Single people leading and volunteering in youth ministry often face some unique challenges in the church—especially when it comes to things like relational expectations, time and margin assumptions, and connecting with married people. That’s why the way we talk about and treat single people in our ministries matters so much. This week, join single and married ministry leaders as they unpack what it looks like to navigate the tensions, benefits, and more of being single youth ministry leaders.
Voices In This Episode
- To introduce yourself, tell us your name, your age, and your marital status. (0:23)
- How are you feeling about this topic? (2:25)
- What is the hardest thing about church or ministry life for a single person? (6:02)
- 9:41: “There’s an assumption that everyone wants a spouse or kids. That can make it hard to be in the church as a single, especially if you don’t know that you want those things.” –Ashley Bohinc
- What do you wish married people understood about being single in ministry? (11:02)
- 12:42: “I want married people to know that my time is just as valuable as theirs; the way we spend our free time is just different.” –Ashley Bohinc
- Is this tension different for guys and girls? (14:54)
- Is there a difference between being single in ministry in your twenties versus your thirties? (21:00)
- Is this different depending on where the single person lives? (26:03)
- 26:43: “I’m in my thirties, so what does dating look like now? Am I supposed to just keep waiting until someone finds me?” –Ashley Johnson
- 31:28: “Today is as important as any day in the rest of my life. My ministry is not lacking because I’m single.” –Dave Sewell
- What are some assumptions or expectations put on single ministry leaders? (32:23)
- If we were to look five years in the future, what would you hope is different in church ministry for single leaders? (37:18)
- 36:36: “I think asking a single person on your team, ‘Do you want to be married?’ is valid – just take into consideration that we do have choices.” –Ashley Johnson
- 40:00: “One of the biggest gifts you can give single people in your ministry is to celebrate things that are important to them.” –Ashley Bohinc
- If there’s a single person listening, what would you say to them? (40:47)
- What would you say to the married leaders who are listening? (43:34)
- Anything you want to say to close? (45:38)
– Hey, what’s up, everybody? Thanks for hanging out with us, again, on another episode of the Rethinking Youth Ministry Podcast. And today, we’re going to be talking about what you need to know about being single in youth ministry, even if you’re married. So we’re going to do intros a little bit different here, today. So I need name, age and marital status, please. We’re going to start with someone that you will soon learn their name because I’m not going to steal the opportunity of you to share.
– Hey, friends, I’m AJ, I’m 32, I’m single and I’m ready to Christian mingle.
– .com, not a sponsor, by the way, but that’s wonderful.
– What’s up, everybody, I am Dave. I’m 32 and I am not married.
– Okay, and Dave, this is your first time on the podcast.
– Yes it is and I’m excited to be here.
– So, what are two awesome things to know about Dave?
– Ooh, I work a middle school pastor, here in the city of Atlanta, which I love and.
– And you do Ironmans?
– Yes, that is correct.
– You should talk about that.
– I have done an Ironman and I’m doing another one this year and I’m excited about it.
– And I don’t even know.
– It makes no sense to me.
– I could even tell you all the stuff that an Ironman does. So, that’s awesome.
– Appreciate it.
– I’m Ashley, I’m 36 and single.
– And I’m Shef and I thought we were talking about small groups, so.
– You were sent the wrong agenda for this podcast.
– Awesome, yeah, no, I am 47, but been married for 22 years.
– Awesome, very cool.
– Yeah, thanks.
– And my name is Brett and I have been married for 15 years.
– Yeah, and so, obviously, we’re talking about what we need to know about being single in youth ministry, even if we’re married and so Shef and I are ministry leaders who have led folks who are single, whether that’s volunteers, or whether that’s actual staff. And then Ashley, Dave and Ashley who we’re going to be calling AJ because her last name is Johnson and it’s confusing when there’s two Ashleys, especially if you’re just listening to this. So AJ, you’re AJ.
– You got it.
– Thanks for announcing yourself that way, too, but you guys are single and you guys are leading ministries and have led ministries and have dealt with all of the difficulty, sometimes, that can come along with those pieces. So the first question that I want to ask you guys is how awkward or nervous are you feeling about this podcast topic? And there we go, that pretty clearly speaks.
– Was that awkward? I feel great, I’m excited to be here. I think we’re going to have some fun, we’re going to dive in and I’m an open book, whatever, we’ll talk about it.
– I’m excited, too, it is awkward and I am a little nervous, but I’m excited just to get the chance to talk through some of this stuff for our listeners.
– Yeah, I’m a little bit nervous because, like I said, I’ve been married 15 years, I got married pretty young and so it’s easy for me to either make assumptions, sometimes, or say things and I don’t even recognize like, “Oh, my gosh that probably wasn’t the way to say that, “or the best way to say it.” So I’m excited just to hear about your all’s experiences and to be able to share about those and a little bit nervous that I’m going to hurt somebody’s feelings maybe.
– I’m actually really excited we’re doing this episode because I think this is an important topic in ministry, but I’m not going to lie, I am a little nervous ’cause there’s always a weirdness when talking about singleness, especially in ministry, ’cause, like you were saying, there’s a ton of assumptions. And in order to have an honest conversation, it’s like you have to call out those things, but you get nervous that people are going to think you’re angry about it, or upset about your relationship status or something, so sometimes, it’s hard to have a healthy conversation about it, so I’m a little just nervous about that.
– So let’s all agree, this is a safe space. We’re going to believe the best about each other.
