The Challenges and Joys of Being Single in Ministry

Going into ministry stirred up feelings of joy at following through on God’s call for my life, but it also brought up concerns about potential challenges. Will the people I work with like me? Will they care about what I have to say? Will I be a good representative of Christ in my ministry or will I leave people with a skewed view of God?

These basic questions are asked by most pastors and chaplains serving around the world today. Yet, there is a relatively small group of ministers that have further concerns about pastoral life. Who are these pastors? They are the unmarried men and women serving in ministry. You may not have seen or met many of us, but I guarantee we are out there.

Of course, some of the situations faced by single pastors and chaplains are common to all singles, but there is often another angle brought in by ministry. A challenge that tends to be universal to all uncoupled people is the pressure to find a spouse. I could illustrate this with  many personal stories but I’ll share just one.

It was my last Sabbath at my local church before heading to the Seminary. I was giving my all, trusting God with the next three years of my life knowing it was a necessary step on the path to become an US Navy Chaplain Candidate. As I joined the line for a slice of my farewell cake, a church member pulled me aside. With a look of grave concern she stated, “You better not come back from Andrews (seminary) unless you have a man with you.” I was dumbfounded. I did not know this woman particularly well, but I did know that she had been a single professional for several decades. Apparently being single in my 30s was okay when I was working as an accountant, but now that I was shifting to full-time ministry, it was no longer acceptable.

Once I could regain my speech, I looked her in the eye and smiled. “Thank you for your concern. I am going to Andrews to get my MDiv degree, not a MRS. I think I will be best served  focusing on my studies rather than looking for a husband.” I grabbed my piece of cake and went on my way frustrated that now it was not just my family who felt obligated to comment on my personal life.

The universal pressure put on uncoupled people to find a spouse seems to permeate our society both inside and outside the Church. In my experience, there are those who do not feel comfortable with the idea of singleness—it is seen as a sign of dysfunction. This is especially common in regards to women; older single women are negatively referred to as “spinsters” while older single men are called the more neutral “bachelors.” Women without families are often called selfish or thought to have less value.
The pressure put on uncoupled people to find a spouse is especially strong when you are single in ministry. I have been asked countless times by church members and those I come in contact with in ministry why I am not married. The question is usually tinged with pity and the desire to find someone to help fix the “problem.” It can also be a major obstacle when offering marital and pre-martial counselling. If the minister is not in a romantic relationship then what right and experience does he or she have to contribute? Thus there can be pressure to be in a relationship in order to appear as a credible relationship counsellor.

I do not see singleness as a problem to be fixed. The lack of a spouse allows me to focus the time and energy I would be spending on a romantic relationship on building up my relationship with God. It provides the opportunity to listen to God’s voice in the silences of home life. And as one of my fellow single pastors pointed out to me, it is a joy to serve as an example for younger (and not-so-younger) generations that happiness and fulfilment are not wrapped up in being in a relationship with another person.

The apostle Paul reminds us that contentment does not come from being one half of a couple, but from putting our trust in God in all circumstances (Phil 4:11-13). Additionally, because I am unmarried I find that I can connect with various groups easier—widow(er)s, divorcees, both young and senior singles, those with special physical or emotional needs, and those who are in need of friends.

Children recognize me as an older sibling or a safe adult without the pressure of being seen to have parental authority. Even though I am the same age as some of their mothers, I have found kids to be more open with me concerning their feelings and problems than they might be with the parental adults. I feel blessed to walk beside those on the fringes of our church knowing that those most in need of God’s love may see a glimpse of that in me.

One of the biggest challenges for me personally as a single pastor and chaplain is the management of boundaries on my time. I am 100% responsible for the running of my household. There is only one salary and one person paying the bills, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and running errands. Since ministry is not a 9-5 job, these mundane daily tasks need to be wedged in when time allows. Taking two full days off each week is not practical. It is important for all pastors and chaplains to set some boundaries so that their schedules do not become too demanding. It is tempting to sacrifice self-care and boundaries when we are so wrapped up attending to the needs of others and the running of the church.

And yet a flexible schedule can also be a great benefit in ministry. Because there is no one expecting me home at a certain time or making demands on my schedule, I am often able to make myself available at off times when the need arises. An emergency meeting does not require any special arrangements. Early morning or evening visitations are not a problem. Having flexibility includes the ability to travel and not worry about how to care for those left behind or needing to entertain those coming with me. A single minister can also feel free to move as God is calling without any added anxiety about finding employment for a spouse or schooling for children. It should be noted that single parents constantly deal with the major challenge of good childcare as it can be hard to come by.

