Single People Should Do More Ministry – Not!

When I first started out in my career (which happens to be full time ministry) I used to work about 70 hours a week.  I’m not exaggerating.   I was young, fired up, and I just went at it. It was driven by a lot of things, including the desire to be successful, to be noticed and win approval on the bad side, love of the mission, love of the people, and desire to change the world on the good side.  But what this did, quietly and slowly, was to begin to shape my identity by what I did and not who I was.  It was not my organization’s fault.  It was mine. This of course is a trap for anyone, married, single or otherwise.  Things other than Jesus are always vying for the throne of our life.  As I mentioned in a previous blog even our marriage, singleness or kids can become our identity.

But when you are single there is this subtle (or often not so subtle) message from the Church – “Your single, so you can serve anytime.  You have time, you are free from other things – you should be doing more.”  We believe this stuff and we start living that way.

It’s pushed on us all the time. I’ve heard married people say, how they wish they could do the ministry we can do.  This is kind of an accidental subtle shot at us.  So, the reason that I’m successful is because I’m single?  Might it have something to do with being good at it? Secondly, how do you explain that almost every protestant pastor is married – as are elders, leaders in Christian organizations and on and on.  I don’t think being good at it has much to do with marital status – it has to do with God, obedience and gifting among other things.  Personally, all the people I look up to the most in ministry are married.

Now there is some truth in this for non paid ministry person.  A single person with a full time secular job (not that there isn’t ministry in that) does have more time to give to other stuff than a married person – especially one with kids.  But this idea that as a single person I’m not busy, have no personal life, no personal passions, and no limits is wrong.  By the way it is just as wrong to assume that a married person can’t serve – don’t say no for them. I’ll admit I’ve ruled people out that I shouldn’t have.

In fact part of the danger of this is that it sends two bad messages. 1. If you are single, your personal life and time is less valuable than a married person’s and 2. Once you are married you can’t do anything but be married.  Yikes these are so wrong!  A third danger is that as a single person it is easy to hide in ministry or work, just like as a married person it is easy to hide in being married or parenting (If you are married you can also hide from your family in ministry or work – but that is a different blog).

We need to realize that one is not better than another.  They are instead different, with different needs and advantages.  We have to do ministry differently.  I do have more flexibility as a single person and I should use it for the kingdom.  I can meet you late a night for a drink and conversation, but guess what I also go home . . . alone.  Know what I’m saying here?  I don’t have to be home for dinner, but I also don’t have a safe family environment to invite you into.  There are million examples.

Look, we are all called and all needed.  One of the most attractive things about the kingdom to an outside person should be the diversity within it.  But we’ve got to respect, not judge, each others’ situations and help each other (read push each other) to grow, yes in ministry, but also in life.

So, what is your identity in?  Do you hide in ministry? Or do you hide from ministry?  What are some ways we can help each other grow?

12 thoughts on “Single People Should Do More Ministry – Not!

  1. Great post. Hits home. As a single mom with a full-time job, I often rule myself out of a serving opportunity because of that “identity” and because I personally can’t figure out the logistics, not because of my identity as a follower of Jesus who humbly seeks his direction.

  2. This message was pervasive in retail pharmacy, too. Years ago I was married but childless and we lost our pharmacy supervisor for months. We had a 20 hour/week vacancy in my pharmacy and in several other pharmacies around. The women pharmacists who were moms would say, “Well, I CAN’T work overtime because I have kids.” Implying – my life was totally at the mercy of the company because I didn’t have kids? I ended up working 50-60 hours/week for 3 months and I resented it like crazy!

    I don’t know if that is any consolation – but the message is definitely in corporate America, too! Not that it should be, of course!

  3. I have seen two extremes about service in church. At a smaller church, people were constantly approaching me (and my husband) with “we prayed about who should teach the youth and we believe it is God’s will for you to take that spot.”. Yikes! And at the time, I did it, but was awful at it. At the bigger church where we are now, there have been times I have offered to teach, and the offer gets shuffled around and no one ever contacts me.
    I do think that everyone’s time is valuable, married or not. And I think we all have to guard our biggest priorities and may have to occassionally give up church service if it is interfering with our responsibilities in our marriages or families. I don’t like to see people pressured to serve. I would love to see people who are actually gifted and called doing what they are gifted and called to do.
    Great topic! I will definitely continue thinking about this one!

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  8. I was sitting through a sermon years ago. I don’t remember the topic, but I vividly remember the pastor (a married father of four) sneering at the audience while he said, “You single people don’t know what it’s like to be busy.” I was deeply insulted and saddened by this callous comment.

  9. wow, really practical post. That’s something God showed me this Lent and I’ve been wrestling with the topic since then. Being a single woman in my middle twenties, without realisation I just bought into a lie that I have to do a lot, to “do as much as I can” to matter in God’s great plan. My community just assumed that with being single and having access to a car I should be there and do that immediately (not taking into account my everyday life that God put me into – job, different living place) not even taking into account my need for sleep. Others used to tell me that how could I possibly be tired without home and kids. Noone took into account that having a home on my own is actually more work to keep it moving singlehandedly. I was moved to cut everything but my job out of my life to examine my life. This meant admitting I lost “me” and I based my identity on what I did instead of what I was. This is dangerous, because of you don’t see yourself you can’t see where you need to grow.
    Right now I know what has to go for good and what to add carefully, to leave place in my lofe for me and for my spiritual growth.
    Thank you for the encouragement. I wonder sometimes it there is a similar page written by a woman (which can be slightly different perspective) , but your posts are a great resource I found after some heartbreak.

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