Monday, March 31, 2014

The Single and the Self-Centered Life

The single life naturally draws one towards self-centeredness. In the United States it is at times even worse.
Those raised with an American mindset also have to battle against individualism. In The Good Society, sociologist Robert Bellah and his coauthors challenge people in the United States to evaluate their lives. There are growing numbers of homeless people, broken families, racial tensions, unemployment, and scandal. They point to the American sense of heightened individualism as a major hindrance to finding a solution to these problems. This sense of individualism can be traced back to America’s Founding Fathers who promised individual freedom, unlimited opportunity, and minimized government.
It started out as John Locke’s powerful ideology in the 18th century. This individualism was to be a blessing to all as long as it was “embedded in a complex moral ecology that included family and church.”[1] Today, as church and family play a smaller role in many American lives, this individualism gradually is evolving from a blessing into a curse. Fewer and fewer Americans are seeing the needs of others as their responsibility.
For a single person who is living in an individualistic culture it is very easy to adopt a way of life where one is only responsible for one’s self. “I'll take care of my job, my house, my health, my spiritual life, my finances, and my time, and you take care of yours.” Without a commitment to “love neighbor” and to “be our brother’s keeper” this is the natural perspective of many singles. Many move away from family and friends for the sake of university, jobs, or “to experience the world.” Some have a whole list of friends whom they have met along the way, but very few who have been with them since the beginning. This often leaves single adults in a situation where they are tempted to focus only on themselves and their own needs. That is not a biblical model or the way of life in many other cultures. One is free in Christ, but not free to neglect the responsibility they have for their fellow man.
If a single minister does not recognize this tendency towards individualism, he will naturally be drawn into it. One needs to be connected to others in a meaningful way. We are to be our brother's keeper. If a single minister has not understood this truth, he will likely minister without service, sacrifice, and the larger responsibility that he has to the entire congregation. He might be tempted to move to another church because it is easier to leave instead of persevering through the tough times for the good of the congregation. He may not realize that he has to avoid the appearance of evil and that his personal life now affects the lives of many others. He may avoid difficult people instead of working through conflict in a Christ-like manner.
Single life tempts us to be only about us, and that will be disastrous if a single minister doesn't understand that there are corporate responsibilities that come with his or her role as a Christian, and even more so as a minister. His life is not his own.
The circumstances that have been described above are characteristics of a single minister’s life that are shaped by the demands of ministry and the stressors of singleness. They do not destine one to selfishness, but they do provide a fertile soil for the temptation of individualism to dominate one's life. 
By the grace of God may we beware of the schemes of the tempter. May we look for opportunities to nurture, serve, give, sacrifice, and love others more deeply. May we use our freedom as singles to be more fully devoted to Christ. May our love for the Savior draws us away from the focus on self and back into the love for our fellow man.

[1] Robert N. Bellah et al., The Good Society, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1991), quoted in Claire Andre and Manuel Velasquez, Creating the Good Society, accessed July 31, 2013,

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