Additionally, ministry can be a very isolated and lonely career. Being single in ministry only compounds this. I have known of many single pastors who have suffered great loneliness when they left everything and everyone behind to accept a call to serve a new church. Single pastors and chaplains have a very limited local peer group. For example, I am one of two female pastors in my conference (Presbytery) and the only single pastor.

Many of my other single pastor friends note that they are also in the minority and feel uncomfortable attending family focused ministerial retreats or other functions as one often feels left out and acutely aware of one’s singleness. Looking to church members to fill that loneliness may not always be a good idea. Pastors and chaplains have a certain governing authority that may unintentionally be taken advantage of and there might also be the temptation to share frustrations or information with a member-friend that really should be kept confidential. (I have found that my cat is great to talk to when I feel the need to share something that is not for public consumption. She rarely repeats gossip.) 

Ironically, finding a good local peer group has become one of my greatest joys in ministry. My close friend network—my biggest source of support—is spread across the country. Without a live-in friend (as in the case of a spouse) or friend-generators (many adults will become friends with the parents of their children’s friends), intentionality is needed to make new friends. As an introvert, this can be a scary undertaking.

I made a particular effort to look outside the local church for friends when I moved into my district. What might this look like for you? It may mean that you reach out to other area pastors or become more involved in the community. Volunteering with a local food bank, joining a running group, and attending events at the local library are some great ways to meet and befriend people. I have met a wonderful group of women friends at the small gym at the end of my street. The class-focused workouts have allowed time for us to get to know each other. Not only am I connecting with members of my community, but I have even met some women who were familiar with the church. Just last week several of the women asked about coming to the church to see me the next time I preach. Their support has been a wonderful blessing as I work on building up my physical and emotional strength.

However, the real challenge and joy of being single in ministry comes down to learning to be content whatever your life may be. The calling of singleness may be for a season or it may be long term (1 Cor 7:7, 17). I have found that contentment is a by-product of the faith and trust in God’s plans; it is essential to survive and thrive in ministry.

Kristy L. Hodson is an associate pastor and campus chaplain for the Southern New England Conference

This article first appeared here  https://www.nadministerial.com/stories/2018/2/4/going-it-alone-the-challenges-and-joys-of-being-single-in-ministry and was reprinted from CALLED magazine

 

Pastors Struggling With Suicide

When God interrupts, it would be foolish not to heed Him. As I was praying over this week’s articles, I sensed a brooding of the Spirit over a change of direction. I was reminded of the sad death of the philanthropist Steve Bing earlier this week who at 55 years old, with seemingly everything to live for, tragically took his own life. I read of two other similar situations in the news as the week progressed.

Perhaps today is a timely word for someone who has or is wrestling with suicidal thoughts, or you think your spouse is. Please don’t suffer in silence. Whether you are overwhelmed with physical, spiritual, or mental health issues, or just feel a sense of hopelessness, please speak out today and start getting the help you need. As a society we are at last breaking taboos around mental health. We will continue to make positive strides as a church body when we are honest with ourselves and others. Many variables can affect our thoughts, emotions, and moods, and can quickly overwhelm us, so we need to take our mental health seriously, especially if we’re struggling with suicidal thoughts.

As I’ve been reading up on this subject, I want to share with you some of the best articles I have come across. They all deserve to be read through rather than sporadically quoted, so I am including the links for you. They are mostly from the American church perspective, but just as relevant to any pastors context worldwide. I pray God would breathe on them, and lead you to find hope and courage today to get the help you may need. Keeping up a façade is exhausting, and so unnecessary. We need to break this lie and shame that we as pastors are immune to such human challenges.

At the end of the list of recommended articles is a beautiful prayer and some contact details of organisations that can provide help.

Why Pastors are committing suicide –www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-pastors-are-committing-suicide/

A Psychiatrists thoughts On Pastors and Suicide - www.keyministry.org/church4everychild/2019/9/16/a-psychiatrists-thoughts-on-pastors-and-suicide

When Pastors Silent suffering turns tragic –

www.scbaptist.org/when-pastors-silent-suffering-turns-tragic/

Church leaders to confront mental health www.keepthefaith.co.uk/2019/09/17/suicide-of-prominent-pastor-forces-church-leaders-to-confront-mental-health/

Focus on the family – Pastoral ministry and suicide www.focusonthefamily.com/church/pastoral-ministry-and-suicide/

Please allow yourself to acknowledge any suicidal thoughts and desires, and then share how you feel with someone in your family, a friend, colleague, GP or counsellor. Your life is worth more than you can imagine.

If this article is speaking to you directly today, as well as encouraging you to speak about it and so seek help, be blessed and strengthened by these further thoughts and prayer.

