Why would it seem so peculiar for a congregation to have a greater preference for an unmarried preacher than for a family man? Why is it generally more difficult for single missionaries to raise support than for married ones? When mission teams are being formed, why are couples often recruited with little regard for single prospects? The underlying message, although subtle and unintentional, is that the unmarried status is comparatively inferior. Consequently singles are unwittingly brainwashed into thinking they are abnormal, and no wonder so many are discontent and undergo senseless frustration and self-pity.
Is there something inherently wrong with being spouseless? Was not Jesus, our Master and perfect example, a single man? Was it not an unmarried person who wrote, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Philippians 4:11)? Almost all successful missionary models are based on the ministries and methods of Jesus and Paul, both of whom were bachelors. There appears to be a greater precedent in the New Testament for single missionaries than for married ones, but in today’s church it looks as though we have turned this idea on its head. Congregations looking to support a missionary usually have in mind a couple or a family, and it seems that single candidates are considered only when no others are available. I can’t help but wonder how difficult it would be for evangelists like Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, and even Jesus to find employment or to raise financial support in many present-day congregations.
One must never let the fact that he/she is single keep him/her from considering missionary opportunities. We need more singles involved in every aspect of church work, especially missions. If a person is eligible, that person most certainly has the “right to take along a believing [spouse]” (1 Corinthians 9:5). But keep in mind that he/she also has the right not to! Regardless of social expectations, the Lord has not made it a requirement for a person to be married.
If one’s heart is set on doing missionary work, it is much better to remain single than to marry someone who doesn’t share the same convictions and dreams. I know brethren who sincerely want to do overseas missionary work but have never been able to because of a spouse who does not have the same desire. The fire in their bones either has to be extinguished or it continues to burn with feeble attempts to satisfy it on the home front. And if an uncommitted partner is dragged off to the mission field, don’t expect the work to be very fruitful. If your mate is miserable, you will almost certainly be miserable too. A number of missionaries have been forced to return home prematurely because of an unhappy spouse.
Several years ago, when I was still single, an elder of one of my supporting congregations said to me: “There’s nothing better than a good woman …” After a brief pause, he continued, “… and there’s nothing worse than a bad one!” (cf. Proverbs 12:4). That is not to suggest a person is bad if he or she doesn’t want to be a missionary, and the above observation also applies to the opposite gender. But the point is: marriage is not a prerequisite for missionary work, and in some cases it may even be inadvisable. There are two things a prospective single missionary must never say: (1) “I plan to do missionary work unless I get married,” and (2) “I won’t do missionary work until I get married.” There are some who have chosen single-hood (at least for a time) for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. “He who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Matthew 19:12).
–Kevin L. Moore
Adapted from the author’s book The Single Missionary (2002) 1-5; reworked and adapted further for a previous post on “The Single Christian,” <Link>.
Related articles: Stan Mitchell's The Single Minister