How Are YOU Doing?

How Are YOU Doing?

The above question is one that many of us in leadership and ministry find ourselves asking many times a day, in many different ways and to many different people. It’s a genuine caring question for those who are pastoring, coaching, counselling, and just simply encouraging others.

But, can I just ask - what about YOU. How are YOU doing?

We are living in unprecedented days with the everchanging restrictions and reactions to the continuing Covid-19 Pandemic. As we look to support, care for, and pray for others, it’s important we take time to check in with ourselves. How are we actually doing? Not the ‘I’m fine’ pat answer, but time to genuinely reflect on how we are? How are we coping? What are we feeling? How is our walk with God? Are we laying our burdens down or are they in fact weighing us down?

We can all be guilty of forgetting to self-care. Without even realising it, we can get affected by other people’s needs, worries or demands. Added to that is juggling the everyday pressures of our own lives – our family responsibilities, financial concerns, or feeling isolated from friends and extended family. There’s a lot to contend with.

We have shared various articles over the years about the importance of self-care. It’s a proven fact that none of us can keep giving out without getting replenished. We have a duty to ourselves to practice good self-care in all of the four main areas of life. 1- Spiritually, 2- Mentally, 3- Emotionally and 4- Physically. We need to take time to invest in our own wellbeing and part of that is to keep connected to and fellowshipping with other people.

The writer in Hebrews encourages us to “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”( Heb10:25 NIV)

With that in mind, why not join us a week tomorrow (Saturday 24th) for our Annual conference – a landmark first virtual one!

As well as specially focused talks that are tailored to this time, we have guest seminars from mature and experienced pastors and pastors spouses – Maggie Lane and Kenny and Morag Borthwick.  They’ll be sharing as well as members of our own team. Together we are looking to build one another up. To bring focus and perspective to these difficult times from being firmly rooted in and trusting in God.

Delegates can also benefit from live interaction with a question panel as well as an opportunity to receive confidential personal prayer with our seasoned prayer team throughout the day.

Here at ESPS Ministries we really do care how you are doing. Come join us on the day, it would be wonderful to have you with us. And if you ever feel you would benefit from prayer or our listening ministry, then please do get in touch with us through our website.

Follow the link for conference details and how to register.

www.espsministries.org

Going It Alone: The Challenges and Joys of Being Single in Ministry

Going It Alone: 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 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 counseling. 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 counselor.

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 fulfillment 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 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 at: 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.

Healing for the Divorced Pastor

Healing for the Divorced Pastor

Divorce is epidemic in America, scuttling nearly 50 percent of first marriages and 67 percent of second. As a pastor concerned about the general well-being of the marriage institution, I grieved when divorce visited my home. How could I not? Having been a minister for more than 20 years, I had seen firsthand the trail of tears divorce leaves behind. There are no winners, only victims. But I never imagined that one day my marriage would be numbered among its casualties. “Divorce may rear its ugly head everywhere else, but not in my home. My relation ship with my wife is too strong.” That was my assumption. How foolish! And how unwittingly arrogant! I learned the hard way that no marriage is in a fail-safe position, not even mine. All indicators suggest that the divorce rate for pastors is higher than it has ever been before. Why? There is no singular answer. Citing the book What’s Happening to Clergy Marriages, a recent article in The Christian Ministry points to four common pressures on clergy families: lack of privacy, high expectations, constant availability, and financial stress. No doubt these pressures may prove harmful at times, but it seems quite likely that the causes go beyond the particular stress points of the profession.

In the foreword of the book Clergy Families, Is Normal Life Possible? Robert L. Wilson suggests that the in creased divorce rate among clergy may be a result of the changing trends of the broader American culture. He writes: “The minister and family are caught between what an American Christian was expected to be in the late nineteenth century and the sometimes grim familial and economic realities that encompass most marriages in the late twentieth century.”

The road to recovery

Recovery from divorce is difficult even under the best of circumstances, but it is especially treacherous for a pas tor. Pastoral work is so morally sensitive that one false move can discredit a wonderful ministry in the blink of an eye. And yet the emotional, physical, and spiritual apple cart is so thoroughly up set during the recovery period that false moves of any kind, can occur with frightening ease.