A Prayer for fighting suicidal thoughts - Beth Ann Baus

Over the years, I’ve learned three important things about fighting suicidal thoughts:

  • Having suicidal thoughts and being suicidal are two different things. Both, however are very serious and deserve attention.
  • People have suicidal thoughts for a wide range of reasons. Therefore you shouldn’t compare yourself, your circumstances or your state of mind to anyone else.
  • It’s often hard to pray when you’re consumed with suicidal thoughts. In fact, while praying is the most important thing you can do, it’s often the very last thing you want to do. It will require self-discipline and self-control. It will require a strength that can only come from God. For this reason, it’s a good idea to plan ahead. Write a prayer when you’re able to express your pain and thought process, then you’ll have it ready to read the next time the suicidal thoughts come. Perhaps the following prayer can be of some help.

Father God,

The darkness has taken hold of me and I can’t find my way back to the light. In this moment, ending it all seems like the best option, the only option, the only way to escape. Yet, there is something in me that wants your light to snuff out the darkness. So I ask, Lord, that you would do just that. You are the only light that can shine in the darkness.

I know when I’m consumed with thoughts of death I’m believing lies from the enemy. I ask Lord that you would remind me of these truths: when I feel alone, you are with me; when I feel invisible, you see me; when I feel worthless, my value is knowing you and being known by you.

Lord, help me to understand that you are enough, because you are everything I need and more. Remind me that when I feel hopeless, you have hope in me and for me. Remind me that when I don’t have the words to cry out to you, your son Jesus is praying for me, and your Spirit intercedes for me with groanings too deep for words. Let this remind me that I am seen, heard, and deeply loved.

I often feel out of place in this world. I don’t fit in and I’m not sure I want to. Remind me that this world is not my home and while, as your child, I will never fully fit in here, my time here isn’t over. Not yet. Please, give me the desire to live.

When I feel like I don’t matter, remind me that I was created with purpose. When I don’t know or understand why I feel the way I feel - remind me that you know the depth of pain in my heart, in my body and in my being. You know me better than I know myself… and yet you still love me.

When I feel like my death would go unnoticed because my life seems to go by uncelebrated, remind me that you celebrate me and that you hurt for me when I’m in this dark place. Remind me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, and I am worth more than I know. Remind me that this life is not mine to take. Remind me that suicide is not the only option. Remind me to love you and to love myself.

As I say these words I know in my heart that you love me and I feel incredible guilt for wanting to take the life you gave me. I feel embarrassed to admit these thoughts to you. I feel overwhelmed that you know these thoughts without my even saying them, and yet you still love me. Remind me that Jesus did not come to earth and die for me so that I could live a defeated life. Help me to desire life and to live fully in you.

In Jesus precious name, Amen.

(This prayer first appeared here –

www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/a-prayer-for-fighting-suicidal-thoughts.html)

Please don’t be afraid to reach out if you find yourself struggling with any of these issues, or if you are aware that your spouse is. God won’t ever let you go and promises to be with you in ALL circumstances.

You can access help and support from the following:-

Anthem of hope - a Christian mental health organization dedicated to amplifying hope for those battling brokenness, depression, anxiety, self-harm, addiction and suicide - http://anthemofhope.org/#home

Samaritans – for everyone
Call 116 123
Email jo@samaritans.org

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – for men
Call 0800 58 58 58 – 5pm to midnight every day

Papyrus – for people under 35
Call 0800 068 41 41 – Monday to Friday 9am to 10pm, weekends and bank holidays 2pm to 10pm
Text 07860 039967
Email pat@papyrus-uk.org

Choose Life - Public Health Scotland

http://www.healthscotland.scot/health-topics/suicide/suicide-prevention-overview

Whilst todays thoughts may not be applicable to some of us, lets collectively pray for those for whom it’s a very real and current issue. And of course their families.

Donna MacNeil

Father’s Day

Here in the UK, Father’s Day is being celebrated this coming Sunday  21st June. For those who are Dads, be encouraged by this honest testimony of a Christian man who was thankful to gain a fresh perspective on his role as a father as he journeyed with God.

To all men everywhere today, remember that you have an amazing Heavenly Father who loves you with a powerful unconditional love. As His sons, be blessed with His ‘well done’ over your life today.

A Father’s Perspective

My personal journey has led me from a life of selfish desires and a drive to succeed, to an understanding that true freedom comes from connecting with God and serving others.

Building teams and a career, winning basketball games, overcoming obstacles, and finding solutions to beat the odds was my daily grind. My thought process as a man, as a collegiate coach, as a husband and father was: Once these things are accomplished, real impact and fruit will be the resultI will find freedom in what I am working so hard to build, and my family and those in my sphere of influence will be blessed.