– That’s good.
– And we’re going to say, “Hey, you just said this “and you should probably not say that,” and we’re going to be okay if those things happen, yeah?
– And then we can all hug at the end.
– That’s right, perfect.
– So I’m not sure about the hug part, but I guess, I’m nervous, in one way, I’m wondering why I’m here and another, I think, it makes total sense that I’m here, as I’ve learned so much about diversity over the last few years. I’ve learned so much about just thinking about who’s in the room over the last few years, this is a category that I just never considered to think about how I’m talking about, how I describe, how I say certain things. And so Ashley has been more than forward about letting me know when I overdo it. And I got to work with both Ashley and Dave for a season. And so I’m wondering just how I did over that season. So glad to be here, I think, it’s really important, especially if you are married, I think you need to listen carefully because it’s just another filter to think about the people you work with more.
– Yeah, and you use the phrase, others awareness, in leadership we talk about this idea of self-awareness a lot, which I think is really important and emotional intelligence.
– It is, yeah.
– And different things like that, but I think that, as a culture, we’re even starting to recognize more and more how important this idea of others awareness and circumstantial awareness and just because I might have a certain experience, doesn’t mean other people do. And the more that I understand and filter everything through their experience and not just mine, the more beneficial it’s going to be for everybody.
– That’s right, yeah.
– So I think that’s a great point, Shef.
– Well, I also think, in talking to Ashley and this team through it, it’s changed the way I talk to my kids about their future, it’s changed. So anyway, as we talk about kids and what their futures are, I think, it’s super important to think about not only who you’re working with, but how we talk about marriage and everything to kids, so.
– Absolutely, all right, so Ashley, AJ and Dave, first question for you all to think through and share with us, when you’re single, what is the hardest thing about church life and ministry life? So whether that’s just being a part of a church, that can be part of it that you talk on, or whether that is actually leading in ministry and being in ministry.
– I mean, I think, right off the bat, the whole idea of church is it’s really family-centric. It’s really built like programs and events and everything’s built around the family unit and sometimes, singles ministries and single people might feel lost in that.
– Yeah, I think just the assumption that single people can’t speak into family issues, or that it’s just never acceptable for a single person to give any type of advice when Paul gave us some of the biggest family advice that we have and he was single. So just that assumption that you don’t have anything to offer to this conversation of family if you’re single.
– So AJ just set the bar up here, she had a Biblical reference for things.
– So anything you guys come out with, boom.
– Deep dive. You just better have a Biblical reference.
– Yeah, that had to help.
– I was just going to add on to what Ash was saying is not only that you have nothing to offer, but almost like you haven’t arrived at spiritual maturity if you haven’t gotten married, or if you haven’t had children yet, there’s often an assumption and I don’t think it’s ever intentional, but it comes off that way, as if you just don’t know yet.
– Yeah, I think, that’s probably going to be one of the underlying pieces that’s the most important for folks that are married to hear is we’re not talking about a tension with a lot of this,
– I agree.
– It’s just allowing ourselves to think outside of our own context in how is this going to come across to someone who has a different experience than me?
– I think, one of the things that can be tough is finding your people on the team that you work on that, for me, has been a challenge because most of the people that I work with are married and so that’s a little bit different. It’s not impossible, but there’s not a lot of people in my same stage of life, at my job.
– So that can be tough. Another thing that can be a little bit tricky is the way people talk, to something that Shef mentioned earlier, you hear a lot of examples about how important it is that you go home and spend time with your family or with your kids. And that’s a great thing, I’m sure, but that doesn’t really apply to me.
– So trying to figure out where I fit in and how that relates to my life, does that make sense?
– Yeah, I think, you said something like your most important ministry is your ministry to your kids or something, which I’ve heard lots of times,
– Yeah, a lot.
– But I had never considered Dave, so.
– Yeah, and when I’m making some assumptions about here, so now, this is where you guys can push back, I don’t think that you guys would, necessarily, disagree with that, for parents, but I think where the frustration in lies is that’s where the conversation stops, so often, from the stage. So the issue isn’t, necessarily, that something like that gets talked, about how important it is that, as parents, you are investing in the lives of your kids.
– Of course.
– But it’s just that that’s where it stops and there’s no other conversations, there’s no other examples and it’s not that you need the examples to clarify, like, “Well, wait, wait, you didn’t give me an example, “I don’t know what it means for me,” but it’s, so often, just a value statement. If this is the only thing that we talk about from the stage, then we’re just devaluing, is that the emotional reaction in those situations that you guys would say you feel?
– Yeah, I think, there’s this assumption that everybody wants that. And I think that makes it really hard to be in the church and be single, especially if you don’t know if you want that.
– Or if you have never considered another option, I think there’s also this assumption that you’re single because there’s something wrong with you, like you’re weird, or you don’t know how to get along with people, or there’s all kinds of pressure, I think. Not to mention the, like, “Let me set you up,” kind of moments, they’re always quite weird.
– Those are fun, we should talk about those,
– Fun for who, Shef? Fun for who?
– Brett, one of the toughest things, for me, I think, is just being in a stage of life that not a lot of people that I work with are. So being in my early 30s, I’m in ministry, as I look around the tables that I sit at, I find myself, frequently, being the only single person at the table, which is great and it has a lot of opportunities with it, but it also causes some tension and some, probably, lack of understanding and maybe some assumptions about me that I don’t love.