Pastor and writer Jim Talley offers an interesting observation on why this is the case. He depicts a pie divided into four sections, labeled emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual. He presents each section as laying claim to 25 percent of a normal individual’s energy capacity; however, he notes that during divorce recovery that balance is radically altered. In the first six months the distribution shifts to 85 percent emotional, and 5 per cent physical, mental, and spiritual.

Elaborating on this overwhelming domination of the emotional, Talley writes: “After about one or two years you sense that you really are recovering, but the downside is that you also realize how unbalanced you really were during the depths of your alienation. After three to four years you may pass the 50 percent mark, so that less than half of your energy is used for emotions, freeing up the other half for mental (17 percent), physical (16 percent), and spiritual (17 percent), purposes. . . . The better you get, the clearer it becomes how far down you really were.”3

How long does recovery take? At least three to five years, according to most specialists, including Talley. Sound intimidating? It is! In my early months of recovery I can remember being shocked by some of the thoughts and fantasies I entertained. Not only that, but I can remember my mind working overtime in an attempt to convince itself that the scenarios I was parading across the screen of my consciousness were really no big deal. No big deal? Had I acted any one of them out, I would have destroyed my minis try, and worse still, deeply injured the Lord I love.

God is a rescuing God

The most important thing pastors can carry with them through the stormy seas of divorce recovery is the deep personal assurance that God is a rescuing God. Clearly this is the umbrella message of the Bible. As such, the Lord is driving home a point. He wants to save us, no matter the painful circumstance or its causes. This truth provides enormous comfort and confidence during the dark days, when instability reigns supreme, when the demands of pastoral life out weigh personal resources, and when hope for recovery, stability, and health seem dim.

During the divorce experience a pas tor faces enormous pressures. In the first year after my divorce I spent hours walking alone at night, trying to hush the thunderous noise within my being that these pressures created. Sometimes I walked to the point of exhaustion before the cacophony of sound quieted sufficiently for me to hear the still, reassuring voice of God that whispered confidence and strength into my soul. But hear that voice I did! Every night, without fail. God never abandoned me. He never shouted into my soul’s ear what I often found myself shouting: “You blew it, David! You’ve failed in a big way.” No, instead I heard the message of His for giving love, His unyielding encouragement, and His matchless power. In short, I heard the message that so many broken servants of the Lord have heard before me: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).* In this way, and in many others as well, the Lord rescued me.

With this knowledge firmly established in the heart and mind, I believe the stage is set for pastors to do their part to take control of the healing process. As I see it, there are four crucial steps that can and should be taken.

Four crucial steps

Seek counseling. The pastor needs to search out and submit to the assistance of a competent Christian counselor. How I wish that someone had pressed this point with me in the early stages of my divorce recovery! Sadly, it didn’t happen that way.

As a part of my graduate education I had received several years of formal training in psychology, developing a good understanding of my own intrapersonal dynamics along the way. That fact, combined with the learning that comes from more than two decades of pastoral ministry, and a disposition that is inclined to careful introspection, led me to conclude that I could “make it” without the assistance of formal counseling. Not that I was trying to be foolishly independent. Not at all. I simply underestimated the depth of my need.

No support system, as splendid as it may be, is a suitable substitute for the kind of “freeing up” that emerges in a structured counseling setting. I learned this the hard way. Several years after my divorce I awakened one morning to a level of anxiety and sadness that I never dreamed was lurking ominously in the inner recesses of my brain, waiting for the right moment to pounce on my conscious mind. “Where did this come from?” I asked myself as I sought to restrain the panic that accompanied these unexpected and undesirable guests. What I soon learned is that despite my having been surrounded by loving and caring persons who were wonderfully supportive all through my divorce process, there were feelings of grief that went far deeper than any of these supporters could reach.

Enter the counselor. Over the next several weeks tears flowed—in abundance. I asked for, and was lovingly granted, a two-month leave of absence from my work. For the first time in my ministry I needed to step back from my pastoral tasks to resolve disturbing emotions that for too long I had unwittingly put on the back burner.

