Being a healthy, whole individual in ministry requires a village. Ministers, after all, are just people at the end of the day, with the same needs and desires as everyone else. They get tired, they struggle with doubts and questions, they get overwhelmed, and lonely. Ministers need other people as much as people need them.
Some ministers are blessed with a built in support system through their family, with whom they can share their burdens and responsibilities. Other ministers may not have a ready-made support system. Single ministers, especially, may struggle with making the kinds of connections that assist with maintaining an emotionally and spiritually healthy life in leadership.
There are a wide variety of beliefs and opinions on singleness in ministry. Some churches believe their leaders should maintain singleness, while others will not allow a single minister into the pulpit. Many churches fall somewhere in between – they neither intentionally seek out or intentionally prevent single ministers from leading their churches. I am not here to say that one way or the other is better or worse. Instead, for the purposes of this article, I will speak to some of the challenges and gifts of singleness in ministry.
Singleness Allows Ministers to Give Themselves More Fully to Ministry and the Church
As a single person in ministry, I have conflicting feelings about this one, which I will go more into later. However, it is at a basic level, true that when ministers are single, they are more able to make ministry the priority in their lives. Without the responsibilities of a family, the church becomes the single minister’s family, and a single minister does not have to make a choice between their family at home and family at church when choosing where to put their time and energy. This is one of the blessings of singleness in ministry.
Singleness Allows Ministers to Go Wherever God Calls Them
Being single means that if God calls you to go somewhere else, you do not have as many people to take into consideration. A single minister is more free to move across the country if need be, and can change churches without having to worry about how a spouse or children will be impacted. A single minister can travel into dangerous and hostile environments without putting a family at risk. God can bless singleness and use it to send warriors for the kingdom into some of the most difficult places on earth.
Singleness is Lonely
Ministry is hard. The work of caring for others is often thankless. Ministers are criticized and underappreciated. Ministers are expected to be perfect. Ministers get tired and discouraged and hurt. Ministry is also full of joy. There are milestones in the lives of church members to celebrate, souls that are saved! Singles ministers do not have a helpmate by their side with whom to share these joys and sorrows. The burden is often theirs to bear alone. Small things that married people often take for granted are also out of a single ministers’ reach. They do not have someone to care for them when they are sick. They do not have someone to cook a Sunday dinner for them. It is important that churches take into account the loneliness single ministers face. Church members should check in with single ministers and make sure they are caring for themselves, and be there for them when things get hard.
Single Ministers Are Given More Expectations
Single ministers will often hear that because they are single, they are “able to do more because they do not have as many responsibilities as a married person.” This is a false and dangerous assumption. While single ministers have different responsibilities than a married minister, this does not mean that their lives are void of responsibility at all. A single minister is often expected to do everything for everyone every time someone wants them to, because they do not have a spouse and children. Churches must remember that because a single minister does not have a spouse or children, it does not mean that they do not have any other demands on their time and energy. Single ministers do not have a helpmate to walk alongside them through the difficult times, as discussed in the previous point. Single ministers are only human, and cannot be expected to do more than a married minister. Singles ministers must take the time to care for themselves and tend to other types of relationships and responsibilities in their lives. It is unfair for a church to put more burdens or expectations on single ministers simply because they are single.
Single Ministers Are More/Less Spiritually Mature Than Married Ministers
Being single does not make a minister more or less spiritually mature than anyone else. Single people, in general, are sometimes viewed as lacking or incomplete. They are viewed as being in a sort of spiritual waiting room. Some people tell singles that God needs to do something in their lives to change them before they get married, acting as if marriage is a gift only given to those who are spiritually better in some way. This is false. Singleness is a state that God may have someone in for a period, or it may be something God calls them to for their whole lives. In the same way, singles are not spiritually better than people who are married. They should not be expected to be more than the human saints and sinners that they are.
Singleness in ministry comes with gifts and challenges, just like being a married person in ministry does. Churches should expect no more or no less of a single person in ministry than they would of a married person. However, churches can offer support to singles in ministry that show they recognize the loneliness and struggle, and be the family a single person needs. Churches have just as much of a responsibility to show Christ to their minister as the minister does to share God’s Word with the congregation.