– For sure, absolutely.
– I agree with that. I would say, for me, the hardest part would be the assumptions that I do want to be married, or that I should want that, yeah.
– So that leads me to the next question, what do you wish married people understood about being single in ministry?
– I think, one of the things, this is going to sound silly, but maybe to admit that they might not understand what it’s like to be single, today, especially for folks that have been married for quite a while, it has changed significantly with just the internet and apps and everything that’s going on. So just an acknowledgement of that, but also a desire to understand, I want them to ask questions about what it’s like, what my dating life is like, I don’t mind those personal questions.
– So you would want, I mean, obviously, if they’ve got that relationship?
– Sure, of course.
– With them asking you those kind of questions?
– I think, in a relationship where I know the person and trust them, I would love to talk about it. In the past, I’ve had supervisors who have said, “I don’t get it,” so we just kind of move on and I don’t feel particularly understood or known and it’s almost like what is such a huge part of my life. I mean, obviously, for me, I would like to be married, so I spend a lot of time thinking about dating and relationships and if I have a supervisor who’s just like, “I just don’t get it,” but they don’t try to understand, which is a huge part of what I’m going through that is now off the table, so that can be tough.
– I get that.
– Yeah, I think somebody mentioned it before, but I wish that married people just knew that it’s not the plague, that it’s just not something so wrong with you or your life is just so incomplete and just so lonely and sad, even if you do experience moments of loneliness, or moments of wanting to be married, it’s not and just speaking for myself, I do have single friends that they really, really, really do want to be married and it is something that is a major goal in their life, but it doesn’t always mean sad and lonely and depressed.
– That’s good, I think, I would want married people to know that my time is just as valuable as there’s.
– And the way we spend our free time is just different.
– That was, “Oof,” from AJ, in case you weren’t sure.
– This is a big one.
– I mean, I specifically remember a time I was on a team and it was during recruiting volunteer season and everyone on the team was assigned a different group of people to interview, to try to recruit volunteers and they asked me if I would do all the interviews for the high school students, but they couldn’t happen until the evening. And so I, in that moment, I was like, “No.” It was hard for me because I wanted to be a team player, but I knew that the reason they were asking me that was because my evenings must be open because I don’t have a husband, or I don’t have children. And so I think I just wish people that were married understood that and valued that and I didn’t have to be the one to remind them of it, does that make sense?
– Yeah, yeah, I think, sometimes, being single, you can almost feel guilty by prioritizing yourself outside of work because you do feel a little bit of an expectation, Ashley, like you just said, “He doesn’t have kids to go home to, “so he could do this.” Now, personally, just speaking for myself here, I don’t mind doing some of that extra stuff ’cause I do realize my schedules are more flexible and I value that, but it’s really important, for me, that the person who is asking is aware that they’re asking me to do something, is appreciative of it and, I think, probably doesn’t expect it. Does that make sense?
– Yeah, yeah, there’s a difference between somebody trying to take advantage of that fact and you being willing to step in the times where you want to do that and say, “Yeah, I can jump in there.”
– Yeah, I’ve had conversations with managers before where they might have asked me to do something like Ashley got asked and I would have said no, as well, based on the assumption to that one, but they’ve asked me to do something that might take place outside of normal hours, but there’s been a, “Okay, but since you’re going to do that “on Wednesday night, when you can, why don’t you take “the next Tuesday morning off “and do something that you want to do?” That kind of thing, it’s a give and take and it’s not just assuming, “Well, Dave’s just single so he can do that.”
– Yeah, that’s good.
– ‘Cause I have hobbies and family and friends and things that I want to attend to, as well.
– Do you feel like this tension is different in some ways for boys and girls, for guys and gals?
– Boys and girls.
– Oh, man. I do, I think that there is an assumption that single women are just temptresses. Oh, wow.
– And that we’re just on the prowl for all the men in the world.
– On the prowl.
– Like we’re just, whether you’re single, whether you’re married, watch out for the single women.
– Watch out, man.
– They’re dangerous and that is so.
– AJ’s bringing the heat.
– Let’s go.
– I mean, would you agree, Ash?
– I’m with you, you keep going though. Yeah, I get it, keep going.
– But the reality is, that has nothing to do with being a single woman or not. And if it’s a woman or a man that’s going to tempt anyone, they could be married or single. I don’t know how it is for single men, but I know that you feel it, you just feel whether I’m talking to a single man or a married man, it’s like, “Hey, let’s set up some boundaries,” and I’m just having a coffee conversation kind of thing, casually.
– I think, on the guys side of things, at least in my experience, there’s a bit of a, it’s not judgmental, but it’s almost assumed that I am, maybe it’s just me, but flaky, or a bit of a reliability, or a bit of a risk, like I’m just going to up and move, which I might. But I do think there is some of that, I get treated that way. This was a mentor who meant well, but I once had a mentor I asked for some career advice and he said, “If I were you, I’d do two things, “I’d go to seminary and I would get married.” And I remember looking at him and being like, “Bro, I’m trying.”
– And that’s a terrible reason to get married.
– I’ve heard, yeah, and so it was just one of those things where it was like the implication was that there was something I was missing career-wise because I was single and so I hear that, sometimes.
– Not just career-wise, but like Ashley has said before, there’s almost this way that we talk about marriage in the church where you have not reached spiritual maturity unless you’ve experienced marriage before.