I now have committed myself to a proper season of Christian counseling, something I should have done when my former wife uttered the words “I want a divorce.” The outcome? Freedom! With each passing day a new lightness comes to my mental step. Gone, or at least going, is the hidden burden of unresolved pain. In its place is a real and lasting sense of peace.

Find friends. Another crucial step is the cultivation of same-sex, mature Christian friendships. Gordon Mac- Donald, pastor, and author of numerous books and articles on the experience and expression of Christian faith, cites six kinds of friends that are necessary to ensure a believer’s spiritual vitality during crisis situations. They include: the sponsor, the affirmer, the rebuker, the intercessor, the partner, and the pastor.4

In my experience I found that each of these different kinds of friendships was important, but my need for an affirming friend was the greatest of all. Divorce hurt me deeply. Failure hung like a heavy fog around my whole being. I desperately needed an ally whose affirming love would help lift it away. One man in particular accomplished this for me. He came alongside me from the very beginning, speaking, sometimes shouting, encouragement into my ears. “You can do it!” was his constant mes sage, not always expressed in words, but always communicated in spirit.

Join a recovery support group. A third crucial step in the divorce recovery process is for pastors to search out and participate in a divorce recovery support group.

Each experienced participant in a support community for separated and divorced persons has been there, and is often in a position to guide them by sharing knowledge that is informational in content and inspirational in effect.

Such information includes one’s intrapersonal and interpersonal dynamics. In addition, listening carefully to the thoughts and feelings of the opposite sex also provides significant learning. Sound ludicrous? It’s not. Very often marriages, including pastors’ marriages, break down because one or both par ties has never learned how the other person thinks, feels, and problem solves. Divorce recovery groups allow for a “safe” give and take between men and women, a process that teaches much about some less-than-obvious real differences between the sexes.

The inspiration that the support group provides is simple—hope! Being with and learning from other men and women who have been where you are, and who are now feeling better, is a wonderful hope-infusing experience. On the evening after my first meeting with my recovery community, I received a telephone call. “Hello, David? This is Brace.” After a brief moment of trying to identify the caller, I discovered I was speaking with one of the group’s coleaders. “David, I listened carefully to what you had to say last night, and I would like to get together with you to hear more about your situation.”

Pastors are often unaccustomed to being cared for like this. I agreed to meet him the following evening. I poured out my soul to him, and with each comment, each tear, I could feel a measure of hope slowly pressing itself into my being. Bruce had traveled through the dark tunnel of divorce a few years before, and now he was beginning to see the light at the other end. I needed to see that.

Three suggestions. One, meet with a recovery group in a place outside your pastoral district. “Opening up” is a lot easier when there is confidence that the personal details presented is not likely to wend its way back to the flock. Two, if possible, select a sup port community that is Christ-centered. Christians look at things like the sanctity of marriage, the importance of confidentiality, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in a very different light than most nonbelievers. Three, make a pact with yourself and the Lord that you will not date another group member, and stick to it. This is critical! Most people (and pastors are no exception) who are still at the support group stage of divorce recovery are far too vulnerable to begin dating. What may seem like love will likely be nothing more than unmet need, feeling the sudden rush of much-needed affection.

Put your experience to constructive use. The fourth step in taking control of the recovery process is to put one’s own experience to constructive use in ministry. Says Paul: “Comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we our selves have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:4). The apostle affirms that one of the best ways to cope with suffering is to use it as an instrument to convey God’s love to others. When that happens, a most amazing thing takes place: both the recipient and the giver experience healing.

How does this happen? How does a person recover fully? I don’t have the faintest notion, but I know it hap pens. It has happened to me. The dynamics of the kingdom of God make that possible.

David Wesley Reid, D.Min., is the pastor of the First Baptist Church, Reading, Massachusetts.

This article originally appeared here: https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1995/11/healing-for-the-divorced-pastor

Pastoring While Single

Pastoring While Single

Being single is hard. Being single and a pastor is even harder. Each year, there are thousands of sermons given on the topic of marriage and family but very few on the complexities of being single. Seminaries train pastors on how to navigate the challenges of ministry and family life, but they often leave out conversations on what to expect as a single pastor. The church can be an isolating place for single people. Despite this, I love my job. I am grateful for the season of life I’m in, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wrestle with the challenges of being a single pastor.

