Some people see singleness as a frustrating but temporary time in life, a time to endure. But the Bible teaches that God calls some people to singleness for a purpose, and this calling can last a lifetime.
In the Bible, unmarried people had more time for God and His mission. For Jesus, celibacy and long-term singleness aren’t curses, they are beautiful and dignified callings to serve God and His mission. In Matthew 19, we see Jesus establish high standards for divorce and remarriage. In response, the disciples said that perhaps it is better not to marry.
Jesus offers a teaching about eunuchs. Eunuchs are people who remain unmarried for physical reasons: either they were castrated or “born that way.” But then he mentions a third option. There are “those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:12). Jesus knew this was a hard teaching and ended with a pointed phrase: “The one who can accept this should accept it.”
The apostle Paul expanded Jesus’ teaching about long-term singleness in 1 Corinthians 7. Paul never married (1 Corinthians 7:7-8). In fact, he wished that more Christians would remain unmarried. And yet he knew that God would give many people the gift of marriage. For Paul, unmarried people had more time for God and His mission, and for Jesus, unmarried people could devote more time to the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus held marriage in high esteem. Marriage is a calling that reflects the beautiful union of Jesus and his Bride, the church. At the same time, long-term singleness is a calling of equal beauty and dignity.
I grew up going to a church where most people were married and many had children. Sermons about marriage were commonplace. I grew up, expecting God to give me a wife and children. I carried this expectation through high school, college and early adulthood.
As my twenties carried on, I became more aware that I didn’t have a strong desire to be married. At first I thought something was wrong with me. I prayed that God would give me a desire for marriage and connect me with someone special. Friends and family prayed for me. My church prayed for me. But as time went on and I entered my thirties, nothing changed. Many close friends got married and began new lives with their spouses, and I was very happy for them. They were living out God’s beautiful plan for them. At the same time, it became harder to cultivate and maintain community and friendships. My home became a revolving door of roommates. I moved to different cities. I craved stability and friendship but believed that only came through marriage, but the desire wasn’t there in spite of my prayers.
In 2019, I attended a conference where I learned for the first time that God calls some people to long-term singleness. I was intrigued and wanted to know more. So I connected with that speaker and other conference attendees, read books, listened to podcasts, searched for answers and found a community of men who were asking a simple question: “Is God calling me to marriage or long-term singleness?” It was hard to believe that in my 34 years of life, I had never wrestled with God about that question. Since then, I have become convinced that God has called me to long-term singleness for the sake of the kingdom. And as He promises in Psalm 68:6, He has provided me with a non-traditional family to live out this calling.
Christians who remain unmarried can focus more of their attention on God and His mission. Dream with me for a few moments. If a small number of Christians follow a call to long-term singleness to serve the kingdom, what could happen?
We could see more evangelism and discipleship in our churches.
We could see more people available to partner with organizations and serve the underserved in our communities.
We could see a healthier and more robust theology for both marriage and long-term singleness develop within our churches.
This could help pave the way for increased care and concern for marginalized people within the church and greater unity within the body of Christ.
A life of singleness and celibacy is practical and sustainable. But nobody can do this life alone. People called to singleness and celibacy need a loving community of people to be their family.
If your local church holds long-term singleness with the same esteem as marriage, you may have the support you need. It’s beautiful when churches foster a culture which values unmarried congregants and their giftings as much as their married counterparts.
When leadership encourages singles to serve in the church with their giftings, long-term singles can experience the blessing of church as a family. When the church celebrates God’s calling to long-term singleness, they elevate the dignity of that calling and help the church to better love and care for unmarried people.
In the church, long-term single people can experience family through relationships with their married counterparts. For example, families can invite long-term singles over for regular meal times or holidays when singles are more likely to experience loneliness. Long-term single people can be a blessing to busy families by helping with household chores and joining family activities. When done well, families that embrace single people will foster a healthier church that is more equipped for God’s work.
This is one way that someone who is single for the long-term can find a committed family structure that can help them thrive in their kingdom work and can also benefit a family.
For the unmarried person, living with a family gives them a stable household to live with for a longer term. They have familial relational support as they pursue the kingdom work God has called them to. Also, they have a chance to be a close friend to the married couple, which is important because many married people are lonely. Additionally, if the couple has children, the unmarried person can be an additional loving presence in their lives and be involved in their growth and well-being.
For a family, living with a long-term committed single can benefit them too. It can be helpful to resist the temptation only to interact with other families. These larger family units that include people outside the immediate family are closer to the way the early church lived. This is seen throughout Acts 2 when the early church community functioned as a family. They devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship, meals and prayer together, and they shared everything they had and supported those in need throughout the community. The early church functioned best as a dependent, inclusive unit rather than as largely separated individuals. In a similar way, single people can be a great blessing to a household and vice versa.
If Christians felt free to ask if God is calling them to long-term singleness, single people could come together as something of a “chosen family.”
For example, I am currently a part of a community called the Nashville Family of Brothers. We are a group of men discerning whether God is calling us to long-term singleness, and if so, is He calling us to be a part of this family?
We have regular rhythms as a house, including daily morning prayer, three shared meals per week, monthly worship nights, and vacations and holidays together. However, we are all involved in our own churches, have our own jobs and enjoy fellowship with our own distinct friend groups and communities that we are connected to.
If you or someone you know is interested in something like this, it would be worth connecting with a pastor or spiritual mentor who can give you guidance in how to pursue intentional community. Forming a community like this is not easy, but if done right, can bear an amazing witness for Christ.
For many, long-term singleness conjures up images of despair, loneliness and an awareness of what you are not experiencing: marriage and children. However, I hope you are leaving this page with a different perspective on what long-term singleness can be. A dignified and viable calling, with the chance to serve God’s kingdom in great ways and an abundance of non-traditional families. Is it difficult? Sure. Worth it? Absolutely.
If you have never wrestled with whether God might be calling you to long-term singleness, a good place to start could be to connect with an advocate through the Spiritual Growth and Guidance Center | Cru. Wherever you are in your faith journey, an advocate can help you progress toward your next best step of faith.
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