The first time I met Judy she was walking across the country — literally. As a seminary student near Chicago, she had been challenged by a professor to do something radical to step up the intimacy in her walk with God. Striking out on a cross-country trek on foot can do that, no doubt. Traveling with only the barest essentials, this modern-day disciple moved from town to town praying with those she met, feeding, caring for and sharing the Gospel with those in need, and speaking to groups about her experiences. Though I only had contact with her for a brief season, Judy had a deep and profound impact on my life.
I met Stephen just over a decade ago. He was a member of the local church that I was serving at the time and had just returned from a two-year mission experience through our denomination. He had served in Bosnia during a very difficult season of the country’s history by working a “regular job,” building relationships and sharing the Gospel with those in his sphere of influence. As you would imagine, Stephen was full to the brim with stories of frigid temperatures, terrible food and God’s amazing providence. They always made me smile and more thankful for his service.
Kelsi is a member of our church. She recently graduated from college, and we commissioned her for an 11-month mission experience that will take her to 11 different countries during that time. During her stint on the field, she will be a part of planting churches, caring for orphans and widows, serving those in poverty, and anything else God has in store for her in the four corners of the earth. I can’t even imagine how much this experience will shape her and grow her faith. I also can’t imagine the suitcase full of stories she will return with.
All of these individuals have at least three things in common: 1) They all share a deep love for Jesus, 2) a clear sense of God’s mission, and 3) at the time when they did what I described, they were all single. Now, I can hear what some of you are thinking. Here’s another article telling me how great it is to be single. Nope. Not going to go there. But where I do want to take us is toward sharing some simple practical and biblical truths that I overlooked during my season of singleness that I believe can make you more effective in ministry both to and beyond your local church. Let me start with a simple but provocative assertion as a foundation for them all.
I believe most of us waste our season of singleness when it comes to ministry, especially in the local church.
There. I said it. And I meant it.
When I look back on my own experience as a single, I see (and lament) a lot of wasted time. I took lots of weekend road trips and late-night taco runs. I played a lot of video games. I hopped from church to church and never really put down roots. In some ways, though I was still involved in ministry, I wasted a lot of time as well doing things that didn’t really help build the kingdom. I know I’m not alone in my experience because I see singles doing the same thing I did all the time. It grieves me. As their pastor and older brother in the faith, I want to lovingly grab them by the shoulders and say “Make the most of this season! The kids, mortgage and minivan are coming! You’ll never have another time in your life where you are this free to serve Jesus! Do it! Do it now!”
In 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul addresses this topic. Though the context into which he was speaking is much different than ours today (they were facing a time of famine and extreme hardship), the principle describing the freedom that our season of singleness affords is readily apparent.
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-35, ESV).
This passage is just brimming with important words and phrases on this topic, isn’t it? Consider the unmistakable clarity of verses 32-34 for single men and women, respectively. In essence, Paul is saying:
When you are single, your focus is on how to please the Lord. When you are married, your interests are divided.
As someone who has been both single and married, I can affirm this to be the case in both seasons of life. To be fair, since any Scripture must be rightly interpreted in light of the rest of Scripture, Paul is certainly not “pooh-poohing” marriage by any means. He is simply stating the fact of the matter as it is. When there are more people in your life for whom you are responsible, there are many more things to consider in addition to serving Jesus. Another way to say this is:
Marriage has many benefits, but so does singleness.
And it is in light of those benefits that I want to bring some focus and application on how we can reap those benefits for God’s kingdom within the context of the local church. I want to offer five suggestions for singles to leverage their unique life season in a way that married people often can’t.
1. Go big for Jesus.
Whether you notice it now or not, one of the biggest differences between the married and single seasons of life is in regard to the flexibility of your schedule. When I was single, if I wanted to do something, I did it. Now, as an “old married guy with a family,” I have to check my schedule against that of my wife, the school and my kids’ sports and activity schedules. Of course, we are still serving in a variety of ways, but there are far more “moving parts” in our circumstances.
Singleness, on the other hand, offers you unprecedented freedom to take mission trips, extended time away and travel abroad. Use this freedom to “go big for Jesus” and do some of those things that might not be as easy to pull off later in life when you are pulling a wagon full of little ones. What could God be calling you to do in this particular area of life?
2. Give as much as you can.
As one might expect, the larger the family, the larger the expenses. When you are single, in most instances, you are most often financially responsible only for yourself, which creates far more discretionary income. What if some of that “extra” that often gets spent on clothes, gadgets or eating out, began to be redirected toward giving to the mission of your local church, providing clean water in Africa, funding a missionary or helping families adopt?
Singles are in a unique financial position that many families are not, and can often give far beyond their current level of giving with very little work. How might God be challenging you to make some changes in this area?
3. Share with the youth group what it looks like to pursue sexual purity as a single.
No one will dispute that we live in one of the most highly sexualized cultures in history, and today’s students are often in the heat of the battle. Hearing the “battlefield perspective” of an older, wiser brother or sister that is fighting the same fight in his or her own life can be an indispensable encouragement in their own struggle.
Even decades later, I can still remember the testimonies of college students who I heard as a youth that encouraged me to “keep fighting the good fight” in this and other areas of my walk with Jesus. Could God be calling you to step up and serve in this area with the student group at your church?
4. Come alongside other singles who are struggling.
In His loving wisdom, God has wired us for relationships and ordained the process of spiritual growth to be far more of a “group project” than an “independent study.” This certainly applies to the process of “bearing one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) as well.
If we are honest with ourselves, our season of singleness can sometimes feel like a burden, can’t it? We can become lonely, frustrated and even angry with God. In these moments, it can be helpful to have someone in a similar situation come alongside us and remind us of who we are in Christ and what we know to be true about God – that He is good, He loves us, and He has a glorious plan for our lives, for our good and His glory. Who is God calling you to encourage in these truths today? Who in your life is encouraging you in these truths?
5. Model what it looks like to wait on God joyfully.
It is a commonly known and established fact that we Westerners do not wait well. From microwave cooking to instant downloads, we have been conditioned to desire and believe we can have everything immediately. While this may be true for noodles and music, this is almost never the case for quality, godly relationships and marriage.
Because “waiting well” is so countercultural, it is an immense encouragement to a local church to see singles who are “waiting well” by using their single season wisely instead of becoming disgruntled and bitter about the process. You’ll encourage other singles as well as the next generation of singles to follow a similar path by showing them how singleness should be leveraged for God’s glory. Honestly evaluate what you are modeling about singleness at this time. What changes might God be calling you to make in this area?
Judy eventually finished that cross-country walk, settled down, got married and is still serving Jesus. And Stephen? He got married, too, and is still faithfully serving Jesus. Kelsi just began her journey, but I’m so proud of all of them. They did exactly what I’m encouraging you to do — make the most of your singleness and serve the church in ways that many married people can’t.
What will you do?
Copyright 2012 Dustin Neeley. All rights reserved.