I’m single, and I still find it challenging to write about being single in ministry. But I am going to do it anyway, because I believe the lack of attention may be part of the problem.
There are all sorts of great examples of Christian singles in the Bible … ahem, Jesus. But not just Jesus. Paul is probably the second most famous single; he even spent some time writing about ministering as a single. It appears that Martha was single, and John the Baptist too, just to name a few (okay, I’ll stop rhyming – happy accident there!). And, there are all sorts of Christians in the early church who have a “non-disclosed” marital status who very well might have been single as well. Yet, the church today often struggles with how to minister to singles. I’ve read countless times that starting a singles ministry is “useless” at a church because no one really wants to be in it, and anyone who does come is just there to “get out of it,” so to speak.
Some people might say that the challenge to being single is that very few people choose it. But, that doesn’t seem like a sound theological statement. Do we really choose anything in this life or does God set direction for us? Of course this may come down to whether you are more of a Calvinist (looking for predestination and unconditional election) or an Arminian (looking for non-determinism and election of believers). Nevertheless, to call ourselves Christian is to believe that God is involved in our lives. So to say that no one chooses to be single is a fine statement, but how much more does someone then choose to be married or widowed for that matter or a parent or not a parent, or a sibling, etc? I think all human beings desire close intimate relationship with God and with one another. And we seem to gravitate towards one-on-one relationships, and we were created to be sexual beings.
I will be the first to say that God’s will has baffled me at times. I have been incredulous at God when relationships have failed. I’ve been lonely. I’ve felt sorry for myself. And I’ve wondered where God is headed. And, during these times, I wish the church would have just celebrated who I was as a daughter and servant of God and let that be enough. Being single is not less than checking any other box under marital status; it is not more, either. For some of us, it is unique season in life; for others, it is our life. But whatever the case, being single affords so many opportunities to serve God and others!
Personally, being single in life and ministry has brought me great joy and adventure! Specifically, I have been able to really jump into ministries of mission and service and get my hands dirty. I also have enjoyed being a part of youth retreats and mission trips. It’s truly been a blessing to be able to “just get up and go” and be there for others while they serve others and experience God more fully. I like to think I’m a pretty great friend as a single (I’m often the one people call in the middle of the night). Being single has allowed me to move closer to family in the past year and support other family members. And it is often in my “most single” moments that God speaks the most clearly to me.
The more I grow as a pastor, the more God impresses upon me that there is no one way to do ministry. There is no one person or one lifestyle that makes the perfect servant of God; we all sin and fall short of God’s glory. The challenge is to celebrate who we are in Jesus Christ as we experience God’s grace and redemption (Romans 3:23-26).
I am confident that there is nothing wrong with being a single Christian, but there is something amiss when the church refuses to acknowledge and celebrate singles in ministry. There is something amiss when the only focus is the family (insert traditional definition here). There is something amiss when we all spend our lives trying to emulate a single guy by shunning singleness. We miss the point when we get caught up in categorizing one another. Instead, why not take the opportunity to celebrate the lives and ministries of those we live life with? I’m suggesting coming alongside those in our church family who are single and celebrating their lives with them — their interests, talents, families (spoiler alert here: many single people are still really close to their families), perhaps a significant other (but not required), pets and, of course, how they are serving God and how they would like to grow in serving God and loving others.
As you might have gathered by this point, I’m not calling all the shots here. But, I’m a single Christian woman for now and working on celebrating that.
JULIE RAFFETY serves as the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, New Jersey. Julie is a violinist, aspiring writer, snowboarder, runner, identical twin and crazy about popcorn.