For the first 1500 years of the church, singleness was considered the preferred state; it was considered the best way to serve Christ if you were a leader. Singles sat in the front of the church. Marrieds were sent to the back. After the Reformation in 1517 AD, single people were sent to the back and marrieds moved to the front – at least among Protestants.
Yet the New Testament describes, and deeply affirms, two types of Christian singles.
The first is a vowed celibacy, for those who “renounce marriage because of the kingdom of heaven.” They freely choose not to marry but to set themselves apart in a total, exclusive and lifelong gift to Christ and His church. A very few are invited to receive this grace and gift from him (Matt. 19:11-12).
The vast majority of Christian single leaders fall into the category of dedicated celibates. This term encompasses a broad range of people. Some are single because of divorce or the death of a spouse. Many others have not met someone, or at least the person, with whom they are compatible. A few postpone marriage until they get established in their career.
An increasing number of leaders in the body of Christ are single. That is a wonderful gift desperately needed in the church today. Daniel, Jeremiah, Jesus, Anna the prophetess, John the Baptist, and Paul were all single. They each bore rich fruit for God.
While significant challenges and pressures come to bear on being single today, God purposes that we enjoy the freedoms, the privileges, the opportunities, and the joys that accompany Christian singleness. This requires we make health a priority over rushing out to lead others without thinking of ourselves. Why? So we can offer Christ to others out of a cup that overflows with his life and love.
The following are my top five recommendations.
First, devote yourself to excellent self-care. Build into your leadership strong rhythms and boundaries for proper self-care. “Watch your life…closely” (1 Tim.4:16).
Secondly, invest in community and at least one or two companions for the journey. Leadership can be lonely, especially after a long day. Jesus had his twelve, as well as close friendships with the family of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Offer hospitality regularly. Create a home with others.
Thirdly, learn emotionally healthy skills to bond with others. Research has also demonstrated that our need for bonding extends throughout our lives – from infants, to young adults to elderly people in their 90’s. Be intentional to learn skills to bond well with others. (See Emotionally Healthy Skills 2.0)
Fourthly, remain open to meet someone.The desire to meet someone is good. Continue to pray that God will open doors for you to meet someone. Look for opportunities to meet Christians of the opposite sex when possible –whether you are in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and beyond. I have seen God connect couples at all stages of life.
Finally, bear witness to the Lord Jesus through your singleness. This does not mean denying your unique challenges. God intends your singleness to serve as a sign of the how broadly and widely he loves the church and the world. You are not giving your body away. You are not “hooking up.” Why? Because you are married to Jesus Christ and your body belongs to him. Every day you choose to live as a prophetic sign of the kingdom of God to the church and the world.
Take up the leadership role God has for you in the Body of Christ, ministering to marrieds and singles, old and young people –out of your unique vocation as a single person. God does not grant to every person the physical fruit of children, but He does call all of us to birth spiritual children and serve as spiritual mothers and fathers in our communities.
You might also want to view our recent Emotionally Healthy Leadership podcast – Leading Out of Your Singleness.