– I was once in a conversation where we were talking about churches and what they look for in hiring candidates as youth workers and he didn’t know me at all, so I’m all the grace here and we were in different generations, for sure, but in the conversation, he said, “Oh, no church wants to hire single person, “that’s just a liability.”
– That’s tough.
– And, of course, my friend across the room was like, “Chill out,” like, “Don’t kill him right now.” Because, I mean, he doesn’t know, but in that moment, I’m just like, “How do we undo that?” And like, “Why does it have to be that way “and what message are we actually sending people “when we say that?”
– I think, to take a stab at that question, I think there is some, like I mentioned, nervousness that you’re not as settled, you’re not a stable, maybe you don’t have roots as much as someone who has kids or whatever, might have. Can I just say that I wish people understood that there’s nothing wrong with that?
– You don’t have to have roots, you don’t have to have kids, you, literally, can leave in three years and you have every right to do that.
– You have every right to do that, but what it makes me think about is as a ministry leader who has a limited amount of resources for staff development, or who gets to go to seminary, or what we’re going to invest in, it makes me wonder two things. One, what are my known like biases as I’m deciding that and then does singleness maybe unknowingly make me think about it differently? You’re absolutely right, you have every right to go, as anybody does along the way, but, I mean, a lot of times, I would ask. I mean, what are your intentions, or your tending to be here, I would love to send you to seminary, but I need some payoff from the investment, or, at least, some sort of agreement that you would hang out ’cause I only have so much to offer and those sorts of things, but it just makes me think that is all I’m saying.
– Yeah, that makes sense.
– And I think, some of it, probably, comes down to, also, the church’s abuse of the spouse of the person that they hire. And so often, there’s a two for one thing and so, now, we want to hire somebody who’s married because we really know that we’re not just hiring one person, we’re really hiring two people there.
– And I think, there is probably some fear in my mind of I have had some conversations with some church leaders who have dealt with some really gnarly situations where single people on their staff start dating people inside the church and different things like that turn into a mess, but I’ve also had conversations with church leaders who have married people on their staff who start dating people in the church and that turns out even to be bigger messes.
– Well, I think there’s wisdom in policies where you’re not dating somebody you report to and all those sorts of things and it always is a mess, but, I mean, I’ve navigated those and as long as you’re talking about it in a healthy way, it’s always worked out pretty well, whether we move people around, or they break up, or, I’m just kidding. They don’t break up ’cause of that, but normally, it’s by the time we get to that conversation, they’ve broken up, that happens, which makes it weird, too, so.
– You just said something, I think, is big, is just talk about it, have the conversation. If you are questioning my motives, or stability, or whatever, I think, it’s just ask me what my plans are, ask me how I’m feeling, if me being sticking around is a part of your decision to help me go to seminary, then just ask me if I’m going to do that.
– Let’s talk about it, as opposed to just assumptions ’cause those assumptions can be killer and you feel ’em, as a single person, I think.
– I mean, as a married person, when I went to grad school, that that was part of the agreement, is that you would stick around as many years as you went to grad school. And that wasn’t a church, that was in a school and so I just think that’s a, but, again, I don’t want to diminish the point because I think it’s a really good one, there may be an unknown bias towards that that we just need to check ourselves.
– That’s good.
– So we talked a little bit about the difference between guys and girls, do you feel like that there’s a difference in stages of life, like the difference of being single in ministry in your 20s and being single in your ministry in 30s?
– Absolutely, I mean, as a woman, you’re always reminded of the clock. Oh, boy.
– And I think that goes into the direction of having children and what a healthy age is.
– That’s got to be fun.
– Oh, yeah, tons. So yeah, just being aware of it more when you’re in your 20s, it feels like that’s just the normal way of things, but when you’re in your 30s, it’s like, “Oh, I have to be conscious of my health “and risk factors,” yeah, and like I said, that goes into the direction of more like children more so than just marriage, but yeah, I think dating just gets a little bit more complicated the older you get. I’m speaking from a 32 year old perspective, but you just have to filter so many things. The reality is a lot of my friends have already been married or maybe even divorced by the time they’re in their mid-30s, so dating just evolves this whole conversation where it’s not just, “We just graduated college.”
– I think dating, to your point, changes as you get in your 30s and then, I think, and Ashley, we talked about this before, but the opinions about you dating shift a lot, I’ve found, post 30. So now, all of a sudden, people are asking, “Why aren’t you married?” Which is kind of a bad question. Is that never really a good question ask to someone why they aren’t married? But you start to get that a little bit, people start to wonder, “Do you want to get married, “are you going to get married, “are you going to do what we thought you would do “in the kind of path we had laid out for you?” And I just noticed the attitude shift just a little bit and the questions people ask start to change, have you?
– I agree, I think it’s different in your 20s and your 30s. And Ash, I didn’t have the same experience as you explained, like I’ve never really had the thought about a clock ticking, or necessarily that pressure on me to have children, but it was all indirect pressure. I almost felt like that’s what I was supposed to want. And in my 20s, you graduate college, you’re dating people, or looking to date people and then everyone’s trying to figure out where they’re going to settle for their job and who they are and who their friends are going to be now that you’re out of college and a lot of people are single in that phase. And so, I think, in my 20s, I didn’t know who I was and what I wanted and as I’ve gotten older and now, I’m 36, single, I feel like I have a clearer view of who I am and what I want, that I didn’t necessarily have, yet, in my 20s. And it’s not that no 20 year old can have that, I just was slow or something.
