By Nikki Hunt
If someone had asked me 20 years ago what I’d be doing when I turned 40, I wouldn’t have said, “Oh! I’ll be single, going to school, serving in my home church as executive minister, and living upstairs for stewardship reasons in my childhood home.” But I would have been telling the truth then, because that’s exactly what I’m doing now.
God has me on a path far more interesting and exciting than I had picked out for myself 20 years ago. Proverbs 16:1 comes to mind: “To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue.”
In East Tennessee, as a female in ministry, I’m a bit of an anomaly. As a single female in ministry, I am even more of an anomaly. And, as a single female, ordained executive minister, I’m not sure that folks in this part of the United States know what to do with me! Discovering someone who shares my experience is a rare find. While I respect my male colleagues, I especially value my female peers. In my world, I can’t just “go grab lunch” with the senior minister (unless I’ve found a third person first) and I can’t relate to discussions about children, spouses, or any number of hobbies when I am frequently the only single female in the room.
“Fitting in” at a family-driven church is challenging as a single person—male or female—regardless of vocation. What class or group do I join if everyone my age is married? What activity can I do with my friends so that I don’t feel like a fifth wheel? When people say families are welcome, does that mean I’ll be the only person alone? So, where do I fit? I don’t want to be with other singles exclusively, but I do want to have opportunities to build relationships with those with similar experiences to me.
The psalmist writes, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11). I don’t want my joy—or my identity—to rest in anything but God’s hands. I don’t want to wait around twiddling my thumbs until the day I may or may not get married. I want to experience community now. I want to find a place of connection and support. Sometimes as a single female in ministry, I am lonely. Occasionally, I envy my married friends. And, once in a while, I even have a pity party for myself. I forget that God has a great plan for me and that single and female, God’s got a wonderful plan that I can uniquely pursue because of my singleness and my femaleness.
Moments occur when I am frustrated by the way people speak to me or treat me as a female. Times exist when I am irritated by a careless remark about being single and childless, not being a mother, and not having a family. I get agitated knowing that wonderful God-loving women waiting to meet their potential future spouse postpone using their time, talent, and resources to glorify God as they “wait for their life to begin at marriage.”
During conversations with young ministry-minded women, I frequently learn of the challenges they face as they pursue God’s calling on their lives. While some have family and a home church that welcome their call to ministry, others face a lack of opportunity and support. It’s tough knowing that not everyone respects females (or singles) in ministry. It’s no fun being held to a different standard than a male colleague or being questioned about one’s qualifications for ministry. But I take heart knowing that women in ministry can find a place in the Restoration Movement. Churches and leaders exist who empower women, who cheer them on, and who honor God’s call on their lives. I’m thankful to be a part of such a church!
Because I am a single and childless woman, I experience a measure of freedom that some of my married friends do not. Rather than envy their lives, I figured out that I need to love the life God has provided me and use it to serve him. I have time to engage in missional living in a way that might be more difficult if I had other commitments. I can attend activities of the kids at church, travel on mission trips, mentor folks, give financially, and encourage twentysomethings trying to figure out if room exists for a young woman in ministry in the Restoration Movement. Sure, I can do most any of those items single or married, male or female; the key is that I am.
I experience joy as a single female as I decide not to lament my singleness but rather steward my finances, time, and relationships for God. I find hope as a woman in ministry as I am supported by men and women who celebrate who I am instead of who I am not. And, I give thanks for the opportunity to be a single female in ministry who can encourage and support others who are on a path similar to mine.
Nikki Hunt currently serves as executive minister at First Christian Church, Johnson City, Tennessee.
Suggestions for Making Wise Choices as a Single Female in Ministry
Prioritize your time with God. Are you engaging in corporate worship? Are you spending time in the Word and in prayer? Are you caring for your relationship with God?
Enjoy family. Do you have a healthy and supportive relationship with biological family? If yes, wonderful! If no, family isn’t just blood. Develop relationships with others who can become family to you. So many people would like to find an aunt or big sister to care for and mentor their children. Whether it’s your biological family or your chosen family or both, enjoy being with family. Find support with them.
Find a mentor. Do you have someone who can guide you, encourage you, or brainstorm with you? Do you have someone whose experiences could inform your ministry?
Find an accountability partner. Do you have someone to talk to when you are tempted? Do you have someone with whom you can share your struggles?
Include in your schedule time to learn. Attend lectures. Read books. Spend time with people who can teach you.
Develop and enforce boundaries. You have much work to do for the Lord. Have you created boundaries that prevent you from being alone with married men? Do you value purity of heart and mind and body? Are you being wise about the relationships you have with others?
Be proud that you are single and that you are a woman. Live a life that pursues the calling God has for you.