Single church planters are like four-leaf clovers: we’re hard to come by. If you think about it, neither living the single life nor church planting is easy. It takes a certain special combination of maturity, character, grit, and giftedness to plant healthy churches, and it takes a particular blend of patience, faith, wisdom, and self-control to live the single life well. But to be and to do both at the same time? Well, you will have to know beyond a shadow of doubt that God has called you to brave such a journey!
Asset or Liability
Your singleness can be your greatest asset or your greatest liability in your effort to serve the Lord. Like Paul who was a single planter, your singleness can amplify and accelerate your effectiveness as a church planter, or it can prove to be a big stumbling block. Singleness can be a wind on your back or a weight on your shoulders in ministry, which is why if planting a church as an unmarried person is just a good idea to you and not a God-given mandate burned on your soul, I wouldn’t recommend it to you. The chances of you being a liability on your church is much higher than you think.
My experience suggests either wait to plant a church until after you have gotten married or you’ve kissed marriage good-bye forever. But to desire and to pursue both church planting and romance simultaneously is a journey fraught with many fire-breathing dragons, one-eyed human-eaters, and treacherous mountains. Not impossible, but not recommended unless God has told you otherwise.
Don’t start a church until you’re good at being single
Is there such a thing as being “good at singleness”? I believe there is. Some people have learned to be very good at living the single life and some are just downright terrible at it. Some people walk the path of singleness with grace and charm, while others tumble along accident-prone, causing havoc on themselves and others.Don’t start a church until you’re good at being single - Bryan Staab Click To Tweet
If you’re good at singleness, that means that you live with integrity, wisdom, and self-control in a romance-obsessed world. And the world needs more singles who can patiently handle their singleness in a Godly way, and people are starved to see better examples of it. If you’re bad at singleness, that means that you lack self-control and make foolish decisions all the time when it comes to your relationships with the opposite sex. And as leaders, you don’t have a lot of chances to make the same mistake before you lose the trust of your people.
Paul teaches his disciple, Timothy, that a pastor must be able to “set the believers [in your church] an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). Like it or not, as their pastor, everyone has their eyes on you and they are looking to you to be the example for how to be single happily, how to pursue a relationship honorably, and how to be married well. Your romantic journey will be of special interest to people both inside and outside of your church, sort of like watching the real-life version of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette!
Not a Perfect Model
If that sounds scary, that’s because it is! Can you handle the pressure of modeling for your people a patient singleness, honorable dating, and a healthy marriage in a way that gives praise to God? That’s exactly what you sign up for as an unmarried church planter. You certainly don’t have to be perfect at it, by any means (which is something I have to tell myself all the time). But if you’re terrible at singleness, then what chance do you have of doing the dating and marriage parts right? The way you live your life now should make singleness look good to others!
Furthermore, Paul exhorts Timothy to have appropriate relationships with everyone in the church (1 Tim. 5:1-2). This includes having clear boundaries and rules that one lives by. Do you have a protocol for how to engage with the opposite sex? Do you carelessly flirt or blur the line or get into iffy situations with the opposite sex? What kind of communication is okay and what isn’t? What’s your policy on side-hugs or full-on hugs? For example, as a single man, in my 30’s, and hoping to be married one day, the line can get a little fuzzy. It’s my job to unfuzzy the fuzzy, as it is yours.
Even if people may think the precautionary measures are unnecessary or are a bit over-the-top, being a single church planter is a whole another animal! You have to do what it takes for you to guard your heart and keep your respectable reputation untarnished for the sake of the Gospel. Don’t give the Enemy a foothold and don’t give anyone even an inch to spread rumors or to question your motives. While you don’t want to err on legalism and follow man-made rules over following the Holy Spirit, we are also called to live wisely and above reproach, which involves your thoughtfulness on how you will engage with everyone in your church “in all purity.”
If you haven’t lived with healthy boundaries with the opposite sex or you don’t know what those boundaries should be, figure that out first. Carry yourself honorably and learn to guard your own heart and the hearts of others in your church before embarking in church planting. Your church will thank you for it.
Don’t start a church until you’re good with being single
This has to do with knowing how you truly are inwardly and emotionally about being single. You are one of two things: self-controlled or burning with passion.
Paul says, “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor. 7:8-9; emphasis mine). The key word is self-control. The opposite of self-control is to burn with passion. The last thing you want is to be burning with romantic passion for the opposite sex and losing self-control when you’re in spiritual leadership! It’ll be a big source of distraction and temptation for you, not to mention the drama that comes with it!
To avoid getting to this place, ask yourself now this very important question before starting a church: “Do I want to be married and how much do I want it?” The most spiritual thing you can do is to be honest about your desires. Don’t say marriage isn’t important to you when it is.
Mind vs Heart
You might believe in your mind that remaining single is the spiritually more superior thing to do, as I had for so long. And that’s fine and good, but put your beliefs and theology aside for a moment and ask what does your heart tell you? You might find that your mind and heart don’t always agree! I’ve lived this way for a long time, where I let the convictions of my mind drown out the voice of the desires of my heart. When I used to say that I was fine with being single for the rest of my life, I truly was speaking honestly… from my mind, while suppressing what I felt in my heart.
But friend, God cares about your heart’s desires. He honors them and sees them as no less important than your convictions. It’s neither glorifying to God nor good for you to sacrifice marriage if you’ll be unhappy the rest of your life or let it be a sore spot that festers in your heart. So don’t be overly-spiritual about your singleness.
I guess if you’re one of the extremely rare few who truly does not desire marriage all that much, then you can be spiritual all you want! But for the rest of us, being the best pastor means being a human one with real human desires and real human weaknesses. Don’t try to cover it up or pretend that you have transcended all earthly desires. Your people need to see you yearn as all humans do, but still yield to God’s will at the end of the day.
Deep down, do you really want to be married? The most spiritual thing you can do is to fully own your desire, be honest about it to yourself, and confess it to others. Now that you’ve owned it, you can pray in that direction; you can set up appropriate accountability and boundary structures not in order to prevent marriage, but to ensure that it is pursued in the best way possible; others can be on the lookout for possible temptations that come your way as well as for potential prospects! (I’ve started a Romance Committee in my church for me for this express purpose.)Your people need to see you yearn as all humans do, but still yield to God’s will at the end of the day - Bryan Staab Click To Tweet
The most un-spiritual thing you can do is to repress your real human desires and only speak out of what your mind believes or thinks it should believe. And right there in that very spot is where you are most susceptible to falling into temptation. We usually don’t find out what was in our hearts all along until it’s too late: when our actions have betrayed us.
Temptation doesn’t care what you believe in your mind as much as how you feel in your heart. At the end of the day, you will end up doing what you feel, not what you think. So the church planter who is in denial of his or her longings for a romantic relationship is at the greatest risk of becoming entangled in a sinful relationship with someone when they least expect it. They’ll say they never saw it coming, but had they been more self-aware and realistic of their desires of their heart, they would have seen it from miles away.
Think on this one: Jesus said deny [or surrender] yourself; he never told us to be in denial of our desires (Matt. 16:24-26). Denying our desires is not the same as being in denial of our desires. How can we surrender to God that which we deny is there in the first place? How can I surrender my anger when I refuse to acknowledge its presence in my heart? You can’t surrender what you claim isn’t there. The first step of denying yourself is confessing your desires, not being in denial of them. Only then can you surrender them to Jesus.Denying our desires is not the same as being in denial of our desires - Bryan Staab Click To Tweet
You can’t be holy if you’re not honest first. So be honest about what you desire in your heart. Then ask yourself whether you can be content and self-controlled as you plant. Get good with being single first.