– I know. In my 30s, there just aren’t a lot of people who are single, as you were saying, Dave. And I mean, I was just having a conversation with one of my friends who works at a church and he’s in his 30s, he’s single and when he joined that staff, the staff had a staff small group that they would meet together, right or wrong, that’s what they had, but because he wasn’t married, he wasn’t allowed to be in the staff small group. And so he was told he had to go get in a different group. Well, the only singles group at that church was 20-somethings and so here he is, on his church staff, feeling so alone because he doesn’t fit in with the 20-something singles and he’s not fitting in with his married 30-something friends and it creates such a silo for people as they get older and are single.
– Yeah, and I’ve heard some single friends talk about this idea of how important it is, especially if they’ve moved somewhere where they’re not necessarily near a lot of their family, of being invited into other people’s families in some sense and how helpful that that can be. And I know like, for me, I would feel like I’m hurting somebody’s feelings, like, “Hey, we’re all, on Saturday, “going to the park and we’re going to do whatever, “do you want to come with us?” Me, I feel like I’m going to communicate like, “You’re single, you don’t have anything to do, “do you want to be a part of my family?” But on the other end, I do hear some single people say, like, “It is a value to us when other people include us “in some of those things.” I mean, do you feel that, do you feel like that would be a piece that would be helpful to you or it wouldn’t?
– Yes and no. I would say, yes in the sense of I love when married people invite single people to hang out and not assume they’re going to feel awkward being a third wheel.
– We can all just hang out, as adults. On the other hand, sometimes, it can be annoying ’cause it feels like you’re being invited to babysit their kids.
– Oh, my gosh, yeah.
– Like, literally, ’cause the kids, you’re a new person in the house, or hang out the family and they want to hang out with you and so it’s a yes and a no situation.
– For sure, yeah, that makes sense to me. What about context of the situation, do you feel like this is different in different communities, or depending on what area maybe of the states that they’re in?
– It’s a good question.
– And we’ve talked about this a lot, I think there is something to being in the South, there’s a higher expectation to get married. I know my contacts growing up in black church, there is a huge, not just about marriage, but just the position of being a single woman, it’s like, you must wait and expect for your prince charming to come find you. So it’s like, well, what do you do? Going back to the dating in your decades of 20s and 30s, what does dating really look like if I’m in my 30s? Am I just supposed to just keep waiting, keep waiting until he who finds a wife wakes up and finds me, it’s like, what am I supposed to do with my time? So yeah.
– It’s good, I mean, I grew up in the Midwest, then lived 10 years on the East Coast and then moved to the South, so I definitely feel like there’s a difference regionally in our country on the way that singles are viewed and the pressure on marriage. I know I’ve lived down here for about four and a half years now, in the South. And it’s a big difference for me, that how you’re viewed when you’re single, especially in the church in the South.
– In a good way or a bad way, or?
– In bad way.
– For example, there was one time, I was speaking and this woman in the front row was like, “Ashley, come here, hey, are you married?” And I was like, “No,” and she goes, “Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.” And I was like, “Oh, I’m good.” And she’s like, “What do you mean, you don’t want to get married?” And I go, “I don’t know, I’m fine as I am.” And she goes, “But you’re so gorgeous, “you’re going to waste that?”
– You know?
– I was like, that’s so frustrating and where I grew up, in a family, I’m so thankful for my father and mother, they never put pressure on us to get married, my dad grew up with really strong sisters and so he never ever would say things like, “When you get married,” kind of things. And I remember, one time, being in high school and I was like, “Dad, maybe I won’t go to college, “I’ll just marry some rich guy,” and whatever. And he was like, “You are going to college “and if you choose to get married one day, great, “but you are going to have an education, “you are going to be able to provide for yourself “’cause you don’t know whatever “is going to happen in your life “and you will be able to provide for a good life.” And so I’m so grateful for my parents never putting that pressure on me, even as an adult, never asking like, “Are you going to get married, are you going to have kids?” Never once, my parents have been amazing about that, so I’m so grateful and I know not everybody has that experience.
– Well, that’s convicting to me as a dad, I’ve got three young kids, two daughters and a son and I’m sure there are probably things that I’ve never thought about before ’cause kids ask random questions all the time and I’ve probably answered some questions like, “Yeah, when you’re a mom,” or, “Yeah, when you’re older and you’re a dad,” or, “Yeah, when you’re older and you’re,” you know what I mean, those kind of things that, again, just probably have never even occurred to me, am I building some expectations for them, what if that doesn’t happen for them, or if they decide they don’t want it at some point? Like, “Oh, I’m going to disappoint Dad if I don’t, “A, B, C, D.”
– Yeah, I was just at a high school girl’s small group and I was talking a little bit about my story and in my story talked about that I’m single and afterwards, I asked the girls, well, I actually made it a requirement, they all had to ask me a question for the one girl who wanted to ask the question, but didn’t want to look like a weirdo asking a question, so they all had to. And the one girl goes, “Can we go back to, “you said you were single and you were fine with that “do you want to get married?” And I said, “You know, I am not totally closed to it, “but I really love being single and I’m good at it “and so I’m not really pursuing that.” And she was like, “Oh, my gosh, I never even knew “that it was a choice.”