People often ask me about the strange things people say to me as single pastor. Frankly, that list is long, and I bet, if you’ve been in church leadership for a significant amount of time, your list of strange things people have said is long, too. For single pastors, though, there are a unique set of situations that have to be navigated with grace and a firm tone. Like the request for a private prayer session, the hug that lingers way too long, or having a man tell you that God told him you were supposed to be his wife—even though God has not communicated that message to you. I learned pretty quickly how important boundaries are and the importance of referring specific cases to a male pastor.

Another challenging issue for single pastors is work-life balance. In the church, work-life balance is often discussed within the context of marriage and family. I used to think that because I wasn’t married and didn’t have kids, work-life balance didn’t apply to me. No one explicitly says you need to have a healthy work-life balance so that you can have healthy friendships. The focus is usually on the spouse or children, not the value of fostering healthy, supportive friendships outside of marriage. The truth is that work-life balance applies to everyone. Just because I’m single doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t prioritize my friendships and self-care. I had to learn that it was okay to leave work at a normal hour to spend time with my friends, work out, or just do something for me.

Being a single pastor also makes have a dating life challenging. Dating within the church can be complicated, and everyone seems to know your business regardless of the size of your church. Even if you’re meeting people online or outside the church, I’ve found that one of the easiest way to shut down a conversation with a potential interest is to tell him what you do for a living.

Unintended Pain

For some reason, church staffs tend to have a very high number of married people. Because of this, even simple staff gatherings and conversations can be a painful reminder of your singleness. It might be an invitation to attend a staff party with your spouse and you’re the only who shows up alone because there wasn’t an opportunity to bring a date or friend.

Or it might be the constant reminder from coworkers to spend quality time with your family. One year, we were given staff Christmas gifts themed around spending time with your spouse and kids. It was a very thoughtful gift given with good intentions, but it was a painful reminder that I was once again alone for the holidays.

It can often seem as if the church places marriage above all other types of relationships. I believe marriage is a beautiful form of intimate relationship with another person, but to place it above all other relationships is problematic. There is beauty and joy to be found in relationships whether you’re single or married—and we miss out when we primarily focus on the marital relationships.

Offering Hope to Singles

While there are a lot of challenges, there are also plenty of amazing experiences that come with this role. I am often entrusted with the stories of others who are in the same season of life as me. They’re usually struggling with similar things, wondering how to be content, and wondering if they’ll ever feel complete without a spouse. It’s a joy for me to offer messages of hope and new ways of approaching their singleness.

My hope has been born out of the pain of being single and wanting something different. I have watched friend after friend find “the one.” Each time I wonder if it will ever be my turn, and I question whether I can stay content in a season of life I never expected to last this long.

Through this journey, however, I’ve come to see that marriage isn’t the goal. God values inclusive community for all people—married, single, divorced, or widowed—and that’s what we’re working toward. God created us as relational beings made for this beautiful community.

There was a time when I focused solely on what was missing from my life: a spouse and children. After a lot of prayer, therapy, and self-reflection, I realized that I was missing out on the beauty of all the different relationships that I already had in my life. I may not be a wife but I am a daughter, sister, aunt, friend, mentor, and pastor. I made a choice to invest deeply in these relationships and create a chosen family, a group of people that are committed to doing life with me for the long haul. Today, I have an amazing community made up of single people, married couples, and parents from different backgrounds, classes, and cultures. I cannot imagine doing life without them. We navigate big decisions together, babysit each other’s kids, talk about the challenges of being single and married, vacation together, and cook meals together. They challenge me, support me, care for me, pray with me, and, most importantly, love me unconditionally. They are my family, and if I meet the man of my dreams tomorrow my family would simply grow.

