Being single is hard. Being single and a pastor is even harder. Each year, there are thousands of sermons given on the topic of marriage and family but very few on the complexities of being single. Seminaries train pastors on how to navigate the challenges of ministry and family life, but they often leave out conversations on what to expect as a single pastor. The church can be an isolating place for single people. Despite this, I love my job. I am grateful for the season of life I’m in, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wrestle with the challenges of being a single pastor.
People often ask me about the strange things people say to me as single pastor. Frankly, that list is long, and I bet, if you’ve been in church leadership for a significant amount of time, your list of strange things people have said is long, too. For single pastors, though, there are a unique set of situations that have to be navigated with grace and a firm tone. Like the request for a private prayer session, the hug that lingers way too long, or having a man tell you that God told him you were supposed to be his wife—even though God has not communicated that message to you. I learned pretty quickly how important boundaries are and the importance of referring specific cases to a male pastor.
Another challenging issue for single pastors is work-life balance. In the church, work-life balance is often discussed within the context of marriage and family. I used to think that because I wasn’t married and didn’t have kids, work-life balance didn’t apply to me. No one explicitly says you need to have a healthy work-life balance so that you can have healthy friendships. The focus is usually on the spouse or children, not the value of fostering healthy, supportive friendships outside of marriage. The truth is that work-life balance applies to everyone. Just because I’m single doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t prioritize my friendships and self-care. I had to learn that it was okay to leave work at a normal hour to spend time with my friends, work out, or just do something for me.
Being a single pastor also makes have a dating life challenging. Dating within the church can be complicated, and everyone seems to know your business regardless of the size of your church. Even if you’re meeting people online or outside the church, I’ve found that one of the easiest way to shut down a conversation with a potential interest is to tell him what you do for a living.
For some reason, church staffs tend to have a very high number of married people. Because of this, even simple staff gatherings and conversations can be a painful reminder of your singleness. It might be an invitation to attend a staff party with your spouse and you’re the only who shows up alone because there wasn’t an opportunity to bring a date or friend.
Or it might be the constant reminder from coworkers to spend quality time with your family. One year, we were given staff Christmas gifts themed around spending time with your spouse and kids. It was a very thoughtful gift given with good intentions, but it was a painful reminder that I was once again alone for the holidays.
It can often seem as if the church places marriage above all other types of relationships. I believe marriage is a beautiful form of intimate relationship with another person, but to place it above all other relationships is problematic. There is beauty and joy to be found in relationships whether you’re single or married—and we miss out when we primarily focus on the marital relationships.