– And I totally wanted to ball in that moment ’cause I remember that moment in my 20s when I realized, I didn’t know in the moment when my dad was raising me that way that he was setting me up to be a confident independent woman, but I think a lot of our students, like you were saying, we say things indirectly with all the best intentions and we do build up expectations. And then, when our teenagers get to be 25, 26 and they’re not married yet, they feel like they failed.
– So I grew up on the opposite side of that spectrum. Great parents, love the Lord, put a pretty high pressure on me getting married and it was actually where I grew up, in the North Florida Panhandle, it was pretty Southern there and that’s what you did. And so I went off to school to study student ministry and I remember thinking that I would probably be engaged when I graduated and that was just what people did and I think, to what you’re saying, is when I realized that I wasn’t engaged when I graduated, I was like, “Okay, that’s not exactly what I expected.” Get into the mid 20s, late 20s, now, all of a sudden, I feel like I’m letting people down, I feel like my parents are maybe disappointed, they would have never said that, but that’s what I felt. And I remember having to have a conversation with them and telling them, “Hey, would you please stop “asking me when I’m going to get married, “please stop asking who I’m dating “because it’s putting some pressure on me “and it feels like I’m not making the most of this season.” And so I think that’s something that I would encourage people to be on the lookout for, something to remind myself, is that today is as important as any day in the rest of my life, right? So this ministry that I’m doing is not lacking because I’m single, it may be enhanced, but to make the most of it, to not be waiting, to not say, “Oh, my life will begin when,” because, I know, I’m talking a lot right now.
– No, you’re fine.
– But I went through, when I was 23, I went through a breakup that was really bad and thinking I was going to get married. And I probably wasted two or three years after that, thinking I don’t want to go travel because I don’t want to make memories with someone who’s not my wife. I don’t want to do all these things. I remember having this moment of, like, “What are you doing? “Your life is happening in front of you right now, “make the most of it.” And so to tie all this up, I just think if you grew up like me, in a context where marriage was encouraged, or almost implied, be careful for that idea that you’re missing out, or that you’re not living your full potential, or you’re not making the most of your life because you still can, you still have the opportunities, the ministry, all of it can still happen.
– That’s so great.
– Sorry for the soapbox.
– No, it was great.
– No, it was so good. All right, so let’s circle back to this idea of being ministry leaders. We’ve all been ministry leaders, in a lot of ways, we’re still currently ministry leaders, people that are listening and watching are probably ministry leaders in some way. And so what are some of the assumptions and expectations for single ministry leaders?
– So I think there’s, like we’ve mentioned, a lot of expectations, whether it relates to time and flexibility and expecting us to do things that you might not expect someone else on your team to do can be a tricky area. And then something that I’ve heard about, some friends in some other ministry context is there’s some weirdness about salary and money, like maybe we’re not as well compensated, has anyone else here experienced that?
– I mean, for sure, I think that there’s, we all know there’s a pay gap that exists between males and females in ministry, but I think there’s also a pay gap that exists between those who are married and unmarried in ministry. I think, a lot of times, when you’re preparing a benefits package or a salary package for an employee, you’re like, “What do I need to pay them “to get them to move here and take this job?” And if you as the employer know, “Well, they have to be able to provide for four children “and their wife to stay home, “well, then I’m going to need to compensate them for that,” but somebody who’s single who’s doing the exact same work, “Oh, we could probably pay them less “because they’re not providing for somebody else.”
– That’s not how the decision’s made though, it’s not like, “I am going to pay them less “’cause they’re single,” it is what you just said. And again, it goes back to what are my conscious, what are the things I know that I’m thinking about and considering and what are the unconscious things that are going on? And I have no doubt, it’s that, but it is. Pay season comes around, raises come around, this person’s just had a baby, or their second baby, or something like that, I think it probably is the source of it, at the end of it. And it’s not fair.
– Yeah, that’s so hard for me to hear you say, to be honest.
– Is it?
– Yeah, because, I mean, I’ve been in the professional world for, what, 15 years now and I got my very first raise.
– Oh, really.
– Within the last year of my entire professional career, that’s not the normal increments, cost of living increments.
– Cost of living.
– Oh, gotcha, gotcha.
– And so, for me, when I hear that I’m like, “Okay, so I’m not having a baby, “so it’s not a good time to give me a raise,” but let me just say, as a single person, living in an apartment for 14 years because I can’t afford anything different. You know what I’m saying? The things that single people have to go through, everything still costs the same, but you have one income and one person doing it all.
– And I 100% agree, I’m just, again, thinking through what are the conscious and unconscious things when I’m dealing out the limited resources, what is going through my mind, I wonder, I’m not thinking back to a specific time, but I mean, I’ve heard that, like, “That person has a family to support,” and I’ve heard that in conversation and the heart of it isn’t, “Let’s hose this other group of people.”
– No, totally.
– But it still isn’t fair and that’s why we’re having these conversations and that’s why you need to get to know and be compassionate about and understand someone’s situation more.
– I mean, I’ve heard of churches that when you have a kid, there’s kind of like an automatic compensation that gets added to the salary.
– Oh, that comes with it?
– So you’re not single, right?
– Say what, that’s true, yes, they’ve had a child in certain circumstances, thank you for clarifying that, David.
– Just wanted to make sure.
– Not that funny to some peoples, yeah.
– I appreciate that. And I don’t think the answer is that churches stop being generous in those situations, but that they get intentional about how can we be generous, no matter what the circumstances of our staff are, is that, you’re looking at me, is that the answer, is that not the answer?