That is the beauty of the church. We are called to be a loving, supportive community for all people. Within the body of Christ, no one should feel like a second-class citizen because of their marital status. While I still wrestle with my singleness, I am committed to creating space in our community to discuss these issues. I’ve been given the gift of seeing how the church can unintentionally harm people in this season of life and how marriage can be the default perspective for many church leaders. Because God has allowed me to see this, I am able to share my perspective and help others see God and the value of community in new ways. God does not discriminate with his love, and he desires for us all to experience that love to the full, regardless of our marital status.

The Beauty of Being a Single Pastor

As single pastors, we get to wrestle with and model this truth. We have an opportunity to ask ourselves: How can we challenge our small-group members, both married and single, to expand their view of community? How are we helping single people invest in building well-rounded community that encourages them to grow and experience the love of God in tangible ways? How are we talking about relationships in holistic ways, rather than just from the perspective of marriage?

We should celebrate our singleness just as married pastors celebrate their marriages. We should tell the real stories of pain, joy, and celebration because, I promise you, there are others in your congregation who need to hear they’re not alone, they belong, and their story matters.

There is beauty in the stories and experiences of single people. We need to elevate those stories to combat the shame often associated with this season of life. The church needs the voices of single people in order to be at its best and experience God more fully. The New Testament is full of single people experiencing radical community, living full lives and changing the world. Why should our churches be any different?

It takes strength, vulnerability, and courage to share this part of our lives because there’s still some shame attached to being single. This is the reason I believe we need more leaders who are willing to show up, embrace their singleness, and share how the love of the Father and transformative community can remind us everyday that we are whole, valuable, and beautiful in the sight of God just as we are.

Chi Chi Okwu is associate pastor at Willow Chicago.

This artcle orgianlly appeared at: https://www.smallgroups.com/articles/2016/pastoring-while-single.html

What Churches Should Know When Their Pastors Are Single

What Churches Should Know When Their Pastors Are Single

“But I wish everyone were single, just as I am” (1 Cor. 7:7, NLT).

That the Apostle Paul was either a lifelong single or widowed seems to be the consensus of scholars.

There’s an old joke about a committee telling a young pastoral candidate why they would not consider him. “You’re not married.”  He responded, “The Apostle Paul was not married.”  A member of the team said, “Yes, but he couldn’t stay out of jail long enough to take care of a wife!”

It’s not that pastor search committees are against singleness. Every member of the search team either is now or has been single at some point.  It’s rather that they believe marriage has a good effect on a man, and they prefer a pastor who has the balance in his life which only a loving, faithful, dedicated female can provide.

Also–let’s admit the obvious here–they’re deathly afraid of what might happen if the preacher starts dating someone in the congregation!  Horrors.

Jimmy, a single pastor, tells me churches fear the notion of calling such a person as their shepherd for various reasons:

–They think he won’t be able to minister to families if he doesn’t have one of his own.  Never mind that he grew up in a family!

–Perhaps they fear scandals such as those rocking the Catholic Church.  As though marriage would cure a pedophile.

–Or, maybe they feel his lack of experience as a husband/father/head of household would limit his ability to relate.

Either way, says my friend, such churches would end up bypassing the Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul for their pastors!

Paul recommended singleness in ministers!

Most of our churches have not quite known what to do with I Corinthians 7 but it’s there, in their Bibles….

I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn. (I Corinthians 7:8-9)

Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is….. If you should marry, you have not sinned…  Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. (I Corinthians 7:25-28).

I want you to be free from concern.  One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided.… Now this I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint on you, but to promote what is seemly, and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.  (I Corinthians 7:32,35).

I think–without going into it here–we know what Paul is saying.  The married pastor is expected home for dinner, will be attending his kids’ ball games and helping them with homework, and will necessarily be dealing constantly with domestic issues. A single person presumably has none of these distractions (and is able to work 12 hours a day and be on call 24/7!!).

That’s the plan, at least.  But there are two sides to every one of these points.

I’m recalling a Catholic priest from earlier in my ministry who was a good guy and a friend of some of us Baptist preachers.  Sam battled alcoholism, however.  A colleague said to me, “If I had to go home to a cat the way Father Sam does every night, I might have a drinking problem, too!”

So, there are pros and cons to everything.

Some pastors weigh in on this subject….

