of purpose that my classes and clubs brought. So I would go back. And before long, the cycle would repeat.

Continue reading “Winter Break and the Challenge of Home”

Why You Have to Share the Gospel to Share the Gospel

We had an awesome plan.

My roommates and I were juniors in college and had just moved into a townhouse. We were excited about everything. New house, new school year, and new neighbors. In this excitement we decided that we wanted to make sure we were good witnesses of the gospel to our neighbors with whom we shared a porch. I don’t remember how we formulated this plan, but it more or less came down to this: we would be the best neighbors we could be, all the while making sure we constantly mentioned we were part of “Cru”. The implicit idea was that they would be so impressed by our neighborliness that they would want to know more about Jesus.

Continue reading Why You Have to Share the Gospel to Share the Gospel

To the Concerned Parent of a College Freshman

What a whirlwind this week has been for you! You’ve planned for months, running through the list of essentials and packing up those extra-long sheets, posters, and bed raisers, only to make numerous trips to Walmart during move-in. You finally realized there were no more errands to run to finalize the dorm room and no more paperwork to turn in, so you looked your son or daughter in the eye, took a deep breath, and said, “I guess it’s time”. 

Continue reading “To the Concerned Parent of a College Freshman”

Humility

The Biggest Threat To Ministry

What would you say is the biggest danger keeping you from being effective for God’s Kingdom? Is it the moral confusion of our society, distracting the people you hope to help? What about “big” sins like sexual immorality or alcohol misuse? Maybe the biggest threat is your own busy schedule?

As Christians have watched leader after leader become discredited, I have been asking myself that question. As serious as those issues are, they are not what I’m most worried about. In my opinion, the biggest threat to effective ministry is pride. This pride doesn’t just affect “famous” Christians or full-time missionaries. You, college student, can be prevented from ministering to your peers by pride.

Continue reading “Humility”