– Yeah, it’s not like an anger towards, they shouldn’t get a raise for that, as much as can we just give people pay based on the actual work they’re doing and the value they bring to the organization kind of thing? I mean, the same thing goes for even kids, single people, or people who are choosing not to have kids, or people who maybe can’t have kids, there’s still an amount of work that gets picked up when somebody’s out on maternity leave. There’s still extra work that gets put on somebody that they’re never compensated for, so.
– One, it didn’t happened to me, but I heard a conversation where one of the benefits of working at the church was that your kids got to come to preschool for free. And so a single person came and asked if they could put their niece or nephew in because they don’t have their own children, but. And it was like, uh-oh, this is, where, anyway.
– I just bring it up ’cause it was a tough one.
– [Brett] It’s a great example.
– Yeah, well.
– Yeah, it’s a really good example.
– All right, so we’ve talked a lot about these tensions and we talked a lot about the frustrating assumptions and expectations that come along with this, so if we were to look five years in the future of church culture, as ministry leader, what would you hope is different? What do you hope starts to happen differently with this?
– I would say just to consider just expanding the conversation, just like how we’re doing, just not generalizing anymore on such a topic that has been generalized for generations. Just not to assume that everyone is lumped up in the same pile, whether you’re single or married, that we can open this conversation and like Shef was saying, just be more compassionate. It is such a relational topic, so you just have to consider the people that are in your ministries or just your friends and talk to them more about their experiences and just developing more of a listening ear, I’d say.
– Can you give us some, I mean, it feels a little bit weird to sit down, I want to be compassionate and I want to understand, I think Dave, with you, I could easily say, “Tell me what it’s like.”
– But I think it would be more awkward for me to ask maybe a female employee, give me some my ways of just even bringing it up and understanding?
– It’s a really good question.
– I think the question of do you want to be married is valid.
– I agree.
– You know, just to take into consideration that we do have choices and then if the answer is not, “Oh, no, I’m fine where I’m at,” to just watch the response of like, “Oh, is there something wrong with you, are you okay?” Yeah.
– When I think back on, like, 20 years of ministry, some of my favorite memories are just doing life with people and then meeting somebody and then getting to be a part of the wedding and then there’s the, you know, we’ve been through infertility and then just the joy and of doing life with. And so I don’t know why bring that up, but, I guess, just really getting to know each other, it’s no different, I guess is what I’m saying.
– Yeah, I mean, I think, you mentioned in the open that I’ve done Ironman, flex.
– But I bring it up for a point, if you get involved in that in my life and celebrate that with me, that was a big high for me, I didn’t think I could do it and I did it, there are still things that you can insert yourself into my life and be a part of, in the same way, that I hope would be as encouraging, or as joyful for us to share together.
– Dave, I love that you said that because something Ash and I were talking about earlier is after you turn 21 or you graduate college, there are no milestones to celebrate if you are single or have no children.
– And so I feel like one of the biggest gifts you can give single people in your relationship is to celebrate things that are important to them, whether it’s an Ironman completed, or a new ministry launch, or milestone in the ministry, or it’s, I just threw my sister, who’s a year older than me, who’s also single, I just threw her a puppy shower because she got a puppy. And everyone was like, “This is so funny.” I’m like, I know, “I don’t even like animals, “but I’m doing it because this is a big deal “for my sister’s life.” And so what are milestones you can celebrate because single people go to all the baby showers and all the wedding showers and all the birthday parties and all of the things, but what are we doing for our single friends to celebrate what they’ve chosen in their life?
– It’s good.
– I think that’s a great practical, look for milestones.
– For sure.
– Yeah, that’s great.
– Okay, so as we start to wrap up, a couple of things, I’d love to hear you guys answer the question, if there’s a single person listening, what would you say to them? Like what would you encourage them with? What would you want them to know?
– I would love to say a couple things, the first thing I would say is that you’re not in this alone, there’s a lot of us out here. Feel free to reach out. There’s a lot of us and we are doing good work, but I think, on top of that, I would say, I mentioned it a little bit earlier, this season of your life is as important as any season you’ll ever live, to God, I believe. I believe that he’s just as concerned with your ministry, today, as he will be to the way you raise your kids. I think he cares deeply about you and how you live this season, so don’t waste it, don’t wish it away, enjoy it, leverage the unique opportunities that you have with your finances and your time and use those well. And enjoy it for what it is, it’s a unique season in life that you won’t get back, so really maximize it and know that it’s just a really important phase, don’t miss it.
– Ooh, oh.
– I see what you did there.
– I didn’t even mean to do that.
– That’s how it should’ve ended.
– I’m going to jump off of that and say something a little different, that your singleness doesn’t have to be a season, it can actually be what you choose to land in.
– That’s good.
– And something, Dave, you said earlier, is your life doesn’t start once you get married. So I would just encourage anyone that’s listening that’s single, whether you have a heart’s desire to be married or not, just to keep pursuing who God’s made you to be and what he’s called you to do and don’t settle because there’s a deeper loneliness than being alone and it’s being with the wrong person. And I think if you are running with all of who you are towards God in the ways he’s gifted you and someone ends up running next to you, you’re like, “Hey, how you doing?” But if you have to slow down, turn around, or change directions, don’t even waste your time.
