“I need to introduce you to my son…he’s single!”
“Did you see that new guy who came to the early worship service? I’m pretty sure he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring…you should talk to him!”
“Why don’t you get on E-Harmony? You’re not getting any younger, after all…”
As a single adult serving in ministry, these are the types of politely-intended words I frequently hear from congregation members. Church fellowship encounters can feel like a barrage of kind but unsolicited advice from those who assume I need “fixed” and “completed” by altering my relationship status. It can be challenging enough to be single in the context of church in general, with such heavy emphasis on families and couples. Being partnerless is even tougher on those in the public eye of ministry leadership.
Yet remaining unwed is not a curse or a problem. It can actually be an asset to church work or church leadership. There are blessings and benefits to serving in youth ministry as an unmarried adult, provided appropriate boundaries and cautions are followed. We do not know what the Lord ultimately has planned for our futures, but God calls us to serve Him and His people as whole and complete in Christ, regardless of other attachments.
Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. – 1 Corinthians 7:17
Blessings of Flying Solo
The grass often looks greener on the other side of the white picket fence, where a happily married couple lovingly watches adorable and well-behaved children frolic without care. When social media pages are brimming with marriage announcements or infant photos, it can feel as though something is missing. Even when you are reminded that God has given you deep community and made you whole on your own, it’s difficult not to play the comparison game.
Instead, perhaps we are better served focusing on how being single helps us serve the church and its young people well. For one thing, to some degree singleness can make leaders more empathetic with teens who are struggling with relationship difficulties. It may even give them an image of how God can use us in a variety of roles, from married to single, in the future. Students might feel more comfortable opening up to talk with a single adult than an older leader who has been settled in marriage for decades. As singles, we might be more perceptive to notice when relational or loneliness challenges are pressing upon youth.
Singles also have more time and attention to devote to ministry. Having fewer familial obligations and distractions can allow greater availability and accessibility. Being single usually grants more flexibility in planning, as well, affording open schedules for trips or events. Singleness can also be a gift as it reminds leaders to be devoted to and focused on Christ first and foremost.
“I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.” – 1 Corinthians 7:32-34
When a relationship with God is the primary source of wholeness, it provides contentment and joy for anyone embracing it, regardless of spousal connection or yearning for human attention.
Be Mindful of Boundaries
Although there are great benefits for singles in youth ministry to embrace and enjoy, there are cautionary concerns to be aware of, as well. Having time to devote to programs is helpful, but it is important to establish healthy boundaries between work (or volunteering) and personal life. Not having a spouse or children to care at home shouldn’t mean being available around the clock or limiting social interactions. Overworking or over-committing is not healthy for anyone, married or single. For those who hope to marry and have a family, it may set expectations and precedent that are unbalanced and can’t be kept up through engagement, marriage, or children should that happen.
It is also wise for youth leaders to consider the undeniable truth that others are watching us. When considering dating decisions, we ought to be mindful of the example we set for teens, as well as the attention our actions might receive. Of course, our personal lives need not be a topic of discussion in the youth ministry context, but we still want to behave in a sensible and upright way.
It’s also key to recognize that we must be all the more vigilant in our interactions with young people. Adults should never be alone with students, but this can be even more essential for singles working with youth. Many youth leaders enjoy having youth in their homes, and singles may need to put extra thought and time into ensuring they are meeting appropriate risk management if they do this. It may take more time and energy to find another adult or a public setting that’s appropriate, but it’s worth it.
Single adults in ministry should also strive to establish a support system for themselves. Loneliness and discouragement are genuine dangers and can be more prevalent without a “home base” to return to. It can be easy to overly focus on work or even on the anticipation of a future marriage and family and miss the chance to cultivate important relationships now. Youth leaders should have friends, family members, co-workers, and mentors that can serve to love and encourage, and provide a sounding board or listening ear when necessary.
We tend to define ourselves in a variety of ways…we might be identified by career, birth place, hobbies, or relationship status. However, none of those factors make us who we are. A bare left finger is not a stigma or a permanently distinguishing feature. Every one of us is whole and complete in Christ. Our relationships on Earth are but a metaphor and foretaste of God’s love for us, an imperfect picture of His perfect devotion. Whether or not we experience marriage in this life, we can be confident that God is with us and blesses us with the peace of His presence. He promises to honor our lives when we seek to use them for His glory and trust Him in all things.
For some in ministry, singleness might only be for a season. For others, it might be a lifelong lifestyle. Whatever the case, we are in good company! Plenty of Biblical figures lived incredible lives of ministry for God, though they never wed. We can recall prophets like Elijah and Daniel, or John the Baptist preparing the way for Christ, or Paul and his prolific ministry, or Jesus Himself! Having a spouse can be a marvelous blessing, but remaining single has much to offer, as well.
So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better. – 1 Corinthians 7:38
Watering the Grass for Now
It is only natural for singles to desire marriage and family, and that might be God’s will for our lives. In all that we do, we should seek His wisdom and discernment, and strive to honor and glorify Him with everything we do. The grass might look greener in a relationship, but our task in ministry (and in life) is to give thanks to God in every situation. We look to Christ for contentment, knowing our salvation and deepest longings are fulfilled in Him. Whatever may come in the “somedays” of our lives, we can spend today rejoicing in the blessed opportunities to live in God’s presence as we love and serve Him.