The leadership role and positional power of a father is a special privilege, but it  can cause a father either to sacrifice for the good of his family, or to sacrifice his family for his own good. The lie many men are being told, and the one I was telling myself, is that your influence and even your masculinity is based on the career or life you’ve built. Until a decade ago, this was the legacy I was preparing to pass down to my children.

At a moment in my life ten years ago, God revealed Himself to me in a new way that changed the trajectory of my life and the lives of my wife and children. It was in that moment that I chose to rise up and lead…to guide and direct my wife and children in faith…to be the spiritual leader of our home. In John 15:4, Jesus taught his disciples,

“Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.”

I’m at my best when I’m connected to Christ.

I’ve learned over the last decade from some very important mentors in my life that if I am connected to Jesus first…then I’ll be a really good husband, and I’ll be a really good father. None of those mentors said that I won’t make mistakes or lose focus from time to time, but if I remain in Christ and walk in the freedom He has provided me, I will be the very best version of me that I can be. I know that any legacy I leave in this life will only be fruitful if I stay connected to Christ and I lead my wife and children to the same vine that is sustaining me.

So how do we as fathers carry the freedom of Christ forward?

Norman Mailer, in his book ‘Cannibals and Christians’, wrote, “Masculinity is not something given to you, but something you gain. And you gain it by winning small battles with honour.”

It’s okay to feel inadequate in fathering…but it’s not okay to be inactive. Inactivity based on feelings of inadequacy shows a lack of faith and dependence on God. This is a battle I face daily…being intentional in the lives of my children.

Dads, don’t be afraid to put yourself into a fathering situation where you’re in over your head. I think we forget sometimes that we have the greatest power ever known to man on our side if we stay connected to God and call upon His strength to help guide us through these battles and challenges.

2 Timothy 2:1-2 gives us our marching orders: “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”

This is how to leave a legacy with your children. Although Paul was not Timothy’s father, they had a father-son relationship. Paul is telling his protégé to walk strong in the freedom Christ has given us. To carry and share that freedom in every part of his life. Paul was passing the torch of leadership to Timothy. This is the same  torch that can be carried into every battle a father faces.

Fathers, be the best version of you today. Be intentional about those most important to you. Connect with God…remain in Him and receive the strength from the vine that will bear fruit in all you do and position you to be the father that God has created you to be.

This article by Ted first appeared here - https://mercymultiplied.com/blog/a-fathers-perspective/

D.MacNeil

Prophetic Testimony

Last week, to celebrate the end of the weekly NHS Clap for carers, a well known and popular local band took to our streets. From the back of a large lorry ( with health and safety adhered to) they toured the main town and outlying areas providing a free live concert to the delight of everyone. A couple of days later, I was amused to speak to a friend who shared that he had been working outside listening to music in his earphones, utterly oblivious to the live band playing behind him as they slowly passed by. A moment in history was missed.

I felt the Lord remind me of that story this week as I was praying about what to share, along with the weight of a prophetic testimony.

Years ago, I remember my husband Tommy was given a particular prophetic word. The Lord showed a senior leader a picture of Tommy on a beach, with a line of people as far as the eye could see, standing shoulder to shoulder with their backs to the sea. They had all bent down and had picked up sea-shells that they were holding to their ears. They were engrossed in the sound of the sea. In the picture, the person then saw Tommy stunned to realize that the line were content to hear the ocean faintly represented in a shell, when in reality people only had to turn round and there was the vast ocean right in front of them. The beauty, power, majesty, and reality of what they were listening to was closer to them than they knew. One by one he started to tell people to turn around. Which they did.

These are very significant days that we are in as the Lord is at work all over the earth. We need to have ‘ears to hear and eyes to see’, or we could miss out on what God is doing. Many have inadvertently made God so small, so terrifyingly containable in our finite minds, when He is in fact the Great “I AM” . We read about His power, we sing about His majesty, and then we pray prayers with as much faith as the faint noise of the ocean in the sea shell. We need to turn around. Not to be content any longer with a measure of God that has become familiar, but embrace the fullness of who He is.

I believe there needs to be a surrendering of our own ways, our interpretations, our limits, our personal likes and dislikes, plans and programmes. The wild vast ocean is untameable and full of wonder, just like our God. I believe He longs for his children and His church to surrender wholeheartedly to His will and ways for such a time as this on the earth.

God is in all the mess and chaos of life. Like the most beautiful tapestry, there is another story being played out before the courts of heaven. He is coming for His bride and coming in a mighty great awakening all over the earth.