– Wow, I would say that it’s okay to speak up, speak up about where you are. It’s such an uncomfortable conversation to have, at times, but I think the tendency is for us to want to just dismiss it ourselves and just say, “Oh, they don’t understand.” Or, “I’m trying to get them to set me up. Or, “I’m trying to get them to stop asking me about it,” but I think we need to talk about it way more. So I would just encourage single people to talk, whatever place you are in in that season of your life, whether it’s to be single for the rest of your life, it’s okay to talk about it and find people that will celebrate you and champion you on, too.
– So what about the flip side of that? So if we’ve got ministry leaders listening who are married and they are leading, maybe they’re on staff, maybe they’re just volunteers, who are single, what would you say to those married leaders?
– Thanks for listening to this podcast and for making it this far in this episode.
– I think that’s great if they listened to the whole thing.
– So hats off to you, you’re amazing and I think you have a lot of influence in this conversation as a married person because you are going to have a lot more influence on other married people who lead singles and the conversations that happen around a table and you have this awesome opportunity to represent the voice of singles around a table that may not have a single person sitting around it.
– That’s great.
– Oh, and one more thing, I was also going to say, you have a really awesome opportunity to advocate for the singles on your team, for whether it’s their pay, or their time, like compensating, like when they do have to work different hours, like you were saying earlier, Dave, I love that.
– I just think it’s important that what I keep thinking is talk to your employees, not because it makes them feel better, but because you actually love them.
– That’s great.
– And want to know what’s going on in their life. And I think you can ask a lot of really tough questions if that’s the motivation. I’m trying to understand your heart, I’m trying to understand what you’re excited about, what you’re afraid of, what you’re really thinking about these things, I think, that it will help inform you on those decisions and keep a lot of this top of mind. I love what you said, I was thinking, you said, “Talk about it,” I was thinking, as a boss, I think, I would respond pretty well to, “Hey, can I talk to you about a tension “that I’m having or a feeling that I’m having?” I think, I would respond well, you might work for somebody that wouldn’t and that might not be a job you need long-term if that’s really the case, but I think that’s a great way to put it. One, for those of you who are married and are working with singles, talk to ’em about it. Try to understand what’s going on. And for those of you who are single, I think it’s okay to bring it up, that it’s a tension, so.
– All right, so last thoughts, lightning round before we wrap up. Anything that you want to say that you didn’t get a chance to share during the episode?
– I have a lot of things about small groups I’d love to talk about.
– We’ve got other episodes about that, Shef.
– Yeah, but I’ll them speak.
– So many episodes.
– We’ll put those in the show next for you, Shef.
– As youth workers, I think, we have an incredible opportunity, not just to model what this looks like for our teenagers, but we can really, I mean, raise up a generation of teenagers who understands this in a new way. I mean, we’re already seeing, in research, that values are changing for Gen Z and that’s not a bad thing, it’s just is what it is. And research is also telling us more and more people are choosing not to get married, or choosing to get married later. And so I just think we have an incredible opportunity, as youth workers, to really speak truth into our teenager’s life. Shef, when you were talking about how you and JoJo watch Say Yes to the Dress and you caught yourself in saying, like, “One day, when you get married,” I think something amazing we could do for our teenagers is say something like, “One day, “if you choose to get married,” so that they learn at a young age that it’s a choice. And that when they grow up, they aren’t feeling like a failure, or they aren’t settling for somebody who’s not the right person and that, really, the end line, the end game, isn’t marriage, it’s God’s kingdom come and it’s how God’s wired us and how he’s wired us to help bring his kingdom to this Earth and the people we get to interact with. And I think if we can help teenagers realize it’s bigger than that, God is bigger than just marriage and children, I feel like that feels way more compelling and something, personally, I would want to be part of.
– Its interesting to me, something just dawned on me as you were talking, that the people that we’re all ministering to in youth ministry are single people, so the way that we treat single people on our staffs, the way we talk about being single, the way we treat ourselves as single people, the way we talk about it and express ourselves is being listened to by students and they’re making assumptions about where they are, being single, I think. So just know that and live your life with integrity and be proud of how you spend your days. And I think, you’re going to be pretty happy with that.
– Yeah, I just want to add that we’re not angry. That’s good.
– We really do celebrate marriage and the covenant and just what family does mean to God, but just going back to what Ash said, that singleness is not a curse and if we can get married people to celebrate the same way that we do celebrate the covenants of marriage and family that God has instituted, that he cares about both.
– Yeah, and my last thought would be, when I started working with a woman named Mandy who was single and we did ministry together and she became a really close friend and still is a close friend, it completely changed the way that I talked about relationships from the stage and I started to recognize and filter things differently because of that relationship that I had with her. So I would say, youth leaders, as were on the stage and we’re talking about things like dating and relationships and futures, which we should be talking about, we just need to be careful about the kind of language and the expectations that we might be accidentally setting in the way that you guys are talking about.
– It’s good.
– That’s great.
– Ashley, AJ, Dave, thanks for hanging out with us and for being so vulnerable on a topic that isn’t maybe the easiest thing to talk about with who knows how many people are going to listen and watch.
– Oh, man.
– And Shef, thanks for accidentally showing up on the wrong podcast.
– You bet, I’m here, yeah. That was a blast, thanks for having me.
– So thank you guys for hanging out with us in this conversation and you can check out the show notes at rethinkingym.org and there’s a link to our Facebook group and you can jump into conversations just like this with us. Thank you guys, thank you guys and have a great day.
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