Andrew, a single pastor for perhaps 15 years, married a lovely lady not long ago.  After reading the above, here are his thoughts on the subject….

–I had a search committee tell me, “You need to be married so your wife can play the piano and be involved in church.”  It was a small congregation.

–I learned early on that single pastors have to beware of the occasional married woman who is unhappy in her marriage.  She may see the pastor as her ideal husband: spiritual, godly, kind, a leader.  In one church I was especially cautious around a particular lady. She was young, attractive, and dissatisfied in her marriage.  And she gave these great hugs.  So, the pastor has to guard against his own mind in these instances.

–Single pastors are not lacking in anything as a result of being unmarried.  God has him single for a reason.

–My single years provided an opportunity for the church to minister to me.  I urge the churches to pray for their unmarried pastor in the same way they would pray for their own sons who are single.  Do not treat the pastor differently.

Curtis has been at his church 18 years.  He is usually my go-to resource on the subject of single pastors.  Here are his thoughts…

–I’m 39 now.  My people are less concerned by my singleness now than they were 18 years ago when I came to this church.

–My church gets a higher percentage, a bigger slice of the pie of me, than if I were married and had kids.  I cannot imagine giving this much time and energy to ministry if I had a family.

–If your pastor is single, you shouldn’t expect to be able to drop by his home and find it spotless and tidy. That is, unless the housing allowance includes maid service.

–Credibility in counseling families and couples in a church is always earned, regardless of the marital status of the minister.  It’s harder to earn as a single, of course, but most of the time I have a waiting list for counseling.

–The church should never base their salary on whether the pastor is married.  It’s not fair to penalize him for being single.

–When the church has dinners, it’s always a good idea to prepare some takeout for the pastor’s fridge.  Unmarried pastors appreciate the thoughtfulness.

–Church members should be cautious in trying to set up the preacher with a niece or granddaughter.  This can be awkward and lead to difficult situations.

–Finally, the pastor will appreciate people not constantly referring to his singleness or making jokes about it.

The two unmarried pastors I consulted (along with Andrew, the newly married one) tell me they are pro-marriage and would love to be married.  But she has to be “the one” the Lord provides.

Jimmy gets the last word on the subject.  He said to me, “Even though I am not married, I love my wife. Bless her heart.  Whomever the Lord sees fit to send will have to be a special lady, indeed.  It will be nice to have someone to share in the joys of ministry, but at the same time, I dread to see her have to share in the low moments and despair.”

Thank God for faithful pastors.  Let us pray for the Lord’s shepherds.

Joe McKeever is retired from the pastorate but still active in preaching, writing and cartooning for Christian publications. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.

This article originally appeared at joemckeever.com.

Serving as a Single Woman

Serving as a Single Woman

Biblical Christianity values singleness like no other world religion.

It is a prized and precious gift, an encouraged option for a fulfilled life of service. Yet many Christian singles struggle with this ‘gift’. A huge proportion – our estimate is more than half – of women in full-time ministry are single1. We conducted interviews with over 50 people 2 in order to investigate the challenges and blessings for single women working in UK churches, para-church organisations and on the mission field, with the aim of encouraging and affirming them and better equipping those working alongside them.

We will report our findings in a series of three en articles. Here, in the first, we share our summary observations.

Unique ministry

Our respondents were eager to talk of the privilege and joy of serving the Lord. They felt that their singleness forced them to rely on God in deeper ways than colleagues with a spouse to talk to, and several spoke of the sweetness of uttering their first and last words of the day to Jesus. They rejoiced in the flexibility and freedom they had to travel, work and meet people unencumbered by family responsibilities.

Male colleagues recognised the huge depth of godliness often seen in single women and acknowledged their unique ministry, one male missionary commenting: ‘When the place gets dangerous or difficult, so often it seems like half the soldiers are single women. On all of our teams overseas, half the team has been single women. I’ve noticed this same dynamic on many teams and in many organisations. … So in our experience and in our slice of church history, it really seems to me that it is women who lead the way where men fear to tread.’

What a blessing these single sisters are and how powerfully they are used in serving the Lord!

