I meet twice a month with a small group of a dozen women half my age. Most of them attend church with me. We read books together, open the Bible, and talk about life. This week, the discussion was about our pastor’s latest sermon on 1 Cor 7. “What questions do you have?” I asked. There were, ah, several questions, and here is the first that we talked through.
How can singles best make decisions since they are not under authority?
We discussed a few general principles:
1. All people are under authority, but what that looks like may differ depending on work, family relationships, living situation, or even culture. In addition to living a life in submission to Christ and the Word of God, most single adult believers find themselves under the authority of three main parties: their work supervisor, parents, and their church leadership. We won’t take time to discuss governmental authority or, for some, school leadership.
- Boss. Everyone who has a job places themselves under the authority of their workplace and their supervisor. Paul is clear in Ephesians 6:5-9 (and Peter in 1 Peter 2:18ff) that there is a mutual responsibility of service between the “bondservant” and the “master.” The worker is to serve as if serving Christ, and the master is to serve with good will also as unto the Lord. I have found in my days that a supervisor who serves as unto Jesus is worth their weight in gold. Much of a single’s waking hours are spent under the influence of this authority, so one should take stock of the health and trust involved here.
- Parents. I haven’t lived in my parents’ home since I was 17, but we talk almost daily, and I have gained much from their wisdom as I have weighed decisions over the decades. Only once have they stepped in to strongly advise me about a course of action, so you better believe I sat up and took notice. About half of the women around my small group circle still live with their parents, and their situations are each different. That female adult-child relationship may look different than it might have 50 years ago, but there remains an opportunity for the single woman (and man) to listen to, love, and honor their parents. Financial independence brings with it some freedom of decision making, but rarely utter autonomy. Involving parental input will fluctuate depending on geographic proximity, living situation, age, culture, and whether one’s parents are believers.
- Church Leaders. Each believer should find themselves engaged in a local church, learning and serving together with other Christ-followers. The leaders of that church are called to shepherd the flock—that involves teaching and caring for each member. Hebrews 13:17-18 admonishes: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” As with one’s biological family, how this works may look different depending on the culture and size of the church. For example, in some cultures where I have worked, elders have served as a matchmaker to help singles find a spouse. That may not work so well in Awesome-town, Ca, but who knows?
- Bonus: Because of my life in ministry, I have collected the above three into a group I refer to as “my committee.” When I have decisions to make about work, life, or even speaking opportunities, if the decision is not clear cut, I will hit “pause” and activate my committee for assistance. Sometimes that would mean consulting my boss and my parents, or my parents and my pastor. Other times, I will engage all of them for advice and prayer.
2. Any one of the aforementioned authorities may function in an unloving, even abusive manner. Examples may include physical abuse, abandonment, unrepentant sin, or unbiblical interpretations of Scripture. Although I am not advocating hasty or regular abandonment of a job, family, or church, the time may come when one of those is necessary for health and safety, ministry, or spiritual growth and usefulness. If you are experiencing physical abuse, please, get out, get help. If you are considering leaving your church for any reason, here are a couple of resources to help in your consideration: John Piper and IXMarks.
3. Leaders can help singles sort out priorities in a thoughtful way. Singles have many of the same life responsibilities as married people do, but often with no division of labor. Laundry, cleaning, food prep, taxes, car maintenance. . . While the single may have the opportunity to reduce the complexity to some of these expectations (for example, rent instead of own a home or have groceries delivered instead shopping in the store), some things just have to get done. The single needs to understand clearly that life priorities may shift by work season, age, health, or ministry responsibilities. Thoughtful engagement with their authorities will help adjust responsibilities.
A former student wrote recently and said, “Over the last few months, it’s been difficult to sift through information, options and uncertainty to make a decision, especially as a single person.” She is right. Sometimes its is hard to know which way to turn, but good leaders make a world of difference. They will listen, ask good questions, pray, and challenge the singles they walk with.
Have you had a good authority figure who has helped you to live life well?