“What about My Singleness?” Encouraging the Single Person toward Ministry

by Pat Wright

Working in mobilization has brought me into contact with many serious inquirers and applicants for long-term missionary work. As I’ve interviewed hundreds of single, young adults, eventually a common question emerges: what about my singleness?

Working in mobilization has brought me into contact with many serious inquirers and applicants for long-term missionary work. As I’ve interviewed hundreds of single, young adults, eventually a common question emerges: what about my singleness?

Single Millennials who identify a call to missions are just as concerned about finding a marriage partner as their counterparts were thirty years ago. One difference is that today’s single “twenty-somethings” are more reluctant than their unmarried predecessors to commit to long-term service. They often cite the prospect of a life of loneliness as a major factor, saying, “If I go overseas single for a longer commitment, then it will drastically reduce my chances of finding a suitable marriage partner.”

They express an honest tension between their God-centered call to ministry and a strong desire to be a married missionary. It boils down to three choices: (1) take their chances and follow the calling to missions as a single person, (2) wait in the homeland for God to bring a partner who shares their calling, or (3) marry someone who doesn’t share the calling and serve Christ at home.

But singles contemplating a career in missions often do not realize that coping with loneliness is not unique to being single. Whether single or married, most people experience loneliness, especially when they relocate to a new culture.  

In interviews with single missionaries, many wisely recommended having a strategy in place to cope when loneliness hits. This includes:

• Admitting to feelings of loneliness and bringing them directly to God.
• Deliberately developing friendships with both single and married people for support, encouragement, needed reality checks, a listening ear, and fun.
• Recognizing that loneliness and issues related to singleness are cyclical—they recede and resurface from time to time.
• Expecting and being prepared to respond to questions or comments from those overseas about your singleness.
• Committing to serve the Lord now, whatever the cost. There are no regrets at the end of life if this kind of commitment is carried out in all decisions, whether married or single.

The subtle message in today’s evangelical community is that “normal” is defined as “married with children;” therefore, some think that going into missions unmarried may be hasty, imprudent, and even unsafe.  

It is refreshing to witness the unusual number of new books and articles promoting, valuing, and affirming singleness and celibacy as valid lifestyle choices. I’ve been delighted to meet some of those singles who have looked the future in the eye and said, “Bring it on!” They’ve taken their commitment of obedience to Christ seriously and are fearless.

But which is better in missions—single or married? The answer is neither. Being single has its advantages:

1. Flexibility and spontaneity (e.g., taking an unexpected trip or vacation, staying up late with those in the local culture when an opportune conversation happens, flying home for a family wedding, changing countries or ministries).

2. Less distraction in the language and acculturation process—both for study and for applying oneself to culture learning. Motivation to develop relationships with those in one’s current region may be stronger because singles do not have the safety net of a spouse with whom they can retreat when the going gets tough. If they want friends, they must make them.

3. Ability to stay focused and give more time in ministry because there is no one else they must care for (e.g., a sick child or a discouraged spouse).

Being married also has its advantages:

1. Married people take their strongest supporter with them—their spouse—so loneliness can be shared. There is a place for shared affection and physical touch. Travel, especially the longer international trips, is a shared experience.

2. There are two to shoulder the burdens of living overseas, keeping in communication with supporters and friends, planning events, providing hospitality, caring for mission obligations, etc.

3. Marrieds also have the joy of raising children, should God bless them with a family.

I like what one young unmarried missionary told me about her process:

Being a single in a foreign country is not always easy. I have gone through cycles of being lonely and wondering if I will be married someday, to feeling so contented and full of purpose that I cannot imagine anything else. What has helped me the most is to look back and trace the steps where God has led. The other comfort I have is to look forward. When I consider the brevity of life, the necessity of God’s work, and the hope of eternity that lies ahead, the issues I face seem smaller, my faith gets bigger, and I smile more.  

I often ask singles, “How big is your God? If he has led you up to this point, what causes you to distrust his love now to take the next step?” Henry Blackaby, in Hearing God’s Voice, talks about the importance of taking time to review spiritual markers in life—points where God meets us through circumstances and interprets events for us. Our role in that process is to remember and rehearse those interventions. That is where we must point young singles—to examine their past with God so that they can have confidence moving into the future, wherever he may lead them.

….

Pat Wright and her husband, Bob, served in Venezuela for fifteen years as Missionary Kid teachers. She has been on staff at TEAM headquarters as a facilitator for Explore Workshop and as application coordinator for missionary applicants.

EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 2, pp. 138-140. Copyright  © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

 


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