Counselors know their efforts often need the support of someone who sees counselees in their natural environment, like a spouse or housemate. As the average age of marriage increases, households of single Christian men or women are becoming a part of many churches, particularly in urban areas. Households with single housemates can be critical for fostering growth in Christ-likeness as they live in community and strive for unity.
But that’s easier said than done. Exhort each other? Submit to one another? To that person? Those passages can seem easy for people you see once a week dressed in their Sunday best, but they tend to be more difficult to apply with housemates. Besides the usual issues of sinners living in close proximity, such as differences in personalities, stages in life, ethnicities and preferences for cleanliness, households of single Christians present a few other challenges. Since there isn’t a defined head of house, who makes the final say when there’s a dispute? Or, without the bond of marriage or parents, what level of commitment to each other should there be?
So how can a conglomerate of such diverse believers attain household unity? Fortunately, there are answers rooted in the gospel and the life of the church. The following are five ways a household of single Christian men or women can strive for unity and stir community.
1. Set a vision and discuss expectations for the house.
Before forming a household, each prospective member should discuss the vision for the household and any expectations for participating in Christian community. Broadly, like any other group of believers, a household of professing single Christians should aim to be a place of fellowship, where preferring one another and talking about the gospel are the norm.
2. Meet regularly to study God’s word, pray and speak into each other’s lives.
No genuine believer would join a church in which the gospel wasn’t being proclaimed or where God’s Word wasn’t read. So why would anyone want to live in a house where that wasn’t happening? Yet many households, whether married or single, don’t regularly engage in studying God’s Word and praying together, despite the foundation it provides for unity and fellowship. That’s unfortunate, because housemates have unique opportunities to speak into others’ lives in ways even the best pastors and counselors can’t.
How often household devotions and prayer occurs isn’t the point, but a commitment should be made. Finding a time that will work for everyone won’t be easy, but unity isn’t cheap, as that oil running down Aaron’s beard illustrates (Psalm 133). That Psalm also shows unity among God’s people comes from above. So we must use God-given means to spur our unity and that means times in the Word, prayer, and sharing and counseling one another. After all, it’s tough to be upset with someone you’re praying with if your prayers reflect a Savior dying for your sins.
This second point is so important let me be clear—if households try to have unity any other way, they’re relying on their own works and not on God, engaging with the weapons of the world and not the weapons of the Lord. I’ve lived with over 25 Christian brothers in the last 20 years, all from different parts of the country and walks of life, with different ways of handling conflict and different senses of humor. The backbone of every household hasn’t been going along to get along; it’s been leading one another in studying God’s Word, praying and enjoying fellowship.
3. Base commitment to each other on a church covenant rather than just a lease.
Some households may think as long as they don’t violate a lease, they’re fine. But single Christians in households have a commitment to each other that goes beyond legal means of unity. Commitment to each other stems from a church covenant, the responsibilities of church membership, the call to bear each other’s burdens, to forgive one another and love one another.
4. Designate a mature member of the church to oversee the house.
A group of men or women living together won’t have clear delineations of headship and submission like a married man and woman would have or like parents would have with children. That’s why living with members of the same church under the same pastors and elders can be helpful. While it isn’t wrong to live with Christians from different churches, consider what happens if you have a conflict that can’t be addressed. Who do you go to in order to settle the matter? Practically, as households form, pastors, elders or deacons can be involved and may even want to be informed so that they can encourage a right mix of mature believers and some new to the faith. Once in a while, that church leader can meet up with the house to provide accountability, offer encouragement and counsel, and address disputes.
5. Practice regular hospitality together.
Paul exhorts the Romans to practice hospitality (Romans 12:13) as one implication of the doctrines presented in Romans 1-11. So practicing hospitality confirms a reliance on God’s grace. When households practice hospitality together, it provides an opportunity for each member to see each other’s gifts, to be reminded of everyone’s need of grace, to steward resources and time well, and to put the needs of others first.
Here’s a final thought. Getting fellowship in the home right couldn’t be more important with today’s mobile world, where community and accountability can be lost. After all, you are who you are at home, with nowhere to hide your true self. It’s no wonder the Apostle Paul lists managing a household well as being a critical qualification for leadership in the church. That’s probably in part because if you can pray, confess, fellowship and study the Scriptures with those who get on your nerves, or who rarely clean the bathroom, or who like Metallica instead of Bach, you’ll have understood the true meaning of grace!
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This article originally appeared on the Biblical Counseling Coalition site.