Communication in the church – understanding our single and married differences


As a speech and language therapist, my job revolves around teaching people to communicate effectively.

Many people do not know how to communicate, thus causing much relational breakdown and heartache. It can be seen between parent and child, peers, married couples, dating couples, and in church communities. Most have to learn these highly complex skills and do not acquire them ‘naturally’.

Even though technology has improved to assist us in connecting, people no longer live in close communities with familial support and interpersonal skills have deteriorated.

There is an increase in singleness in the UK — one in three people are single, and one in three children live with a single or step parent (Office for National Statistics 2010). As a Christian, I know that living in a fallen world and our sinful nature also impact on our communication (‘For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks’, Matthew 12.34) and what we ‘say’ verbally and non-verbally is tainted to some degree or another. The more Christ-like we are, with a pure heart, the more lovely our outward flow of communication will be.

Key to good communication

Good communication involves the ability to ‘put yourself in the other person’s shoes’ and understand the message conveyed from their perspective. Then to adapt your message accordingly to find a meeting of minds; finding the ‘middle ground’ or mutually agreed ideas involves some compromise of one’s original mind set. What impacts these skills?

* Our hearts (right with God)

We need to understand that salvation is all of grace and none of our merit (Ephesians 2.8-9). We need to live with our identity, security, acceptance and purpose in Christ; to learn to love ourselves as well our neighbours (Matthew 22.39).

* Our expectations (marriage the higher state)

Even though singleness is commended by Paul (1 Corinthians 7.38), if you have grown up in the church, then your expectation is likely to be that you will get married and have a family. You and your family will live happily ever after in the church community for generations.

* Our prejudice (scripts)

The scripts that we have subconsciously are: Christians get married and stay married; they have children and grandchildren; if they are blessed, then they don’t experience the troubles in this area that non-Christians do.

* Our pride (not by grace alone, by some of my effort — blessings due to me)

So pride ‘kicks in’ and judgment starts against Christians who experience troubles. Why is the single Christian not marrying (there must be something wrong with him/her)? Why is that Christian divorced (they must have sinned terribly, they can’t hold any position in the church, there is obviously something seriously wrong with them)? Why does that single parent have a number of children (they must have had multiple partners!)? And so, in churches, the judgment and insensitive comments ensue. Also the marginalisation, because you are ‘different’ and no longer ‘fit’ the mould of ‘married with children’, nor can you attend church meetings or be involved as expected. Divorced Christians within the church tend to be treated with the most contempt.

* Our injuries and issues (‘sensitivities’)

I have a heart for single Christian people of all ages and in all varieties of singleness: never married, divorced and widowed. Many have received emotional injuries in their childhood or have had some difficulties or tragedy that has left remaining issues that need to be resolved. When we have emotional injuries or issues, we can be oversensitive and overreact to the insensitive comments of others. Single Christians are also very independent, having to manage life on their own, but this has the temptation of turning into selfishness. They may also come across initially as being strong with a tough exterior, but this is mainly due to either being in survival mode or having defensive barriers up.

* Our idols (I want what I don’t have, e.g. only focus is to find the right person)

The ‘grass is greener on the other side’, and some singles think that if they find the right person, get married, then they will find true happiness and fit better into the church community. However, whether single or married, our true happiness is in the Lord Jesus Christ. We know that both states of singleness and marriage have privileges and difficulties.

* Our temperaments (positive — negative)

Our temperaments affect the way we cope with things. Positive people cope easier with difficulties and move on quickly. More sensitive people can go through the utter depths of despair and agonising grief before coming out the other side as a much stronger person.

How should we communicate?

We need to use godly and gracious communication that will cover the ‘what, why and how’ when something is said; be ‘quick to listen, slow to speak’ (James 1.19). ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen’ (Ephesians 4.29-30).

Where is the breakdown between marrieds and singles in the church?

During my life’s journey so far, I have been:

* single — never married as part of a Christian minister’s/missionary’s family;
* married to a pastor and in the centre of Christian ministry, but due to a third party in my marriage (a cultic-sectarian church, which brain-washed my then husband) he chose to divorce and remarry someone in that group;
* now I’m a single and divorced parent with five children, on the margin of the church. Due to moving from South Africa back to the UK, out of loneliness I founded and co-ordinate the Bedford Christian Singles group (across all denominations) which has been running for the past seven years (http://www.bedfordchristiansingles.co.uk).

By God’s grace, I am able to see difficulties from both sides (Genesis 50.20; Romans 8.28). I believe that much of the misunderstanding and miscommunication between marrieds and singles is causing breakdown in relating to each other in the church. In all these instances, we are not to be bitter or angry, but ‘kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you’ (Ephesians 4.31-32). The troubles of life will affect married and single Christians and non-Christians alike. Sometimes our trials are harder to bear because of the scripts and expectations in the church. There are some single Christians who are comfortable with themselves and married people in the church. However, in my experience these are in the minority and there are far more single Christians who are struggling, and some who have given up on church altogether.

Some difficulties marrieds face:

* Marriage relationship
* Childlessness
* Parenting
* Bereavement
* In the church, not understanding singles and being nervous about approaching or upsetting them

Some difficulties singles face:

* Loneliness in a predominantly couple / families-orientated church and not knowing one’s role
* Dating difficulties: finding a spiritually and emotionally healthy person to date who is a suitable and potential partner.
* Childlessness
* Single parenting
* Bereavement
* In church, feeling marginalised; having hurt and pain at not being ‘blessed’ by God as the marrieds and families are, and when the church is not supportive of singles or singles groups, and does not understand them.

The bridge of compromise

Hearts and minds meet through effective communication. The church needs to embrace and understand both married and single people. As singleness is expected to increase in society over the next 20 years, there will be an increase of singleness impacting the church. The church needs to be ready: not ‘brushing single issues under the carpet’, and removing the judgmental prejudice (Matthew 7.1-5). Both sides need to work at not being over sensitive (singles) and insensitive (marrieds), rather getting to know people personally in your church. Many of the key difficulties are actually the same for both married and single people. However, the church needs to differentiate at certain points and address the following: understanding singleness, singles meeting other single Christians; dating relationships; single and step parenting; divorce recovery; marriage and remarriage relationships; roles of single people in the church; to bring singles back to the centre of church life, and belonging in the church community. It is time for churches to understand singles and to communicate with them in an effective manner.

Please contact Jacqui Wright via the EN office if you are interested in attending or supporting a Christian singles conference.