The Double-Edged Sword of Singleness in Youth Ministry
As I sat in the chapel surrounded by hundreds of students – several of whom were from my own ministry – I felt ashamed. I listened as the preacher explained how the ultimate task of humanity is multiplication through children. He claimed that the highest job for all women is to be a mother, qualifying that it did not matter what career a woman chose or how successful she was in that career; none of that counted in comparison to being a mother and multiplying oneself through the procreation of children.
I could not help but physically shrink in my chair, little by little, as he spoke. He might as well have pointed his figure directly at me: the single, late-20’s woman who had yet to fulfill this greatest calling.
I felt like a failure, and now my students knew it too.
Though I would love to say this experience was unique, unfortunately, I cannot. As I get older, moments of shame over my singleness are becoming routine (although most are not so blatant). It is a regularly faced battle, and one that my college theology classes never prepared me for.
I can still remember the first worship service I attended in college. The pastor actually preached a sermon on 1 Corinthians 7 entitled The Sweet Season of Singleness.
In this passage, Paul was clearly claiming singleness as the better portion; Christ Himself lived His earthly ministry single and, according to Paul, singles can uniquely focus on the things of the Lord. I left that service in college ready to embrace and commit to this sweet season for the sake of the Lord.
Yet, truth be told, that readiness came solely based on the caveat that singleness would only be a “season.” Here I am 10 years later, still single.
What the college pastor failed to mention was that, for many, this “sweet season” may last longer than a season. Honestly, had I known that truth, I would have been much less ready to commit. I had always imagined myself as a wife and mother. I have had to spend the last few years reconciling my call in a way I never envisioned it to be – single.
As I have sought the Lord in this time, I’ve come to see two edges to this sword of singleness.
Edge One: Trial
Most people assume I prefer singleness. It reasons that an unmarried 28-year-old must have chosen singleness, meaning I have the whole thing figured out.
I do not. Singleness is hard.
Especially as a leader in youth ministry. It is hard when students avoid seeking counsel from me since I am not in a relationship. It is hard when I see my co-workers connecting better to parents because they have spouses as well. It is hard when I see other leaders in the church connecting as friends because they have shared experiences I do not. It is hard when I see my co-workers being invited to families’ homes more often because they have a family too. It is hard when I cannot have a student to my house because I live alone.
It is hard.
All men are created in the image of the communal God. We are all descendants of Adam and Eve, whom God made in His declaration that, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). Whether married or single, this is man’s heritage. Singles do not have a unique gene keeping their desire for companionship at bay. We long for intimacy and partnership.
Paul claims singleness as good, yet only for those who can flee from sexual temptation (1 Cor. 7:8-9). Sexual temptation has its root is in our genetic make-up. Paul does not say to remain single only if you never struggle with sexual temptation. No, he calls those who are single to take up the battle and fight.
As a single person, I am not immune to sexual temptation. I, too, must fight. I must daily choose to battle against the flesh. I must daily battle the lies of the enemy – lies that say I am not worthy of romantic love. I must fight the temptation to schedule every second of my day, simply to avoid the lonely hours. In ministry, it is easy to always be the one volunteering to work more, since I do not have a family or spouse at home, and my co-laborers do. Yet, in doing this, I am only evading the rest that I, too, am commanded to take, and stealing away the hours that the Lord desires to commune with me.
I have come to see my singleness as a trial – one I hope is producing steadfastness (James 1:2-3).
Edge Two: Hope
Paul was right. As a single, I am uniquely capable of being fully concerned for the things of the Lord (1 Cor. 7:34). I am free to fill my evenings with school plays, sporting events and concerts; I can easily drop everything to meet a girl for coffee when she needs it most. I can pack up my bag and travel on trip after trip, without concern for another’s calendar.
Yet, even while I love this reality, the weight comes when I return home from a trip and realize I have no one to tell about it. Or when my day has been filled with tough conversations, and I have no one to process with. While Paul claims the goodness of singleness, it is marriage that Scripture says is to be “held in honor among all” (Heb. 13:4).
But what if I never get married? What if I never have children?
It is a hard reality to reconcile, yet it is in the gospel where I find the hope for even my deepest of fears. Here is my hope:
I may live out my earthly days single, yet I can take rest in knowing that singleness is not forever. There is a day approaching when the wedding of the Lamb will come for His bride (Rev. 19:7). On that day, she will be reconciled in perfect unity to the one who loved her enough to shed His own blood to pay the marriage cost. I can joyfully await this “sweet season” of singleness to end – either on earth or in future glory.
This is my story; this is my marriage; this is my hope.
In this light, the preacher who praised marriage and multiplication was right. In the beginning, the task was given to multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28). This was the greatest commandment because through children, both man and God would be blessed. However, a paramount shift took place when sin entered the world. One child – the Son of God Himself – would have to come to earth to make a way for blessing to be offered to all who would believe.
There is now a new command to multiply and fill the earth (Matt. 28:19-20), through the fostering of disciples from every nation. For parents, this includes your children. But this commandment is for us singles as well. The Lord has given us all the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17-19), single or not, and spreading this from generation to generation is the greatest calling of all.