I believe our limitless, loving, majestic King is wooing us to turn from the familiar, the predictable, and all that is done in our own measure of faith and strength, to gaze afresh on who He is. Jehovah God. I believe there is something greater coming. Many worldwide church leaders, prayer warriors, and prophetic voices are sensing winds of change. God’s purposes for His Kingdom are being released in greater measure and might than we have ever seen.

Let’s not be like the man in my story who missed a live band because he only had ears and eyes for his own choices. Let’s turn our attention to heaven in utter abandonment, to see and hear what the Lord is saying to us and for others in these days.

May our prayer be today – “Lord, send revival, and start with me”.

D.MacNeil

Pastor Weariness In Lockdown

In conversation with a parish pastor recently, I was reminded how lockdown has been incredibly stressful and busy for many in ministry. There seems to be a misnomer amongst some folk that because churches are closed then it’s one long holiday for ministers! Nothing could be further from the truth.

Filled with a heart to bless and love on the community, many pastors are actually exhausted from overseeing ministries of kindness and support. Phones still ringing with parishioners problems; food banks to oversee; people dying and funerals required; sermons need to be planned prepared, prayed over and then delivered online; the list goes on. And all from the central hub of home life and the collective busyness of a family.

For many female pastors and pastors wives, it is all of the above with the added responsibility of children being home schooled, meals to cook, elderly parents to care for, young ones needing to be entertained, household chores to do, etc. Time often feeling stretched and pressured.

Impending lifting of restrictions may mean a dull thud of anxiety for those who are already feeling weary and exhausted. It’s so hard to be caring for others when you yourself feel you have nothing to give.

As much as is possible in the weeks ahead, try to only engage with priorities. Delegate out to others to take on some responsibilities to lighten your load. Check in with yourself that you aren’t coming under a performance mentality or comparison trap to other ministries. Share with those close to you how you feel, and don’t suffer under unnecessary guilt or stress. Actively seek out support for yourself if you need it, and step away from the busyness. You will thank yourself that you did!

Feel free to get in touch with us here at ESPS.M, we would love to hear from you. A problem shared is a problem halved. We are only human after all, and pushing ourselves too hard can have serious consequences on our physical and mental health over the long term. God cares for you and your wellbeing abundantly more than you even care for those around you.

Take time to selfcare from today, and ensure you aren’t running on empty when public worship services resume. God bless you with grace to be kind to yourself and look after your needs well.

D.MacNeil

 

 

 

Personal Pursuit Of God’s Voice

There are many voices fighting for our attention in these days. We have constant competition from television, newspapers, blogs and an abundance of social media outlets. Government bodies, scientists, health professionals, celebrities, all with so much to say on any given topic. It can be overwhelming, and an absolute overload of information and other people’s opinions. We can be left perplexed and even wondering what our own thoughts and opinions are.

It can be much the same in Christendom. All over the world we are thankful for great leaders, organisations, prayer houses, prophetic voices, and anointed ministries. Many God gifted men and women who have blessed the church throughout the generations in so many ways. We now have an incredible spiritual menu at our fingertips to access anything and everything on various media platforms. We can easily become overwhelmed and lost in other people’s thoughts and opinions across the Christian world too.

Rather insidiously it can become much easier to scroll through other people’s interpretation on many topics of faith, Christian living, and opinions on what God is saying. Whilst that may be helpful at times, alarm bells ring when it becomes our pattern to tune into other people’s voices rather than God’s. What is God saying about His church in these days – to you? What is God saying about your life - to you? Like young Samuel we need to pray  ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening!’

He has already given us His word to direct and guide us, and we have the amazing gift of prayer to commune with Him, as well as the joy of worship that draws His presence so close.

There are many great influencers all over the world, but no voice will be as influential in your life as the voice of your Heavenly Father. Whilst thankful for great leaders, we are more thankful for a Great God. Whilst thankful for great books and commentaries, we are more thankful for God’s Word.

Maybe we need to dial down the noise, step away from the latest Christian trends, switch off the weekly podcasts, and just connect with God ourselves, one on one. Return again to pursuing His presence, directives, answers to prayers, etc. for yourself. Ask God what is on His heart. What a wonderful invitation to us all Psalm 25:14 – The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them”. God isn’t just interested in the pouring out of our hearts towards him, He longs to share His heart with us. Astounding!

The intimate pursuit of His voice for ourselves also ushers us into a place of beautiful love and blessing. We get to be who God sees us, as His sons and daughters. We freely receive His abundant love, grace, mercy, strength, hope, courage and joy as we hear words of love and affirmation that our loving Father speaks to His children. God longs to share that love in the place of intimacy as we pursue His voice and ways for ourselves.

D.MacNeil