Struggle with singleness

Most women shared that their singleness was their biggest struggle and one that needed to be repeatedly brought before the Lord through the different seasons of life. A women’s worker who had been serving in the UK for 15 years commented: ‘How you deal with your singleness is crucial to how your ministry goes – daily. If you wake up feeling a sense of disappointment or loss of hope about your singleness – tell him [God]. The devil is at your door. Anger, hurt and pain have the potential to take me out of the game [of ministry]’.

A single para-church worker in her 50s who had spent her whole working life in Christian work shared that: ‘For single women, their biggest issue is being single’. It was felt that these struggles are ‘placed under the microscope’ in ministry and that the devil exploited these areas to test and tempt women, exposing the cost of their sacrifice in serving God.

Leadership lets women thrive

It was striking that, where there was clear male pastoral leadership, women were able to thrive. Those who did not feel supported were struggling.

Several casualties of ministry who had left the mission field or had resigned from UK church roles shared that this pastoral support had been missing.

How is this support provided? Our research showed that it is almost always demonstrated by having regular (weekly, fortnightly or monthly) meetings where the minister or team leader asked about their spiritual walk, about their struggles and where they prayed together. These were not task-focussed planning meetings (they almost always had these too) but were solely focussed on spiritual and pastoral issues. These meetings seemed to demonstrate a love for and a commitment to caring for the woman by the male leader and were described as critical in avoiding and overcoming issues and in providing pastoral support. There were many beautiful examples of men and women working together in love and purity, spurring each other on in godliness.

Conversely, many of our respondents talked about the kind of leadership that they felt crushed and wounded by. There were particular difficulties in working with men whom they perceived as lacking in social and relational skills and maturity, who appeared brash, black and white in their thinking and with a tendency to be harsh and impatient with others. These men were typically in their 30s and were new to ministry. This was a particular issue in the Church of England. Several commented that these men were often the most restrictive in their views about what women could do in the church. It was felt that these restrictions were not really about theology, but were about each individual’s social culture and upbringing. Single women workers felt particularly vulnerable, with no husband to act as a go-between, and were unsure how to deal with the hurt often caused without disrupting the team.

New roles

Almost all of those working in a church were in a role that did not exist ten years ago. It is hugely positive to see the evangelical church taking seriously the need to give women visible, valued roles that show com-plementarianism in practice.

But there are also challenges as the women in these new roles have no pattern to follow and responsibilities have not been defined by those who came before them. Church leaders and their teams have, in the main, never worked with a woman on a full-time basis. Areas like the different ways in which women handle conflict, workload, stress and emotions and how the team will work together may be very new. There is also a wide range of employment issues like pay, contracts, accommodation and support which are new and have not been fully thought through.

‘Complementarianism’ in practice

There is a wide variance across churches in the UK on the practical roles that women play. Churches that, doctrinally, would be in complete agreement, have very different ways of applying their theology. Should a woman lead a home group? Lead a church service? Run and speak at an evangelistic event? Attend the elders’ meeting? Different churches have different approaches. And it is the female members of staff that are often required to pioneer these issues, constantly asking themselves whether what they are doing is right. Male leaders do not seem to be providing clear and consistent expectations for women in these roles or leading the church in actively affirming them.

The next two issues of en will look at other areas of our research. Our fuller findings share more detail and practical examples of good practice as well as suggesting questions for consideration by the women in these roles and those who work alongside them.

We truly believe that single people, especially women, have a profound opportunity to show the joy of knowing Jesus to a world that believes that contentment is not possible without a partner. These inspiring women make a profound contribution to Christian ministry. We have seen single women working with brothers and sisters with deep mutual love and respect in a way that confounds and intrigues the non-believers looking on. And that is our ultimate aim – that gospel ministry is able to shine in a dark world so that Jesus is glorified.

 

Eleanor has been on the mission field in the Middle East and Africa since 1996. She is a nurse and has a PhD in palliative care. She is single. Rebecca is married and works as a management consultant specialising in human resources.

This article first appeared at: https://www.e-n.org.uk/2016/02/features/serving-as-a-single-woman/c16e6/