I just needed a break.
I had been involved in various part-time ministry positions for years, not to mention teaching full-time and finishing seminary.
So when I ended my term as an interim children’s minister, I decided to take some time off and sort through the details of my life—like if traditional church staff roles were even what I was supposed to be doing.
What I really needed was to be a follower and not a leader for a little while. Of course, I would still be involved in serving the church, but I was in a season of life where I needed people to pour into me. I needed them to remind me that I was deeply loved and to tell me it was okay that I had no idea where my life was headed.
When I finally got over my pride and allowed myself to admit that I needed respite, it was as if I was able to breathe again.
Soon after I found myself holding my breath as I realized I didn’t know where I was supposed to go. I mean, the obvious answer was to find a church with a singles group, but I truly wanted to be a part of the entire body and not segregated to a group of people who were placed together solely because of their marital status, or lack thereof.
As a children’s minister, I had gotten to know and build relationships with people of all ages. I went to lunch on Sundays with families, I spent time with young married couples, and I had been in leadership meetings with senior adults in the church. No one cared if I was or was not married.
I knew there was potential for those kinds of relationships apart from a singles group, but I also knew that many churches with thriving singles ministries were usually larger churches and therefore it would probably be more difficult to build them. But when it came to the small group model, many were defined by life stages.
Eventually, I found a wonderful small group. It consisted of married and single adults, with and without children. I fell in love with them on the first night. I knew this group was “home” for me. I went a few more times and slowly began to exhale.
Then one night the leader shared that he was entering seminary and felt led to step down from the leadership of the group and that his family was considering moving to another church. And just like that, with no one stepping up to lead, the group disintegrated.
Not long after, I visited a young singles small group. It went well for the summer, and then a few people moved because of jobs, another few got married, and meetings that included two or three people eventually turned to no meetings at all.
And then I joined a ladies small group. By this time, I had stopped breathing altogether, which turned out to be a good thing since I think we met about five times before it, too, fell apart.
I’m pretty sure I didn’t actually destroy those small groups, but it was at that point I began to affectionately refer to myself as a “small group killer.”
Many, many times I almost defaulted to working with the children or youth again simply because I didn’t know where my place was in the church. If I could just go work with the youth, then I would at least have a home again—a place to belong within the greater Body, I told myself. At least I’d feel needed and wouldn’t have to sit alone on Sunday mornings and feel virtually invisible. And at least I’d be serving.
But every time I got ready to send the youth minister an email volunteering to help out, the Holy Spirit stopped me.
Of course, there was probably a need, and yes, I was equipped to minister there, but it wasn’t the time. He assured me over and over that He wanted me with other adults and He would provide. And eventually, after much weeping and gnashing of teeth, He did lead me to a group of people who reminded me of the joy that results from being in authentic Biblical community with other believers.
Here’s the hard truth that hurts me to admit: I rarely feel the weight of my singleness as much as I do in the church.
I don’t feel it in my work environment, in my family (although I know many singles do), or even in my friendships with friends who are married and have children. But I feel it deeply in the church.
George Barna, the church statistics expert, found that only one out of every three American single adults attends church. And, yes, those are the ones who identify themselves as Christians.
From my own experience, I can understand why many default to not going. It’s difficult to overcome the desire to retreat.
I can also understand why many who do attend regularly default to serving in various leadership roles. I got tired of fighting for community, so I wanted to retreat to the youth group. At least someone would be able to bear witness to the fact that I walked through the doors on a Sunday morning. Plus, I would be telling kids about Jesus. No one would judge me for such a noble endeavor.
I love the Body fiercely, flaws and all. I love that it’s the imperfect vehicle God has chosen to reach the world. It’s because of my deep love for it that I didn’t just give up my search.
But the reality is sometimes finding your place in the church is not for the faint of heart.