First, thanks for all the teaching you provide. Today I write with a concern. In my congregation we are sometimes told that singles are "the pillars of the church." Now if that's the case, what are the elderly, the marrieds, the teens, preteens, et al? I feel that this notion results from viewing the church as a building, whereas the apostle Paul was communicating a different concept. Please throw more light on this. -- A.O. (Lagos, Nigeria)
I've actually never heard that saying, so I'm lacking context. But I will attempt a reply anyway. First, Paul does utilize the metaphor of a building when he talks about the church, as in 1 Cor 3 and 1 Tim 3 and Eph 2. But of course that's only one image. More commonly he refers to the church as a body. We need to take all the descriptions and images together, not isolate one way of depicting the church to the exclusion of other valid metaphors.
Singles are encouraged by Paul and Jesus to remain single forever if they have the gift. That's a pretty counter-cultural teaching! Paul mentions that they are less distracted and more effective. Don't you think he's right? So in terms of commitment and raw energy, I can see someone describing single Christians in this was. Or maybe the context was financial. Singles have far fewer expenses and so can usually give more. That makes being a Christian single terrific indeed!
As for leadership, let me speak of a special usage we find in Paul. In Galatians, Paul speaks of James, Peter, and John as Jerusalem pillars. So I'd say that pillars are principal leaders, in a strictly biblical sense. But do singles lead the church? That depends on the local leadership arrangement (maybe so, maybe not). The Talmud speaks of the three "pillars" of Judaism, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who established the community of Israel and in fact the entire world (Exod. Rab. 15.7).
So, as you can see, from across the ocean all I can do is guess and speculate. Yet I hope something I wrote will prove useful.