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?